STOP THE PANDEMIC AT WORK * 28 APRIL ACTION DAY
UNION CORONAVIRUS NEWS, ACTION AND RESOURCES
INTERNATIONAL CORONAVIRUS NEWS
A minute’s silence will be held across the United Kingdom on 28 April to remember all the health, care and other key workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus exposures. The campaign, launched by the health unions UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) – who between them represent more than a million NHS and public service workers, including porters, refuse collectors and care staff – are urging politicians, employers, people at work and those on lockdown at home to join the tribute at 11am. The unions say the minute’s silence – held on International Workers’ Memorial Day, and which is supported by the TUC and other unions – will allow everyone to pay their respects and give thanks for the lives of those whose work involved caring, saving lives, keeping key services running and the rest of the country safe. The tribute is also a show of support for the families of those who have died. The three unions are calling on the government and other organisations to “get on board and join the campaign for there to be a minute’s silence on the day, which every year commemorates workers who have died around the globe.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Every year the sacrifice of workers around the world is recognised, but this year has a special significance because of the pandemic. Thousands of key staff are on the frontline while the rest of us are in lockdown. That’s why we’ve issued this call for the whole country to take part and remember the sacrifices they’ve made. The best tribute we can all pay them is to stay inside to protect the NHS.” He added: “The minute’s silence is a thank you to all the workers including nurses, midwives, cleaners and care staff who’ve died from this devastating virus.” Royal College of Midwives chief executive Gill Walton said “across the country, midwives and maternity support workers are seeing the impact of coronavirus not only on the women in their care, but on their colleagues as well. We are proud to join UNISON and the RCN in this campaign and to recognise and remember those who we have lost.” Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party “wholeheartedly supports the call for a minute's silence in honour of all those on the front line who have died from coronavirus.” A Number 10 spokesperson said the minute’s silence was “a good idea.”
UNISON news release. NASUWT news release. Labour Party news release.
The Guardian. Daily Mail. Sky News. I-news. The Mirror. Evening Standard. BBC News Online. Morning Star. ITUC 28 April webpage.
MINUTE’S SILENCE: 11am on Tuesday 28 April 2020. Use the hashtags #neverforgotten and #iwmd20.
The TUC has called for everyone to say nothing for a minute at 11am on 28 April. The national union body is backing a call by health care unions UNISON, RCM and RCN to observe the one minute’s silence next Tuesday, in remembrance of those workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus. The initiative comes on International Workers’ Memorial Day, the 28 April annual worldwide union-coordinated event that commemorates all those who die at work or from work-related causes. Both unions and the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) have adopted a ‘Stop the pandemic at work’ theme for 28 April events. The TUC’s safety specialist Shelly Asquith commented: “The minute’s silence will pay tribute to the heartbreaking number of workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus or other work-related illness or injury, and to thank all those who continue to do vital work at great risk.” She added: “The initiative is supported by the government, and reps may wish to request their employers mark it, by asking the workforce to cease work for one minute at 11am on 28 April.” The TUC has prepared an International Workers’ Memorial Day activities pack which is available online and includes campaign ideas tailored to the current crisis as well as pointers to free-to-use resources. The national union body is hosting a video call at 2pm on 28 April where registered participants will be able to hear from speakers and get responses to questions and contributions posted in advance. The TUC has also published a guide to ‘Organising through the coronavirus crisis’, available online.
TUC RESOURCES: TUC 28 April 2020 news and resources webpage. Organising through the coronavirus crisis, TUC, April 2020. International Workers’ Memorial Day 2020, a TUC guide for unions #iwmd20.
TUC VIDEO CALL: Register in advance for the TUC Education coronavirus video call on Tuesday 28 April at 2pm.
OTHER RESOURCES: Hazards Campaign 28 April call to action. Hazards Campaign materials can be downloaded for free, printed off, used online and in social media campaigns, as can a series of Hazards Campaign display boards.
GLOBAL RESOURCES: ITUC/Hazards 28 April website. A 28 April message from Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Worldwide activities and resources for 28 April. ILO 28 April resources.
The TUC is calling on the government to set up a public inquiry into the “grotesque” failure to provide frontline workers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). The union body said ministers must commit to starting an independent, judge-led inquiry by the end of 2020. It noted the failure to give staff adequate PPE has resulted in workers being exposed to unnecessary risk. Commenting on 21 April, the TUC said more than 80 health and social care workers have lost their lives so far - but on 18 April, Public Health England (PHE) issued guidance for health workers to reuse PPE if stocks run low. The TUC says that in order for the same mistakes not be made in the future the inquiry must look at the reasons for the delays in the planning for and delivery of PPE and whether guidance about the need for PPE in diverse workplace settings was timely and robust. It added that there is a need to know whether staff were put under pressure to work with inadequate or out-of-date PPE - and if so why. Other issues that must be examined include whether staff were threatened with disciplinary action for raising concerns about the lack of PPE, said the TUC, and if so why. Criticising ‘a grotesque failure of planning and preparedness’, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every day frontline workers are being forced to risk their lives because they don’t have the proper protective equipment. And now they are being told just to make do.” She added: “Right now, the government must sort out the PPE crisis urgently. But we are also calling on ministers to commit to an independent, public inquiry into the failure to provide frontline workers with adequate PPE, kicking off by the end of this year. And to every key worker out there worried about getting the PPE they need, I say this: your unions will support you if you refuse to work without adequate protection. We have your backs.”
TUC news release and TUC blog.
Trust in health secretary Matt Hancock is “draining away” after Public Health England downgraded the government’s advice on personal protective equipment, the union GMB has said. The government’s move, which the union said was made without consultation with unions, followed a ‘rapid evidence review’ conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at the behest of the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. Commenting on 18 April, the union said HSE’s review appeared online with no publication date or explanation of the basis on which it was commissioned. GMB said it has written to the health secretary with five urgent questions to establish “how, when, who, why and what.” Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “GMB raised critical protective equipment supply issues with the government more than a month ago. It took until last Friday for ministers’ PPE plan to be published, and it’s falling apart after just a week. It is key workers on the frontline who are paying the price for this litany of failure.” She added: “It appears guidance is being hastily redrawn based on availability, not on evidence or best practice. This is downright dangerous territory and one that will amplify the concerns of NHS staff. The health secretary now has serious and urgent questions to answer. Trust is draining away. He must urgently explain how this apparently non-clinical decision was made to downgrade public health advice in apparent contravention of global standards and previous advice.” The GMB officer warned: “GMB won’t tolerate a situation where our members are pushed onto the frontline without the basic kit they need to do their jobs safely. NHS and ambulance staff will now face unacceptable risks as a result of gross ministerial incompetence. We won’t let this go unchallenged and will now review the steps we need to take protect our members.”
GMB news release. BBC News Online.
Frontline staff must be properly equipped to protect lives during the Covid-19 crisis, the health service union UNISON has said. Commenting after ‘last-resort’ proposals on safety equipment were leaked, general secretary Dave Prentis said that the proposals from Public Health England contain “desperate measures” and “are a shocking indictment of the lack of proper planning and preparation for supplies in the pandemic.” The proposals include re-using gowns and masks designed to be used just once, as well as using lab coats, patient gowns and off-the-shelf non-medical eye protection. As UNISON prepared to ramp up campaigning to keep members safe, the UNISON leader said that Office for National Statistics figures showing more than 200 Covid-19 related deaths in care homes are “a national scandal”. He warned: “Elderly and vulnerable residents face a death sentence because staff lack personal protective equipment. Our members are telling us of shortages across pubic services. We have passed on their testimony to government ministers for action.” More than 3,500 workers in hospitals, care homes and local council-run services have contacted the UNISON PPE alert hotline to express their fear and anger about the lack of gowns, masks and visors where they work. “Ministers have been saying for weeks that the PPE situation is in hand; that there’s enough to go around and it’s just a matter of logistics. But it isn’t good enough,” said the UNISON general secretary. “NHS, care and other key workers are falling ill in huge numbers. Some have already died – including nurses, doctors, care workers, healthcare assistants and porters… Getting the necessary PPE to every workplace in the country that needs it – and ensuring the supplies keep coming so staff aren’t filled with dread as they watch stocks run low – must be the number one priority.” The union said workers were joining the union “in record numbers as they seek support and security.”
UNISON news release, related news release on PPE and news release on record recruitment.
Physios’ union CSP has told its members they should not compromise their safety if the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) is not available. Commenting on guidance released last week by Public Health England (PHE) on potential re-use of some disposable PPE, CSP assistant director of employment relations Jim Fahie said: “The CSP hopes this latest advice will never be used, however we would encourage trusts and health boards to engage with trade unions locally to discuss and agree robust contingency plans to mitigate the risk of inadequate levels of PPE and how to deal with it should PPE levels become low.” The union said it was reminding all members “to use the risk assessment process locally, seek advice and support from clinical leads and organisational health and safety officers as well as involving infection control teams to support the decision-making process. The safety of our members and their patients remains a top priority.”
CSP news release and Covid-19 app finder.
Unite has welcomed the appointment of a ‘tsar' to coordinate the manufacture and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE). The union said it has long called for such a figure to be appointed to address the chronic shortages in the provision of the vital safety materials urgently needed by NHS and social care workers in particular. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced on 19 April that Lord Deighton had been appointed PPE 'tsar' following a weekend of what Unite described as ‘shocking claims’ that NHS staff were being advised to re-use their safety kit and that shipments of new materials were being delayed. Lord Deighton was the chief planner on the 2012 London Olympics. Welcoming the appointment, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Unite called for a minister for PPE and testing to be appointed weeks ago. It may have taken the government a while to heed our calls but Unite is relieved that they are eventually understanding that the country needs this key appointment at this time of crisis.” He added: “With the appointment of Lord Deighton, I sincerely hope that the shortcomings in PPE supply of recent weeks can be rapidly overcome so that our workers can feel that they are being cared for while they care for us. It is quite clear from the distressing reports of NHS staff going without the equipment that they need that there is not a minute more to be wasted. Unite still wants to see a cabinet-level appointee for testing too [Risks 943]. The government has to get that right in order to give working people the confidence that this deadly virus has been brought under control. I urge them to heed this call also."
Unite news release. Department of Health news release. NHS Confederation news release. Sky News. Daily Mail.
The shortage of protective equipment for frontline staff exposed to the coronavirus is a ‘national scandal’, the union Unite has said. The union’s criticism came before a consignment of 400,000 protective gowns the government said would arrive from Turkey on 19 April failed to materialise. Commenting on 18 April, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The continued lack of PPE is a national scandal and the government’s litany of broken promises over the last month is shameful. The public is looking on aghast as brave doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are risking their lives to provide care to very sick patients – yet, they don’t have the necessary protection to carry out their roles.” She added: “Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock needs to sort out the logjam in PPE supplies urgently, otherwise he may have to consider his position as this situation can’t continue, as health professionals would be quite right to decline to put themselves in danger. This would go against every instinct in their body and every tenet of their professional training, but already the public is very alarmed at the rising toll of NHS staff who have died due to coronavirus as they have battled the pandemic.” Cartmail concluded: “We are not just talking about NHS staff in hospitals, but those working in the community, such as health visitors and community nurses, and those employed in social care settings, such as care homes. Unite has already advised its 100,000 members that reluctantly NHS and social care staff could legitimately and lawfully decline to put themselves in further danger and risk of injury at work. Unite will continue to stoutly defend the NHS and social care staff.”
Unite news release and coronavirus advice. NHS Confederation news release. BBC News Online. Evening Standard.
Social care providers and unions have warned that a ‘critical lack’ of protective equipment and testing has allowed coronavirus to ‘sweep through’ social care. In a joint statement – signed by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), UNISON, Unite, GMB and TUC – ministers are told that care workers and residents are still being exposed to unnecessary risk. The care providers and union leaders warn that staff are being forced to risk their lives with care services struggling to get the equipment they need. “Social care is facing a crisis without precedent. Problems with supplies of protective equipment and a lack of testing is causing much anxiety amongst employers, staff, and the families of the people they care for. Many care home residents and care workers have already died,” the statement notes. “A critical lack of PPE and testing of social care staff and service users is putting them at unnecessary risk of exposure – and means we are almost certainly underestimating how far the virus has spread.” The care providers and union leaders say ministers must learn the lessons from the crisis and provide better funding for social care in the future. “When this dreadful pandemic eases the government must learn vital lessons about the failings of a social care system based on low pay and insecure work and put in place proper funding and a long-term plan for social care as soon as possible,” they state.
TUC news release.
A London hospital worker employed by private company ISS has been told he faces the sack after he asked for a facemask. The man - who collects rubbish from Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich - was told by managers he wasn’t entitled to wear a facemask. The GMB member lives with his brother who is at high risk from Covid-19 and he told management he was concerned about contracting and transmitting the virus to his brother. After he complained, ISS instigated disciplinary proceedings, alleging the action was for ‘violent behaviour’ and that it had nothing to do with personal protective equipment (PPE). The company has so far failed to provide GMB any notes of the related investigation meeting or the violence allegations it dismisses as ‘false’. GMB organiser Helen O’Connor said: “It is simply staggering that a complaint about a lack of PPE in hospitals can lead to a worker being disciplined.” She added: “GMB will vigorously protect members’ health and safety in the workplace where it is being threatened by poor practice. Any member who feels their health and safety is being put at risk though a lack of PPE should contact us immediately. We will continue to campaign for all these outsourced services to be brought back in house for good as it is becoming increasingly clear that private companies are failing in their duty of care to their workforce, the patients and the public.”
GMB news release.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the issue of personal protection equipment (PPE) designed for men being provided to female workers into the spotlight, trade unions have said. The issue is one which the TUC and unions have raised for many years but has been brought into “sharp focus” in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, following complaints from nurses that the PPE they have been wearing for 12.5-hour shifts is “designed and made to fit men”. The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) said the lack of appropriate PPE for women is a concern that “many trade unionists” have spoken about in recent years. STUC general secretary designate Rozanne Foyer said it shows a “lack of regard” for women workers, even in sectors where they form the majority of employees, such as nursing. She added: “Ill-fitting and uncomfortable PPE not only prevents women doing their job, it can be a significant health and safety issue. This issue has never been so pertinent as it is right now during the coronavirus pandemic.” She added: “If PPE is not protecting people, then it is unsuitable. All workers deserve personal protective equipment that fits adequately. We encourage everyone who is affected to contact their union rep and/or union official and have the issue escalated. This issue has never been so pertinent as it is right now during the coronavirus pandemic.” The TUC issued specific guidance in 2017 on the problems women face with PPE (Risks 797). A 2016 survey conducted by organisations including the trade union Prospect and the TUC showed that 57 per cent of those women who took part found that their PPE sometimes or significantly hampered their work. Only 29 per cent of women who responded said that the PPE they use was specifically designed for women (Risks 757).
Press and Journal.
Workers at a warehouse of the fashion retailer Boohoo in Burnley are being left without the necessary protection from the coronavirus as the firm instead sells ‘useless’ fashion masks to the public, Usdaw has warned. The union for the warehouse staff said it has raised ‘deep concerns’ consistently about Boohoo staff being put at risk because of inadequate personal protection equipment (PPE) and failures to reorganise working practices to ensure necessary social distancing. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “We have been inundated with serious concerns from our members in the Burnley warehouse about their health and safety during the coronavirus outbreak. They are terrified they may become infected with coronavirus and put their loved ones at risk.” He said the revelation that the company is marketing fashion face masks experts say are absolutely no use as PPE “is a real slap in the face for our members. Selling fashion clothing is not essential in a period of national emergency, but selling items that look like essential equipment is downright scandalous. We share the disgust that healthcare staff have expressed in the media. At a time when they are desperate for PPE, along with many public facing staff delivering essential services, Boohoo should hang their heads in shame for this despicable stunt.” The union leader added: “Boohoo is looking to make a quick profit out of a crisis, when they should be putting the national interest first by helping their staff to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. We again call on the government to review their advice to online non-essential retailers. Problems like this occur because contradictory government advice encourages online retailers to carry on regardless, while telling non-essential workers to stay at home.”
Usdaw news release. The Mirror.
Prospect, the union representing the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) inspectors, scientists and specialists, ‘has led the argument’ and pushed the regulator ‘to be robust in fulfilling its duty’ to enforce health and safety at work. The union said its reps in HSE have been engaging with HSE management since mid-February on issues related to Covid-19 and the current lockdown. The union’s intervention has seen HSE move most of its operations to a home working basis, and to prioritise the protection of the health, safety and welfare of HSE staff. Another critical role has been “tackling what Prospect and the other union reps saw as HSE taking a passive approach, with Public Health England taking the lead.” Prospect negotiator Jez Stewart said: “We have driven the agenda in many ways. We wanted to maintain HSE’s good reputation, and that of its staff, and positively influence management’s position on regulation,” adding: “We pressed management to recognise that exposure to Covid-19 at work is an issue covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act, and that the Public Health England guidance around social distancing is a reasonably practicable standard to be adopted during work activities in order to control exposure. We are pleased that HSE has now issued guidance on this.” The Prospect negotiator said the union “also wanted HSE to advise employees who do not believe their workplace is operating safely to report them to HSE so that it could regulate appropriately. After some initial resistance, and following input from Prospect, MPs, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Scottish TUC, we are pleased that HSE’s stance is now far more robust and our members continue to play a leading role in regulating health and safety at work.”
Prospect news release.
Close proximity working, worries about cleaning and sanitisation regimes – especially in hotdesking situations – and a widespread puzzlement over ‘key worker’ designations being applied to clearly non-essential workstreams have all emerged as headline findings of a major national survey of contact centre workers. Communication workers’ union CWU said just over a week after the multiple union online survey was emailed out to thousands of people working in call centres, the preliminary findings have confirmed a massive discrepancy between the best and worst responses by employers to the risk of these call centres becoming a hotbed for the spread of coronavirus (Risks 943). Commenting on the early findings of the Strathclyde University research, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said “by and large, where the CWU has had a long history of effective collective bargaining, the situation tends to be better than in those areas where we have only small pockets of recognition, or no recognition at all for collective bargaining purposes.” He added: “It’s also fair to say that, as general a rule of thumb, the significant numbers of our members who’ve been TUPE transferred into outsourcing companies by our biggest employers over the years are yet again faring less well than their erstwhile colleagues.”
CWU news release.
Workers at Asda’s Lymedale distribution centre are celebrating after securing safer conditions following a dispute over social distancing rules in the workplace. The union GMB said a torrent of complaints had poured out of the site after Asda insisted workers continue working at its distribution centre for George clothing, despite the stores being closed. The union said workers were packed onto buses and sent to other sites as far away as Warrington and Skelmersdale, sometimes spending more than an hour in cramped conditions “in clear violation of the social distancing rules.” The workers were so distressed that they started a public petition for the site to be closed. To ensure social distancing rules were operating properly, GMB instituted virtual inspections via live video-feed, supplemented by daily health and safety walks. GMB organiser Samantha Warburton said: “The workers at Asda have taken back power in the workplace. They rallied together and fought for the safety of their colleagues. This is a brilliant example of ordinary people sticking together and winning justice.” She added: “Once again GMB reps in the workplace have organised, inspired and won. We never stop fighting to protect our members. Only when workers join a union can they protect themselves from greedy bosses.”
GMB news release.
Retail trade union Usdaw says it has worked successfully with clothes retailer Next to make their online fulfilment centres safe for staff during the coronavirus emergency. Urging other firms to follow Next’s lead, the union said Next closed their warehouses two weeks ago (Risks 941) and used the time to work with Usdaw reps and officials to redesign operations so that social distancing could be observed. Staff are being trained in new working practices and demand is being limited to ensure that orders can be fulfilled safely. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “This shows what can be achieved when a trade union and employer work together. The safety of our members is always paramount and we do not accept that standards should slip through the coronavirus emergency. We congratulate Next for doing the right thing, thank them for constructively working with our reps and officials and call on other employers to engage with us.” The Usdaw leader added: “When the government stated that ‘online retail is still open and encouraged’, they left the door open for unsafe conditions in non-essential workplaces. Online retail relies on people working in warehouses, distribution centres and delivering to residential addresses. The government needs to act urgently to ensure that workers are protected and the risks are minimised. Next, working with Usdaw, has shown it can be done. If employers refuse to make the necessary changes and continue to operate non-essential workplaces in a way that puts the staff, their families and communities at risk, they should be closed.”
Usdaw news release.
A petition calling on the prime minister to only “open schools when it is safe” attracted over 80,000 signatures in just three days, teaching union NEU has said. The union’s petition was launched on 14 April and had clocked up 83,887 signatures by 17 April. Dr Mary Bousted, NEU’s joint general secretary, commented: “As yet there is no clarity as to how social distancing would or even could be implemented in schools, particularly for younger age groups. Even though the majority of children are considered low risk, their teachers and families are not. The fear is that asymptomatic children will put adult staff in danger, so it is essential that we see a programme of testing, PPE and contact tracing throughout the education sector before schools are fully re-opened.” She added the union was concerned that education staff have been ignored in government plans to expand testing across emergency services and other key workers. “Hope must not get the better of reason,” the NEU leader said. “Lives matter, and that is why we fully support the government being led by the science – but only when they are open with the public and take the profession with them in their decision making.” By 21 April, a week after going online, the number of signatories to the NEU petition had reached 170,000.
NEU news release.
Logistics unions in the UK have blasted DHL for ‘endangering thousands’ with ‘inadequate’ coronavirus social distancing and safety measures and by forcing self-isolating workers to survive on statutory sick pay (SSP). Usdaw, Unite, GMB, RMT and URTU trade unions last week called on DHL, which employs around 41,000 people in the UK, to work with them to resolve its workforce’s concerns over Covid-19 safety and the rate of pay for staff who are self-isolating or have been furloughed. The unions said DHL’s refusal to acknowledge ‘urgent concerns’ over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the possibility that symptomatic and at-risk staff may stay at work because of the dramatic drop in their incomes on SSP, showed an ‘utter disdain’ for its workforce. The joint trade unions statement said: “DHL is one of the largest and wealthiest logistics companies in the world and during the Covid-19 pandemic should be leading by example. Instead the company is showing utter disdain for its workforce by disregarding the urgent concerns of its staff over a lack of PPE and a failure to carry out safety and social distancing measures across its operations. DHL’s refusal to grant full company sick pay to symptomatic workers who need to self-isolate, or to those with underlying health conditions, is also a huge cause of concern.” The statement added: “DHL’s inadequate response to the pandemic is endangering thousands. We call on the company to meaningfully negotiate with the joint trade unions to address the concerns of its loyal workforce, many of whom are exposing themselves to risk to ensure essential services keep running.”
Usdaw news release. RMT news release.
Hotels providing accommodation for NHS staff, acting as Covid-19 isolation centres or providing emergency housing during the crisis, are ‘risking lives’ by failing to implement adequate safety measures for staff, Unite has warned. The union, which represents thousands of workers in the hospitality sector, said it is becoming increasingly concerned that the workers in these accommodation centres are not being given proper training and advice and are not being provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). The union said it has received numerous reports from staff across the hotel industry concerned that they may be at risk of passing or receiving Covid-19 from NHS front line staff or others staying in their hotels, due to unsafe and unmonitored practices. Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said: “Hotel workers, many of whom who are on the minimum wage, are being required to undertake new roles in a highly stressful environment without any proper safety guidelines.” He added: “While some hotels are taking a responsible attitude and are trying to introduce guidance to protect staff, that is not true of them all. The hotel chains who have answered the call to provide emergency accommodation must understand that they are risking lives if the correct safety measures are not put in place.” The Unite officer concluded: “Unless strict guidelines are immediately introduced, followed and enforced then staff working in accommodation centres, as well as the NHS staff and others staying in them, are at direct risk of being exposed to coronavirus. Unite is demanding that the government steps in to introduce these measures and that hotel companies immediately ensure the safety of their staff undertaking these roles.”
Unite news release.
London construction sites must stagger their opening times to avoid congestion and the spread of coronavirus on London’s bus and transport system, building and transport unions have said. Construction and bus workers union Unite and train drivers’ union ASLEF, said construction sites must stagger start and finish times so thousands of workers are not travelling en masse on the same buses and tubes. More than 20 transport workers in London have died from coronavirus, with the majority of victims working as bus drivers. A call was also issued to Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to help ensure construction employers comply with the unions’ demands. The unions made clear that both transport and construction workers need “maximum protection” from Covid-19 and called on TfL, Public Health England and bus and construction employers to ensure they are safe. Unite secretary for the London and Eastern region Pete Kavanagh said: “It is imperative that construction firms stagger workers’ start and finish times. This should be happening on every site and employers should be liaising with each other, but also with oversight from industry federations, to make sure these times are different.” Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said: “All journeys should be staggered for the protection of those travelling and those providing the transport. We fully support the call by Unite for construction sites to stagger their operating times to even out the peaks and create real social distancing. We must protect key workers at all costs.”
Unite news release. ASLEF news release. Construction Enquirer.
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is calling on the public to take special care to follow safety guidance when making essential shopping trips. Paddy Lillis, the union’s general secretary, said: “The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting social distancing measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue and maintain a two-metre gap. Our message to the public is there is no excuse for abusing shopworkers, please treat our members with the respect they deserve.” He added: “Shops are the cornerstone of our communities, but they can only operate with staff, who clearly do not have the option to work from home. We continue to work with retailers to improve health and safety for staff, particularly those dealing directly with the public. We also call on customers to stay calm, respect shopworkers and practise the necessary hygiene measures to help limit the spread of the virus. We all have to work together to get through this crisis.”
Usdaw news release.
The government has been told it must convene an urgent meeting with the big six retailers and the Food and Drink Federation after a major Tesco, Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer supplier admitted social distancing was impossible in its factory. A letter from the union GMB, sent to food an environment secretary, ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S, Lidl and Aldi, came after a Bakkavor manager was secretly filmed admitting social distancing was not possible and threatening to sack staff who stayed at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The union said it has also identified numerous employers refusing to pay essential workers full pay if they are absent due to Covid-19. GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn, said: “Food and drink workers are essential to ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and our communities stay fed. GMB is working successfully with a number of employers to take a lead on standards, but too many are not meeting the challenge.” He added: “Employers cannot put profit and production over the safety of essential workers. Now is the time for the industry to step up to the plate and do everything possible to reduce the risk of the virus impacting on essential workers in our food supply chain."
GMB news release.
Changes to bus operations in London designed to make public transport safer have been given a cautious welcome by Unite. Commenting on the announcement by Transport for London (TfL) that central door only loading will be now imposed on London buses, Unite’s London and Eastern regional secretary Pete Kavanagh said: “Unite has been demanding central boarding as an essential safety measure during these times because bus workers are, understandably, fearful for their health. It is reassuring that the Mayor and TfL have listened and acted now to protect this workforce.” He added: “The extra safety measures now in place show why it is so important that workers are represented by strong trade unions. We have 20,000 bus workers across the capital. They have lost colleagues and friends in recent weeks – with the total number of deaths now at 20. They need to see all the support that they can muster from the Mayor, the employers and TfL so that they can assure their loved ones that they are being kept safe at work.” But Kavanagh called or additional measure, including passengers being required to ‘cover their faces’, better signs and safety announcements “as well as strict rules on the maximum number of passengers buses can take at any one time.” He said: “If you are getting on a bus for any other reason than for essential travel then you are putting the lives of drivers and other transport workers at risk. If you do have to travel, make sure that you take all necessary social distancing and safety precautions – our members’ lives depend on it.” In a 21 April update, Unite lead officer for buses in London John Murphy said: “There is more to be done - personal protective equipment like sanitising wipes, masks and gloves must be available to drivers if they want it – and not all do - and face coverings should be compulsory for people using public transport. Testing in even the simplest form must be carried out urgently.” He added: “It is time for those responsible for London’s bus network to step up further, and provide the proper and sufficient amounts of PPE our members need so badly.”
Unite news release and update.
Unite has welcomed the government’s announcement that the rules on medicals for HGV drivers have been relaxed. The announcement comes after heavy lobbying from Unite, which had warned the government that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, HGV drivers have been unable to undertake a medical resulting in 30,000 drivers potentially being forced off the road. The requirement to have a medical is usually a mandatory requirement for many HGV drivers, depending on their age or existing medical conditions. The government announcement means that provided drivers are “fit to drive”, they can apply for a one-year extension on their existing HGV licence. The relaxation has been backdated to January 2020 so drivers who have already been affected can secure an extension to their licence and return to work. Unite national officer Adrian Jones, said: “In these extraordinary times this was a common sense and overdue decision. Unite has been lobbying the Department for Transport on a daily basis to get this decision implemented as it affected a huge number of drivers who faced being forced off the road through no fault of their own.” He added: “Thousands of lorry drivers will be highly relieved that they can continue to work and not have their livelihoods taken away from them because they were simply unable to obtain a medical. Unite will continue to maintain pressure on the government to ensure that the health and wellbeing of lorry drivers is protected throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.” The relaxation on the requirement to have a medical also applies to bus drivers.
Unite news release. URTU alert.
Unite has paid tribute to bus and transport workers in London who have died after contracting Covid-19 and is demanded that more be done to protect those still working. The union, which has more than 20,000 members working on buses throughout the capital, heralded the ‘heart-breaking sacrifice’ of the 21 London transport workers, including 15 bus drivers, who have died keeping the capital's public transport network running in a time of ‘critical need’. Unite said its members are ‘running out of patience’ with bus operators and Transport for London (TfL). Ahead of a 17 April minute’s silence in tribute to those transport workers killed by the virus, Unite regional secretary for London, Pete Kavanagh, said: “Unite pays tribute to those bus workers who have died during the coronavirus pandemic and our thoughts are with their loved ones at this incredibly painful time. Their heart-breaking sacrifice, at a time of critical need, will never be forgotten. Far too many bus workers have lost their lives during this crisis and our members are well aware that the danger has still not passed. Unite has 20,000 bus worker members across the capital. It is quite clear to us that they are running out of patience with the operators and TfL, and we share their frustrations.” He added: “TfL, the employers, the mayor and the government all need to urgently address all issues. In addition to central loading, Unite is demanding that TfL instigate a London-wide inspection regime for cleaning at all garages. Furthermore, the union is calling for the establishment of limits on the number of passengers that can board at any one time, as well as the requirement that passengers cover their faces while using public transport.”
Unite news release. The Independent. Morning Star.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that fire and rescue personnel, police, prison staff, and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) workers will now be eligible for coronavirus testing. The move comes after sustained pressure from the FBU, calling on the government to secure Covid-19 tests for firefighters and control staff. The FBU wrote to ministers across the UK on 20 March and slammed the Westminster government earlier this week for failing to secure tests for personnel in England, as testing began in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Whilst welcoming the development, the FBU raised concerns about the eligibility criteria for being granted a test, as well as the accessibility of the testing centres. The union also said that there must still be an urgent increase in testing capacity so that key workers like fire and rescue personnel can get tested regularly. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, commented: “We’re pleased to see that the government has listened to the FBU and finally agreed to open up some testing to other key workers, including fire and rescue personnel. However, it is a shame it has come this late, with thousands of firefighters already self-isolating - this is something that could have been easily avoided.” He added: “To ensure that fire and rescue services, and other vital services can continue to operate in this crisis, we don’t just need access to these testing schemes, but to also see the capacity of the schemes themselves increase. There need to be more tests available full stop.”
FBU news release and Covid-19 testing resources.
Merthyr Tydfil council has reversed a decision to reopen its civic amenity sites in Dowlais and Aberfan after protests from UNISON and GMB. The unions, who had described the move as “reckless and unnecessary”, advised staff not to return to work until a proper risk assessment has been filled out. The plans surfaced just a day before the Welsh government moved to extend the nationwide lockdown to protect against the spread of Covid-19. The council said in a statement that the “decision has now been made not to open our household-waste recycling centres”, adding: “This decision has been made in line with a direction from Welsh government today and the relevant government guidelines.” UNISON regional organiser Steve Belcher said: “We welcome the council’s decision.”
GMB news release. Morning Star.
Unite Scotland has welcomed an agreement with Perth and Kinross council that should reduce the risk of coronavirus exposures in bin workers. The union said it had received numerous reports that refuse workers’ health and safety was being put at risk at the council’s Friarton depot. This was due to the council's insistence on maintaining three operatives in a bin lorry. Most local authorities across Scotland have now moved to a maximum of two operatives in a lorry, while others have been operating with just the driver in the cab with the rest of the crew following behind in separate vehicles. However, Unite said following constructive talks with Perth and Kinross council, an agreement has been reached to move to a maximum of two operatives in a lorry and one operator following behind in a separate vehicle. Unite regional industrial officer Susan Robertson said: “Unite fully appreciates that Perth and Kinross council wants to continue to provide its excellent waste collection service to the public. However, this can’t come by putting in jeopardy the health and safety of the bin operatives which was happening. We are pleased that following productive talks we have now been able to find an amicable solution, which puts the safety of the workers first, while providing this essential service.”
Unite news release.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has said the European Commission’s proposed Roadmap towards lifting Covid-19 containment measures fails on basic principles and does not give sufficient attention to either health and safety at work or the need to apply strict ‘precautionary’ measures. The union body has now asked the Commission to start an ‘urgent and proper’ consultation with trade unions and employers to define a proper implementation process. ETUC general secretary Luca Visentini said: “We agree there needs to be a coordinated and planned easing of restrictions across the EU, guided by public and occupational health advice. We are at the same time concerned that the Commission seems not to have given consideration to practical issues like health and safety at work as part of the lifting of containment measures.” He added: “The roadmap should specify the need for national and workplace plans, developed with the involvement of trade unions, to ensure a safe return to the workplace for those off work or working from home, and continued protection for those who have been working throughout the crisis. The roadmap should also give some consideration to those who normally work from home or in other people’s homes.” Among the ETUC proposals is a call that health and safety at work and the ‘precautionary principle’ should be “guiding principles for the gradual lifting of current containment measures for those who have been working throughout the crisis and for those who face a return to work.” ETUC adds: “Labour Inspectorates should enforce health and safety measures applicable in the period following the lifting of restrictions.”
ETUC news release.
Hours before Amazon fired Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa from its Seattle HQ this month, they were among about a thousand of the company’s technology employees to accept an invitation to hear from warehouse employees about working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to firing the women - both visible leaders of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) who, the company said, had repeatedly violated internal policies - Amazon deleted the calendar invitation to the online event and took disciplinary action against another employee who circulated it. The conversation went ahead anyway, featuring warehouse workers from Chicago, New York and Poland. “They clearly did not want this event to happen,” Costa, who spent 15 years at Amazon, rising to be a principal user experience designer, told the approximately 375 people watching the web conference. “They apparently do not want tech workers talking to warehouse workers. They fired us to silence you and to silence all of us.” Cunningham and Costa, who were warned in October for speaking publicly about the company without authorisation, said they circulated a petition in late March started by warehouse workers in New York. It called for improved safety protocols, closures of facilities where employees had tested positive for Covid-19 - the illness caused by the coronavirus - and enhanced benefits. The women said when they were fired on 10 April, company representatives told them it was because they violated a policy on internal solicitation, a widely ignored and rarely enforced measure. Scores of Amazon employees have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least one has died from the disease. The tech and warehouse workers mourned the death with a moment of silence at the beginning of the web conference.
CBS News. Sacramento Bee. The Guardian.
UNI news report on union action at Amazon.
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