Key workers denied ‘dignity, security and safety’ through lack of sick pay

A cleaner in a hotel hallway with his equipment
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New analysis published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on 24 June shows that one in 12 key workers in Britain don’t currently qualify for statutory sick pay – and haven’t over the course of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. TUC is calling on the government to provide decent sick pay for all workers to ensure that everyone receives the support they need to self-isolate.  

Frontline workers at risk

TUC highlights that many frontline key workers are at greater risk from contracting coronavirus than those who are able to work from home. In spite of this, the body has found that in Britain, more than a quarter of cleaners and retail workers do not currently qualify for statutory sick pay. TUC’s analysis found that this is also the case for nearly 9% of teaching assistants and over 6% of care workers.

According to TUC polling carried out in May, a third of key workers reported that their employers didn’t give them full sick pay throughout the pandemic. A quarter reported that their employers paid them the minimal statutory sick pay rate of £96 per week. This is the lowest rate in Europe.

Their lack of sick pay entitlement meant that many of those working on the frontline throughout the pandemic were forced to make a difficult decision about whether to follow government advice to self-isolate, or to earn money. Highlighting that workers need support to self-isolate in the midst of a pandemic, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Nobody should have to choose between going into work if they’re sick or should be self-isolating, or doing the right thing by staying home but facing hardship as a result. But that’s the choice facing many key workers who kept the country going during the pandemic.

She added:

Our key workers deserve the dignity, security and safety of proper sick pay and a decent pay rise too. They have earned it, often in frontline jobs with much greater risk of infection than those who could work from home.

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Sick pay for all

TUC is calling on the government to urgently reform sick pay. It’s urging the government to remove the lower earnings limit, which currently denies Britain’s lowest paid workers access to statutory sick pay. According to TUC and Fabian Society research, paying statutory sick pay to low earners would cost employers around £150m a year. TUC’s research suggests that it would cost the government less than 1% of the Test and Trace budget to help employers provide full sick pay for all workers.

TUC is also calling on the government to raise the rate of statutory sick pay to the same level as the real living wage – £330 per week – or more. According to TUC, this would cost employers which don’t currently provide occupational sick pay “around £110 per employee each year”.

O’Grady said:

The cost of fixing the UK’s broken sick pay system is small compared to other public health measures like test and trace. Ministers must urgently make every worker eligible for statutory sick pay. And it should be worth at least as much as the real Living Wage.

TUC is confident that these measures could ensure that every worker receives the support they need to self-isolate as the pandemic wears on. This advice comes as UK coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Featured image via Ashwini Chaudhary/Unsplash

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