IKEA has recently announced that it is slashing sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are forced to self-isolate due to being in close contact with someone with Covid-19. They will only be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay of £96.35 a week unless there are mitigating circumstances. This is a massive decrease compared to the average gross wage of £400 for shop floor workers.
A spokesperson for Ikea said: “We appreciate that this is an emotive topic and all circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, anyone in doubt or concerned about their situation is encouraged to speak to their manager.”
The Swedish firm employs more than 10,000 workers in the UK but it is unknown what percentage of workers are unvaccinated. Although the pay cuts implemented by IKEA to tackle costs only hit the news this week, it is believed that the measures were first introduced in September.
They are not the only major employer to take such measures. Morrisons also cut sick pay for self-isolating workers last September as it was desperately trying to recover from a slump in profits caused by the pandemic.
David Potts, CEO of the UK’s fourth biggest supermarket said that the pay cuts were one of several strategies aimed at alleviating rising costs caused by supply chain issues, a shortage of HGV drivers and increasing wholesale prices of commodities such as meat and bread. Potts said the measures were also aimed at encouraging workers to get vaccinated.
Next has followed suit
Next is the latest retail giant to announce the same action, which means that, just like workers at IKEA, they will only be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay unless there are mitigating circumstances. However, workers who test positive for Covid will still receive full pay for the time they need off. Next realise this is a sensitive subject but was forced to balance the needs of staff and shareholders.
People in England who have been vaccinated don’t need to isolate when they had been exposed to someone with Covid. Whereas those who haven’t been jabbed must self-isolate for 10 full days. Other UK nations have similar rules in place.
Companies outside of the retail sector are also adopting the same policy. Wessex Water in the South West of England has taken the same course of action due to the sheer volume of absences it has suffered from recently.
A spokesperson for Wessex Water explained its actions by saying: “The vast majority of our workforce has been vaccinated and it’s important as a company providing essential services with key-worker employees [that] the remainder get vaccinated to protect themselves, customers and their colleagues. To make it easy for our staff, vaccine appointments can be booked in work time.
“Absences due to Covid have doubled in the last week, so we need everyone to be available so we can continue to provide uninterrupted essential water and sewerage services.”
Tougher measures overseas
In the USA, companies have been taking a more stringent approach to unvaccinated staff. Delta Airlines notified staff in a memo that they will impose a $200 monthly fee on staff unvaccinated against Covid-19. Staying with the aviation industry, United Airlines have threatened to fire nearly 600 staff for failure to comply with the carrier’s vaccination policy. Tech behemoth Google notified its staff in December that they must be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the middle of January or face pay cuts and job losses.
Hard-hitting French President, Emmanuel Macron has caused uproar by stating that the government’s vaccination strategy is to “piss off” those who have not been jabbed against Covid by making daily life more difficult for them!
Stricter employment laws in the UK
Employment lawyers have hinted that a “no jab, no job” policy would be difficult to enforce in the UK because it could open up employers to expensive compensation claims. Having said that, care workers in the UK have been obliged to be vaccinated since November.
With employers struggling to cope with mass absences caused by the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, it is understandable why more companies are implementing such drastic measures. HR Departments are probably enduring their busiest period since the early days of the furlough scheme.
There are many unanswered question regarding this escalating issue, including the legalities of the action taken, after all it is not illegal to refuse vaccination. How many corporates will choose to apply the same measures is another? And with SMEs being the backbone of the UK economy, just how many smaller businesses will be forced to follow suit?
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