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1 in 5 Aussies are going to work with COVID symptoms - here’s why

·2-min read
Commuters waiting for train in Sydney
Many people have run out of sick leave, so have no other choice but to go to work if they can't afford the time off. (Source: Reuters)

One in five workers have gone to work while they had COVID symptoms, with experts arguing workers face a “devil’s choice” between getting paid or exposing their colleagues to the virus.

Casuals and gig workers were among the millions who didn’t get paid sick leave, with research by the Australia Institute finding 37 per cent of employees were not paid sick leave.

Another 12 per cent only had access to pro-rata part-time sick leave, which is based on the number of ordinary hours worked in a two-week period.

“With incomplete sick leave coverage, workers face a devil’s choice: between staying home to protect themselves, their colleagues and the public; or going to work regardless, simply to make ends meet,” said Dr Jim Stanford, economist and director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

Stanford said it was clear the poor sick leave coverage, as well as people running out of sick leave, was contributing to the “epidemic” of employees attending work with possible COVID symptoms.

Not only does going to work unwell risk the health of colleagues and the community, but it also poses risks to the individual.

According to the vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Chris Moy, trying to ‘fight’ the virus and not taking the time to rest and recover could set back your recovery.

Younger people were the most likely to be going to work sick but were also the most likely to not have any sick leave.

People going to work with covid
Source: The Centre for Future Work

Women were also more likely than men not to be paid sick leave, according to the research.

Not having sick leave was not the only reason people attended work while unwell. Some worried about ‘letting down’ their employer or colleagues, or felt there was no one else to step in.

Sick leave should be expanded

Stanford called on the Government to expand sick pay entitlements to cover all workers, including those in casual employment and self-employed situations.

The Victorian government has already expanded sick leave to casuals, who are now able to claim sick pay in addition to their standard hourly rate.

The Federal Government, by contrast, has actually been eroding sick leave entitlements, according to the report, by reinforcing the shift toward insecure working arrangements.

This included its 2021 amendments to the Fair Work Act, which entrenched employers’ rights to hire workers on a casual basis.

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