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TUC Suggestions On A Safe Way Of Coming Out Of Lockdown Ignored By Government

As is usual for this Government, profits and the economy come before the safety and the health of working people.

In response to a Government proposal to ease the current Covid-19 lockdown and return people back to work, Frances O’Grady General Secretary of the TUC says that all the constructive proposals made by the Trade Union movement has been ignored.

Pic: Frances O'GradyIn her letter responding to the proposed guidelines for easing the lockdown, Frances O’Grady stressed that the TUC had sought to engage constructively with the government over the pandemic but highlighted “several significant concerns about the content of the draft guidance”, reports The Guardian newspaper today.

In the newspaper report, she is quoted as saying in her letter that the government appeared to have “entirely disregarded” TUC suggestions about how a safer system of working could operate in practice.

Indeed, one of the key issues is that of ensuring employers follow social-distancing measures in their workplaces, and protects their workforce via PPE measures. The Government says they can simply report that they are abiding by guidelines, even if they are not doing so, as has previously been the case in companies like BT, Openreach and EE; until the union, the CWU, intervened and put pressure on the management of these companies.

Allowing individual businesses to decide themselves what actions they should take and what to put in place is simply creating the environment for a disaster to happen and once again reflects the Government’s lack of action in the face of the pandemic threat in the first place!

Furthermore, stated national policy of businesses is not always translated at local level, with as in the case of Openreach, staff being told by line managers they will be furloughed if they don’t come into work; despite the clear policy of the company that it they are not able to do so because of Covid-19 symptoms or those of a family members, that they will get full pay.

Without proper scrutiny, the abuse of the guidelines, in whatever form they take; and the risk to employees health and safety will continue as it did before the outbreak of the virus.

In her letter to Alok Sharma, the business secretary, and seen by The Guardian, Frances O’Grady reportedly states:

“Working people need to see that the government is genuinely committed to protecting their health and safety.
At present, this guidance fails to provide clear direction to those employers who want to act responsibly and is an open goal to the worst of employers who want to return to business at usual – which will put their workforce at risk …
“We want to be able to recommend the government’s approach to safe working to our members and the wider workforce. As it stands, we cannot.”

The Guardian report continues:

‘Boris Johnson is preparing to set out on Sunday how restrictions can be eased but before that business groups and trade unions have been sent draft guidelines for how to protect people if physical distancing rules cannot be followed. Suggestions include physical shields, time limits on face-to-face meetings, and staggered shift times.

Frances O’Grady, criticises the non-binding guidelines for letting employers decide what is safe when it comes to distance between workers, cleaning practices and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).’

Pic: The Guardian articleThe Guardian article concludes by detailing Frances O’Grady’s concerns expressed in her letter. Referring to her concerns, the newspaper says she wrote:

“This has left me with no choice but to write to you directly to ask that you make immediate and substantial changes to your approach,” she said. “The consultation papers suggest government proposes a return to business as usual, with no new requirements placed on employers beyond existing health and safety law, and no government commitment to increased health and safety enforcement or public awareness of their health and safety rights.

“We believe this approach will risk the safety and wellbeing of workers as they return to work. If the guidance is not significantly strengthened, safe working will not be guaranteed, and unions will have no hesitation in saying so publicly and to our members.”

It goes on:

She said some of the proposed guidance was in some cases weaker than existing legislation and listed the TUC’s most pressing concerns:

  • The non-binding nature of the guidance, which repeatedly suggests that “employers should consider” actions such as enabling physical distancing or providing hand washing facilities. “We believe that this leaves far too much to employer discretion,” she said
  • The lack of recommendations on PPE
  • The failure to require employers to publish their risk assessments, nor to agree them with recognised unions
  • An absence of reference to enforcement mechanisms such as the Health and Safety Executive’s existing powers to issue prohibition notices, and to workers’ existing rights to refuse to work in situations which present a serious and imminent danger to them
  • A lack of specific guidelines for those in vulnerable groups, for example, pregnant women, which appears to suggest that they can be expected to work in unsafe environments, in violation of their existing rights under health and safety law.

Other concerns include the lack of detail on how workers can be expected to travel safely to work, how parents without childcare can be expected to work while nurseries and other settings are closed, and the rights of those who care for someone who is shielding and on future access to the job retention scheme.

Other unions are also raising the alarm about the government’s moves to get people back to work. Prospect has written to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, asking for more explanation of why meetings of “less than 15 minutes” are acceptable, according to Public Health England advice.

Three transport unions, Aslef, RMT and the TSSA, have also written to the prime minister saying it would be “completely unacceptable” for more train services to be run and transport workers put at risk while the epidemic was still not under control.

Source: The Guardian / CWU / BBC

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