Government suppression of adequate Covid sick pay rules ‘reckless’, with fatal consequences
- Thursday 17 June 2021
Unite, the UK’s leading union, has branded revelations that the government deliberately suppressed information on how workers could be temporarily furloughed when forced to self-isolate due to Covid-19 as “reckless”.
The leaked emails show that a little known part of the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) allows employers to temporarily furlough workers if they are required to self-isolate as a result of developing Covid-19 or if they come into close contact with someone with the virus.
However, Treasury officials refused to publicise this option in official guidance as they believed it would lead to workers being furloughed “who did not need to be”.
Low sick pay
Since the pandemic began the chronic low levels of statutory sick pay at just £96.35 a week has been a major factor in workers with symptoms of Covid-19 feeling unable to self-isolate. In contrast if a worker is furloughed they receive 80 per cent of their pay.
Concerns about the lack of financial support while self-isolating was particularly prevalent in the food industry, especially meat processing where social distancing is often limited and there have been a large number of Covid-19 outbreaks.
Workers' safety ignored
Unite national officer Joe Clarke said: “This revelation is absolutely disgusting and demonstrates that the government acted recklessly with the safety of workers.
“The government cynically suppressed this information from businesses at a time when over a 1,000 people a day were dying from Covid.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic Unite has consistently called for an increase in sick pay as workers cannot afford to self-isolate on less than £100 a week.
“It is simply astonishing that the government had in place measures to tackle the problem of poverty while self-isolating but cynically decided not to tell anyone about it.
“This decision will have cost lives, led to increased infections and meant that successive lockdowns have lasted longer than necessary, further damaging the economy.
“This is a government that has been shown to have repeatedly given huge contracts to their friends. But when it comes to the workers who have kept the economy going through the pandemic, they suppressed the information needed to keep them safe and financially secure.”
Notes to editors:
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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.