Why the government's pledges on coronavirus sick pay aren't enough

This is not the time for cheap point scoring, it’s time to pull together, in our shared interest – our national interest – to keep people safe.

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Anyone watching the news at the moment is likely to be concerned about the impact of the coronavirus. Highly contagious, and spreading across the globe, I’m sure we’ve all wondered what we can do to keep ourselves and our families safe.

Public servants – working in the NHS, social care and other public services – are on the frontline of the fight against the spread of the virus. Nurses, domestics, porters, cleaners and care workers – these are just some of the incredible staff who are working tirelessly to keep us safe and take care of those who fall ill. They’re under real pressure all year round, but especially at times of crisis. That’s why it’s so important that we stand with them, as they stand with all of us.

I know that NHS workers – and all those providing vital public services – are doing everything they can to minimise the impact. Unions, employers, working people and the government must all be pulling in the same direction if we’re to minimise the spread of coronavirus and care for those affected.

As the largest health union in the country, Unison is working closely with the NHS over what action is being taken to deal with the spread of the virus. We’re also calling on the government to ensure that those who need to self-isolate are able to do so.

Right now, those on zero-hours or other precarious contracts simply can’t afford to go into isolation unless they are paid. Low-paid workers – including many care workers and some NHS staff working for private contractors, looking after some of the most vulnerable in our society – could be forced to choose between isolating themselves and paying their bills.

The announcement from the government on statutory sick pay is a welcome step in the right direction – but it will still leave many low-paid workers in a difficult position. They may not work enough hours to qualify for statutory sick pay or may not be able to afford a cut in pay. The choice between self-isolation and having enough to survive on will still exist.

Unison has been consistent in our opposition to this government’s policies of privatisation and pay cuts – and we will continue to challenge them. Yet when the lives of our fellow citizens are on the line, we know that the responsible course of action is to work together to tackle the threat we all face.

This is not the time for cheap point scoring, it’s time to pull together, in our shared interest – our national interest – to keep people safe.

Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON.

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