13 Nov 2020

Covid-19: Robust sick leave systems needed - union

11:53 am on 13 November 2020

A woman with Covid-19 went to work while symptomatic, First Union says it shows sick leave is not just a nice-to-have.

A-Z Collection clothing store in central Auckland.

A-Z Collection clothing store in central Auckland where the woman works. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Auckland's latest community case of Covid 19 is a shop assistant who spent Wednesday at work - while waiting for the results of a test.

Health officials say she called in sick but after talking to her boss she put on a mask and went in anyway.

First Union says the case raises questions about employees coming under pressure not to take sick leave.

National coordinator for First Union Ben Peterson told Morning Report New Zealand's 'she'll be right' attitude is an issue, particularly in a pandemic.

"Everyday this is an occurrence, that people are trying to use their sick leave and they're told just to come in anyway."

Peterson said short-staffing in retail and other industries leads to subtle pressures on workers not to use their entitled sick leave.

In front-facing roles it's really important that people are fit to work to protect everyone they are coming in contact with, he said.

"Sick leave is something that's there to protect workers and there to protect everyone," he said.

"The Covid situation shows that it's not a nice-to-have, this is something we need to have in place, we need to have robust systems so people can use sick leave when they need it."

Chief executive of Retail NZ Greg Harford told Nine to Noon that by and large retailers are doing their best to keep their staff well.

"They want people to be healthy and take time off when they need that time off. There may be instances around the margins where there are issues but you get that in any sector and you get that in anything."

He said many businesses go beyond their statutory requirements.

If you're working for a business for more than six months you get five days sick leave.

Retailers have always been lean with staffing, he said.

"It's a sector where margins are very low, the average net margin in retail is 3.6 percent and that's declining over time."

Most retail owners want to look after their employees, he said.

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce wants to remind employers there is support available to enable people to stay home if they are sick.

The chamber's chief executive Michael Barnett says most people have been complying with the rules.

He says businesses can also apply for the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme through the Ministry of Social Development for employees that don't have sick leave.

"So there is no excuse in the event that employers or employees are struggling with the sick pay issue."

There's many businesses that are sitting on the edge and any threat will be one to their survival, he said.

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