The government must take emergency action to guarantee all staff statutory sick pay as soon as they self-isolate because of coronavirus fears, says UNISON today (Monday).
General secretary Dave Prentis has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey asking her to amend the rules so employers have to recognise the time off as sick leave and provide wages for workers from day one.
They must also pay them regardless of how much they earn or their type of job contract, he says.
It comes amid concerns that zero-hours staff who should be self-isolating will go into work out of fear they will be denied their earnings, says UNISON.
They include social care staff supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society, including the elderly and sick who are most at risk if they become infected.
An estimated 2m people currently do not earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay, and UNISON warns many could lose earnings as a result of the COVID-19 situation unless rules are changed.
Anyone returning from affected countries such as Iran and Italy could be forced to stay away from work, along with those who have been in physical contact with infected individuals.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Employees on zero-hours or precarious contracts are already on low wages. They now face financial hardship if they have to self-isolate.
“The government must bring in emergency measures so these low-paid workers are protected financially, particularly those caring for the most vulnerable in society.
“It should be made compulsory for employers to give them sick pay, even if they’re not officially eligible.”
Notes to editors
– The government has said self-isolation from coronavirus counts as sick leave.
– Guidance from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states it is good practice (but not mandatory) for employers to treat self-isolation as sick leave.
– Statutory sick pay is usually paid from the fourth day of sick leave. It is paid for up to 28 weeks at £94.25 a week. Self-employed workers are not entitled to sick pay, and staff currently have to earn at least £118 a week before they are eligible.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.