News & Media

No one should have to choose between their wages and their health – we need Sick Pay for All now

30 March 2021

Statement by Senator Marie Sherlock
Seanad Whip and Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Media, Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht

Marking six months since the Government’s decision to delay Labour’s sick pay proposals, Labour’s spokesperson on Employment Affairs Senator Marie Sherlock said: 

“The Labour Party brought forward a bill last September for statutory paid sick leave. Unfortunately, the Government voted to delay our bill for six months and this has left a continuing fundamental weakness in our fight against the pandemic. 

“The need to address this harmful flaw in our employment legislation is as pressing now as ever. We know from HSPC data that between August and March 20th, 1,810 workers across meat processing, food production, retail and other commercial workplaces were infected with Covid-19.

“We understand that as many as half of all private sector workers do not have a guaranteed right to be paid if they fall ill. Some will point to the Covid Enhanced Illness Benefit as being sufficient; it is not. The flat €350 weekly payment is less than half the average weekly earnings of a private sector worker and cannot substitute for a genuine right to paid sick leave.  

“We need workers to self-isolate if they are ill, and we must ensure that no worker is left out of pocket for doing the right thing. This is a crucial question of worker’s rights, but it is also the essential missing piece in our strategy against Covid-19. During a pandemic, we have a special duty to guarantee sick pay as soon as possible in the name of public health.  

“Sick pay is not a luxury. Across the EU, 22 countries already have a statutory right to sick pay, as does the UK. Ireland is one of only five EU members that doesn’t recognise this essential right.  

“Labour’s Bill would ensure that no worker is out of pocket when they fall ill. The reality for most people is they can’t afford to be sick – bills still need to be paid, mouths still need to be fed. So we need to break this cycle of people having to choose between going into work while sick, or else losing a portion of their income.  

“We need to pass this bill with no further delays to ensure that no more workers are made to choose between their wages and their health.”