Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed the Federal Government’s plan to support casual workers forced to self-isolate during the Australian coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, saying the waiting period to access Centrelink’s Sickness Allowance will be temporarily waived.
But the move falls well short of guaranteed sick pay for workers who may not have access to that kind of financial lifeline.
Speaking at Parliament House this morning, Morrison said the decision to cut the waiting period forms part of a $17.6 billion stimulus package to aid the Australian economy as it buckles under the impact of virus.
The idea is to give impacted casual workers a bit of financial breathing room as they miss out on vital shifts – and to ensure they don’t feel forced to work while sick, potentially worsening the outbreak in the process.
“It is a Newstart-level payment and people who are casual employees that wouldn’t be able to go to work or because they have to self-isolate or, indeed, have the virus, they would be able to access that payment,” Morrison said.
The ordinary waiting period for Centrelink payments starts at one week, but accessing those funds can take much, much longer. Making sure impacted workers can access those funds ASAP makes a lot of sense.
But the means-tested payment, which caps out at $559 a fortnight for singles with no dependent children, falls well short of the protective measures urged by Australian unions.
In a statement released yesterday, Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus called for the Federal Government to underwrite “two weeks of paid leave for all workers who are under threat from the economic impacts of Covid-19”.
There’s also the fact that advocates have long advocated for Newstart, which has not increased in real terms since 1994, to be bumped up on a permanent basis. Given the fact the Sickness Allowance sits at Newstart levels, it’s not an ideal situation for workers sidelined by the virus.
As an aside, Morrison said the Sickness Allowance will soon be rolled into the pre-existing jobseeker payment, but maintained “it’s the same payment.”
So, some financial relief for casual, contract, and otherwise non-permanent workers, but not a full dose of sick pay. Not really, at least.