COVID-19: Greens call for 10 days' sick leave as Labour discusses extension

The Greens are calling for 10 days' paid sick leave to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, and as Newshub revealed Labour looks set to announce something similar. 

Full and part time employees are currently eligible for five days of paid sick leave in New Zealand, after working continuously for an employer for six months, but the Greens are calling for that to be doubled to 10 days. 

Green Party workplace relations spokesperson Jan Logie said on Thursday everyone has a role to play in keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand communities and that includes staying home when unwell. 

"We know that the very real concern of losing the income they rely on stops many people from staying home if they or the kids in their households have cold symptoms," Logie said. 

"The Ministry of Health has rightfully set very firm guidelines for people to stay home if they're sick. However, the Government must ensure people are able to do so without worrying about paying the bills."

Logie said five days of sick leave is not enough.

"The Green Party is calling for this to double to 10 days, so people can do their part by staying home and reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. We'll also explore ways to support small businesses to adapt to this change."

If the Greens are part of the next Government, they would aim to amend the Holidays Act to provide for 10 days' paid leave, and remove the requirement for a medical certificate for short duration illnesses including cold and flu.

The Greens would also explore a rebate scheme - a discount or reimbursement - for small businesses to ensure they can adjust to the increased provisions without adverse effects on their business. 

"New Zealand currently has lower sick leave provisions than almost all other OECD countries, with most countries providing at least two weeks' paid leave," Logie said. 

"Australia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Spain all have two weeks, and lots of European countries like Germany have three weeks or even more."

Green MPs Chloe Swarbrick, Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman and Jan Logie.
Green MPs Chloe Swarbrick, Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman and Jan Logie. Photo credit: Facebook

Logie said the Greens welcome the extension to the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, but she said that's only a short-term solution.

"The message to stay home if unwell is very clear, and it's now time to support people to do that so we can all stay safe."

The Green Party's Poverty Action Plan, released in July, would reform the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) into the 'Agency for Comprehensive Care', with the ambition of ensuring a long-term guarantee of sick leave paid to a cap of 80 percent of peoples' previous salary.

Newshub revealed earlier this month that despite not announcing any policies on sick leave yet, Labour looks set to announce an extension to sick leave provisions.  

Questions from Newshub led to MPs accidentally letting it slip. 

"It's something we are discussing at the moment," Labour MP and Employment Minister Willie Jackson told Newshub. "Extra five days is the view at the moment." 

Labour MP Paul Eagle said he'd like to see it doubled. 

"Ten days would be great and let's hope that the next Government does that."

The Council of Trade Union (CTU)'s polling with UMR showed 68 percent of Kiwis polled supported increasing sick leave while 53 percent thought it should be doubled. 

But the National Party is not so keen on the idea.  

"You want employment conditions progressively getting better for people - and that has been the history, you know, the 40 hour week - but you know, at the moment that shouldn't be on the table," National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee told Magic Talk. 

"An employer taking someone on is going to have to provide for more sick days. No one's lacking compassion, but I think at the moment that's a bit of a stretch."