Access to paid sick leave is vital in the COVID-19 era

It is common practice in companies operating the Asia-Pacific region, including transnational companies headquartered in Europe and the USA, to penalize employees for using paid sick leave. While workers in these companies are entitled to paid sick leave, there is an in-built financial disincentive. The use of paid sick leave is included as a negative factor in employees’ individual annual performance appraisals. It is effectively treated as a form of absenteeism, indicating poor performance. As a result, workers who use paid sick leave receive a lower annual wage increase (or bonus), or no increment at all. This discourages workers from utilizing their paid sick leave entitlements. They still come to work when sick to avoid a loss in income. In the hospitality industry, it is common for employers to “buy back” unused paid leave. This includes annual leave, public holidays and sick leave. Unused paid sick leave entitlements are converted to cash at the end of the year.

As a consequence, hospitality workers on low wages will avoid using paid sick leave in order to gain additional income. The current crisis in the hospitality industry has left most workers on half their basic wages or no wages at all. Even the largest international hotel chains have sent workers home for three to six months on unpaid leave. In the context of this economic hardship, there is no doubt that after workers return to work, they will once again be financially compelled to avoid using paid sick leave. This significantly increases risk.

Published by Hidayat Greenfield

IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary

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