Labour calls for paid sick leave and improved parental leave to tackle COVID-19 in new Bill

1 September 2020

Ivana Bacik

  • Labour Party launch bill to give workers in Ireland the legal right to sick pay for the first time.
  • Bill will also give parents the right to paid leave if their child is forced to stay home from school due to COVID-19.
  • Ireland is an outlier in Europe, and it has been highlighted by NPHET and the acting Chief Medical Officer as a problem in controlling outbreaks.

Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly, and Employment Affairs spokesperson Sen. Marie Sherlock have today published a new bill to bring in paid sick leave and cover for parents when their child's school or childcare provider is closed due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Sick Leave and Parental Leave (Covid-19) Bill 2020 is a newly proposed law that if passed would ensure workers who fall sick continue to get paid for up to six weeks. The bill also provides for paid ‘force majeure’ parental leave where a school or childcare provider is closed because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly said:

“There is no right to paid sick leave in Ireland and it is an enormous hole in the protections which workers need to prevent them from being forced to go to work while sick.

“Ireland is an outlier in Europe in not having paid sick leave, and it has been highlighted by NPHET and the acting Chief Medical Officer as a problem in controlling outbreaks. If an employer does not provide sick pay, then a worker will be liable to a serious drop in income. The Covid-19 enhanced illness payment is paid at roughly half the average weekly wage, while the regular illness benefit payment of €203 may be all that is available to a worker in other circumstances, if they qualify.

“The pandemic has exposed many injustices and inequalities across our society for everyone to see. The COVID outbreaks in meat processing plants has put a spotlight on the working conditions in many sectors especially among low paid and non-unionised workers.

“The current rules on sick pay and illness benefit act as a disincentive for workers to comply with public health guidelines as they may be left with reduced or no income. This Bill would create a level playing field.

“That is why the Labour Party is proposing a right to paid sick leave of up to six weeks at the same rate as annual leave. This is the recovery time for a moderate to severe case of COVID-19 according to the WHO. Six weeks is a fraction of the sick leave arrangements which trade unions have delivered for workers across the public sector."

Senator Marie Sherlock said:

“The Labour Party is also proposing a special COVID-19 parental leave for situations where a school or early years provider is forced to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak. this Bill would introduce a temporary extension of so called ‘force majeure’ leave so that parents can take paid time off to look after their kids if they are sent home from creche or school because the need to isolate or because the setting has had to close. This is another crucial step in providing the clarity and stability to working parents and their families across the country.

“In such a case an employee who is the parent or adoptive parent of a child will be entitled to paid COVID-19 parental leave, at full pay so long as the child is unable to attend the school or pre-school, so long as the presence of the employee is required at their home in order to care for the child.

"We need these measures brought into place as soon as possible, as they are vital in fighting the pandemic."

ENDS

A comprehensive briefing is available below.

The Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill is available here: https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/exp_memo_-_sick_leave_and_parental_leave_covid-19.pdf

The Bill is available here: https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/sick_leave_and_parental_leave_covid-19_bill_2020.pdf

Labour’s Sick Leave & Parental Leave (COVID-19) Bill 2020

Why do workers need a legal right to sick pay?

  • Unlike most other European countries, in Ireland workers have no legal right to be paid by their employer if absent from work because of illness. Whether or not to pay sick pay is entirely the decision of an employer – there is no legal obligation to do so.
  • Late Thursday, Dr Ronan Glynn from spoke out on this issue and said that NPHET has recommended to the Government that whatever measures need to be put in place to ensure that workers can afford to not attend work because they are sick should be put in place. He effectively said that the introduction of sick pay was important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and recommended to the Government to take action several weeks ago. So far, this Government has done nothing about it.
  • While many unions have delivered sick pay arrangements for their members through collective bargaining agreements, workers in non-unionised jobs in the private sector can be forced to continue to work while sick or else must rely upon social welfare. The enhanced COVID-19 illness benefit only gives €350 per week, so if someone is earning more than this but is struggling financially, they may be tempted to continue to work while sick from COVID-19. The issues experienced in meat factories, which played a big part of the lockdown in Kildare, Offaly and Laois, are examples of this problem.
  • All workers are being asked not to go to work if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. However, an employer is not obliged to pay a worker who cannot come to work because they are sick with coronavirus unless it is part of their contract of employment. This situation means that some workers who might have symptoms of coronavirus are forced to go to work as they cannot afford not to, thus spreading the virus further.

What about Illness Benefit?

Ireland does have an Illness benefit scheme of €203 per week before tax for full-time PAYE workers, however this can be hard to access.

  • Illness benefit is only paid from the seventh day of illness (first 6 days disregard with no income).
  • You must have at least two years of PRSI contributions.
  • You must have a ‘certificate of incapacity to work’ signed by a doctor. The cost of a GP visit of €30-€60 can be off-putting.
  • Self employed workers do not qualify and workers over the age of 66 do not qualify.

What is Labour proposing?

Our Bill gives everyone in Ireland the legal right to sick pay. Our proposal is that:

  • Workers are entitled to 6 weeks sick pay at the same rate of annual leave. 6 weeks is the recovery time for a moderate to severe case of COVID-19 according to the WHO. After 6 weeks, they will move on to Illness Benefit.
  • Employers must pay the first 6 days of sick pay in its entirety for all workers, but after 6 days, the employer can claim any illness benefit that would be due to the worker.
  • To encourage collective bargaining, the draft bill provides that a collective agreement in the workplace can improve on this. In the public service, unions have delivered collective bargaining agreements giving sick pay of 3 months on full pay, followed by 3 months on half pay, with limits over a 4 year rolling period.
  • This draft bill is an important protection for workers, but is also very important in combatting COVID-19, as the lack of paid sick leave encourages workers who are struggling financially to continue to work even if they are ill, thus spreading the virus further.
  • Sick pay is a basic right that workers in Ireland should have. Labour is launching a campaign to give workers the right to sick pay.

Why do we need paid COVID-19 parental leave?

  • As schools have reopened, parents have been in a position to return to work. However, the threat remains that outbreaks of COVID-19 could force schools to close.
  • Many parents may be forced to take unpaid leave for the duration of the school closure, and those that may be struggling financially will find it incredibly difficult to cope if they are forced to take unpaid leave to look after their children.

What is Labour proposing?

  • As an extraordinary measure, Labour is proposing paid parental leave when a school or pre-school must close, or reduce the number of pupils who can attend in order to comply with Government policy to stop the spread of Covid-19.
  • In such a case an employee who is the parent or adoptive parent of a child will be entitled to paid COVID-19 parental leave, at full pay, for so long as the child is unable to attend the school or pre-school, so long as the presence of the employee is required at their home in order to care for the child