Excluding workers from accessing sick leave is discriminatory

Excluding workers from accessing sick leave is discriminatory

February 2, 2021

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner says the Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill is exclusionary in its current form and can amount to discrimination.

“To put it simply, it excludes workers who have been employed for less than six months continuously with the same employer, which could include those on casual contracts, part-timers, or even full-time workers who have been with an employer for less than 6 months. This exclusion could amount to discrimination based on the status of employment which is against our human rights,” says Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo.

An employee who lost their job due to a business closing down as a result of Covid-19, and gets a new job won’t qualify for sick leave if they have been employed for less than 6 months. Sumeo is worried about workers with dependents, especially women who were hard hit by job losses.

“This disproportionately affects those with dependents when they become unwell; older and disabled workers who have a higher risk of falling ill; workers in occupations where working from home is not an option some of whom will be in low paid occupations; students working part-time, and generally anyone who does not meet the criteria for basic sick leave let alone the additional 5 days proposed by this Bill.”

“While the Bill adds security for those already with options such as working home and flexible hours, it purposely leaves behind the less-privileged. We are potentially looking at hundreds of thousands of people including those working multiple jobs to get by."

Sumeo said the Bill is also inconsistent with a public health approach. She wants more employers and government officials to get real.

“As COVID-19 has shown, pandemics do not discriminate based on a worker's length of service with a place of employment. If you catch Covid you are a human being, and you should be given equal access to quality health care and sick leave. This Bill, unfortunately, chooses who is worthy and who isn’t, yet we still like to be perceived as a fair, respectful, and equal society."

“Five days of sick leave per year is not enough. Ill health should not lead to loss of income or threaten job security.” 

“No person should go to work when they are sick, regardless of employment status. We cannot have workers choosing between getting paid and supporting themselves or staying home when sick. It is inhumane and adverse to public safety and public health,” she adds.

“Adequate paid sick leave pays off in terms of health and economic gains for employers, workers, and the economy at large. It enables more sustainable economic growth through a healthy and productive workforce. It also reflects how we see and value our people as a nation, just as we collectively acted when the pandemic arrived on our doorstep.”

“Increasing paid sick leave is part of social protection and social security. Employers and the government would be further protecting the dignity of workers and their rights to work and an adequate standard of living and work. This is consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights.”

You can read the Human Rights Commission’s submission on the Holidays (Increaseing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill here.