Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sickening statistic

America’s “ABC World News Tonight” broadcast a story about paid sick leave in America with a statistic that can only be called sickening. According to the story, 48 percent—nearly half of all American workers—receive no paid sick leave.

Not surprisingly, many of these workers are in low-paid positions and in fields where we least want sick people working: Child care, food service, elder care and retail. By effectively being forced to work no matter how sick they are, these workers may spread disease far, wide and fast. Want to see how an influenza epidemic could spread quickly? Start here.

There are proposals to make
America join the 145 nations (including New Zealand) that require basic paid sick leave. Business lobbyists, predictably, are opposed to it. They say, according to the ABC report, that if sick leave is mandated, someone will have to pay for it:

“Now, whether that's the employee, forgoing other benefits they currently have, [or] whether that's the consumer because the cost has to be passed on, businesses are not just going to absorb it,” said Barbara Lang, president of the Washington, D.C., chamber of commerce.

She would say that. In an era of runaway corporate greed, no company is going to put the good of us all ahead of maximum profits for shareholders. It’s in everyone’s interest—including shareholders—to see sick workers stay home. Veiled threats of retaliation should be ignored and the
US should do the responsible thing and mandate a national minimum paid sick leave.

I was lucky in America, and worked mostly for responsible employers who offered paid sick leave. Nevertheless, I was surprised when I moved to New Zealand and found that things are very different here. According to the New Zealand Department of Labour

For most employees there is a minimum provision of five days' paid sick leave a year after the first six months of continuous employment and an additional five days' paid sick leave after each subsequent 12 month period.

If it isn’t used, this sick leave carries over into the next year

Businesses in
New Zealand have managed to make this work. Does American business seriously expect us to believe that they can’t do what businesses in 145 nations have done? If they can’t do it, then there’s a lot more to worry about that just the health of workers.

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