Statutory sick pay could stymie Covid-19 response

Hospital maintenance
Hospital maintenance (posed by model)
Photo: Prapat Aowsakorn/Shutterstock

As the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to 40 over the weekend, the GMB union has pointed out the risk, particularly in healthcare, of workers on low pay feeling they have to work even if unwell.

If you are paying them the national living wage and they are only getting statutory sick pay when they get ill, they are faced with an impossible choice about whether to come into the hospital while ill and hope that’s okay and nothing happens to the patients or forego paying the rent” – Lola McEvoy, GMB

The union is calling on the government to ensure all health workers who are sent home or decided to remain at home to self-isolate are not left without pay.

Currently, said the GMB, workers such as cleaners, porters and caterers employed by private contractors rely on statutory sick pay, under which they are paid nothing for the first three days (“waiting days”) they are absent. This could be applied to workers displaying symptoms of Covid-19 who have to self-isolate.

After the three waiting days, the statutory sick pay rate is £94.25 per week, approximately one quarter of what a worker would receive on the national living wage for a 40-hour week.

GMB organiser Lola McEvoy told Radio 4 this morning that these workers faced a dilemma that could help spread the virus: “If you are paying them the national living wage and they are only getting statutory sick pay when they get ill, they are faced with an impossible choice about whether to come into the hospital while ill and hope that’s okay and nothing happens to the patients or forego paying the rent.”

The GMB also pointed out that the virus’s spread was putting gig economy workers in a similarly difficult position. National officer Mick Rix called on all employers to pay workers in this situation, whatever the terms of their contracts.

He said: “The threat of coronavirus is a huge problem for employers and workers across the UK.

“But workers in the so-called gig economy, or on zero hours contracts, are left abandoned and penniless if they have to self-isolate. Once again the bogus self-employment model is screwing over the disadvantaged.

“GMB is calling on all employers – regardless of the contract– to do the right thing and pay their workers if they have to take time off due to the global health crisis.”

Meanwhile, a medical worker from the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is one of three people confirmed to have coronavirus in Hertfordshire, the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust has confirmed.

NHS Employees on Tuesday (3 March) advised that “any NHS employee (including sub-contractors) who has to self-isolate should receive full sick pay”.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “We recognise coronavirus means staff employed by NHS contractors such as facilities management organisations face a dilemma about coming to work even if they are feeling unwell or staying off and potentially losing pay. This is a particular problem because statutory sick pay is not typically as high as contracted pay and the self-isolation period for coronavirus is lengthy.

“A similar issue would arise in the case of any exclusionary illness, such as norovirus, and given the severity of the current situation, we would ask anyone working in an NHS setting to exercise the appropriate caution to avoid putting our patients and teams at risk.”

4 Responses to Statutory sick pay could stymie Covid-19 response

  1. Avatar
    Linda Ferguson 2 Mar 2020 at 3:30 pm #

    After watching Lola on the news addressing sick pay for all employees I wholly agree. At present I am a cleaner in a care home that pays no sick pay whatsoever. I am very concerned about the Coronavirus. I like everyone have bills to pay I also have an ill husband and asthmatic children my and my own health is not brilliant. Is there a petition the public to sign in order for the government to start taking notice of this outdated system.

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    Angie Tidy 2 Mar 2020 at 5:11 pm #

    Well done Lola for bringing this to the fore.
    Health care workers on the whole will only be paid statutory sick pay whilst off so they do have that dilemma as to whether they take that time or work.
    This then not only puts other members of staff in danger but also the most vulnerable people they are caring for.
    The trouble is then they can’t pay their rent and run the risk of eviction.
    Great job Lola so proud to know a powerhouse like you xx

  3. Avatar
    nina lawrence 20 Mar 2020 at 10:01 am #

    is this only in response to health care workers or all 0 contract hour jobs please

  4. Avatar
    S price 25 Mar 2020 at 7:56 pm #

    My husband is in the same position. He has multiple sclerosis and is on disease modifying treatment. He is at risk but if he chooses to self isolate then he only gets stat sick pay! This worries him so much. He is a support worker for a private company. This should not be a choice between choosing health or feeding our children. I have contacted my local MP. We need to start a petition now!

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