People Are Calling On The Government To Pay Casual Workers Who Miss Work Because Of Coronavirus

"Poverty paired with a pandemic is just going to make it much worse."


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For casual workers, coronavirus isn’t just threatening their health — it’s also threatening their bank balance.

A third of workers in Australia are casual, giving them no access to sick leave. If they don’t go to work they don’t get paid, so what happens if they’re forced to miss work because of quarantine?

Over the weekend we got an answer, after a man who was told to self-isolate decided to go into work at a Hobart hotel instead. The next day his test results confirmed he had COVID-19.

The man felt sick after returning from Nepal, but worked seven shifts at the hotel and adjoining restaurant before he went in for testing. He was told to self-isolate until getting his results, but instead went to work and to his vocational college.

While he copped criticism him for possibly infecting others, many understood why he made the decision to go back to work.

Unions are now calling on the government to step in to try and prevent this kind of thing from happening, and pay those casual workers who are forced to miss work because of quarantine measures.

The secretary of Australia’s largest union, the ACTU, said the government needed to factor those workers in or risk sick people who can’t afford to miss a pay cheque taking the risk and possibly infecting more people.

“Think about where casual workers are, they’re all in person-to-person industries, so retail, hospitality and of course in health care and aged care, so it’s a really big issue,” Sally McManus told The Today Show.

“(The money) needs to get into the hands of the workers immediately because if there’s a delay obviously they can’t go down to Centrelink. It should be just paid leave, and if you have to compensate the employers later on that won’t matter so much.”

But today our Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter suggested that casuals don’t need sick leave because they are paid slightly more, completely disregarding the fact that casuals are still mostly found in our lowest paid industries.

Not all employers are waiting around to see whether the government is going to do anything.

Yesterday Macquarie University announced any casual staff members who are required to self-isolate because of coronavirus will still be paid for their shifts for up to two weeks. If the university is forced to close they will also continue to pay any casual staff members who are unable to work from home.

In a statement Vice-Chancellor Bruce Dowton said they understood many casual workers rely on their shifts to meet day-to-day expenses.

However, some NSW government employees have been told quarantine periods would have to come out of their annual leave — or possibly be unpaid — if they were travelling back from a risky country.

The government is putting together a multi-billion dollar stimulus package to try and limit the damage that coronavirus is having on Australia’s economy.

The ACTU met with them this morning to lobby for casual workers.

Details of the package are expected to be announced this week.

Feature Image: Wikimedia Commons