Care workers forced to take unpaid leave if they have to self-isolate or have coronavirus – Unison

Workers in care homes and other parts of the sector are being forced to take unpaid leave or survive on statutory sick pay (SSP) if they have to self-isolate or have coronavirus, according to their union.

Unison said some staff have been told by their employers to use up annual leave or make up time for free when they return to work.

The union said its research showed the situation varies widely between employers, with some care workers being left “high and dry” with next to no income, even though their workplace may have been where they contracted the virus.

A significant number have no choice but to carry on working against public health advice because they can’t afford time off, warned Unison.

Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s a confusing picture for care workers who are being treated very differently depending on where they work.

“The bottom line is thousands are facing heartbreaking choices about whether to stay off work or pay the bills

“Already on incredibly low pay and in precarious work, they feel compelled to carry on simply to make ends meet and keep their jobs.

“Around one in 10 of those who’ve been in touch know colleagues who’ve continued working when they should be isolating, while some are avoiding being tested because they can’t afford to take time off.

“It’s scandalous that less than a third of those shielding had been offered full pay especially when the government says care workers shouldn’t be penalised for following public heath advice.

“Ministers have to make sure care staff are not out of pocket so we can halt the spread of the virus for the sake of carers and the vulnerable people they look after.”

Comments from Unison members included:

  • “I was isolating for seven days and only received SSP. This had a massive impact on my financial circumstances as I am the only earner at home and still had bills to pay.”
  • “I was Covid-positive after contracting it at work and was off for three weeks. I have a mortgage to pay and bills, and I don’t know how I’m expected to survive. I put my life on the line, survived and was repaid with SSP. Although I was eventually symptom-free, I felt I returned to work too soon as my fear and anxieties went through the roof and had to be given medication from my GP.”
  • “I was told I could stay off but would only receive statutory sick pay. I had to continue working although I have diabetes and was advised to take 12 weeks off but obviously couldn’t afford to.”

A Government spokesman said: “We recognise the vital support and hard work of our social care workforce during these challenging times and nobody should be forced to take unpaid leave.

“We have given £3.2 billion to councils to help them meet financial pressures, including the costs of social care, and an additional £600 million through the Infection Control Fund to help maintain the normal wages of staff who may need to self-isolate.

“Employers have also been able to furlough care workers who cannot work for a long period of time if they are in a high-risk group or shielding, meaning they continue to receive 80% of their normal income.”

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