Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated paid pandemic leave could become a reality for all workers, as Australian governments continue to urge people to self-isolate if they experience coronavirus symptoms.
The prospect has been welcomed by small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, but she says the government should be the one footing the bill.
Earlier this week, the Fair Work Commission granted two weeks’ pandemic leave to aged care workers who need to self-isolate, following a decision in April to provide unpaid pandemic leave to workers covered by 99 industrial awards.
On Wednesday, Morrison said he has asked Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter to discuss the issue with business groups and unions, as part of the “ongoing discussions between government, employer groups and employees on a range of issues around managing the pandemic”.
According to the ABC, Porter has said the government is keeping a “watching brief” on paid pandemic leave being extended to workers in other sectors.
“The problem is obviously most acute in aged care,” he said.
“The other problem is we want to make sure that people, when they can and are able to turn up lawfully to work, are doing so because we don’t want to have the denuding of the staffing in the aged care facilities.”
Australian unions have been pushing for paid pandemic leave since mid-March, while the federal opposition has also called for leave for workers who are forced to isolate because they have coronavirus symptoms or are a close contact of someone with the virus.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, small business ombudsman Kate Carnell described paid pandemic leave as “a good thing to do, if we can encourage people to get tested and stay at home”, according to The Guardian.
However, Carnell said small businesses can’t afford to cover the costs of such leave.
“Yes, the government should pay,” said Carnell.
“I mean, why wouldn’t the government pay if the government is suggesting this is what should happen?”
“[There’s] no drama about that, we should be encouraging people to stay at home, if they’ve been tested. It’s just good for health outcomes.
“But it’s not reasonable to expect businesses to pick up the tab — businesses are already in a world of pain.”