Low sick pay is leaving school meals staff unable to self-isolate

UNISON has written to catering companies to urge that they review their sick pay policies.

A school meals worker at Cleves Primary School dishes out lunch.

Twenty of the biggest school catering companies are not giving full sick pay to staff, meaning that some of the lowest-paid staff in schools cannot afford to self-isolate because they’re being forced to rely on statutory sick pay (SSP).

Statutory sick pay is just £96.35 a week, whereas full sick pay would mean that employers continue to pay someone their full wage when they are off sick.

As schools reopen this January and the country tries to protect itself against further spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, UNISON has written to the 20 biggest companies to urge that they review their sick pay policies so staff can afford to self-isolate.

The union has found that all the companies have a turnover of over £10m, and pay school catering staff the national minimum wage of £8.91 an hour.

UNISON national officer Leigh Powell said: “Whatever way the school catering service is provided, it is paid for using public funds. Given the public health emergency facing the country, those in receipt of public funds should be taking every possible step to minimise the risk of the spread of COVID-19, including ensuring that employees receive full pay when they need to self-isolate”.

And Ms Powell continued by noting that in the fight against COVID-19, it is vital to remove any financial barriers to individual compliance for staff where they exist.

”Without the security of full pay during periods of self-isolation, members of catering staff – often among the lowest-paid on the school site – are faced with an almost impossible decision: staying away from work when potentially infectious to protect others could mean many staff suffering financial hardship becoming reliant on SSP of £96.35 per week, if they qualify for it at all.”