The retailer Wilko has come under fire over plans to slash sick pay for thousands of staff.
Wilko, which has 21,000 retail and distribution staff across the UK, plans to cut its sick pay entitlements to remain competitive and reduce high absence levels, saying its current policies go “over and above” its rivals.
The chain is understood to be cutting back to the legal minimum staff entitlements if they are absent several times in a year, unless they are “seriously ill” and have exceptional circumstances. A spokesperson said this would include workers affected by the coronavirus.
The plans were drawn up before the coronavirus outbreak but the timing has sparked criticism, with the virus putting sick pay policies under the spotlight.
The government unveiled plans this week to force employers to pay sick pay from the first rather than fourth day of absence.
Union and business leaders have called for reform to go further, with an estimated 2 million low-paid workers not qualifying for statutory sick pay. There are concerns some workers advised to self-isolate over the coronavirus face a difficult choice between protecting themselves and others and losing pay.
Gary Carter of the GMB said his union had recently been close to strike action already in a row with Wilko over weekend rotas.
“Picking a fight with your workforce by imposing draconian cuts to sick pay is no way for a modern employer to act,” said Carter.
He claimed some workers would be forced to come into work while sick because they needed the cash, and others could be “pushed into poverty.”
But a Wilko spokesperson told Yahoo Finance UK it urgently needed to reduce high sickness absence levels that in some areas were twice the level of rivals.
She said the company had been talking to the GMB for some time about the changes, with its current “generous” sick pay going beyond most other retailers.
“Our plan is to take steps to bring our company sick pay into line with the industry standard for retail to be competitive in the marketplace for our customers,” she said in a statement.
“This is not related in any way to the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said, adding that anyone needing time off as a result would receive sick pay. “As a family run business, we’re committed to looking after those who need it most.”