Paid pandemic leave for nurses and midwives who have been forced to quarantine because of COVID-19 should be uncapped, a parliamentary committee has heard.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation branch secretary Emily Shepherd on Friday gave evidence to the Joint Standing Subordinate Legislation Committee as part of the committee's inquiry into State Service Amendment Regulations issued by the government in response to COVID-19.
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Ms Shepherd told the committee while ANMF members welcomed the pandemic leave provision, it was "manifestly inadequate" in supporting nurses and midwives working on the frontline of COVID-19.
Under the regulations, public sector employees can access up to 20 days of paid pandemic leave but Ms Shepherd said many healthcare workers had already been required to isolate twice, exceeding this 20 day provision.
She said this was not an isolated event, but one example where staff were forced to take two periods of pandemic leave in quick succession was when staff from the Mersey Community Hospital who had already completed 14 days quarantine then volunteered to work at the North West Regional Hospital.
A few days later the NWRH was closed and all staff who had worked there were directed in isolation.
"50-odd staff that had been furloughed were the ones that volunteered, after they came out of their two week isolation, to work at the NWRH," Ms Shepherd said.
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She noted the head of agency could authorise additional pandemic leave on an individual basis but said this requirement should be removed.
"For any healthcare worker that is directed into isolation through the course of their employment, they should just be granted paid leave," Ms Shepherd said.
"It would make more sense to have that paid pandemic leave uncapped for healthcare workers, particularly for those who are working in COVID 19 areas and those who are at high risk because of the areas they are working in."
Ms Shepherd said ANMF members had also been financially disadvantaged because the pandemic leave was paid at a base rate and asked the committee to consider paying workers in accordance with their rostered shifts to include the relevant penalties.
She said many members had also lost income when their household contacts, such as spouses or partners, were also forced to isolate for two weeks following the NWRH outbreak.
"We've had partners who had jobs outside the public service who had to access annual leave if they had any available as they would otherwise had not had any income," Ms Shepherd said.
She cited one example where a health worker quarantined with little social support in government-provided accommodation instead of at home to allow their partner to continue working.
Ms Shepherd also noted while casual nurses and midwives had welcomed being able to access paid pandemic leave for the shifts they were rostered if required, they had seen a downturn in shifts over the course of the pandemic.
"Our part-time nurses and midwives who pick up additional shifts to prevent overtime and double shifts have also seen a downturn in their work," she said.
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