- The Guardian
- Issue #2000
The Victorian government has recently launched a Sick Pay Guarantee pilot program for casual workers. Under the scheme, casuals and contract workers in certain industries will be entitled to up to thirty-eight hours (or five working days) per year of sick leave.
Payments are made at a flat rate equivalent to the national minimum wage (which as of the 1st of July 2021 is $20.33 per hour), without penalties for weekends or public holidays. This applies in addition to the twenty-five per cent casual loading to which most casual workers are entitled.
Workers can claim sick leave for themselves or carer’s leave for close family members. Workers who are under the age of eighteen can also access the scheme with the consent of a parent or guardian. The Sick Pay Guarantee is currently available to workers in the following jobs:
- Hospitality workers
- Food trades workers
- Supermarket workers
- Retail and sales assistants
- Aged and disability care workers
- Cleaners and laundry workers
- Security workers
The United Workers Union (UWU) who have come out in support of the scheme, said:
The scheme which guarantees five days’ leave paid at minimum wage will go a long way to bolstering the financial security for casual workers and preventing workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other transmissible diseases.
For the full statement see Guardian #1999: “UWU Welcomes Vic Govt Sick Pay Guarantee.”
The program is a great step forward in providing some security for vulnerable workers. Recent data from the ABS suggests that twenty-three per cent of the Australian workforce are casual workers. That number is much higher in some industries, such as hospitality which is around eighty per cent casualised.
The scheme does not place an obligation on employers to pay sick leave to casuals, rather it operates as a social security scheme with the Victorian government making payments directly to eligible workers. This removes some of the uncertainty for workers in heavily casualised industries where wage theft is already endemic.
The program is also particularly important for combatting the spread of COVID-19. Casualised industries are most at risk of spreading the virus, due to workers being unable to take time off from work when they are sick.
However, because workers do not have to notify their employer that they are accessing the scheme, it is unclear whether there is an obligation on employers to allow workers to take sick leave. To that end, the scheme could be strengthened by providing for penalties against employers who unreasonably refuse workers the opportunity to take sick leave or who take adverse action against workers who do. This protection currently exists for most other employees under the Fair Work Act.
The CPA calls on the federal government to closely observe the Victorian scheme and implement a similar scheme under the Fair Work Act to protect Australian workers in insecure jobs. Strong enforcement mechanisms are vital to ensuring that casual workers have a substantive right to sick leave.
Victorian workers can check their eligibility and apply via the Victorian government website (www.vic.gov.au/sick-pay-guarantee).