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Workers should not have to choose between pay and coronavirus self-isolation, UNISON says

Image credit: Press Association

Workers should not have to choose between pay and coronavirus self-isolation, UNISON says

Scotland’s public service union has called for the Scottish Government ensure no one is forced to decide between self-isolating due to coronavirus and their income, as the UK Government has announced workers can now temporarily claim statutory sick pay from the first day of their illness.

UNISON Scotland convener Lilian Macer said workers must not be forced to choose between self-isolating or paying the bills.

“As the largest health union in the country, UNISON Scotland is already liaising with the NHS over what action is being taken to deal with the spread of coronavirus in Scotland,” she said.

“I know that NHS workers – and all of UNISON’s members providing vital public services – will want to do everything they can to minimise the impact. But it is imperative that employers and the Scottish Government play their part, because good working practices can help slow down the spread of contagious illness.”

She said workers on zero-hour or other precarious contracts “simply can’t afford to self-isolate unless they receive sick pay”.

“Low-paid workers, including those caring for some of the most vulnerable in our society, could be forced to choose between isolating themselves or paying their bills,” Macer said.

“In our shared interest – caring for each other and keeping each other safe – Scotland is striving to be a fair work nation, so the Scottish government should be ensuring that no-one is forced to make that choice.”

The issue of income security while self-isolating was brought up in Prime Minister’s Questions by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.

“People are worried about their health but there are millions of workers who are worried about the consequences for their incomes, their jobs securities and their families,” Blackford said.

“But I do ask for the Prime Minister to give specific guarantees… that all workers will be fully protected from the first day of sickness and that those payments should be up to the level of the real living wage. And emergency legislation to guarantee that staff who are asked to self-isolate, and their businesses, is fully supported. Will the PM commit himself to working constructively with us to that end?”

In response, PM Boris Johnson said the UK government was bringing forward the day which people are eligible for statutory sick pay on a “temporary basis”, from the fourth day of sickness to the first day. He said people who self-isolate to protect others from the virus should not be “penalised for doing the right thing”.

The change means people will receive an extra £40 a week, when claiming statuory sick pay.

Meanwhile, a Glasgow City Council spokesperson told Holyrood that council workers will be entitled to “special leave” in addition to sick leave if they self-isolate “in accordance with government advice”.

“Staff who are required to self-isolate, in accordance with Government advice, will continue to be paid. We will not view this as sick leave but as special leave. If any staff become ill, that will simply be treated as sick leave,” the spokesperson said.

The Labour Party has called for emergency legislation to ensure those working in the gig economy are guaranteed sick pay, and for the UK Government to provide emergency funding to support the NHS through the outbreak.

The TUC said the lower earnings limit and any earnings threshold to qualify for statutory sick pay should be abolished, and that the UK Government must provide funds to ensure employers can afford to pay sick pay.

The number of coronavirus cases in Scotland increased from one to three on Wednesday, and there have been 914 negative tests for the virus. There are currently 85 cases of coronavirus in the UK.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for a response to UNISON's claims.

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