Lack of sick pay is a threat to the nation's health.
The Coronavirus outbreak has highlighted an issue which is a constant threat to the nations’ health – that of employers not paying sick pay.
Without sick pay, people come into work when they’re sick. At best, this leads to colleagues and customers getting a cold. At worst, it can spread potentially deadly infections like coronavirus.
The workers most likely to not have sick pay are those on zero-hour contracts or working for outsourcing companies. This includes many of the cleaners, caterers and security guards at our hospitals, universities and council offices.
Working when sick is a particular problem in our healthcare system where workers are most likely to come into close contact with the old and ill people who are most in danger if they catch the virus.
According to the GMB union, the majority of private companies providing NHS services do not offer sick pay for the first three days. As their pay is often low, and the welfare state crumbling, these workers can usually not afford to go three days with no pay so they will go into work.
So GMB are calling for NHS trusts to ensure that all outsourced staff can go off sick if they suspect they might have coronavirus, without losing out on pay, annual leave or attendance record.
As GMB organiser Lola McEvoy put it: “Cleaners, porters and catering staff are putting their own health at risk to help contain coronavirus despite the fact that they don’t get paid if they go off sick. NHS trusts must guarantee all staff are given full sick pay in suspected coronavirus cases.”
Unison has gone further, calling for the government to force all employers to allow their workers to go off sick without being punished financially for doing so. They point out that many social care staff are on zero-hours contracts and they work with vulnerable sick and elderly people.
Even government ministers and civil servants are at risk. Their colleagues who clean their offices, guard their front doors and make their coffees are often outsourced without sick pay Maybe that realisation will be the wake-up call ministers need to end the trend of outsourcing and zero-hour contracts which endangers the nation’s health?
Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward
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