The following statement (11 March 2020) has been released by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in response to COVID-19. It supports substantial action to deal with the threat, with special attention being paid to giving support to working people.
The ACTU Executive notes the rapidly unfolding global, social and economic crisis involving the outbreak of COVID-19 and calls on the government and employers to support working people through this pandemic. The union movement stands ready to support workers, their families and communities as the country braces and prepares for this outbreak.
The public health response should be of the highest priority, that is supporting people to isolate themselves if necessary. The economic impacts on workers, their families and the community will be significant if there is not support for this public health response.
The union movement is deeply concerned that casual and insecure workers do not have access to paid sick leave and the challenge this poses in relation to the public health measures necessary to protect the community. This situation is most pronounced in Australia with 1 in 3 workers without access to sick leave and we are concerned that workers will be facing significant financial strain in choosing to self-isolate which will weaken our collective efforts to contain COVID-19.
Whilst the economic impacts of COVID-19 are unknown at this stage we do know that the government inaction on the increasing numbers of insecure workers has left our economy weak and vulnerable to this pandemic. The combination of the bushfire crisis, and now COVID-19, will require significant collective efforts to keep Australians safe and in work.
All workers need to be supported with paid leave as an essential part of our Government’s response to this pandemic. This is absolutely necessary to ensure an effective public health response but also to mitigate against the significant economic challenges the country will face.
Accordingly, the ACTU Executive calls on the government to immediately legislate for two weeks “special leave” for all workers affected by the pandemic, whether that be the need to self-isolate or business downturn or shutdown. We also call on the Federal Government to support employers, especially small business, in our collective efforts to respond to any need for working people to take leave.