Minister for Health
Minister for Health Infrastructure
Minister for Medical Research
Minister for Ambulance
Minister for Mental Health
25 May 2023
Re: Covid special leave support payment for healthcare workers
The COVID-19 pandemic has now moved from an emergency/acute response phase into a period of rolling waves of hopefully lower peaks but with a baseline of significant ongoing burden on the health system. With the ending of the Pandemic Orders, the health services have reverted to largely self-managing their response. During the acute Covid response, the Department of Health was supporting services with policy and guidance material to inform local decision making and risk management, but this has now largely shifted back to the health services managing their own situation.
One of the foundational supports throughout the pandemic response in Victoria has been the paid special leave for healthcare workers who tested positive for Covid. This has been consistently supported by the Government, implemented by the health services and relied upon by healthcare workers. The importance of isolating infectious staff from their colleagues and patients is a fundamental principle that cannot be overstated and this Covid special leave support has helped facilitate that.
Fortunately, the 7-day isolation requirement still stands for healthcare workers, but that relies heavily on staff having adequate paid leave to allow them to not attend work. With Covid waves cycling every 3-4 months, and healthcare workers not immune to getting infected, they will rapidly exhaust any personal sick leave entitlement they have. Many have already used up their entitlement due to the high rates of other viruses circulating and caring responsibilities for sick families.
We are now hearing from members that health services are planning to cease the payment of Covid special leave. This is counterintuitive to ensuring staff and patients are safe from nosocomial infections. It is also a slap in the face for a tired workforce that has given their all and weathered the storm of the worst health crisis in a century. And it is not over yet.
We have all been battling healthcare worker retention issues, and the removal of a primary support such as the Covid special leave will break the back of some workers. To lose it now would be a bad look, at a time of critical workforce shortages, and while we are currently in another Covid wave, with likely more to come.
We implore the Andrews Government to confirm it is retaining this important support for its health workforce.
Victorian Health Unions
Danny Hill, Secretary Victorian Ambulance Union
Lisa Fitzpatrick, Branch Secretary, Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation, Vic Branch
Grant Forsyth, CEO ASMOF Vic & Director Workplace Relations AMA Vic
Matthew Hopcraft, Chief Executive Officer, ADAVB Inc.
John Ryan, Assistant Secretary Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association
Matthew Hammond, Secretary Medical Scientists Association of Vic & HSU Vic. No. 4 Branch
Diana Asmar, Secretary Health Workers Union
Paul Healey, Secretary Health and Community Services Union
The following is extracted from the COVID-19 Guidance Note on Employment-Related Matters, 13 October 2022 that was released at the cessation of the Pandemic Orders and there has been no notification of any cessation of this support.
2.2 Leave and payment for absence – ongoing (full-time and part-time) employees
(a) Positive case
Where an employee returns a positive COVID-19 test (either by PCR or RAT), for 7 days from the day the positive test is returned:
1. They should be supported to work from home wherever possible and they are well enough to do so.
2. If the nature of their work means they cannot perform their normal duties from home, managers should identify alternative duties the employee can perform from home.
3. If they are unwell and/or the nature of their work means there are no alternative duties that can be performed from home, the employee is entitled to special leave.
Where an employer imposes an isolation period in excess of 7 days, special leave should be granted for the additional days unless there are extenuating circumstances to disallow.
If an employee is still unwell after the 7-day isolation period, and the employer has not imposed a longer isolation period, personal leave can be accessed. Where the employee has exhausted their personal leave and other paid leave entitlements, access to paid special leave may be considered on a case-by case basis.