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Changes to double sick leave set to be introduced to Parliament

New laws to extend sick leave are to be introduced to Parliament this week, with the proposed changes set to double the amount of sick leave for workers to 10 days a year. 

File photo. Source: Getty

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the current sick leave allocation was not designed for extraordinary circumstances - like the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"The global pandemic has taught us one persons illness can quite quickly become another’s," she said. 

Ardern said the pandemic had reminded New Zealand "we have obligations to stay home and get better", and a more enduring response to sick leave was needed. 

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A proposed law is being introduced to Parliament this week to give workers 10 days sick leave a year. Source: 1 NEWS

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said the current allocation of five days "can be easily used up and employees who have used up their sick leave face a choice between working while sick or taking unpaid sick leave, which is not an option for many".

He said the "tough it out" attitude to being sick needed to shift. 

The Government expects the change to be in place mid-2021. 

"Employees will receive their increased entitlement depending on when they started, allowing businesses time to prepare," Wood said.

Labour promised to double sick leave during the election campaign. Most employees are currently entitled to five days leave a year, which can be carried over to a maximum of 20 days.

"The Bill also keeps the current maximum entitlement of any unused sick leave at 20 days annually, which will help make it easier for businesses to implement," Wood said. 

Ardern said not extending the amount an employee can carry-over was the Government "trying to take into account some of the pressures” for employees. 

National's workplace relations spokesperson Scott Simpson said an economic crisis was "not the time to be loading more costs onto businesses in the form of extra sick leave". 

"Doubling sick leave just piles more costs onto business at a time when they can least afford it, coming on top of minimum wage increases and the proposal for an extra public holiday," Simpson said. 

"More than 200,000 New Zealanders are currently out of work on an unemployment benefit. Making it more expensive for employers to hire new staff will not help them get a job."

"We should be encouraging businesses to take on more staff right now, not the opposite."

During the election campaign, then Labour workplace relations spokes person Andrew Little said 35 per cent of Kiwis turn up to work every year sick and "managing Covid-19 has shown, more than ever, how important it is for workers to be able to stay home if they are sick".

Extensions to sick leave could help ensure employees can "fully recover" from their illness before returning back to work, Little said. 

The Green Party has also been calling for the increase.