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Opposition MP: Delays on sick pay law contributed to COVID-19 spread

Riina Sikkut in
Riina Sikkut in "Esimeses stuudio". Source: ERR

Opposition MP Riina Sikkut (SDE) has hit out at the lengthy process of getting a law bringing forward sick pay from day two of an illness, at a time when coronavirus rates have been soaring.

Sikkut, a former health minister, said that not only is the new law allowing for sick pay from day two of a period of illness too little too late, but also criticized inaction on preparing for a second COVID-19 wave during the summer lull.

Sikkut said: "The government started discussing sick day compensation at the end of August. In mid-September, SDE presented its bill, which provided compensation for the first three days of illness. There was not much time for decision, because the virus tends to give no time."

The law, which passed at the Riigikogu Wednesday on the penultimate working day for 2020, means employers are liable for sick pay from day two to five of an employee's illness, with the state taking over via the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) from day six.

Previously, the first three days of sickness went uncovered, meaning those who should have been quarantining at home if there was a chance they might have contracted the coronavirus often did not do so, since they would lose money.

Sikkut: Rates rising while law negotiations dragged on

Sikkut said indecision on the issue dragged on for months, despite more and more new workplace outbreaks.

She said: "The Health Board consistently noted that the main point of concern is people going to work with symptoms of illness. While on November 18, the morbidity per 100,000 people was 223 for the preceding 14 days, today this figure is already 415, and there are 261 patients (actually 266 at the time of writing – ed.) in the hospital."

The proposed law was subject to a period of consultation with employers' representatives and trade unions, and was approved by the government last month. The selling point for employers was a shortening of the number of days' sick pay they have to cover, from five to four, even though they must pick up the tab earlier (i.e. from day two rather than day four) than before.

The new regime also does not come into force until January 1, three weeks after passing, and is set to run until the end of April rather than indefinitely.

Daily COVID-19 new case figures in summer were in the single figures most days, rising to double figures from late August, and into the hundreds from late October. The highest daily total to date was posted on December 4 (561 - see graph above).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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