Seasonal workers often have been employed for less than six months and will not meet the threshold for paid sick leave. Photo / Duncan Brown

By Sarah Robson for RNZ

Unions want all workers to have the right to paid sick leave from their first day on the job.

From tomorrow, changes to double the minimum sick leave rights from five to 10 days will come into effect – but not everyone will benefit.

Sick leave is only available after six months of continuous employment, which means new employees and those on temporary contracts often face the choice of going to work poorly or not being paid.

Thomas Foot has worked in all kinds of trades in the kiwifruit industry: picking, pruning, orchard work and some packing plant work.

But it’s a seasonal job, so you’re not often in the same job for more than six months.

And that means workers won’t meet the threshold for paid sick leave.

First Union’s strategic project coordinator Anita Rosentreter said the nature of their work puts these workers at a disadvantage.

“We have met many workers who have worked in the same industry and often for the same company for 10 or 20 years, they have worked for the company for so long, but they have never, in their time, been qualified for use any paid sick leave. “

Foot said he had worked in packaging factories where his colleagues reported even though they were clearly ill.

“I got sick probably three times while working at the packing station just because of how close everyone was working and, for a lot of people who worked there, it might just be the only time in the day. year they work or are able to work, so many of them would work through illness. “

Foot doesn’t think that’s fair.

“It is a job like any other job and your basic rights and requirements should be there for you, not only from a legal point of view, but from the point of view of human decency,” he said. he declares.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Melissa Ansell-Bridges said everyone should be entitled to sick leave from their first day on the job.

She said it was important, not just for the employee, but for the entire workplace.

“The reality is that if you don’t have access to sick leave and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, if you get sick you’re probably still going to come to work because you can’t afford not. not do it.

“Then everyone misses when we spread colds and flu this time of year, and Covid-19 is always a risk.”

Senior lawyer and employment law expert Jessica Taylor said new employees should discuss their options with their employer if they are ill, as they may be able to take sick leave in advance. or obtain discretionary sick leave.

She said it was in the best interests of employers to be flexible.

“I think we are more aware than ever that it’s not great having people who are not doing well in the workplace and that not only is it bad for morale and lowers productivity, but we are paying more attention to Covid-19 and how quickly disease can spread. “

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood said the government was working on changes to allow employees to start accumulating sick leave as soon as they started a new job.

“We are just taking a little time to make sure we get it right so that when it is implemented it can be implemented well and not have unforeseen circumstances.

“I appreciate the argument that we go ahead as quickly as possible, but in this case we want to measure twice and cut once.”

Wood was hopeful that the legislation would be presented to Parliament early next year.

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This notice was published: 2021-07-22 20:21:31


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