Unite, the UK’s construction union, is urging employers to immediately relax sick pay rules to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus.
The call follows the announcement last week that the government has relaxed the rules on statuary sick pay (SSP) so that it is paid immediately if a worker is on sick leave rather than on the fourth day which is currently the case, in order to allow workers to self-isolate if they have symptoms of coronavirus.
However, in the construction industry when a worker is operating under a collective industrial agreement as well as SSP (worth just £94.25 a week), workers are also entitled to industry sick pay which can be up to an additional £180 a week.
Unfortunately, there is currently a delay of up to two weeks before the industry sick pay is paid, raising concerns that construction workers who may be displaying symptoms of coronavirus will not self-isolate, due to economic factors.
The call to relax sick pay rules comes in a rapidly-changing environment when, at the time of writing (10/3/20), the latest government reports say that sometime within the next 10-14 days, anyone displaying even the mildest signs of a cold could be asked to self-isolate for at least seven days.
Unite has written to the employers involved in the various industrial agreements including the Construction Industry Joint Council (for civil engineering), the Joint Industry Board (for electricians) the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI), the Joint Industry Board: Plumbing and the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVCA)/ Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) agreement, asking that industry sick pay is also paid from day one.
Changes to industry sick pay would protect several hundred thousand construction workers including those working on major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, Hinkley Point and HS2.
Jerry Swain, Unite national officer for construction (building and civil engineering sector), said: “The custodians of the construction industry, who talk about the need for social responsibility must demonstrate they will do the right thing. There is a great deal of worry and fear about the coronavirus and it would be perverse if action was not taken to ensure that construction workers can take the appropriate measures to protect fellow workers and local communities from potentially being infected.”
Ian Woodland, Unite national officer for construction (mechanical and electrical sector), said: “Construction employers must step up to the plate and take the responsible decision to start paying industry sick pay from day one. A failure to do so would demonstrate that construction employers are not genuine when they suggest they are serious in tackling coronavirus.”