Unite calls for cabinet minister for PPE to direct national `army’ striving to protect workers

With workers across the country continuing to sound the alarm about the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers from the coronavirus, Unite the union is calling for the rapid appointment of a minister with responsibility for PPE delivery.

The union is making the call today (Friday 10 April) amid mounting concerns that much-needed protective kit is not getting to the NHS and social care front line, and with Unite itself demanding PPE for bus workers in the wake of 14 transport worker deaths in recent days.

Unite, the leading union in UK manufacturing, played a key role in bringing manufacturers across the country together to build urgently needed ventilators but says the lack of central government coordination is hampering efforts to deliver safety equipment on the scale and with the urgency needed.

Millions of pieces of products need to be manufactured in order to provide the PPE needed for front line and key workers, the union estimates.

Writing in Labour List, Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing said:  “Hundreds of companies and thousands of workers are rising to the challenge to ensure that those risking their lives on a daily basis have the proper Personal Protective Equipment they need to protect themselves.

“Household name businesses like JLR and the Royal Mint have released stock, provided and produced raw materials, designed, shaped, cut and assembled everything from face masks to visors, googles and medical gowns to gloves and hand sanitiser to deep cleansing materials.

“It is a tremendous effort, uniting workers and employers in delivering essential support for essential workers. 

“But as we hear daily, indeed hourly, workers are still not getting the protective equipment that they need.  Our posties, social care and NHS staff, construction and bus workers this week all sounded the alarm. They are on the front line, keeping people safe and the country running, but where is the kit that they desperately need? 

“The problem is we have built an army but they have no general. What’s missing in this heroic national effort is that necessary voice of government, the call from the front, the coordination and collaboration of the army that can only come from the centre.

“Like the generals of the first world war directing the troops from the safety of horseback far from the front, we now see a failure to lead from the front from today’s generals in Cabinet.  

“We encounter competing interests, factional and departmental tensions and disjointed messages when what is desperately needed right now, not tomorrow or next week, is for government to act as one in the national interest. 

“The most effective way to cut through this dysfunction would be for the PM – or in his absence, the cabinet – to appoint a Minister for Testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Procurement. 

“This minister – reporting directly to the PM – would have overarching responsibility for bringing together the ministries of government, to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape, a minister to join up the dots, make decisions with authority and clout.  Above all, they must be someone who can simply get things done.

“The first item in their in-tray would be the creation of one central hub to link together those registering interest, capabilities and capacity. We don’t want to speak to a single other manufacturer who reports that they are determined and ready to make PPE but their calls are not returned by government, their offers go ignored, and that they feel that they are talking to a brick wall.   

“The call now is for government to bring its skills to the table.  We need its powers of coordination and procurement, the leadership of the state to ensure that the dedication of this volunteer manufacturing army is focused and clear on how we collectively deliver on this shared mission. 

“Above all, we need that minister for PPE to be behind their virtual desk by the weekend, pulling together the unions, industry and the government departments.  We’re ready when you are, minister.”

The full article by Steve Turner can be read here: https://labourlist.org/2020/04/we-need-coordination-its-time-for-a-cabinet-minister-for-ppe-delivery/

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