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More retailers offering paid sick leave to casuals

Officeworks stationery store. Officeworks is a chain of Australian office supplies stores in Australia and the market leader
Image of Officeworks, a chain of Australian office supplies stores.

Officeworks has joined Target, Kmart and Woolworths in committing to pay casual workers who are required to self-isolate due to COVID-19, also known as coronavirus.

The national stationery chain will pay casual team members who are required to be quarantined or care for a loved one due to COVID-19 for up to 14 days at the same rate as their rostered shifts, inclusive of penalty rates and loadings.

Target and Kmart are also providing an additional two weeks of paid leave to permanent employees who have not accrued enough personal leave to cover an absence connected to COVID-19.

The decisions have been lauded by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) as a sign of “corporate leadership and community responsibility” in the midst of a “significant threat” to the nation’s health.

“It is incredibly important for all workers to be able to access sick leave so that they can self-isolate to protect themselves and the community from the spread of COVID-19,” Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the SDA, said in a statement over the weekend.

Health experts have been advising Australians to practice good hygiene, social distancing and in some cases self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. And on Sunday, the Morrison Government implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving in Australia from overseas.

But for casual workers, who don’t get paid if they call in sick, these precautionary measures can mean losing a significant source of their income.

“No Australian should be forced to choose between a pay-cheque to feed their family and endangering fellow workers and members of the community,” Dwyer said.

Stimulus package falls short

The SDA was among those calling on the government to include a provision for paid sick leave for casual workers in the stimulus package unveiled last week.

Instead, the Morrison Government is allowing casuals forced to self-isolate to access financial support through Centrelink’s Sickness Allowance, and is waiving the waiting period. In just a few days, Sickness Allowance recipients will reportedly be transferred to Jobseeker, Age Pension or Carer payments.

This falls short of the two-week special paid leave policy the Australian Council of Trade Unions wants for all workers – permanent, casual and contract – who are impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, either because they are forced to self-isolate or because of a business downturn or shutdown.

The SDA is encouraging more retailers to follow the lead of Woolworths, Target, Kmart and Officeworks, though Dwyer acknowledged that this may not be feasible for smaller businesses.

“Small and medium retailers, who have done it tough in recent months, should not be forgotten,” he said.

“They need support, perhaps in the form of wage subsidies, to help them weather difficult times, support their staff and the communities they serve.”

According to the AAP, the Australian Industry Group has called for the Fair Work Commission to delay any decision on changing the minimum wage until the financial impact of the coronavirus is clearer.

Master Grocers Australia, which represents IGA, FoodWorks and Mitre10, has called for a one-year freeze on the retail and timber industry awards, in a submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review, according to The Australian.

Risk of derostering

Meanwhile, Josh Cullinan, sectretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), doesn’t think paid sick leave for casuals goes far enough.

“We have no faith that these retailers will pay anything to casuals…they’ll just deroster,” Cullinan told Inside Retail.

In a letter sent to employers on Monday, RAFFWU called on retailers to offer full infectious diseases leave for all workers for the entire period of illness, isolation or quarantine.

“The casual loading in no way compensates for infectious diseases leave, nor does ordinary personal leave accruals account for the special circumstances of a serious infectious disease such as COVID-19,” the letter stated.

RAFFWU wants casuals and part-time workers who are required to self-isolate or care for a loved one due to COVID-19 to be paid at their average weekly wage of the past six months, and says workers should not have to provide proof of their illness, since testing and access to doctors is limited.

The union also says casual workers and part-time workers should not have their rosters changed without a full consultation, and if their hours are reduced, they should be paid no less than their average weekly wage of the past six months.

Employers are also being asked to provide cleaning facilities, hand sanitiser and fully stocked toilet facilities at all work sites, and to take into account the needs of workers with compromised immune systems.

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