The Guardian • Issue #1975

Income support during post-test isolation

Unions NSW have had a breakthrough for workers, winning a $320 COVID Test and Isolate support payment from the NSW Coalition government to cover obligatory stay-at-home time following a COVID test. Victoria has a similar $450 Coronavirus Test Isolation Payment.

The private pathology companies carrying out the tests are overwhelmed with the large and growing number of tests. As a result, it can take almost a week for some results to be returned, with workers required to stay at home awaiting results. The one exception is the rapid test which does not require a laboratory to process it.

The NSW and Victorian payments recognise that many casuals and contractors cannot afford to skip shifts to get tested and isolate until results arrive. This places them in the difficult position of choosing between putting food on the table or getting tested – a choice no worker should be faced with.

The demand for testing has surged and will continue to rise as the number of cases and hotspots increases. The federal government has a responsibility to increase pathology services in the public sector to meet the demand for testing and improve the timeliness of results.

The payments apply to carers and/or guardians who must care for someone as well as workers who are required to isolate following a COVID-19 test.

Eligibility requirements restrict the payment to workers who:

  • are likely to have undertaken paid work during the relevant period of isolation and are unable to work as a result of being required to isolate and stay in isolation following the COVID-19 test; or
  • cannot reasonably work from home as a result of the requirement to isolate following the COVID-19 test or to care for someone who must isolate following the COVID-19 test; and
  • will not be receiving or have not received any income, earnings, or salary maintenance from work as a result of not being able to work during the period of isolation; and
  • have exhausted any sick and/or carer’s leave entitlements including any special pandemic leave or have no entitlement to such leave; and
  • are not receiving income support from the federal government.


The NSW and Victorian schemes exclude anyone receiving income support from the Commonwealth government – recipients of the Age Pension, Austudy, Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension, JobSeeker, and Parenting Payment who lose work are not eligible.

These groups already attempt to survive on government payments that are well below the poverty line and supplement their income with a limited number of hours of paid work. They tend to be in casual, low-paid jobs and can least afford to lose the few extra dollars they pick up. The loss of that work can be devastating.

This exclusion also applies to the federal government’s disaster relief payment of $750 per week ($320 for those who lose less than twenty hours work per week) which commences after two weeks in lockdown in federally declared hotspots. A region does not have to be in lockdown for its workforce to be impacted. Tourism is one such area. The federal government does not offer its disaster relief payment to anyone outside of federally declared hotspots.

The states also offer $1,500 for those who test positive and are required to isolate for the first fortnight, filling the gap left by the federal government.


Incredibly the NSW government has stopped listing hotspots for Greater Sydney on its website. This was a valuable resource for the public to turn to, to check if they had been to any of those sites. Why was this done? Clearly the listing of hotspots is seen as a valuable resource, as the government is still updating them for other parts of the state.

Has it been overwhelmed by thousands of hotspots, and is unable to keep up with listing them?

The number of cases in NSW is growing exponentially and is set to continue on a steep curve as hundreds more people have been in the community while infectious.

It is nothing short of tragic and neglectful to have only vaccinated eight per cent of the Indigenous population in rural and regional NSW. First Nations people, amongst the most vulnerable in the community, were supposed to be a priority, to be vaccinated before Easter. The fact it was not done months ago speaks volumes about the government’s priorities.

The government seems to have gone into panic mode, sending the military into towns in Western NSW for vaccinations and other roles without prior consultation with the Aboriginal Medical Services or the communities.

After eighteen months, there is still not a comprehensive plan for handling the health crisis.

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