Union calls for mandatory sick pay to cover full income of ill workers

SIPTU economist, Michael Taft, has called for the introduction of a mandatory sick pay scheme which ensures that workers receive their full income while they are out of work due to illness.

Speaking at a Webinar entitled ‘Healing our Sick Pay System’ and hosted by SIPTU, he said: “A mandatory sick pay scheme must be available for all workers regardless of the sector or company in which they work. Payments from the scheme should cover their full income while they are out sick.”

Laura Bambrick, social policy officer for ICTU told the webinar that the Republic of Ireland is one of only four EU countries that does not have a mandatory sick pay scheme.

“In other countries, employers are obliged to provide sick pay at 100 percent of pay for a number of weeks per year to every employee. In this jurisdiction, there is no legal requirement on employers to provide sick pay.

"This situation can force many workers to continue working while sick because they cannot afford to take time off. This is why ICTU is calling for a mandatory sick pay scheme similar to that which operates in the vast majority of other EU countries. Recent opinion polls show overwhelming support for this call," she said.

Referring to the majority of employees in the private, community and voluntary sectors, Michael Taft added: “Between 800,000 and one million workers do not have a sick pay scheme in work. This means they are totally reliant on a woefully inadequate Illness Benefit from the Department of Social Protection. A mandatory sick pay scheme should be largely funded by employers through increased PRSI. Irish levels of employers’ social insurance is less than half the EU average.”

Other speakers at the webinar included community worker, Linda Scully and manufacturing worker, John Montgomery, both of whom are members of the SIPTU National Executive Council.

“In the community sector, people who work side-by-side doing the same work can be treated differently when it comes to sick pay, depending on their source of funding. Some might have sick pay and others might not. This creates an arbitrary and unfair discrimination,” Linda Scully said.

“In many manufacturing employments, it can take a week for workers to access the Illness Benefit payment which is very small. This means that workers either come into work while they are sick or they take time off and lose their pay,” John Montgomery told the event

The speakers welcomed the government’s stated commitment to introduce a statutory sick pay system next year. However, they warned that opposition from employer groups could result in a watered down sick pay proposal and said that trade union members need to mobilise workers and the wider public to campaign for a new sick pay scheme.

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