Casual aged care workers will be eligible for paid pandemic leave after a Fair Work Commission decision to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Many of the recent deaths in Victoria’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been linked to aged care facilities, amid fears workers are going in despite having symptoms.
New South Wales’ biggest outbreak, at Newmarch House aged care centre, began after an infected staff member came to work, resulting in 19 deaths.
The new rule will take effect from Wednesday for three months, allowing aged care staff to stay home without losing income, the commission said on Monday.
‘There is a real risk that employees who do not have access to leave entitlements might not report COVID-19 symptoms which might require them to self-isolate, but rather seek to attend for work out of financial need,’ it said.
‘This represents a significant risk to infection control measures.
‘These matters weigh significantly in favour of the introduction of a paid pandemic leave entitlement.’
There are now 84 cases linked to St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner, 82 at Estia Health in Ardeer, 77 at Epping Gardens Aged Care, and 62 at Menarock Aged Care in Essendon.
Glendale Aged Care in Werribee has 53 cases linked to it, and 57 are associated with Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth.
Five of Australia’s six deaths on Monday were linked to Melbourne nursing homes as the national toll rose to 161.
Federal and state health authorities are concerned community transmission of the disease is driving infections among aged care residents and staff.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the aged care quality and safety commissioner to investigate a virus-hit residence in Victoria, after reports of people being left without food and lying in soiled sheets.
He’s very cautious over modelling showing Victoria may have reached its peak in cases.
‘We hope that, in the coming days or week, we reach that peak, if we haven’t already,’ he told the ABC.
‘But we won’t count any flattening of the curve until we see a week of sustained lower cases. And at this point, cases have been rising, not falling.’
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said five per cent of all coronavirus cases in Victoria since April were among aged care residents and four per cent among staff.
Premier Daniel Andrews has said people who are going to work sick – including those who work at aged care facilities – are the ‘biggest driver’ of the state’s second wave.
But the union movement said many of those people could not afford not to work.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the decision does not go far enough.
‘We welcome the decision but this still does not remove the trap door for casual workers with irregular hours,’ she said in a statement.
‘What this decision shows is that there is a need for paid pandemic leave and while the economy is struggling it should be government funded for all workers so no-one is even considering having to go to work with mild symptoms just to pay the bills.’
The Victorian government is now providing a $300 payment for workers who can’t go to work after testing for COVID-19.
A further $1500 hardship payment is available if the test result is positive.