Government urged to bring back Pandemic Leave Disaster pay

'It's a common-sense solution which will help workers adhere to public health orders and assist essential workers'

Government urged to bring back Pandemic Leave Disaster pay

Unions are calling on the Federal government to reinstate the country's Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, which ended on June 30, underscoring its negative impact for frontline workers.

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is a lump sum payment to help those under isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 when they cannot report to work and earn income. It ended on June 30, but the government clarified that individuals may still qualify for the payment if their isolation period began on or before its expiry.

On its end, various unions are urging the government to extend the leave disaster payment because the pandemic remains. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) warned in a statement that the decision to end the payment will force employees to report to work even if they are unwell.

"This decision will result in workers working while they are sick, which we have known since the first days of the pandemic is a certain way to more rapidly spread the virus and put more people at risk," said ACTU president Michele O'Neil. "It will also leave working people without paid leave to look after children or family members who are sick and need care."

"The Albanese Government should not ignore the lessons that we have learnt since the start of the pandemic. They should reverse this decision and continue to support working people in the midst of an ongoing crisis."

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), the country's largest union, is also calling on the government to reverse its decision to scrap the leave disaster payments.

Annie Butler, ANMF federal secretary, said the payments need to remain to allow people to follow public health orders and stay in isolation if they contract COVID-19.

"With many public health measures now being relaxed, we need to ensure that everything is done to support the whole community to abide by the restrictions still in place," said Butler in a statement.

"Every state and territory currently require COVID-positive people to isolate for seven days. We need to make sure that every person is able to do so. If we don't, as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, workers who aren't supported to stay at home and isolate because they can't afford to lose money, will continue to spread the virus further. Our health system simply can't bear this extra pressure."

According to Butler, supporting people will save money and lives in the long run, which is why the government should continue its financial support to those forced in isolation.

"We must learn from previous mistakes," she said. "The ANMF is imploring the Albanese Government to reverse the decision to cut the COVID payments. It's a common-sense solution which will help workers adhere to public health orders and assist essential workers like nurses, midwives and care workers to care for the rest of the community and keep them as safe as possible – at a time when we are all at risk of new infections."

Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler addressed the calls in a radio interview saying the end of the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments is "another of a series of emergency measures that were due to expire on the 30th of June."

"We've got a trillion dollars of debt is simply not the financial capacity to continue to fund these emergency measures forever," added Butler. "We've looked at this closely. State governments, employers and the general community had quite a deal of notice from late last year that this extraordinary emergency measure was going to expire on the 30th of June."

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