Government Scraps Paid Pandemic Leave

by Sonia Hickey
COVID molecule

Covid-19 case numbers are still peaking across the country and it is still against the law for anyone who tests positive to the virus not to self-isolate. Despite this the Federal Government is scrapping paid pandemic leave. 

A $750 payment was introduced by the Morrison Government at the height of the pandemic to assist people who had either tested positive to Covid-19, as well as carers and close contacts also forced to isolate. 

The payment was intended to take the pressure off sick people as well as their employers, which in Australia are mostly small businesses who were, at the height of the pandemic typically struggling small businesses facing financial losses related to the pandemic as well as crippling staff shortages and supply chain shortages. 

Government scraps paid pandemic leave

But the Albanese Government has announced in recent days that it intends to scrap the payment based on the fact that “trillions of dollars” in debt means it simply cannot afford to continue to pay Australians to stay home when they contract Covid. 

Prudent fiscal management by any Government is critical, but the decision to scrap paid pandemic leave puts a huge number of workers at risk. It means that essentially, casual workers will have no income while they are sick with Covid-19. 

Casual workers at financial risk 

This doesn’t just affect industries like retail and hospitality. Casual workers make up a large chunk of the Australian workforce across a wide range of industries including healthcare, education, transport, construction, electricity, media and many more. 

It’s fair to presume that some people will return to work, rather than self-isolate, because they simply can’t afford to have no income. 

Unions are furious with the Federal Government’s decision, calling it “short-sighted” particularly given that it continues to remind Australians that we are in a “serious phase” of the pandemic. Figures show that almost 200,000 new infections and 300 deaths were recorded in the past several days. Many sectors of the community are being urged to get fourth vaccination “booster shots”.

Current public health orders

A number of public health orders remain in place across New South Wales.

Testing positive to Covid-19

Anyone who registers a positive a rapid antigen test (RAT) must record their result  through Service NSW. It is an offence to fail to register a positive result and a fine of $1000 may apply if you fail to comply. 

Self-isolation requirements 

Self-isolation rules are still enforceable under the Public Health (COVID-19 Self-Isolation) Orders. If you are directed in writing (including SMS) by NSW Health to self-isolate, you must do so for the recommended period given to you by NSW Health. 

Failing to self-isolate is a criminal offence. For individuals, the maximum penalty is $11,000, 6 months in prison, or both with a further $5,500 fine for each day the offence continues.

On-the-spot fines 

The NSW Police may also issue on-the-spot fines to individuals of $5000 for failure to comply with obligations to self-isolate if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, including staying at home or in hospital, as determined by a doctor, nurse, paramedic or authorised contact tracer. 

The penalties for corporations who do not comply with these public health orders is a fine of $10,000. This means that any company who has an employee who tests positive to Covid-19 must ensure that they self-isolate and not return to work for the full period recommended by health professionals. 

‘Moving forward’ with restrictions

Despite governments placing an emphasis on “moving forward” out of the pandemic, and some restrictions being removed in order to get the nation back on track, several rules continue to remain in place.

And with Covid-19 fatigue leading many to turn a blind eye to the daily case statistics, it is important to understand which public health orders remain in place so that you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law, as it is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a public health order In our state.

As has been said many times before – ignorance of the rules is not a legal defence in the courtroom, meaning you can be found guilty even if you had no idea that what you were doint was an offence. 

You can keep an eye on regulations in New South Wales at https://www.nsw.gov.au/ and https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/. 

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Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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