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Mike Hanifin
Mike Hanifin
Dunedin rest-home staff at high risk of Covid-19 are having to choose between risking their health at work, or potentially going without pay.

The issue is the Government’s Covid-19 leave payment covers those who need to self-isolate, those who cannot work because they have Covid-19, or those who cannot work because they are caring for dependants who are required to self-isolate, or who are sick with Covid-19.

But essential workers who cannot work because they are in a high-risk category are not covered.

Dunedin CARE Union advocate Mike Hanifin has written to Minister of Health Dr David Clark about the issue, asking him to urgently address it.

"This is causing fear and distress for these vulnerable people who face either putting themselves and their families at serious risk or go without any form of income for at least the next four weeks," he wrote.

If that was correct "there is a strong argument to be made that this amounts to discrimination on the basis of ill health, which I feel certain cannot be the Government’s intention".

One Dunedin Presbyterian Support Otago caregiver, who did not want to be named, said she would put her husband’s life at risk if she returned to work. He has terminal lung cancer.

She also has conditions that put her into the high-risk categories, and has a letter from her doctor telling her not to go to work.

She said while her manager had been "very kind", she was having to use up her annual leave and sick leave.

That would last her about a month. If the lockdown lasted longer than that, she would be on leave without pay.

"I don’t know what we’re going to do," she said, "it’s really hard."

Another Presbyterian Support Otago caregiver was also having to use up her annual leave and sick leave.

She had respiratory issues, and was at high risk of Covid-19.

She was considering going back to work for financial reasons.

"If I have to be off, I don’t think I should be penalised for it," she said.

"How am I going to survive?"

Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive Jo Rowe said there were some staff over 70 or in other high-risk categories, and the organisation had communicated with them its wish that they stay at home.

"Not all of these staff wish to stay home, but those that do are being asked to use sick leave, then annual leave to cover their time at home.

"Although we are the largest provider of rest-home care in Otago, as a charity, PSO uses its funds to maximise the care for the vulnerable in our community, and our services are needed as much as ever during these stressful times."

It did not meet the requirements for the Government wage subsidy, she said, so PSO did not have funds to provide special leave.

"We’ll continue to support all our staff in every way we can, whether they are at work or at home, and that includes lobbying the Government for more specific wage support for charities and not-for-profit organisations working in social services and aged care during the Covid-19 crisis."

Dr Clark was unable to respond by deadline yesterday.



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