Major gaps remain in worker protection on foot of changes to Covid testing

05 January 2022
  • Contact tracing must be carried out for close contacts after positive antigen result
  • Covid Illness Benefit must protect those restricting movements
  • Without paid sick leave many workers are in increasingly precarious situations

Labour employment spokesperson Senator Marie Sherlock has called on government to address a vital concern for workers who are household close contacts of a suspected positive case.

Despite the recent changes to the Covid illness benefit on foot of the changes to the testing regime for those under 40, it remains the case that a significant number of workers who find themselves as household close contacts are left in limbo as to whether they can claim the Covid illness benefit for doing the right thing according to Government advice and restricting their movements.

Senator Sherlock said that this issue must feature in cabinet discussions today about any changes to the advice for close contacts. While employers must also step up to the mark covering workers who cannot come to work, Senator Sherlock said it is vital that government do more to protect the health and safety of workers.

Senator Sherlock said:

“This is a extremely nervous time for many workers who have to go out to work both in terms of protecting their own health and that of their family, but also in terms of their wages and means of living. We have had workers contact us in recent days as they are a household close contact of an antigen positive case and so are forced to restrict movements but cannot yet apply for the Covid illness benefit as they don’t have certification from the HSE to say they are a close contact.

“The recent pivot to using antigens as our main testing capacity needs to be backed up with a mechanism where household close contacts can be recorded with the HSE. Given the high level of demand for PCR testing that remains in the community, we know that it can be a number of days before an antigen positive case can secure a PCR test and results. Meanwhile, household close contacts are out of pocket with no income and no certainty about how they will make ends meet through no fault of their own.

“While the changes made to the Covid illness benefit this week are important and to be welcomed, they are very much of benefit to those who are symptomatic, which does not take account of the reality of living with Covid.

“The current fiasco shows just how weak our defences are from an employment rights point of view. Almost two years into this pandemic and there is still no legal right to sick pay, with the Government continuing to drag its heels on introducing this right for all workers.

“The reality for most people is they can’t afford to be sick – bills still need to be paid, mouths still need to be fed. So we need to break this cycle of people having to choose between going into work while sick, or else losing a portion of their income. This is a crucial question of workers’ rights, but it is also the essential missing piece in our strategy against Covid-19. During a pandemic, we have a special duty to guarantee sick pay as soon as possible in the name of public health.”

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