Sunday, 29 Nov 2020

Greens push to double sick leave by Christmas but Labour is ruling it out

The Greens are pressuring Labour to rush through its election promise of doubling sick leave so it’s in place before Christmas.

Workplace Relations spokeswoman Jan Logie says Covid-19 made the issue of increasing the statutory minimum from five to 10 days “urgent”.

“The difference between five and 10 days off could be the difference between increased community transmission of Covid-19 or not.”

Over the summer when retail and hospitality businesses are at their busiest, their staff need to know they can stay home if needed and the Covid-19 case of the AUT student who went to work after getting tested proved this, Logie said.

Labour campaigned on doubling the statutory minimum sick leave but Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood has ruled out bringing the change in before the summer break.

Wood said the bill would be introduced this year before the House rises but it would go through the normal process of public consultation meaning it would come into force next year.

Wood referred to the Covid Leave Scheme which provides employers with support to allow them to continue paying employees who are isolating even if they don’t have enough sick leave.

Logie said while she appreciated the minister’s commitment to introduce the bill quickly, the Greens wanted to see it also passed under urgency.

She said Covid-19 warranted it – especially because the hospitality and retail sectors are at their busiest over the summer break and those workers come into contact with a large number of people each day which increases their chances of getting sick.

And because of the power imbalance between low wage staff and their employers, workers often felt pressured to work even when they should stay at home, Logie said.

“We need to ensure that all of those staff have access to paid sick leave.”

Hospitality worker Victoria Howe, 27, said it was vital sick leave was extended to ensure workers could take a day off if needed.

Last year Howe ran herself into the ground working at a bar in Wellington working 17 days in a row and lost her voice.

She was diagnosed with tonsillitis and her doctor told her to take time off so she exhausted her sick leave because her employer only gave her the minimum.

Later that year Howe then injured her ankle but had no leave left so was forced to work 60 hours a week because her boss said there was no one to cover her shifts.

Her ankle quickly gave way and she ended up in hospital in a moon boot. Howe’s month-long recovery was covered by ACC which paid out 80 per cent of her wage which she said cut it fine with covering her expenses.

Howe, who has since quit that job and moved to Auckland, said at the time her visa was tied to her job so she was worried about asking for more time off.

“You are pressured in hospitality in those low-paid backpacker situations when the employer has the power.”

Hospitality advocate Chloe Ann-King said she supports the Greens’ push for increased sick leave before the Christmas period but wants assurances workers will be able to access it.

The hospitality and retail sectors in particular are “chronically understaffed” so workers were often forced to come in even if they had enough leave because their bosses made them.

“It really just ink on paper if there’s no enforcement of it.”

Logie said the Greens also wanted to see the Labour Inspectorate better resourced and would push for better unionisation rates in sectors where there was low representation.

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