The Government has this week introduced legislation to increase the statutory minimum sick leave allowance from five to 10 days a year, bringing New Zealand into line with Australia.
The true cost was revealed when Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood estimated doubling minimum sick leave entitlements could cost businesses about $950,000 million a year.
It's understandable many businesses and their representative groups are finding the announcement a bitter pill to swallow.
In attempting to sugar-coat the pill, Wood says concerned businesses should bear in mind ".... savings that are made when people don't come into work with sicknesses and pass them on to others and reduce productivity.
"I think there's actually a net-positive here for employers."
The Government's move should come as no surprise. Labour workplace relations spokesperson Andrew Little unveiled the policy on September 19, pledging, if re-elected, to introduce the move within 100 days of taking office. The clock was ticking when Labour returned on a landslide.
It was always likely to occur, with the Green Party offering support for it also, if required. In fact, the Greens wanted it pressed through under urgency to be in place by Christmas but that would not have fitted with Little's announcement in which he said the Government would work with businesses and unions on timeframes.
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BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said businesses in general supported the increase to sick leave, but doubling the minimum requirement would bring "significant additional costs" for some businesses. He also noted some businesses already offered more than the statutory minimum of five days sick leave per year.
However, Retail NZ said the blanket increase to 10 sick days a year was "bad news" for those who worked part-time. Greg Harford, Retail NZ's chief executive said some retail businesses have many staff working only one day a week, often around study or family commitments. "It doesn't make sense to give all employees the same entitlement." Harford said sick leave entitlements should be pro-rata for part-time workers in the same way that annual leave is.
There is little doubt some businesses are operating closer to the make-or-break line as a result of the pandemic upheaval. National's workplace relations spokesman Scott Simpson said more sick leave would "only make our economy crook".
"Doubling sick leave just piles more costs on to 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," he said.
The world has changed with Covid, however, and many businesses are more sanguine about employees working from home if presenting symptoms which might spread in a workplace and lead to even wider absences.
All of this means it makes sense to put the legislation through the rigours of the full select committee process before it will likely come into effect late next year. Those most affected should have the chance to press and prove their cases.
And employers should have time to prepare. If managed well, with smart recruiting - and bearing in mind a Covid-19 vaccine should be online by this time - the disruption should be workable.