Paid pandemic leave must be paid to aged care workers around the country if they are required to self-isolate for COVID-19, following a Fair Work Australia case brought by unions.
Last night the Fair Work Commission determined the spread of the virus in Victoria and outbreaks in New South Wales required additional protections for workers and vulnerable older Australians, overturning a previous decision earlier this month against widespread leave provisions.
It comes as the confirmed active case load hit 4452 yesterday in Victoria, with 683 linked to aged care. A significant number of those cases are among staff.
The Fair Work commissioners said workers in aged care needed additional provisions as a safety net.
“The “fine balance” upon which we decided not to award any paid pandemic leave in the 8 July Decision has now tipped the other way in relation to the residential aged care sector,” the decision said.
“Aged care workers are in the ‘frontline’ of the community’s efforts care for and to protect from infection the aged, who are the group most vulnerable to fatality in the current pandemic.
“The establishment of a paid pandemic leave entitlement for such workers is necessary to support them in their critical work.”
The action is to be implemented from tomorrow and last for an initial three-month timeframe.
It involves aged care workers and nurses in aged care under awards.
The Australian Government is assessing the decision, as industry body Leading Aged Services Australia called for financial assistance.
Manager Tim Hicks said aged care providers needed support to afford the payments.
“It is crucial that no staff or providers are disadvantaged during these challenging times,” Mr Hicks said.
In Victoria, the state government is funding the current pandemic leave scheme.
To qualify under the directive, workers must be older than 17, must not receive payments other than JobKeeper during quarantine, and have a direction to self-isolate from the government or an employer.
Casuals must have worked regular shifts at a pro rata rate form their earnings over the previous six weeks.
If they go on to test positive, they must access workers’ compensation, not the paid leave.
“The requirement for self-isolation is primarily to prevent the spread of infection which, in the aged care sector is especially critical because of the vulnerability of aged persons to COVID-19 fatalities,” the commission said,
“Thus, the requirement to self-isolate may be said to be in the public interest. However, absent a paid pandemic leave entitlement or access to other leave entitlements, the employee bears the cost of this. For low-paid employees, this is likely to place them in significant financial difficulty and even distress.”