News & Media

Strong Statutory Sick Pay Scheme an essential outcome of consultation process

16 November 2020

Statement by Senator Marie Sherlock
Seanad Whip and Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Media, Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
  • Labour Party Bill was delayed for six months.
  • Huge public support for Paid Sick Leave.
  • Public Consultation will inform proposals.

Responding to the Government’s belated public consultation on a statutory sick pay scheme, Labour Employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock urged people to have their say, highlighting that a poll previously found 87% of people in favour of such a scheme.

Senator Sherlock said:

“The Labour Party originally brought forward a bill in September for a statutory paid sick leave scheme, and in our alternative budget proposals we put forward a funded scheme to support employers, and targeted measures specifically for workers in meat factories and the childcare sector. Unfortunately the Government voted to delay our bill for six months, and despite being in a pandemic there was no additional funding in the Budget to support workers in sectors that are most at risk.

“The Public consultation now underway will inform the proposals the government eventually bring forward and I would urge workers and their representatives and trade unions to make their voices heard. The deadline for submissions is 18th December.

“The lack of statutory sick leave is a fundamental weakness in our fight against the pandemic. It is our view that we can’t wait six months for a public consultation when a second wave is underway but that is the path the government has chosen. The sad reality is that we are more likely to see a vaccine delivered sooner than a government proposal on sick pay after this public consultation.

“Ensuring sick pay for all is not just a vital question of worker’s rights; it is the essential missing piece in our strategy against Covid-19. At any other time, we would have an obligation to ensure every worker has a right to paid sick leave. But during a pandemic, we have a special duty to guarantee sick pay as soon as possible in the name of public health.

“It is our understanding that half of private sector workers still do not have a guaranteed right to be paid if they fall ill and have to self-isolate. The decision to kick the can down the road and delay Labour’s suggestions is now a reality, but we can use the time to ensure that the eventual government proposal is as strong as possible.

“Sick pay should be a fundamental right of all workers. Private sector workers are entirely dependent on the benevolence of their employer to pay them when they are ill; and we understand that only a minority currently choose to do so. Those worst affected tend to be on lower income and in certain essential sectors: for instance, SIPTU’s Big Start survey has identified that just 16% of childcare workers have paid sick leave.

“We shouldn’t make the mistake of viewing paid sick leave as an extravagance, especially when we are fighting to overcome a pandemic. Across the EU, 22 countries already have a statutory right to sick pay, as does the UK. Ireland is one of only five EU members that doesn’t recognise this essential right.

“The aim of our bill was to make sure that no worker will be out of pocket when they fall ill. We want to do away with the difficult choice between going into work while sick, or else losing a portion of their income. We simply cannot find a way to overcome Covid-19 if workers who have symptoms are penalised for staying home.

“We must ensure that workers are never expected to choose between their wages and their health.”