Australia

Australia's aged care workers will get paid pandemic leave to prevent coronavirus outbreaks

Aged care workers will now receive paid pandemic leave. (AAP)

The Fair Work Commission has determined that aged care workers who must take sick leave because of coronavirus should receive paid pandemic leave.

Casual aged care workers will be eligible for paid pandemic leave after a Fair Work Commission decision to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The variations will take effect from Wednesday and will remain in effect for three months, the commission said in a ruling released late on Monday.

Many of the recent deaths in Victoria's second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been linked to outbreaks at aged care facilities, which prompted the Fair Work Commission to act.

Medical staff are seen preparing to transport people from the St Basils Home for the Aged Care in Fawkner, Victoria.
AAP

"There is a real risk that employees who do not have access to leave entitlements might not report COVID-19 symptoms which might require them to self-isolate, but rather seek to attend for work out of financial need," it said.

"This represents a significant risk to infection control measures.

"These matters weigh significantly in favour of the introduction of a paid pandemic leave entitlement."

There are currently 80 outbreaks and 764 active cases of the virus in private aged care residences.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Tuesday there were 88 cases now at Estia Health Aged Care in Ardeer, 86 cases linked to some Basil's Homes for the Aged in Faulkner and 82 cases linked associated with Epping Gardens.

Seventy-six have been linked to Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth, 62 cases linked to Menarock Life in Essendon and 53 connected to Glendale Aged Care in Werribee.

Premier Daniel Andrews has said people who are going to work sick - including those who work at aged care facilities - are the "biggest driver" of the state's second wave.

But the union movement said many of those people could not afford not to work.

Medical staff outside St Basil’s Home for the Aged Care in Fawkner, which has had an outbreak of COVID-19, Melbourne, Saturday, July 25, 2020.
AAP

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the decision does not go far enough.

"We welcome the decision but this still does not remove the trap door for casual workers with irregular hours," she said in a statement.

"What this decision shows is that there is a need for paid pandemic leave and while the economy is struggling it should be government funded for all workers so no-one is even considering having to go to work with mild symptoms just to pay the bills."

Signage for the Hawthorn Grange aged care facility
AAP

The Victorian government is now providing a $300 payment for workers who can't go to work after testing for COVID-19.

A further $1500 hardship payment is available if the test result is positive.

The Fair Work Commission says the pandemic leave will:

  • apply to workers who are required by their employer or a government medical authority or on the advice of a medical practitioner to self-isolate because they display COVID-19 symptoms or have come into contact with a suspected case;
  • is limited to up to two weeks' paid leave on each occasion of self-isolation;
  • not be paid to workers who are able to work at home or remotely during self-isolation.

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. It is also mandatory to wear masks in public.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus 

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