Commonwealth must help fund paid pandemic leave

Australian Labor Party

The Morrison Government must help fund a universal paid pandemic leave scheme to ensure every Australian worker who needs to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can do so without financial penalty.

A paid pandemic leave scheme is a critical measure to protect both workers and public health by preventing further COVID-19 outbreaks. It should have been introduced months ago.

Workers cannot be forced to choose between paying their bills and protecting their colleagues, customers and patients. Whenever we force that choice on people the community is put at risk.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has said “about 80 per cent” of the state’s new infections since mid-May have been ” driven by transmission in workplaces.”

A universal paid pandemic leave scheme could have prevented some of this terrible toll.

Unless we get a universal scheme we will have more community transmission, leading to more outbreaks and economy-smashing lockdowns. We cannot afford not to do this.

Some employers have established their own schemes and Labor welcomes that. The Fair Work Commission has also granted paid pandemic leave to some aged care workers, and the Victorian Labor Government has also introduced some payments.

But it must go further. The Government must step in and help fund a scheme to reach all workers.

Labor believes the scheme should be available to any worker, regardless of industry or employment status, who needs to be away from work to: undergo a COVID test; isolate while awaiting a result; isolate if a test is positive; or isolate if directed to do so by a public health officer.

An estimated 3.7 million Australians don’t have any access to paid sick leave or the other protections of permanent employment, including casuals, contractors, freelancers, sole traders and gig economy workers. And many permanent workers have exhausted their sick leave entitlements.

Without pandemic leave, many will continue to turn up to work when they’re sick or should be isolating.

Labor first called for paid pandemic leave on March 10 – 142 days ago.

But Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter dismissed our call at the time, saying the Government would not “jump to a solution in anticipation of a problem”.

The Government says it is now considering the idea.

There is no excuse for any further delay. The Government must act immediately.

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