The leading trade unions in local government have taken the step today (1 April) to write to the first minister Nicola Sturgeon to highlight a number of major inconsistencies across local authorities which is putting workers and the general public’s lives at risk.
Unite, GMB and Unison collectively represent over 120,000 workers in local authorities across Scotland, many of whom are on the frontline delivering essential services and providing care to vulnerable groups. The trade unions have been involved in ongoing discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on their response to this crisis but are now increasingly concerned that the lack of urgency and consistency is now putting service users and workers at risk, and that it now requires the first minister’s direct intervention.
The trade unions are highlighting a number of key concerns including:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Ongoing concerns regarding the availability and quality of PPE for workers. There are specific issues regarding the availability of PPE for those working with vulnerable users in home care settings and the need for urgent clarification over the self-isolation for workers who have been in close contact with service users confirmed as having the virus.
- Social distancing – Serious concerns continue about the ability of workers to observe social distancing measures at work. There are particular difficulties with workers being told to travel to sites in the same vehicle – in waste and home care services in particular.
- Testing workers – there is an urgent need to test frontline workers in accordance with WHO guidance. There appears to be no strategy or consistency currently about when tests will be rolled out and who will be tested.
- Key workers – The need for greater clarity around who meets the definition of a ‘key worker’ because there are many situations where some workers in some authorities are being deemed ‘key workers’ and others are not.
- Waste Collection – The need for a one nation policy on residential waste collection. 32 local authorities are doing different things – some maintaining a full service, others closing all waste and recycling centres.
The joint trade unions state: “Unite, GMB and Unison have been raising a number of key concerns in relation to the inconsistent and ultimately dangerous approach to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic with COSLA. We believe that local government workers, and those in the third and private sectors, delivering services must be protected in terms of their health both physical and mental. To date this is not being done anywhere near effectively enough. We are on the brink of the peak of the pandemic and still there exist major concerns over social distancing, personal protective equipment, the definition of who is a key worker and the availability of testing for those workers in local authorities and those providing services on behalf of them, particularly in the home care sector. The trade unions appreciate that this is an unprecedented time but the flimsy and inconsistent guidance that is currently being issued by local authorities is putting lives at risk. We need a national response and this must come from the first minister’s lead to ensure that the advice is clear, consistent and comprehensive.”