Have careworkers just won full isolation pay?

On Wednesday 13th May, in response to the growing number of deaths in care homes, Boris Johnson announced a £600 million “infection control fund” for care homes.

Two days later, the Department of Health and Social Care explained how the money is to be spent. Included in the measures, buried in the small print (para 2.3) it states: “The infection control fund is intended to help providers pay for additional staff and /or maintain the normal wages of staff who, in order to reduce the spread of infection need to reduce the number of establishments in which they work, reduce the number of hours they work, or self-isolate.”

To date there has been no press coverage of this new provision, but it opens the door for hundreds of thousands of care workers to win new rights to isolate on full pay. This is a huge potential victory for the careworkers who have been organising for this right with the Safe and Equal campaign and similar initiatives like Unison’s Careworkers vs Covid19. If we can nail down this deal it will also be a huge victory for care home residents and their families who can enjoy a degree more safety.

The money is going to be filtered through local authorities who we presume will set conditions on how this money will be spent. The government wording is deliberately vague. The Safe and Equal campaign will lobby government and media outlets to publicise this issue and put pressure on the government. More importantly, careworkers should organise in trade unions and demand this right from their employer and the local authority (model letter for careworkers here). Also as many people as possible should lobby local authorities to demand all careworkers receive full sick and isolation pay (see model letter).

Since the initial guidance the government has produced a template for local authorities which includes a tick box that suggests full isolation pay may only be available following a positive test. Under the government’s current regime the test results take up to 48 hours to process and it may be take a day or two to organise the test. It is unreasonable to expect careworkers to gamble 3-4 days pay on the result on a test, especially as the tests are notoriously inaccurate. It is also unclear how this affects careworkers who should self-isolate because a household member has symptoms. Who gets tested in these cases? Moreover, if a careworker is ill with another disease does it not make sense from an infection control perspective that they get full sick pay until they are fit and healthy. There are plenty of diseases that are deadly for carehome residents. If the infection control reasons apply to Covid-19 then they apply to all other infectious diseases. Safe and Equal demand that all careworkers are treated on equal terms to workers with occupational sick pay and are paid in full for time off if they are sick or following public health advice to self-isolate. Local councils have the power and the money to make this happen and those councils that ensure full sick and isolation pay will save lives.

The government are keeping quiet about this provision. Apart from the paragraph on their website there has been no official announcement. Presumably they are worried of the consequences of a big announcement linking the right to full isolation pay to infection control. It may lead to workers in other sectors demanding the same rights. It may lead to some awkward question being asked: how many lives might have been saved if careworkers were granted full sick/isolation pay from the start of the pandemic? How many deaths could be avoided if careworkers had occupational sick pay in normal times?

The government may wish to avoid making the provision of full isolation pay for careworkers into a big issue. But unless careworkers are aware of their new rights and unless carehome bosses are forced to comply then the infection control problem remains.  

The trade unions and the Labour Party should use their platform and extensive press operations to broadcast this provision. Activists within those organisations should lobby their leaderships and make this issue frontpage news. Go to the Take Action tab of the main menu for action you can take to win this important right.

As more careworkers become aware of this new provision and fight for proper rights to sick and isolation pay, our carehomes will become safer. We hope it will also give confidence to workers in other sectors to raise their own demand for full sick and isolation pay.

For a second time since the start of the pandemic, the government has had to admit that basic workers rights are essential for slowing the spread of the virus. But these rights should not just be for the duration of the pandemic but should be written into careworkers contracts on a permanent basis. Moreover, if workers’ rights to paid sick leave will reduce infection in the NHS and in carehomes then it will reduce infection in supermarkets, factories, transport, logistics and all other parts of the economy.

Safe and Equal will continue to organise until we win full sick and isolation pay for all.

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