In a move that has generated a lot of discussion, the Victorian government is trialling paid sick leave for casual workers.
The trial program has been developed in response to the spread of coronavirus in insecure workplaces during Melbourne’s second wave.
Set to begin in early 2022 with consultation opening this month, the Secure Work Pilot Scheme will provide up to five days of government funded sick or carer’s leave, at minimum wage rates, to workers in high-risk industries including aged care staff, cleaners, supermarket workers, hospitality workers and security guards.
“When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement. “The ultimate decision they make isn’t wrong—what’s wrong is they’re forced to make it at all.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it—and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said: “Workers staying on the job when they’re sick is bad for business—for the rest of your staff and for your customers. We believe this scheme will benefit businesses and workers right across Victoria.”
Casual and insecure workers in eligible sectors will be invited to pre-register for the scheme, providing their contact details and information about their employment so that applications can be fast-tracked if they need to apply for payments. An education campaign will also be rolled out to ensure eligible workers are aware of the support available when they need sick or carer’s pay.
The Victorian Budget 2020/21 will provide $5 million for consultation on the design of the pilot scheme to work through issues including documentation required to support payment applications and protections for workers who apply to access the scheme.
While any future ongoing scheme would be subject to an industry levy, the pilot scheme will be fully funded by the Victorian Government at no cost to business.
The Victorian Government’s COVID-19 Test Isolation Payment and the Commonwealth’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment for people who are required to isolate after a positive diagnosis or quarantine as a close contact remain available.
While many casual workers welcomed the news, The Australian Industry Group said the scheme is “deeply flawed”.
“Casuals receive a 25 per cent casual loading in lieu of sick leave and carer’s leave entitlement, and therefore providing a separate entitlement would be ‘double-dipping’,” CEO Innes Willox said.
“The levy would, in effect, be a tax on employment and would be another deterrent to employers investing in Victoria.
“This flawed proposal needs to be abandoned.”