Paid pandemic leave has just been granted to Australian aged care workers – and unions are calling for it to be extended to everyone

The campaign for pandemic leave in Australia is on a roll. (Tom Weller, dpa)
  • Two weeks of paid pandemic leave have been extended to aged care workers in the latest Fair Work decision.
  • The conditional special leave will be available to those who are either displaying symptoms or have come into close contact with a confirmed case.
  • Unions are now calling for the measure to be extended to all workers to protect against further spread of the coronavirus.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

As the coronavirus continues to cause havoc in aged care homes, their workforces have been granted some industrial relief.

Aged care workers around the country will receive two weeks of pandemic leave, available until September, to enable them to self-isolate when required, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled.

“There is a real risk that employees who do not have access to leave entitlements might not report COVID-19 symptoms which might require them to self-isolate, but rather seek to attend for work out of financial need,” it said in its decision.

“This represents a significant risk to infection control measures.”

Finalising the decision this week, workers on three different awards will be granted the special leave from Wednesday and will be able to take it if they show symptoms or have close contact with a confirmed case.

It’ll be conditional on workers being 17 years or older and cannot be used in tandem with JobKeeper payments or other types of leave, such as unused annual leave.

If not directed by the government or their employer to self-isolate, workers will need to provide a medical certificate to use the leave, with the amount paid to be the weekly average of their last six weeks of earnings.

The leave is the latest Fair Work decision in a burst of industrial relations changes to prepare the workforce and employers to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.

It comes after a sustained campaign by the union movement to implement pandemic leave widely to workers who would otherwise be tempted or financially compelled to work despite potentially being infected.

Enlivened by this win, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is now calling for it to be extended to all workers.

“We welcome this decision but it still does not remove the trap door for casual workers with irregular hours, or workers in other industries,” secretary Sally McManus said.

With eight in ten Victorian cases linked to the workplace, McManus described pandemic leave as “a circuit breaker to stem the rate of transmission”.

“No worker should be left considering if they should go to work with mild symptoms to pay the bills,” she said.

There are likely many in that position. An independent survey of 1,000 Australians — commissioned in June and provided to Business Insider Australia — found that nearly four in 10 Australians would go to work with symptoms that could either present as flu or COVID-19. Around one in three said they’d go to work with a cough.