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Union calls for mandatory sick pay as NPHET says workers still turning up with symptoms

Dr Ronan Glynn said it is not acceptable this winter to go to work with cold and flu symptoms.

Image: Shutterstock

SIPTU HAS AGAIN highlighted its call for mandatory sick pay policies across all sectors after health officials expressed concern about reports of people turning up at work with symptoms of Covid-19.

Speaking at the Department of Health briefing on Thursday evening, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said officials were receiving “report after report of employees ringing up their GPs while in work saying they’ve got symptoms”.

He said they are also still getting reports of employees being swabbed at work as part of serial testing programmes and showing symptoms.

“We have appealed to employers over recent weeks, it’s not that that appeal is starting today or yesterday,” he said. “We had a very specific appeal to employers a number of weeks ago to facilitate employees to work from home.

“But equally employers and employees need to be aware of that it’s just simply not acceptable this winter to be coming to work with cold and flu-like symptoms.”

He said the knock-on impacts for colleagues could be “far more profound” if people take that risk. He said people should ask themselves every morning before they go to work whether they are feeling well. If they have a new cough, a fever or a loss of sense of taste or smell, he said they should not “take the chance”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Siptu’s organiser for workers in manufacturing Greg Ennis said sick pay provisions are “minimalist or non-existent” for workers in low paid sectors of the economy and in particular meat processing plants, where several large clusters have broken out over the course of the pandemic.

He said Siptu has repeatedly pushed for the implementation of the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee’s recommendation to legislate for a statutory sick pay scheme for low-paid workers and the designation of Covid-19 a notifiable disease under health and safety regulations.

“The dangers of people being forced to present for work due to a lack of sick pay provisions extends across lots of sectors and industries,” Ennis said.

“Recently we saw a situation where workers on 12-hour shifts were losing their shift premium – 33% – if they had to self-isolate. This approach is detrimental to ensuring we keep Covid-19 out of workplaces.

“I understand what Dr Glynn is saying and I share his concerns but the solution to this is a mandatory sick pay provision.”

As part of Budget 2021, the government announced that from the end of February 2021 the number of waiting days for illness benefit will be reduced from six days to three. However this still means workers would not receive payment for their first three days off work. 

For this reason, Ennis said the reduction from six to three days will “make no difference”. 

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“The government really needs to go above and beyond, we are in a crisis and they need to act like it’s a crisis,” he said.

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