Mayors launch campaign for self-isolation ‘wages’

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Archive/PA Images

Manchester and Liverpool’s mayors and the TUC have launched a national campaign for workers to still get paid when they self-isolate under the national NHS test and trace system.

The campaign – Time Out to Help Out – is backed by Unison, GMB, Usdaw, Unite and CWU as well as businesses.

Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram are calling for employees to still be paid their full normal wage if they are requested to self-isolate and are unable to work from home. Employers should then be able to claim that payment back from the government.

Government figures suggest that only 79% of those to have tested positive for Covid-19 could be reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, and of those reached 20% of people contacted through test and trace did not provide any contacts.

The business community don’t want to go back to normal; they want to go forward to better and that includes making sure workers are supported when they need to self-isolate” – Lou Cordwell, co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership

That means the NHS does not have any contacts identified for 37% of those who test positive, leaving a significant gap in the numbers of people who should be self-isolating.

Employees who are able to claim statutory sick pay face a significant drop in their income. At £95.85 per week, SSP amounts to approximately one-fifth of the median weekly earnings of workers in the two city regions.

But many employees are not entitled to SSP because their income is too low. The campaigners said there are at least 90,000 employees in Manchester and 47,000 in Liverpool in this position – the majority employed in sales and customer services, and roles such as process, plant and machine operatives, cleaners, bar workers, shelf stackers and hospital porters.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Burnham said: “NHS test and trace will never work properly until all employees are supported to follow its requests. It’s right that everybody plays their part in helping to get Covid-19 under control. But what’s not right is forcing some of our workers – many doing the lowest paid jobs or self-employed – to make a choice between self-isolating or face a drastic loss of income.

“That’s why we’re proposing an alternative system… to make sure workers are paid fairly if they are requested to self-isolate. Only by ending the pay penalty will we see the national NHS test and trace service reach everyone they need to, which is currently standing at 53% in Greater Manchester.”

This financial penalty of self-isolation, says the campaign, will become even more acute as the furlough scheme is phased out and more people return to work.

Where the employee is receiving statutory sick pay, the employer should be able to claim back the difference between statutory sick pay and their normal wage from government, say the mayors. Self-isolating self-employed workers should be able to claim for loss of earnings in the same way as the payments which are made to people who are required to go on jury service. Under the jury service process, people can claim for loss of earnings, up to a maximum daily amount.

Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said: “We cannot beat this virus by asking people to choose between putting food on the table or keeping their communities safe. People should be supported, not penalised, for doing the right thing and isolating at home. The government are right to want self-isolating to be seen as a national duty. But when performing other national duties like jury service, we do not expect people to be left destitute. This should be no different.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want test and trace to work. But it’s not viable to ask workers to self-isolate if that means they are plunged into financial hardship. Until ministers fix this problem, people will continue to struggle to follow official advice.

“Wherever possible, employers should do the right thing and pay workers their full pay. But the government must also ensure that every worker gets financial support. Too many – including the two million who currently don’t qualify for sick pay, or the seven million only getting SSP – will not be able to afford to isolate.”

Lou Cordwell, co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “I’ve been speaking to businesses and they want to do the right thing by their employees. Many of them will be supporting the campaign for a fairer system to pay their staff properly. This health pandemic has devastated a lot of businesses and impacted on jobs and incomes. The business community don’t want to go back to normal; they want to go forward to better and that includes making sure workers are supported when they need to self-isolate.”

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