GMB Union broke the scandal of statutory sick pay amid the Covid-19 outbreak this week. We were able to make the link between ‘self-isolation’ and sick pay because we are organised. We got out before anyone else did because our members – outsourced cleaners, porters and catering staff – were already running campaigns on this issue.
‘Strong women’ is an overused term, and we need something better. I prefer ‘badass women’ – a descriptor that certainly applies to the members I’ve had the pleasure of unionising on sick pay campaigns.
It’s been a cracking week. After months of organising, we forced the Prime Minister to improve statutory sick pay and won millions of pounds worth of additional pay from global service providers. We dominated the national agenda by exposing the impossible choice our members face. These stories only get a hearing when workers are organised, unionised and taking action.
Statutory sick pay is £94.25 a week. It’s paid by minimum wage employers, and to be entitled to this miserly amount you currently need to prove you are really sick by forfeiting three full days’ pay. Obviously, people can’t afford to do this, so instead they come into work ill. They’re forced to choose between paying the rent or coming into work sick. It is simply common sense that if you’ve got responsibilities you can’t lose three days of pay.
This International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the thousands of badass women across the country who were brave and angry enough to get organised and take action on this issue. Women make up the majority of workers in 80% of the lowest jobs in the UK. These jobs are physically exhausting, pay badly and don’t offer proper sick pay. This week, these women were heard by everyone. Their everyday struggles became a public health issue.
They won big for themselves and for so many others who aren’t unionised across the country. They are – and forever have been – fighting, organising and winning without pomp or ceremony. They’re resilient, brilliant and exist everywhere. If you want to make change as they have, join a union, find your badass women and get in formation.