It is “hugely short-sighted” for companies to force their workers to take unpaid leave for vaccine appointments, according to SIPTU.
Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU where workers have no legal right to sick pay and it has emerged that some companies are forcing workers to take annual or unpaid leave to attend their vaccine appointments.
SIPTU Services Divisional Organiser Teresa Hannick told Newstalk that the issue is becoming more pronounced as the vaccine is offered to younger age groups.
“We would be calling on all employers to allow their employees to have paid leave or paid time off to attend for vaccination,” she said.
“Any hindrance to people taking the vaccination is going to slow down the recovery from this pandemic.
“We are talking about workers who have been on the front line since the beginning of this pandemic – we are talking about retail workers, warehouse and distribution workers, cleaners, security men, people working in catering, hospitals, factory workers and people working in transportation.
“So, any kind of hindrance for a worker to go and get this vaccination is going to slow down any kind of progress we could make. Why should a worker who has been working on the front line effectively since last March actually have to take a financial hit to get a vaccination?”
Ms Hannick said the lack of a mandatory sick pay scheme in Ireland was a big issue earlier in the pandemic – when employees were left with little choice but to turn up for work with COVID-19 symptoms.
“We don’t want the same thing happening again,” she said. “If you are on minimum wage and on that level of employment where every penny you earn is to pay some kind of bill, the loss of a day’s pay or two day’s pay can have a significant impact.
“If every penny is accounted for and pays for your bills, your rent or your children’s shoes, that two or three-hours loss of pay can make a huge difference to people.”
Health and safety
She noted that companies should be doing all they can to ensure their workers are vaccinated.
“The Government is doing everything to encourage people to take this vaccination and, if people want to take it and feel they need to take it, why would any employer be penalising these workers that have stood steadfast on the frontline? Why would you penalise them for trying to protect themselves and protect their families?
“These are people who have shown loyalty to their employers and dedication to the rest of us by being there and going to work every day – I think it is hugely short-sighted.
“There is a big issue to prevent any outbreaks or hotspots of COVID-19 in an area and people getting vaccinated will help prevent that. It will help prevent people being out sick. I don’t know why employers would be doing that.”
She said the Government should be encouraging companies to offer workers time off for vaccine appointments.
“For most people, it might be a two-hour absence – that is all it is taking for most people,” she said.
“There is a problem with vaccine hesitancy and this is just going to be another hurdle so I think it is important that the Tánaiste as Minister for Employment gets out encouraging employers to facilitate people and give them paid release to attend.”
In a statement, the Department of Enterprise said that, while employers are not obliged to offer time off for vaccine appointments, they should bear in mind that doing so will “ensure that the greatest level of workplace safety against COVID-19 can be maintained in their business.”
It noted that employers are “obliged to take reasonable steps to provide a safe place of work for their staff” and if they fail to do so workers can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission.
“We would also encourage all employers to be as flexible and supportive as possible with a view to maintaining good employment relationships over the long term,” it said.
Workers in Ireland are entitled to the State-paid Illness Benefit after they are absent for a certain number of days. workers must have made sufficient PRSI contributions to qualify and the payment is capped at €203 per week.
Workers told to self-isolate or diagnosed with COVID-19 are entitled to the Enhanced Illness Benefit payment of €350 per week.
A spokesperson for the Tánaiste said he will soon be publishing legislation to introduce a statutory sick pay scheme in Ireland.
"The Tánaiste has committed to introducing a mandatory, statutory sick pay scheme for all employees and it is one of his priorities as Minister," she said.
"The Bill outlining the Scheme will be published shortly and means that, for the first time, Ireland will have a statutory sick pay scheme on a permanent footing to cover any illness certified by a doctor."
Reporting from Kacey O'Riordan