LONDON (Reuters) – Britain must provide sick pay for low-wage and gig-economy workers who need to take days off due to coronavirus to stop them going to work regardless and infecting others, the TUC trade union body said on Wednesday.
Nearly two million UK workers do not earn enough to qualify for sick pay, a report by the Trades Union Congress said.
One in ten female workers, almost 300,000 workers on zero hours contracts and more than half of workers over the age of 65 fall into this category, the report said.
The government has advised people who have come into contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus to self-isolate at home for 14 days but this has been widely criticised for not taking into account the impact on gig-economy workers.
“We want workers to follow government health advice but the sick pay rules don’t help,” TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said.
“It’s a shame it takes a pandemic to shine a light on that unfairness,” she added.
Under current rules, UK employers only have to start paying minimum sick pay once an employee is unwell for at least four days in a row, which the TUC says means that people with insecure jobs force themselves to work even if they are ill.
The government should raise the level of weekly sick pay, abolish the earnings threshold and make sick pay available from the first day of illness, the TUC says.
At 94.25 pounds per week, sick pay in the UK is among the lowest of European countries.
Up to a fifth of the workforce in the UK could have to miss work during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, according to government projections.
The UK has 3.7 million insecure workers – those who are self-employed, on zero-hours contracts, or do agency, casual or seasonal work, according to the TUC.
On Tuesday, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said that the virus’s impact on gig economy workers was an issue for government, not central bankers.
Responding to questions in parliament on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the sick pay system is “robust” and being kept under review.