6 May 2021

Bill to increase sick leave worked on at Parliament

From The House , 6:55 pm on 6 May 2021

A bill increasing sick leave from five to ten days has passed its second reading at Parliament.

Labour MP and chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee Michael Wood answers media questions on the tiles at parliament.

Minister for workplace relations and safety Michael Wood Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill was introduced and passed its first reading under urgency in December last year.

At a second reading MPs often talk about the select committee process which came before. 

Committees are smaller groups of MPs who hear submissions from the public and then write a report for the rest of the House on whether the bill is good to go or needs some work. The Education and Workforce Committee report recommended the bill be passed without any changes.

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Michael Wood, said the committee received about 400 submissions some of which asked for changes to when new employees can take sick leave. Currently employees have to wait for six months before they're entitled to paid sick leave.

" There were some very reasonable and well-considered representations which argued that, in reality, a person can get sick on day 100 of their employment or on day one of their employment," he said.

"So it doesn't necessarily make sense to have that entitlement kicking in after six months and can lead to perverse consequences with people, before that six-month criteria, coming into work when they are unwell, with all of the fallout that I've previously discussed. I think this is a very valid point, but it was ruled to be out of scope of this bill by the clerks."

Wood said that while this Bill won't be able to make that change the Government does have plans to address this issue.

"It is part of the Government's work picking up the recommendations of the Holidays Act task force. This is one of the recommendations that we have accepted. So officials are right now working on the broader programme of changes that will come into effect through the task force recommendations, and bringing in a staggered entitlement to sick leave from day one of employment is one of those recommendations."

Wood also said Covid-19 has had an impact on changing attitudes around working while sick and there is evidence that encouraging sick employees to stay home will increase productivity.

"We've learnt through the course of COVID-19 that bugs do spread, and, of course, if someone comes into work when they are sick, those bugs spread to other people and potentially have a bigger impact on that workplace than had the person taken a couple of days to get over it. A study in the United States in 2015 revealed that workers coming into a workplace when they were sick decreased productivity in that workplace by 20 percent in the period concerned."

The National Party voted against the Bill at its first and second reading and lodged its concerns with the Bill in the select committee report.

National MP Todd McClay 21 Feb 2018

National MP Todd McClay Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

National MP Todd McClay said there is no guarantee the cost of increasing sick leave entitlements will be offset by better productivity

"You don't increase productivity in an economy or in a business by imposing costs upon that business. You do so by reducing red tape and regulation and allowing those businesses to get on with what it is the economy needs them to do, run their businesses well, create profits through productivity and competitiveness, and, of course, look after their employees and pay them more."

Green MP Jan Logie in the House

Green MP Jan Logie Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Green Party MP Jan Logie said many of the employers who submitted to the committee in opposition to the Bill did so because of concerns over the cost of increased sick leave to their business.

"What we heard from employers, not all of them but a large number who presented, was that they opposed it because they saw it as a cost. They didn't recognise the fact that if people are sick, they're sick.," she said.

"They're either coming to work and not doing a great job, because they're sick, or they're not turning up to work and you're just not paying them. But you're not getting the job done, because that person is actually sick, or you're losing great staff because they can't sustain their health or their kids' health and your limited provision of sick leave. That is an increased cost."

ACT Party MP Chris Baillie said submitters to the Committee were divided into employers and employees.

"The business owners are the ones who put themselves on the line. They've taken the risk and employed people. They understand where money comes from. Employees, as human nature dictates, will often take what they can get, and a number of submitters thought that they deserved not two but four weeks' sick pay," he said. 

"They are currently being enabled by a Government who has a very skewed position on what makes the world go round. ACT opposes this extra burden for employers, especially in today's environment."

The Bill passed its second reading with support from the Labour Party and the Green Party. The National Party and the ACT Party voted against it.

Two more stages remain for the bill to go through with the next one being the Committee of the Whole House Stage. This stage is where MPs debate the details of the bill and can make final changes before it goes to its third and final reading.