TUC calls for better sick pay provision for UK COVID absences

The TUC said the UK has a fundamental sick pay problem. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned that cutting the self-isolation period for those testing positive with COVID-19 will not fix the UK’s “fundamental sick pay problem”.

It comes as the new government policy reducing minimum self-isolation from seven days to five days comes into effect on Monday.

According to new analysis from the trade union, around 267,800 private sector workers were self-isolating in mid-December without decent sick pay, or any sick pay at all.

Approximately 209,900 workers had to rely on statutory sick pay during the period, which is too low to meet basic living costs, and 57,900 got no sick pay at all.

The research analysed data from 13 to 26 December as the Omicron variant continued to sweep across the country over the festive period.

The group demanded that ministers stop turning a blind eye to “serious public health failure” and deliver a respectable sick pay for all workers in Britain.

It highlighted that workers on low or no sick pay face the choice of self-isolating and facing hardship, or putting food on the table but potentially spreading the virus.

Read more: UK economy climbs above pre-COVID levels in November

TUC polling conducted by Britain Thinks, found around three in 10 private sector workers rely on statutory sick pay, and just under one in 10 get nothing. This leaves more than a third of private sector workers without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all.

The UK has the least generous statutory sick pay compared to anywhere else in Europe, worth just £96.35 ($131) per week. This represents around 15% of average earnings, compared to an OECD average of over 60%.

In addition to this, it is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more, resulting in two million workers nationwide, mostly women, not being able to qualify.

The trade union further added that cutting payment for unvaccinated staff is not the correct way to encourage employees to get the jab, following recent announcements from Next (NXT.L) and Ikea.

“This is a serious public health failure,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

“It beggars belief that two years into the pandemic, statutory sick pay is still too little to live on and two million workers can’t get any sick pay at all.

“Ministers can’t continue to turn a blind eye to this vital public health tool. We need decent sick pay – paid at the real Living Wage – available to everyone.”

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