Insecure workers almost 10 times more likely to receive zero sick pay

TUC urges businesses to stop treating staff as ‘disposable labour’ and call on government to align statutory sick pay with the real Living Wage

More than two thirds of insecure workers in the UK receive zero pay when off sick, a new survey has found, prompting calls for greater protections and the abolishment of zero-hours contracts.

A poll, by the TUC and Britain Thinks, of 2,231 UK workers revealed 67 per cent of those engaged in insecure work – defined as workers whose contracts do not guarantee regular hours or income or those who are in low-paid self-employment – received no pay when they were off sick.

This is compared to just 7 per cent of secure workers, suggesting insecure workers are almost ten times more likely than their securely employed counterparts to not receive any pay when sick.

Moreover, insecure workers reported fearing their employer would find someone else to do their job if they didn’t turn up to work – particularly for those on zero-hours contracts as with no guaranteed hours, their employer is not obliged to offer them work.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, urged businesses to stop treating insecure workers as “disposable labour”. She has called on the government to improve peoples’ rights at work in the forthcoming Employment Bill, including abolishing zero-hours contracts and raising statutory sick pay (SSP) to the level of the real Living Wage.

O’Grady added that the lack of access to sick pay for many could undermine attempts to fight Coronavirus, and that if individuals were unable to self-isolate when they needed to, the virus could rebound. “No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table,” she said.

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Today’s TUC findings also revealed Covid mortality rates for those aged 20-60 was almost twice as high for those in insecure work when compared to other occupations. Among men the Covid mortality rate was 51 per 100,000 for those in insecure work, compared to 24 per 100,000 in less insecure roles. Among women, the mortality rate was 25 per 100,000 for those in insecure work, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations.

Among its recommendations, the TUC urged the government to abolish the minimum earnings threshold for SSP, which would extend coverage to another two million workers; remove the waiting period for sick pay; and increase sick pay to £330 a week – the equivalent of a week’s pay at the real living wage.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics have previously shown that nearly seven million UK workers don’t qualify for SSP. Five million don’t qualify because they are self-employed and 1.7 million as they do not meet the earnings threshold.

The TUC’s findings echo an earlier report by the Resolution Foundation that called the current level of SSP – which is worth £96 a week – “woefully inadequate”, and that the minimum earnings threshold of £120 a week excluded too many people. 

The think tank also estimated some two million employees earn less than the £120 a week minimum earnings threshold to be considered for SSP, including one in four part-time workers, and one in seven workers in retail, hospitality and leisure – leaving them with no income at all if they self-isolated at home.

Maja Gustafsson, researcher at the Resolution Foundation and co-author of the report, said asking people to self-isolate was “one of the important tools” the country had for combatting the outbreak. 

“[But] asking workers to do that often involves a major financial sacrifice – and the UK’s sick pay regime has been woefully inadequate in providing the necessary support. Many more Covid infections will have taken place as a result,” she added.