Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has said it is ‘dismayed’ at council services outsourcer Norse Medway’s approach to social distancing for key workers as well as staff who need to self-isolate because of the coronavirus.
The union said today (Tuesday 24 March) that Norse – which operates refuse collection, street cleaning, crematorium, gardening and other services for Medway council in Kent – is refusing to put workers who are self-isolating on medical suspensions.
Instead of receiving full wages, as usually happens during a medical suspension, Norse Medway staff who are self-isolating have to claim statutory sick pay (SSP) and have been advised by the firm that it is their choice whether to stay home or not.
This is despite the fact that Medway council workers in the same position are being granted medical suspensions and sent home.
Unite, which has more than 150 members at Norse Medway, said the firm’s approach is ‘totally uncaring’ and could help spread the virus by encouraging staff who are worried about their incomes to keep working if they have symptoms.
The union also said that Norse Medway refuse lorries, as well as public gardening vehicles, are being sent out with three staff members to a cab and that workers have not been provided with hand sanitiser.
This is resulting in workers being sat inches from each other during a time when individuals are meant to be maintaining social distancing and strict hygiene measures.
Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said: “Unite is dismayed at the approach that Norse Medway is taking towards its employees at this vital moment in the fight against the coronavirus. Lives are at risk and Norse Medway’s leadership is burying its head in the sand.
“Instead of putting workers who need to self-isolate on a medical suspension with full pay, as Medway council has done, Norse Medway is insisting that workers should declare themselves sick and claim SSP and company sick pay if they are entitled to it.
“As well as being totally uncaring, Norse Medway’s approach to self-isolation is dangerous, as it risks encouraging staff who would otherwise self-isolate to carry on working because of the dramatic drop in their incomes.
“This is no way to behave during a time of national crisis. Norse Medway’s management needs to get its house in order and provide medical suspensions to workers who need them immediately. Proper social distancing measures for staff who continue to provide key services must also be implemented, while those in non-essential roles must be furloughed.”