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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 March 2020

For full pay during isolation: for public health as well as workers' wallets

photo Creative Commons Zero - CC0

photo Creative Commons Zero - CC0   (Click to enlarge)

Josh Asker, Southampton Socialist Party

Government forecasts say up to 20% of workers could be off sick or in self-isolation in the UK when coronavirus reaches its peak. This is a potential headache for bosses worried about their profits, but an even bigger worry for workers facing lost pay.

One London hospital cleaner told the New York Times he would have to come into work even if he caught the virus. "Let's say I'm sick for one month now - how am I going to pay my rent? The bills are there - how am I going to cope?"

Boris Johnson and the Tory government are faced with the dilemma of bosses demanding their profits are safeguarded on the one hand, and millions of workers unable to make ends meet on the other, forced to take time off work due to ill health or to stop the spread of infection.

So far Johnson has extended statutory sick pay to start from the first day of 'self-isolation' rather than after the third day. Statutory sick pay is worth a measly 94.25 per week, less than a third of what a full-time worker on minimum wage earns. We say workers should be paid full pay, from day one, and for the full extent of their illness or self-isolation period.

There are millions of workers who do not even qualify for statutory sick pay. Anyone who earns less than 118 per week will not qualify - around two million workers.

Workers on low-hour contracts must have exceeded this amount on average for the past eight weeks, and 4.8 million self-employed also do not qualify. Not to mention those in receipt of benefits facing potential sanctions as a consequence.

Sick pay is an essential part of preventing the spread of disease. A US study by economists Stefan Pichler and Nicholas Ziebarth showed that states with paid sick leave reduced the spread of influenza by between 5% and 40%.

Union action

Meanwhile, most workers are at the mercy of the attitude of their bosses. Houseware chain Wilko has announced it is removing sick pay entitlements from 21,000 workers in stores and warehouses. The GMB union has rightly threatened industrial action as a result.

Conversely, bakery chain Greggs has said it will continue to pay workers their contracted hours. Workers at Greggs recently won union recognition with bakers' union BFAWU. Trade unionists at Homerton Hospital in east London recently forced the same from their outsourcing employer ISS.

In fact, it is in trade union-organised workplaces where there are likely to be better sick pay arrangements, as well as a means to fight for full pay during self-isolation or when taking on childcare responsibilities.

These are issues that need to be fought for by the whole trade union movement. The unions must demand full pay for all of those affected by coronavirus, to prioritise public health over the bosses' profits. Strikes are one way to stop the virus spreading at work if not!

If the bosses claim they can't pay - open the books to trade union inspection! The government should nationalise big firms refusing to comply and subsidise small firms if they genuinely can't afford it.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 11 March 2020:


Coronavirus: Full NHS funding now

Coronavirus infects the world economy

Flybe collapse: nationalise to save jobs threatened by Covid-19 and downturn

Coronavirus: international cooperation needed, not capitalist competition

Supermarkets are ruled by profit - unions should control supply limits

For full pay during isolation: for public health as well as workers' wallets

Self-isolation patients speak: NHS facilities and advice not up to it

Italy on lockdown: lack of resources and democracy causes panic

South Korea shows capitalism has money to respond to coronavirus

Coronavirus news in brief


Domestic Violence bill: We still need to fight to save our services

News in brief

Workplace news

Postal workers mobilise to win strike reballot

Homerton Hospital workers fight for sick pay

Fighting to transform the union in my warehouse

Argos workers in Sainsbury's stores threatened with losing collective bargaining

Homeless charity workers to strike against intransigent management

Southampton trade unionists say "defend the right to strike!"

Strong support for PCS Broad Left Network

East London uni and bin worker strikes

US election

How can Trump be ousted from the White House?

Campaigns and party news

Salford 'no-cuts' budget includes cuts and tax rises

Stoke council unions beat pay cuts - now let's stop all cuts

Is there an anti-cuts rebellion in Scotland?

Socialist Party joins International Women's Day protests

Housing workers explain reality to idiot Boris Johnson

Swansea: Ask anyone about state of services, you will hear the real story

Camarthenshire: Councillors' 'walk of shame'

Student occupation in support of striking workers

Selling the Socialist

Socialist Party executive committee positions

International news

Greece-Turkey border refugee crisis

Women's and trans rights

Women's rights, trans rights and the labour movement

Readers' opinion

Film: Greed directed by Michael Winterbottom

Childcare - costly, inadequate and hard work

Book: Why you should be a trade unionist by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey

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