Fair Work Commission grants aged care workers paid pandemic leave to stop virus outbreaks – but sector says providers can’t afford it if Fed Govt won’t foot bill

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Just three weeks ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the idea of paid pandemic leave for workers – now the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has made an “urgent” ruling, giving aged care staff up to two weeks’ leave to try to stop workers from coming in sick.

Workers will be able to access the paid leave if they need to self-isolate because they have coronavirus symptoms or have been in close contact with someone with a confirmed case.

The leave – to be in place for three months – will be available to full-time and part-time employees, and casuals who have been “engaged on a regular and systematic basis”. For casuals, the payment will be based on average earnings over the previous six weeks.

The entitlement comes with conditions, including that workers must not be receiving any other income during their period of self-isolation, including other forms of leave or JobKeeper payments. Workers must also have already used all their other leave entitlements.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has repeatedly said people going to work sick – including those who work at aged care homes – are the ‘biggest driver’ of the wave.

But the peak bodies have issued a joint statement saying providers will not be able to provide staff with paid pandemic leave without Government support.

The Federal Government has already said it will provide compensation to cover the cost of pandemic leave in greater Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire following the ruling, but in other areas, providers will have to foot the bill.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), the Aged Care Guild and Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) said:

“We are also concerned that the government funding to cover pandemic leave in Victoria’s outbreak areas only applies for 8 weeks.”

“We believe aged care workers deserve pandemic leave – to support them and to protect residents and co-workers – however, providers cannot afford it.”

“The sector has been asking the Commonwealth to fund pandemic leave since April.”

“There is no way the funding so far announced can cover the cost of pandemic leave.”

“We are also extremely concerned that the sector is approaching the end of the short-term COVID-19 funding measures for aged care but we are far from the end of coronavirus outbreaks and the spread of the disease amongst older Australians.”

A good point – the current array of measures is due to expire in September. With hundreds of cases now linked to aged care, can the sector afford for the Government to pull the pin?