One in 12 key workers did not qualify for statutory sick pay at the start of the pandemic, according to the TUC.
Analysis of Labour Force Survey data found that the essential workers unable to claim statutory sick pay (SSP) in Q1 2020, because they did not meet the minimum earnings threshold, included 27% of cleaners, 26% of retail workers, 9% of teaching assistants and 6% of care workers.
The TUC analysed Labour Force Survey data from early 2020 to avoid data that had been distorted by furlough and other aspects of the pandemic.
The current rate of SSP is £96.35 per week. In response to a TUC survey, 24% of people who self-identified as key workers in the context of coronavirus said they only received this minimum safety net, while 33% said they did not receive their usual wage if they were unable to work because of illness.
The trade union body called on the government to reform sick pay and remove the lower earnings limit and to increase the rate of SSP to at least the level of the “real” Living Wage, as recommended by the Living Wage Foundation (£330 per week).
“Nobody should have to choose between going into work if they’re sick or should be self-isolating, or doing the right thing by staying home but facing hardship as a result. But that’s the choice facing many key workers who kept the country going during the pandemic,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“Our key workers deserve the dignity, security and safety of proper sick pay and a decent pay rise too. They have earned it, often in frontline jobs with much greater risk of infection than those who could work from home.”
A report produced for the TUC by the Fabian Society think tank states that SSP replaces less than 20% of average earnings and UK employees lose £4bn a year due to not receiving their full pay while off sick.
This could result in presenteeism and the avoidable transmission of infectious disease, the report says.
Some 2,134 workers responded to the TUC survey in May 2021.