Why is Northern Ireland one of the worst countries for sick pay?

  • Photo: Kirsty McDowell and Mairead Moore, co-founders of HR and recruitment firm, Whytematter

    The Republic of Ireland has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe, with 80% of more than 1,000 employees saying that they hadn’t taken any sick leave since the pandemic kicked off in March 2020, according to a Laya Healthcare survey taken late last year

    But how does this compare to the UK and in particular, Northern Ireland?

    The UK as a whole ranks just below Ireland in terms of sick pay levels, with employees being entitled to just £96 a week. To feed a family and pay bills, many people believe it is impossible to maintain a similar standard of living on such a low wage.

    Mairead Moore from Whytematter Staffing Solutions told Sync NI that she greatly believes there is a stigma surrounding taking off work in Northern Ireland.

    Whytematter is a HR and recruitment company, passionate about flexible working, while encouraging better health and wellbeing for their staff.

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    Mairead said, “Employees should look after their workers regardless. Mortgage and bills don’t stop when you are off work, and people are surviving on minimum pay. You get three days unpaid, then £96 a week, which is not enough for a family to live on.”

    Mairead spoke closely about her own experience with a brain aneurysm in 2015, when her son was only a year old. This means she had to take a significant period of time of work due to a potentially life-changing illness.

    As well as worrying about her health, her family also had financial matters to worry about as Mairead was receiving such a lowered income, which she believes should be the last thing on a person's mind when dealing with a serious illness.

    But why is taking time off still so taboo? In Northern Ireland, mental health is a huge concern with an ongoing stigma regarding mental health struggles and illnesses.

    In the UK, there is no legal difference between taking a mental health sick day and a day off for a physical ailment like a flu or broken bone, reported BBC News.

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    Mairead believes that the past year of working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic will positively affect the stigma surrounding sick leave.

    She stated that there was "only a minority of people who didn’t suceed while working from home" and believes that employers may begin to realise that employees can work sufficiently and productively from their kitchen table.

    Mairead also noted a variety of reasons why employees need to take sick leave from work. A concern is the lack of trust from employers who may not treat them fairly.

    Aside from illnesses, people may seek time off to care for family members, or could be feeling a low level of satisfaction and enjoyment in their careers.

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    In Northern Ireland, people are required to bring a doctor's note if they are missing over three days of work. This alone could be perceived as an implication to some that their employer does not trust them, Mairead also suggested.

    In pre-Covid times, employees were often encouraged to come to work when suffering from colds or flus, which can spread easily around the entire office.

    Since the pandemic, people are now encouraged to take time off work, especially if they have to physically be in their workplace as society is now more cautious about how easily viruses can spread in close contact.

    The pandemic has opened many people’s eyes to a new way of working, and Mairead hopes that is one positive from the coronavirus crisis that is here to stay. 

    About the author

    Rosa is a Sync NI writer who is currently studying journalism at Ulster University. She has an interest in technological advancements and Women in Tech. To connect with Rosa, feel free to send her an email or connect with her on Twitter.

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