The TUC is calling for sick pay to be boosted and extended to all workers amid fears of the impact of self-isolation on workers in the run-up to xmas.
Near 650,000 workers in the hospitality, retail, and arts and entertainment do not qualify for statutory sick pay at a time when 10-day isolation rules have been reintroduced for the Omicron variant, according to the TUC.
The union body is warning that this could mean many are left with no income over the Christmas period.
It says the number affected includes:
The only other sector of the economy with a higher proportion of workers who do not qualify for statutory sick pay is those employed by households – e.g. for example domestic cleaners – at 32%, says the TUC.
It points out that the UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe, worth just £96.35 per week, and that this is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more.
TUC research has found that this leaves around a third of workers – over 10 million people – with sick pay that is too low to meet basic living costs, or no sick pay at all.
During the pandemic, the government introduced a temporary scheme to assist people who face hardship if required to self-isolate. However, TUC research has found that two-thirds of applications (64%) are rejected – in part because the central funding is too low and many workers are not aware of it.
The TUC is calling on the government to extend statutory sick pay protection to every worker by removing the lower earnings limit and increase statutory sick pay to at least the value of the real Living Wage – £346 per week.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every worker should have the security of sick pay if they fall ill or need to isolate. But while we’re out celebrating and buying presents, many workers who make that possible get no sick pay protection at all.
“Our sick pay system is broken. No one should be left to choose between doing the right thing or putting food on the table. And we all risk having our Christmas ruined because our sick pay system doesn’t do what’s needed to stop the virus spreading.
“Ministers must extend sick pay protection to every worker. And it should worth at least the same as the Living Wage to make sure people can afford to isolate.”
Meanwhile, the think-tank Autonomy has urged employers to work with local authorities to fund all-night city rest centres, saying night workers require safe spaces to visit between shifts and during quiet periods. The report says the rapid rise of the gig economy has left many workers without access to staff rooms, canteens and toilets. It points to concerns over the treatment of drivers, who are often foreign nationals working zero-hour contracts. The report found that one in nine employees in the UK now work at night, the highest proportion since records began. Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: “The UK has witnessed an explosion of precarious gig economy night-time work but without any infrastructure put in place to cater for these workers.”