Threats to UK manufacturing and those not covered for statutory sick pay are key issues arising from the coronavirus outbreak

Emergency legislation is needed to ensure that millions of workers not entitled to statutory sick pay receive it from day one if they can’t work because of coronavirus, says Unite.

The union is calling on the government to introduce emergency legislation that ensures workers are fully paid for the time they must take off to prevent its spread.

In a separate move, Unite, which represents hundreds of thousands of workers in the UK manufacturing sector, wants an urgent meeting with the new business secretary Alok Sharma to discuss the threat that essential components from China could dry up leading to short-time working and production shutdowns.

Millions of part-time, low paid workers and approximately five million ‘self-employed’ workers, are not currently entitled to statutory sick pay. This is because of their employment status or because they earn below the minimum of £118-a-week. This group includes nearly a quarter of workers on zero hours’ contracts and one in 10 working women.

Prime minister Boris Johnson, when asked whether the government would introduce emergency sick pay for all workers who are forced to self-isolate, said: “We’re going to keep all options under review."

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said that the prime minister’s response was ’vague and wholly inadequate’

Steve Turner said: “This is a vital public health issue - the state must intervene with emergency legislation to protect workers where collective agreements or statutory protection doesn’t exist. Without decisive intervention workers simply won’t stay at home – they can’t afford to”. 

“Government must also intervene with respect to gig workers, the ‘self-employed’ and the millions who don’t have rights to statutory sick pay or are simply already too poor to qualify.”

In his letter to the business secretary calling for an urgent meeting, Steve Turner said: “We are of the view that if the situation in China was not to improve over the coming three to four weeks, UK automotive plants will be entering periods of short time working and or enforced production shutdown.”

To protect manufacturing industry, to retain jobs, skills and knowledge during market or wider economic downturns, Unite is proposing the adoption of a UK scheme similar to that of the German short time working support scheme (Kurzarbeit).

Steve Turner added: “The scheme, in place since 1910, has been adopted by many European countries, and has served to protect manufacturing industry from the pressures of short time working by providing for wage protection during agreed periods of down time”. 

“With the state supporting industries with up to 60 per cent (67 per cent, if dependent children are involved) of regular income, workers are able to take up retraining and up-skilling during a difficult period - while worked time, paid by the employer, is temporarily reduced. We cannot allow workers to be simply laid off or forced to use banked hours in response to a national crisis”.