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 not 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 not 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.
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.”