Workers could get access to pandemic leave

Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The Morrison government is considering providing paid pandemic leave to workers in a bid to curb deadly coronavirus outbreaks.

Scott Morrison confirmed he spoke with Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter about pandemic leave in recent days.

“Those discussions are continuing and when they are completed we will make some announcements,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions on March 11 called for two weeks’ paid leave for all permanent, casual and contract workers forced to self-isolate because of the pandemic.

There have been major concerns people with the virus attended work because they couldn’t afford the financial hit from staying home.

About 80 per cent of Victoria’s new infections since May have been linked to workplace transmission.

The Fair Work Commission earlier in the week ruled all residential aged care workers including nurses were entitled to two weeks’ paid leave.

But unions argue the issue goes further than one sector, with more than three million workers lacking sick leave entitlements.

The Greens want to pass legislation giving employees access to special pandemic leave in the August sitting of parliament.

Greens leader Adam Bandt has written to Mr Morrison urging the government to support the private bill.

“It’s going to be essential to not only containing the spread in Victoria, but preventing further outbreaks in other states,” Mr Bandt told AAP.

“Some employers may find it difficult to meet the cost of that paid sick leave so we’re calling on the government to step in and meet the cost.”

He said the money could be drawn from the government’s $60 billion underspend on the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.

“This is talking about filling a gap for somewhere around a third of the workforce,” Mr Bandt said.

“The rise of insecure work is fuelling this crisis.”

Mr Porter said the government was “keeping a watching brief” on the issue.

“The system is working relatively well at the moment in terms of coping with that scenario where people have to be self-isolated for a period,” he told 6PR radio.

Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said the opposition had been calling for pandemic leave for 141 days.

“There is no excuse for this delay. The government must act immediately. It should have acted on this in March,” he said.

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

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