Nandy calls for emergency sick pay legislation amid coronavirus outbreak

Elliot Chappell

Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has called for emergency legislation to ensure that all workers receive sick pay from day one, amid the coronavirus – or COVID-19 – outbreak in the UK.

The Wigan MP has joined other Labour Party figures and trade unions in urging a change to the law, as currently over two million low-paid UK workers do not have the right to sick pay from day one.

Nandy has highlighted the fact that because statutory sick pay kicks in after four days, the decision to self-isolate effectively means giving up pay for many people.

Individuals have to earn an average of £118 per week to be eligible, and she has called on the government to ensure that workers are able to receive statutory sick pay regardless of income.

Unveiling her demands for further action from the government, Nandy said: “The threat of coronavirus is concerning enough without worrying it will leave you without money for rent and food.

“Workers on insecure contracts, those with unscrupulous employers or the bogus self-employed in the gig economy are being left to fend for themselves and make unnecessarily difficult choices. Self-isolation for some means no sick pay.

“This is a global health crisis and we need to do everything we can to make sure it’s not also a personal and financial tragedy for families in the UK. People must stay at home when they need to.

“Employers need to wake up to their wider responsibilities and the consequences for everyone if ill people are attending work when they should be at home.”

She added: “The government needs to pass emergency legislation to guarantee people the rights they deserve such as statutory sick pay from day one for all workers regardless of income.

“They should also bring together employers, trade unions and public health bodies to and ensure that all workers at risk will self-isolate and not spread coronavirus to either colleagues or customers.

“Bosses should not put their profit margins ahead of public health and people need to be able to follow medical advice. The government must step in and do what it takes to help stop coronavirus spreading at work and beyond.”

When unwell, to qualify for the benefit you must wait three ‘waiting days’ before a sum of £94.25 per week is payable from the fourth day.

A day cannot be counted as a ‘sick day’ if the individual has worked for one minute or more before they go home unwell.

Commenting on the issue in relation to outsourced NHS staff on BBC’s Today programme, GMB organiser Lola McAvoy said: “Statutory sick pay has long been insufficient for health workers on the frontline because it’s three days with no pay.

“They are facing an impossible choice about whether to come into the hospital whilst ill and hope that that’s OK and that nothing bad happens to the patient – or, forgo paying their rent.”

She added: “It is not right that our members are having to make that choice and we haven’t seen any guidance from the NHS, or from the government or from these contractors about what is going to happen if our members come into contact with a coronavirus patient.”

Labour health spokesperson Jonathan Ashworth said: “If we’re saying to people that they need to self-isolate, then we should be removing all the barriers to self-isolating and in the increasingly precarious economy of zero-hours contracts, low pay, the gig economy.”

He pointed out that currently, in order to take sick pay, workers must obtain a note from their GP – yet the government is currently advising people not to visit a GP if they suspect that they have the virus.

Over the weekend, Ashworth called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to come to the House of Commons to “explain fully the emergency powers he is planning to bring in”.

Labour has expressed “serious concerns” about the capacity of the NHS workforce to cope with an escalation in cases, and the government has said its plans could include asking newly retired health professionals to return to work.

The number of instances of coronavirus in the UK has now increased to 36, and the Prime Minister is set to chair an emergency meeting of COBRA today before setting out an official action plan.

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