Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1077/30391
For full pay during isolation: for public health as well as workers' wallets
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%.
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.
In The Socialist 11 March 2020:
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