ACTU calls for paid pandemic leave for all workers, including in aged care – but PM dismisses idea

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A number of aged care providers have warned us that paid pandemic leave could be a key to ensuring staff stay at home while sick into the future, but many cannot afford to pay – now the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled that a similar scheme would be too expensive for healthcare employers.

The FWC declared on Wednesday that while there was a “real risk” that staff without paid leave would risk going to work, the unions’ request for paid pandemic leave for healthcare workers to be paid for by employers would cost too much.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus has told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that all workers, regardless of salary, should be given paid leave by the Government to cover self-isolation.

“If we do not urgently adopt this approach, insecure low paid workers are more likely to avoid [COVID-19] testing because they are scared of losing their job and being left with nothing,” she said.

“It is clear our country must do much more to contain and live with the coronavirus. What we have done so far is not enough and has exposed the holes in our defences.”

Large clusters of the virus have occurred in workplaces where there are more casual and part-time staff employed, such as security companies, meat works and aged care homes.

The FWC did say that it could reconsider the issue, particularly if “there was a demonstrated threat to the resilience of the health care system”.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference yesterday that the Government is already providing record levels of income support through the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes and he did not believe there was a need for paid pandemic leave.

“This is a shared responsibility and the Commonwealth is certainly doing overwhelmingly its share of the heavy lifting,” he said.

Not all aged care providers have been eligible for the JobKeeper scheme however, with the Government funding a separate staff retention bonus for aged care staff.

In Victoria, workers who need to self-isolate do have access to a $1,500 government support payment but this has not been taken up by the other states.