• Workers without paid sick leave have additional reasons to worry about the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
For self-employed or gig workers, the choice may come down to heeding the advice of the World Health Organisation - or making enough money to pay their rent.
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

4 Mar 2020 - 1:28 PM  UPDATED 4 Mar 2020 - 2:25 PM

For Australian workers without paid sick leave, the outbreak of COVID-19 poses additional reasons for concern - with the 'gig economy' leaving many without an option to stay home and self-isolate for the recommended two week period if they're feeling unwell.

Union bosses in the UK have already warned that those impacted by the coronavirus could have no choice but to hide their illness rather than lose pay, leading to an increased risk of worsening outbreaks.

Speaking to The Guardian, Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of one of the UK biggest trade unions, Unison, pointed out that "workers need to know they have enough money to feed their families and pay rent" in the face of growing fears around the virus.

In the United States, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed concerns, using the coronavirus as a reason to highlight the need for universal healthcare, reflecting on her experience in the hospitality industry.

"I used to work in the food industry," the politician tweeted.

"I can’t tell you how many times the people who handle your food - who are already overworked & underpaid - show up sick to work because our country refuses to guarantee healthcare or paid sick leave."

In Australia, social media users expressed their concerns and frustrations.

"Really annoying to hear people with F/T (full time) jobs and great conditions telling Budget Estimates that increasing casualisation is cool because casual work is a 'lifestyle choice'," one Twitter user vented.

They added: "My current job is my first position EVER with sick leave and holiday entitlements - when I got paid for my first public holiday I almost cried!"

According to Fair Work Australia, full-time and part-time employees in Australia are entitled to paid sick leave if they fall unwell with coronavirus, while also being entitled to take paid carer’s leave if a family member needs to be taken care of.

Additionally, casual employees are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave.

But for self-employed or gig workers, the choice may come down to heeding the advice of the World Health Organisation - or making enough money to pay their rent.