Fintan O'Toole: Ireland's young and working classes are in the Covid-19 firing line

Lack of mandatory sick pay means people have no choice but to go to work when they feel ill and this helps coronavirus spread

We deny huge numbers of workers the right to be paid when they’re off sick – and hope the welfare system will pick up the slack. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

We deny huge numbers of workers the right to be paid when they’re off sick – and hope the welfare system will pick up the slack. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A friend of mine works for the HSE. And she has no entitlement to sick pay. Like tens of thousands of other workers in the health system, she is employed through an agency, so her rights are limited. This anomaly exemplifies a much larger problem in the official response to the pandemic. All the emphasis is on personal responsibility. The real-life conditions that shape behaviour are largely ignored.

It is wrong to go to work if you are feeling ill. But you can’t just choose to stay at home. You need rights, protections, security, a replacement income – and those are social and political creations, not personal options.  

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