Casual Workers Can’t Afford To Isolate During The Pandemic, And It’s A Problem

"Insecure work" has been blamed for the huge number of people who haven't isolated after feeling sick, or being tested for COVID-19

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Anecdotally, we’ve known that people in insecure forms of work have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.

Today we’ve seen the cold, hard stats relating to the impacts not just on them, but on our exploding number of new COVID-19 cases.

Victoria is currently in a dire spot, to say the least. Today they announced 484 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

But the data drawing everyone’s attention relates to the sheer number of people who have not isolated after feeling sick, or not isolated after being tested. Suddenly, the fact the state’s new cases have consistently hit triple-digit figures for three weeks makes sense.

Premier Daniel Andrews said that nine-in-ten Victorians who have tested positive between July 7 and July 21 — that’s 3,400 people — did not isolate between when they first felt sick and when they got tested.

And 53 percent of those who tested positive over the same period — 2,056 people — did not isolate while waiting for their test results.

But it’s not as simple as just blaming people for being idiots (although many people undoubtedly are — looking at you, man who decided he couldn’t delay his fishing trip). While people were quick to slam Victorians for not taking the pandemic seriously, according to the data a large chunk of the people in question are in insecure work and literally cannot afford to miss a pay cheque.

Going about your day while you’re sick and potentially infecting others during a pandemic? That’s fucked up, on a personal level.

But being too afraid to take a sick day because you literally can’t afford to miss a pay cheque? That’s really fucked up, on a societal level.

Insecure Workers Vulnerable During The Pandemic

Premier Daniel Andrews said the statistics were “a commentary on insecure work”.

“There is a large proportion of these people who are making these choices because, in their judgment, they’ll look at their bank balance, they’ll look at the fact that if they don’t work the shift, they won’t get paid for the shift, they don’t have sick leave,” he said.

“This is a commentary on insecure work. This is a commentary on this as a feature of the Victorian economy and our national economy.”

Earlier this week the premier also said about 80 percent of new infections since mid-May were driven by transmission in the workplace.

The data did not come as a surprise to many who have ever depended on casual work.

However, Daniel Andrews said that’s a debate for another time. He also pointed out there is a $1,500 payment available “if your bank balance is driving you to make bad decisions” — but since it’s only available if you test positive to COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone who has, it’s not super helpful if you’re just waiting for test results.

The state government is looking at the eligibility criteria of the $1,500 payment and might announce more support during that waiting period. In the meantime, anyone wanting to access that $1,500 can find out more here.

Andrews said unless people start staying home and isolating the number of new cases will keep going up — and then the six-week shutdown will stretch for much longer than that.

“We can’t have, any longer, nine out of 10 people taking too long between when they first feel sick and when they get tested. And we certainly cannot have one in two people who are waiting for a test result simply going about their business as if they didn’t have symptoms, as if they weren’t waiting for a test result, as if this wasn’t a global pandemic.

“That will continue to see more workplaces with positive cases. More businesses shutdown. Hundreds and thousands of people isolated at home either as positive cases or close contacts. Ultimately, there’s no reason to be going to work when you’re sick. It’s simply unacceptable. If you have symptoms, the only thing you can and must do is get tested immediately.”

Victoria’s COVID-19 death toll is now 44, not far behind New South Wales which sits at 51. Australia’s total number of new cases sits at 502, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began.