Issue date
· 65% of people who were sick in the last 12 months carried on working, a new poll of workers in Wales shows

· The sick pay system is a public health liability, warns union body

· Unions are calling on Welsh Government to make the coronavirus sick pay scheme for social care workers permanent and to expand it to cover all types of sick leave.

A shocking number of people have continued to work while unwell during the pandemic, according to a new survey. YouGov polling, commissioned by Wales Trades Union Congress (Wales TUC), reveals that two thirds (65%) of people who were sick in the last 12 months had carried on working.

The trade union body – which represents around 400,000 workers in Wales through its affiliated unions – says this shows how the sick pay system is failing workers and is a danger to public health.

Sick pay

Statutory Sick Pay in the UK is currently £99.35 per week, but there are strict eligibility criteria for this such as requiring employees to earn at least £123 a week on average. TUC research has revealed that the sick pay system leaves tens of thousands of workers across Wales with very little income when they become unwell, including:

· Insecure workers: insecure workers are ten times more likely than workers in more secure jobs to get nothing when off sick

· Key workers: a quarter of key workers only eligible for Statutory Sick Pay.

· Hospitality and retail workers: one in six hospitality workers and one in eight retail workers are ineligible for any sick pay at all.

Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC General Secretary, said: “The sick pay system is completely inadequate and is harming workers by making it unaffordable to stay home when they are unwell.

“Not only does this mean that people have to go out to work when they’re sick, it means that their colleagues are also at risk if they have an infectious illness. The UK Government’s

complete failure to address this shows that they haven’t learnt a single lesson from the pandemic and aren’t interested in making the workplace fairer or safer.

“The reality is that the majority of workers in Wales have gone to work while they’re sick during a pandemic. The UK’s sick pay system is a liability and this will only get worse as more people struggle to make ends meet because of the cost of living emergency.”

Social Care workers

While the powers relating to Statutory Sick Pay are not devolved, Welsh Government did step in during the pandemic to establish a sick pay enhancement scheme which is due to expire at the end of June.

The scheme provides funding for employers to pay workers at full pay if they have to take sick leave because of Covid-19. Trades unions are now calling on Welsh Government to make this scheme permanent, and for it to cover all types of sick leave.

Shavanah Taj said: “Welsh Government put in place proper sick pay for social care workers who needed to self-isolate because of Covid because they get how important this is – it protects workers, their colleagues and the people they care for.

“As part of their commitment to fair work, Welsh Government has already rolled out the Real Living Wage to registered social care workers in the sector.

Keeping and expanding the sick pay scheme would be a really important next step to improve working conditions in the sector, making sure that no care worker faces the choice between going into work while ill or extreme financial hardship.”

Mark Turner, Social Care Lead for UNISON Cymru, commented: “We know that most private sector care providers don’t pay proper sick pay, which means care workers have a choice of being driven further into poverty or working and potentially putting the people they care for at undue risk. Decent sick pay must be a priority if we are to recruit workers into the care sector.”

Kelly Andrews, Senior Organiser for GMB trade union, said: “Sick pay for social care workers should be seen as a basic infection control measure. The past two years have highlighted the risks to the sector when low paid workers were forced to go into work because they could not afford to isolate. For many older and vulnerable people, infections and viruses like flu can be just as dangerous as covid.”


Editors note

YouGov survey results: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. Total sample size: was 1039 workers in Wales (age 16+). Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th and 25th May 2022. The surveys were carried out online.

The figures have been weighted and are representative of all working adults in Wales. Note that the 65% figure quoted above was calculated by removing those workers who reported that they had not been sick over the past 12 months.

Over the past 12 months did you work when you were sick?

Yes 51
No 27
I was not sick 21
Don't know 2

Decent sick pay for all: The TUC is calling on the Chancellor to remove the lower earnings limit, pay sick pay from day one in a job, and raising the value of sick pay to the level of the real living wage. Further information on the TUC’s research and policy asks in relation to sick pay is available here.

About the Wales TUC: The Wales TUC exists to improve the economic and social conditions of workers in Wales, regardless of if they are currently in a job or not. Around 400,000 people are trade union members in Wales. The vast majority of these people are members of trade unions which are affiliated to the Wales TUC. It is part of the TUC.