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Care workers are resorting to taking annual leave if they fall sick rather than be paid £96 a week statutory sick pay (SSP).
According to the trade union Unison, a number of care home employees have been in contact to complain about the practice, which has raised fears that staff with Covid may attend work rather than self-isolate.
The workers told the union that they were only offered SSP if they were off sick with coronavirus, despite a government policy and financial support so that workers should be paid in full to limit the spread of infection.
According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, one employee even took annual leave while in intensive care with Covid to avoid their earnings falling.
Although Unison says the practice is limited, taking holiday rather than sick pay means employees can maintain earnings while they are ill.
In 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care set up a £1.1bn infection control fund to support full pay for self-isolating and sick care workers.
However, Gavin Edwards, senior national officer at Unison, said “the system isn’t working”.
“Low-paid staff shouldn’t be losing money they can ill afford when they’re poorly or stopping home to avoid spreading the virus. Every care worker who has to be off work during the pandemic must be paid their wages in full,” he said.
Care homes have been subject to multiple outbreaks of the virus, and have been host to more than 26,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Unison also last week called for the government to step in against “strong-arm” tactics by care homes against employees who are hesitant about having a Covid vaccine.
The union wrote to care minister Helen Whately following an announcement by Barchester Healthcare that it would not hire workers who refused the vaccine.
The organisation also said it would restrict promotions, bonuses and other rewards to those who had been vaccinated.
Christina McAnea, Unison general secretary, said: “The vaccination programme is the way out of this health crisis. The more care workers who get a jab, the safer the sector will be.
“But care employers who put punitive measures in place for staff, or make it a condition of work, are undermining trust and confidence in the vaccine. They are also at odds with the sensible approach being taken by most employers and the NHS.
“Companies would do better to concentrate on informing staff about the benefits of the vaccination, rather than intimidating them. Ministers should be firm with Barchester that its approach is wrong and must be reversed.”
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