In late March the ABC reported that a few bosses were upset because workers were apparently taking too many sick days. They reckon it’s too easy for workers to claim a paid sick day by getting an ‘absence-from-work’ certificate from a pharmacist.
Employers can legally request evidence of an illness which leads to time off work. That evidence is usually a doctor’s certificate or a statutory declaration, but absence-from-work certificates are also considered acceptable.
If the worker fails to provide evidence, they can be refused paid leave.
Full time workers are legally entitled to 10 days paid personal leave a year (which includes sick leave), while part timers get it on a pro rata basis. Casual staff are not entitled to any personal leave.
Absence-from-work certificates, which have been available under the Fair Work Act for 10 years, are available from some chemists for as little as $20. This has been a huge help to the many low paid workers who do not have access to a bulk billing doctor, where the cost of the visit is billed directly to Medicare.
Even if you do have a bulk billing doctor in your area, many are booked out for days in advance which makes it impossible to get a certificate for a single day off, as certificates are not backdated.
The union movement pushed for the use of absence-from-work certificates, pointing out that sending workers to bulk billing doctors for minor issues costs the Medicare system millions of dollars a year.
Bosses complain that pharmacists are not qualified to diagnose sick workers but pharmacists say they are more than capable of providing advice around minor illnesses. They are also required to follow professional practice standards.
The bigger issue here is that bosses do not accept that workers should be entitled to their entitlements. They prefer to bully people into coming to work sick in order to cut costs, which means an increase in their profits.
Sick leave was won through struggle and if we don’t use it, we risk losing it.
Socialists say that all leave entitlements should be able to be taken without question and without the need of evidence. This is something that the trade unions need to push for.
By Socialist Party reporters