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United Workers Union fights for benchmark pandemic leave

United Workers Union – the union for 150,000 Australians in a range of essential industries – is calling for workers to be supported with pandemic leave.

United Workers Union, together with a number of other health Unions, have filed an application with the Fair Work Commission to have paid pandemic leave entitlements inserted into a number of federal awards relating to health workers.

These measures will apply to both casual and permanent staff and be made up of two components:

  1. Where a worker is required to self-isolate, or is prevented from working by Government decree, they will receive two weeks paid leave per instance.
  2. Where a worker is infected with COVID-19, they receive an immediate credit of 20 days personal leave (so they could then take personal leave while off work due to infection).

The Awards the union is advocating to update cover front line health workers including:

  • Ambulance officers and paramedics
  • Aged care workers in residential and homecare settings
  • Hospital health workers in cleaning, catering, ward support, as well as nurses, radiographers and other hospital staff
  • Workers in disability support, in home and residential settings
  • Aboriginal health workers
  • Workers in supported employment

United Workers Union National Secretary Tim Kennedy said now is the time for Australian workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis to be provided with special pandemic leave that will protect both themselves and the communities they serve.

“Our members’ work reaches millions of people every single day of their lives. As we have seen, it is working people who are on the frontline of the coronavirus threat.

“Changes need to be made to provide significant back-up and support for workers to deal with this current global health crisis and to better prepare for any future pandemics we may face as a society.

“During the current pandemic we are seeing some employers providing special paid pandemic leave as a result of collective action taken by workers. However, in the majority of cases this is occurring on the basis that workers first use up all or part of their other leave entitlements.

“The health award change we’re advocating for will set a benchmark to make sure this does not happen. Australian workers will not lose all of their leave entitlements and have nothing left once a pandemic is over, or have to go without pay if they’re prevented from working.

“We’re calling on all employers to treat their staff fairly. Pandemic leave of two weeks is the minimum standard employers should be adopting, alongside providing all necessary personal protective equipment and opportunities for testing.

“We don’t want any worker to be left behind due to this global health crisis. These changes to awards will be a step in the right direction as we continue to fight for a wage subsidy for all workers, regardless of their visa or employment status,” Mr Kennedy said.

COVID-19 has seen United Workers Union members taking unpaid leave and struggling to survive the consequences.

“I am a single mother of three and work as a personal carer which puts me at risk of contracting the virus. I have no sick leave after a recent infection and use my annual leave for Christmas school holidays with my kids. If I get coronavirus, or anyone of my children do, I won’t be able to put a roof over my head, pay my bills and feed my family.” – Cass

“I take care of people with disabilities and who also have additional medical needs. Even with a minor cold or cough I cannot go to work. As I am only part-time I only get an average of five days sick leave per year. After contracting influenza at work from a resident, I had to be absent for 10 days using up all of my personal leave. When I needed an emergency operation to remove my gall bladder I had to use my long service leave. Now facing a pandemic, I do not know what I would do if I got sick again.” – Bianka

“I use what sick leave I have for caring responsibilities for my elderly mother and my son. I informed my workplace I had cold like symptoms, visited a doctor and was not able to return to work as I work in aged care. I applied to use my annual leave but was denied. My mother has had a hip operation and I am now using unpaid leave to care for her.” – Janet

“I am originally from the Philippines and save my annual leave to be able to visit my family each year. I had to self-isolate and take unpaid leave upon my return.” – Angelyn

“All of my work is direct contact – delivering personal care, assistance with showering, toileting, feeding etc. which makes social distancing impossible. I have used up all of my personal leave on the usual sickness that comes from my work and from everyday life. I cannot survive not being paid if I get sick during a pandemic.” – Jason



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