As the World Health Organisation declares COIVD-19 a pandemic, the Australian government is preparing a variety of biosecurity measures in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus domestically.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has raised concerns over the mandated two-week isolation period for individuals confirmed or suspected to have contracted COVID-19.
Casual workers are less likely to have the means to isolate for two weeks, due to finance and job insecurities:
“1 in 3 workers have no paid leave. Without job security workers are being forced to choose between their health and their paycheck. It’s vital insecure workers are given paid leave so they can self isolate if they have symptoms.” – ACTU
With a third of Australia’s workforce on casual work conditions, fears are growing workers who cannot afford to skip shifts may opt to ignore isolation requests from authorities in favour of being able to pay for essentials such as food and rent.
Sally McManus, Secretary of the ACTU, has called for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to support casual workers. “This is why we need the Morrison government to bail out casual workers just as quickly as they would bail out the banks,” Ms McManus said
While calls for casual workers to receive sick benefits while in isolation have intensified, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter has responded: “people by large behave very, very responsibly and sensibly.” Additionally, he said casual workers “would have already made provisions for [staying home while sick or quarantined] because of course the purpose of casual employment is that you’re paid extra in lieu of those types of entitlements”.
While the government has not ruled out a sick paid leave scheme for the casual worker, Minister Porter has said they will not “jump to a solution in anticipation of a problem.”
The Prime Minister has called for large employers to support workers with paid leave regardless of their employment status during the health crisis. Macquarie University has announced plans to pay casual workers forced to isolate. In contrast, Qantas has requested employees to take unpaid leave to avoid job redundancies in an uncertain economic future.