How to Tackle the Symptoms of Coronavirus at Work

How to Tackle the Symptoms of Coronavirus at Work

Fever, coughing, shortness of breath, by now it’s a well-known watchlist. But the websites don’t list the other type of Coronavirus symptom – shortness of cash, days without pay, financial anxiety.

The government says one in five workers may be affected. If you’re one of many workers in Scotland who can’t afford to be off work unpaid, there isn’t much time to devise a plan for when the virus visits.

Scotland has no National Wealth Service. Instead there are employers, who will be plotting to keep their costs down and their profits up by refusing sick pay when the virus infects their workforce. There may be no vaccination yet, but the government is promising cash injections to make up the shortfall of lost profits. So what can you do to get paid if and when the virus stops you working?

Cure it with the law?

The law won’t be much use if your work is low-paid and precarious. By law, the lowest-earning third of workers will be lucky to get anything at all.

There is no hope of sick pay for most of the 15% of self-employed workers, including most gig workers like Deliveroo riders and DPD drivers.

Many workers in hospitality and retail companies like Wetherspoons will only get basic sick pay if they are earning more than £118 a week, meaning many will be left with no pay at all.

Employees on more secure contracts, or workplaces with well-entrenched unions, do have a right to better sick leave policies. But this is little comfort for precarious workers who need the income security most of all.

Cure it by changing the law?

So much for the law. No wonder some have attempted to change it.

Last week the SNP MP Chris Stephens presented a Bill that aimed to abolish the division between workers that exists in British law. His basic idea is that the law should give gig workers and self-employed contractors the same status as public servants, office staff, and other workers.

This would have placed all workers in a similar situation with respect to sick pay.

But legal changes like this aren’t about to come down from Parliament in London or Edinburgh. Certainly not in the next few weeks. Power to win sick pay comes from the workplace.

Cure it collectively?

So, what can you do to protect yourself from the financial symptoms of coronavirus? The best way is to make common cause with your colleagues, and collectively demand the sick pay you will need.

1. Speak to as many of the people you work with as possible

The virus is an issue that has the potential to affect everyone in your workplace. It is in everyone’s interest to have sick pay agreed before the virus comes. It is a natural subject to talk about – start with the most sympathetic people, speak to everyone you can, and ask them to speak to others too. Any guidance your employer has given you will be calculated in their interest. It is in your interest to get a coronavirus policy sorted out. Just because your employer has already given you guidance, doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.

2. Arrange to meet up with your colleagues

You might not feel able to bring colleagues together to discuss the plan during work, but there is nothing to stop you meeting away from work to talk about what you would like in place. Get the contacts of colleagues (before they go off sick!) and set up a Whatsapp group. Find a time that works for a group of you, and make sure the group has links to the people who can’t make it along. Then ask people one by one if they would like to come and join. If you like, BetterThanZero will come too.

3. Draw up your request

This will be quite simple: to be paid if and when you fall ill or have self-imposed quarantine. You can make it more detailed, if you like, by doing some simple calculations about how much money you want to be paid in different circumstances. Are you asking to be paid at full rate, half rate, and for how long? If you know how much profit your company makes, compare the rough costs of the sick pay with the profits that your bosses are making. You will probably find it won’t be much of a dent.

4. Work out what you’ll do if the boss says no

This is the vital bit, because without it your cure won’t get past the lab stage. If your boss refuses to accept your request, then you will have to show that you have the power to win your demands. We can meet with you and work out what will work best in your workplace. What matters most of all is signalling to your boss through your actions that you are united and determined to win. You have the same interest, so act together.

5. Go to your boss together and present your demand

So, you have a plan and you have enough people on board that you think the boss will have to respond. It’s time for a group of you to go and present your demand to the boss. Before you do, you should join a trade union, because it will give you security whatever you decide to do. The whole history of workplace organising suggests that chances are, the impact of your action will be enough to make your boss agree to the demand.

If you try these steps and the symptoms persist, then let us know and we can move to more specialist treatment. But by this point you will already be becoming experts in fighting the impact of the virus that will be affecting thousands of precarious workers in Scotland in the coming months.

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