15 September 2021

Natalie Lang: “The average worker in the disability sector makes $725 a week. Over 40 per cent of the workforce are casual workers, meaning they do not receive any leave entitlements. So if you become a contact of a COVID case, and have to isolate for two weeks, that’s suddenly a material threat to your capacity to afford food, clothes, and shelter for your household. … So here we have a new situation in which some workers — low-paid, critical workers most of us consider heroes — have a relatively extreme statistical exposure to a new safety risk that will limit their earnings, purely by virtue of the nature of the work they perform. What should be done? Well, so far, the answer is to flick them a crumb of welfare. Last week the NSW government announced it would be expanding its $320 one-off ‘Isolate Support Payments’ to workers without leave who are forced to shelter at home. Even if you work in the disability sector $320 is a pretty far cry from what you expected to make at work for two weeks, or even one. Yet while the money is woefully inadequate, it’s also the structure that insults. If being exposed to COVID-19 and forced into isolation is a foreseeable event for a significant portion of a sector, that sector doesn’t need a welfare cheque — it needs a new industrial right. That’s why the government must now urgently move to enshrine isolation leave in our National Employment Standards. It is morally and ethically indefensible for a disability worker who’s been forced into isolation to forgo the income they were expecting for that period. It’s that simple.”