The Australian Government has today patched up a serious hole in its policy to incentivise social distancing, offering $1,500 pandemic leave disaster payments valid over 14 days to workers who don't have access to sick leave.
It is a move that follows Victoria's approach of test isolation and worker support payments, designed to prevent individuals from showing up to work with COVID-19 symptoms when they feel no other financial options are available.
"Last week I indicated to you that we were working on a plan, and consulting and discussing these issues of pandemic leave, and we've been able to come to a conclusion on that today," Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) has told a press conference.
"What we will be doing is establishing a pandemic leave disaster payment," he said, noting it could be accessed multiple times if someone is unfortunately instructed to self-isolate on multiple occasions.
The PM drew a parallel to disaster payments that were made when the nation was confronting bushfires earlier this year.
"What we're dealing with here is a disaster, and we need to respond on the basis of the way we provide support in the midst of disasters," he said.
"We need a disaster payment when it comes for people who have to isolate for a period of 14 days, through no fault of their own - regardless of what job they're in and employment they're in, they need that support.
"That payment will be modelled on exactly the same set of criteria that the Victorian Government has put in place. Those payments are principally made to those who are on short-term visas...who otherwise wouldn't have access to Commonwealth payments."
He said from Wednesday people looking to access these payments if they are getting tested will be able to call 180-22-66 to make arrangements.
"They'll be able to make their application over the phone...and that should be turned around fairly quickly," the PM said.
"That means that those who need to self-isolate as a result of instruction by a public health officer, there is no economic reason for you to go to work.
"We're also encouraging the Victorian Government to ensure that there are appropriate penalties in place to those who do break those public health notices."
He said people who went to work when they were sick put their workmates and their employees' businesses at risk.
The proposal has been formulated over recent days, but prior to the PM's announcement the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions issued a joint letter to the Attorney General calling for a similar scheme.
"Paid pandemic leave is now an essential public health measure that will combat the recent spike in workplace transmission in Victoria," the Business Council and ACTU stated.
"The recent outbreaks in Victoria have highlighted that there are still a number of workers who are attending work whilst infectious or at risk, which is accelerating the rate of community transmission.
"This is both harmful to the health of the community and disruptive to businesses that are now closing in increasing numbers following workplace transmission."
The groups said while many businesses had implemented policies to provide for paid pandemic leave, not all are able to do so given the cost, especially under current circumstances where workers are often required to isolate and get tested on multiple occasions.
"We acknowledge the efforts of the Victorian Government to introduce its own scheme. This scheme is available to all workers who are required to isolate and do not have access to leave," they said.
"Unfortunately, the mechanisms available to state governments to effectively implement and administer such a scheme are inadequate and consequently we have seen minimal take up over recent weeks.
"It is for these public health reasons that business and unions believe the Federal Government, together with relevant States, must urgently provide for and fund a national Paid Pandemic Leave Scheme."
Updated at 5:11pm AEST on 3 August 2020.
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