Many young workers are casually employed meaning they have no access to paid leave like sick leave or annual leave. If casual workers are advised or directed to self-isolate as a result of exposure to or infection with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), they may not have access to paid leave for the period that they can’t work.
Employers have to ensure that workplaces are healthy and safe for all workers, and we all need to follow public health advice and directions.
Only some employers are guaranteeing casual workers an income during periods when they have to self-isolate and can’t work. What about everyone else? 14 days is a long time to not get paid. Most young casual workers live pay check to pay check. How are workers supposed to pay rent and bills, and afford food?
Employers should be encouraging workers to self-report exposure to COVID-19 and ensure there are no barriers or disincentives to reporting.
Woolworths has announced they will pay casual staff for the shifts they would have otherwise worked during the period they have to self-isolate. And some other businesses have taken similar steps. All large businesses should be guaranteeing that casual workers can survive during this period. Supporting casual workers to do the right thing and follow public health advice by ensuring they can get by during enforced periods of no work is part of being a socially responsible employer.
The Morrison government’s response to the financial crisis facing casual workers and their families and communities (that’s everyone!) has been woefully inadequate, suggesting that casual workers, regardless of their current income, bills, and rent commitments, can transition to Newstart Allowance – a payment which is already below the poverty line. This policy guarantees financial disaster for many young, casual workers already struggling to make ends meet.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions Executive has called on the Morrison government to provide a guarantee of two weeks paid leave for all workers, permanent, casual and contract, who are forced to either self-isolate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic or where there is a genuine business downturn or shutdown as a result of the pandemic.
Casual workers, including the majority of young workers, need financial assistance to weather the looming public health crisis. The government must ensure casual workers are not penalised and left unable to pay rent and buy food just because they are doing the right thing for public health.
Workers should also not be discriminated against for flagging exposure or infection, or for staying away from work while sick. For instance, if your shifts dry up once you are fit to work again you may have an argument to make under General Protections. For advice and assistance, get in touch with us at the Young Workers Centre.
The situation with Covid-19 is going to continue rapidly changing in coming days – and you don’t need to face it alone. Get in touch, ask us a question, we can help.
It’s never been a more important time to be a union member. COVID-19 is a new situation and our industrial and employment laws don’t deal with it, but having the support of a union sets you and your workmates up to navigate complex issues like this.