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Government’s temporary changes to sick pay still leaves many workers unprotected

TUC calls on government to tackle coronavirus by guaranteeing sick pay for all workers, regardless of how much they earn

Parts of South West more exposed due to low wage economy

According to new analysis from the TUC released today (Friday), nearly 200,000 workers in the South West don’t earn enough to qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

As a result, these workers will be left with no choice but to go to work while ill, despite government and medical advice.

The trade union body believes the global crisis has further exposed the gaping absence of protections for low paid workers and those on insecure work contracts, including the self-employed.

The TUC is calling on the government to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing emergency support for workers currently missing out on Statutory Sick Pay.

The TUC South West also believes the workers most likely to be infected by the coronavirus due to their public-facing occupation are also the least able to protect themselves, and others.

Low paid workers

In response to union campaigning, the government has already pledged to provide Statutory Sick Pay from day one of illness to those affected by the coronavirus.

However, while this is an important step forward, workers earning below £118.15 per week are still not entitled to sick pay from their employers. And at just £94.25 a week, those who do qualify, many will struggle to cope on it for long.

In some parts of the region, the lack of protections will affect more areas than others. In places like Cornwall, Torbay, and Dorset, Taunton and Stroud one in ten jobs weekly pay is less than the current minimum threshold.

Overall, TUC analysis shows one in twelve workers would not be eligible to receive statutory sick pay.

The analysis also exposes the workers most at risk of not getting paid, including:

  • 34% of workers on zero-hours contracts
  • 1 in 10 women in work
  • More than a fifth (22%) of workers aged 16-24
  • More than a quarter (26%) of workers aged 65 and over, (identified by government as one of the groups most vulnerable to the virus)


At 16%, the South West has the highest proportion of self-employed outside of London.

But mobile workers such as residential and social care workers, taxi drivers and delivery drivers are increasingly forced into self-employment when basic rights such as sick pay do not apply.  Many are also increasingly expected to pay the firm they work for to provide replacement cover.

Faced with not getting paid, the TUC fears these workers will also feel forced to work through any illness if they can, ignoring government and medical advice to self-isolate.

TUC South West Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said:

“This crisis exposes the brutal nature of our labour market. Too many low-paid workers will be forced to go into work while they feel unwell and spread the virus even faster.

“We all want people to follow the government’s health advice. But no one should be out of pocket for doing the right thing.

“As it stands, many people won’t be able to meet basic living costs if they stay home from work.”

In a letter to ministers sent earlier this week, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady warned that inadequate provision of sick pay could stop people taking up public health advice, since many workers will struggle to meet basic living costs if they can’t attend work for a prolonged period.

Adding Nigel Costley said:

“Union reps will be talking to their managers about how best to encourage people to follow government advice and not come into work when they may be infected.

“But for many workers that don’t have this support at work, they will be worried about losing pay, or getting punished if they take time off.”

“This is an impossible choice that has serious implications for all of us. The fairest and simplest solution is to immediately reform sick pay legislation, so it covers all workers at a decent rate.

“It’s the sensible way to give working families the security they need – and to protect public health.”

To address the issue the TUC is calling for government to introduce an emergency support package for workers affected by the virus, including:

  • Emergency legislation to ensure Statutory Sick Pay coverage for all workers, regardless of how much they earn.
  • An increase in the amount of sick pay to the equivalent of the National Living Wage
  • A requirement that those asked by their employer to self-isolate on public health grounds remain on full pay.
  • An emergency fund to assist employers with the cost and to cover workers not currently eligible for Statutory Sick Pay.
Editors note

- A TUC petition calling for every worker to get sick pay from day one has gathered more than 12,000 signatures.

- The TUC’s response to the government’s announcement of Statutory Sick Pay from day one of illness is available here:

- On Tuesday, General Secretary Frances O’Grady wrote to the Secretaries of State for Health and for Work and Pensions. Her full letter can be read here:

- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

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