Australia needs a universal paid pandemic leave scheme to protect workers, public health and the national economy.
Labor and the unions have been calling for paid pandemic leave since the start of this pandemic five months ago.
It was clear from the outset that one of the biggest threats to public health and national security was community transmission in the workplace, including public transportation to and from places of work.
Everyone needs to be able to self-isolate in the event they are unwell, have been exposed to someone with the virus, are awaiting the results of a COVID test or who have tested positive.
Sadly, due to their employment arrangements, too many workers in Australia lack even the most basic workplace entitlements – including access to paid sick leave. This includes casual workers, gig workers, contractors, sole traders, freelancers and many labour hire employees.
Many of these workers do not choose this form of work. Many of these workers are low paid and working at the frontline of the crisis; for example, in aged care, hospital and health facilities, and essential retail. In the case of aged care and people with disabilities, these are some of our most vulnerable communities.
No worker in Australia should be forced to make a choice between not being able to pay their bills or going to work unwell and risking the health of work colleagues, patients, customers or themselves.
In Victoria, it’s been estimated that about 80 per cent of the state's new infections since mid-May have been driven by transmission in workplaces.
A universal paid pandemic leave scheme could have prevented some of this terrible toll.
While we welcome the fact that the federal government has finally admitted that paid pandemic leave is necessary, it doesn’t go far enough.
We need paid pandemic leave to be available across Australia, not just for one state.
Universal paid pandemic leave would help prevent the virus spreading in other areas.
The Morrison Government needs to to act now to implement a paid pandemic leave scheme for all workers. It should have been introduced months ago.