COVID-19: Unions to pressure Government on extending sick leave in New Zealand from five days to 10

Newshub can reveal the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) is planning to pile pressure on the Government to extend minimum sick leave for New Zealand workers from five days to at least 10.

Cabinet documents reveal most New Zealanders completely run out of sick leave each year. 

"People need to stay away from others if they're not well," CTU president Richard Wagstaff told Newshub. "Extending sick leave will help us do that."

Here's what they want:

  • Extend the COVID-19 leave support scheme for the next year, making it easier to access, and covering anyone with coronavirus symptoms, including those waiting to be referred to testing
  • Increase the legal minimum paid sick leave from five to 10 days over the next year, with support from the Government to help small businesses make the change
  • Make sick leave available if people need to care for their dependents like their children and their parents
  • Remove the six-month stand-down to access sick leave when you start a new job
  • Get rid of the previous National-led Government's law change that can require a doctor's certificate after just one day of sick leave

A March Cabinet paper acknowledges most employers only provide the minimum, and "the five-day entitlement would typically be exhausted, or nearly exhausted, each year".

"Let's make it easy for working people to stay home when they're sick and go to work when they're well," Wagstaff said. "It's as simple as that, and at the moment five days just isn't enough to do that."

By comparison to New Zealand, Australia provides 10 days of sick leave, while Sweden provides 14 days, and Germany provides six weeks. Sweden and Germany also provide further leave schemes that kick in after that.

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway conceded New Zealand provides half of the sick leave Australia does, but said, "All around the world minimum standards in work places are very different."

He added, "We have some things where we are superior to other parts of the world and some where our standards might be a little lower."

Despite those lower standards, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed to Newshub on Tuesday the Government has no plans to review sick leave provisions.

Lees-Galloway said it is "ultimately something that can be negotiated between employers and employees". 

An increase in sick leave would make a difference for homecare support worker Natasha Dixon, who with three daughters is bracing for a tough winter of coughs and colds.

"Winter's really stressful," Dixon said. "[I] get back into work after one sick child and then the next sick child and then [I feel like] I'm like letting people down."

That will see her run out of sick leave, which means scrimping elsewhere

She said she's forced to think about changing her budget "to accommodate being off".

Labour traditionally listens to unions, and increasing sick leave would be hugely popular with employees.

But with so many businesses struggling post-COVID-19, it's hard to see the Government advancing policy that could hit them even harder.