Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “Workers must not place their health at risk.
“If PPE is required and the correct masks are not available then work has to be delayed until they can be sourced. Workers must not feel pressurised into taking shortcuts with their safety.
“If a worker is at all uncertain about whether they require PPE they must request to see an appropriate risk assessment. If they still believe it is unsafe, an employee legally has a right to remove themselves from a dangerous situation.
“Unite will fully support a member who declines to work due to safety concerns.
“Clearly most responsible employers will follow the rules and reschedule work but there remains too many rogue employers who are willing to risk the health of their workers.
“It is all too easy to forget because of the pandemic that there are many reasons why an appropriate mask may be required while undertaking construction work other than preventing the spread of Covid-19.
“Even when you are socially distancing you may still need to wear a mask because of the dangerous nature of the work being undertaken.”
Although the ONS found that nearly two thirds of Covid-19 deaths were of male workers, Unite has urged that due attention must also be paid to the high level of deaths among women workers in sectors including retail, health and social care where there has been a total of 377 women worker deaths compared to 270 men
High death rates
The ONS found that 17 occupations were found to have significantly increased death rates due to Covid-19 including taxi drivers and chauffeurs (135 deaths), security guards (107 deaths), and bus and coach drivers (54 deaths).
In further disturbing findings, the report notes that of the 17 specific occupations that had increased death rates, 11 had a high proportion of black and ethnic minority (BAEM) workers working in them. However, the ONS report does not record deaths by ethnicity and occupation.
Long hours serious concern
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Each and every one of these deaths is an individual tragedy and the families of workers who lost their lives to this terrible disease deserve answers.
“The UK has suffered terribly from the pandemic and in the cold light of day society must take a hard look at why certain workers were particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
“Many of the professions with the highest number of deaths are not only low paid but have both a long and unsocial hours culture, which often creates specific health problems over time.
“A full public inquiry into these deaths must investigate not only if these workers were failed by a lack of PPE, but also if they were significantly more susceptible to the disease due to the cumulative effects that working long and unsocial hours had on their health.
“It is absolutely imperative that there is a greater understanding of the disproportionate impact of Covid on BAEM workers and this must be examined in order to ensure that everyone is fully protected.”
Jim McMahon MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, commenting on the published list of countries exempt from quarantine rules, said:
“Labour – like families and businesses up and down the country – are keen for the government’s quarantine measures to be lessened, but this a mess.
“First we had the quarantine that they were slow to implement, then they said they’d do air bridges. Now we see a plan to let residents of 60 or more countries into England without any reciprocal arrangements.
“The fact they have been unable to negotiate air bridges is an indictment of their failure to tackle the crisis at home. They were too slow to take lockdown, too slow to order PPE and too slow to protect our country.”
Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, responding to figures that show many are waiting longer than 24 hours for coronavirus test results, said:
“We are now three weeks into the supposed world leading test and trace system and there are still a quarter of people not being contacted. There is no doubt that this is well below the levels we need to effectively contain the virus and the Government seems to be too slow again to react to these failings.
“As we now begin to see localised lockdowns we need Ministers to be far more rigorous about getting to the bottom of why the contact rate isn’t improving. The performance so far simply isn’t good enough and far from the world leading system we were promised.
“We know for there to be an effective testing and tracing system to be in place that results need to be back quickly so it’s both disappointing and concerning that the Government is moving the goalposts on its 24 hour turnaround for tests . Ministers need to come clean about the problems meeting this target and what they are going to do to put it right. The Government has been too slow on lockdown, too slow on PPE, too slow on social care – we cannot afford for it to be too slow on this as well.”
The Westminster Government doesn’t have the answers or wherewithal to prepare us for a possible second wave. Outside of somehow escaping a recurrence or having a vaccine, our hopes lie with ourselves and our ability for co-operation.
Despite the pain and disruption Coronavirus has caused, communities across the UK responded to this crisis not with division, but with co-operation. We befriended neighbours, joined mutual aid groups, donated to foodbanks and more. We came together in solidarity.
Co-operatives, as businesses rooted in their communities, contributed heavily to that effort. They were at the forefront of a national effort to feed the country during the current crisis. They were the first to announce that no child should go hungry because schools were closed. They were the first to back food banks struggling because of panic buying.
Two thirds of people want to keep the renewed sense of community found during the crisis. So as we emerge from this first wave of the virus, we must ask ourselves how we will maintain this co-operation and community spirit, and indeed what it says about the kind of nation we want to be post-lockdown.
The Government now has growing charge sheet in terms of its own decision-making abilities and it is clear that the British people don’t trust this Prime Minister’s judgement in relation to Covid-19. We don’t have faith that the Government has all the answers – and in absence of other solutions, communities must be immediately incentivised, organised and guided to work together like at no other time in our history. This isn’t just about dealing with the aftermath of lockdown, but preparing ourselves for a potential second wave – which the Government is patently failing to do.
Of course, it won’t be easy or straight forward – but it is necessary. A powerful recent piece co-authored by Kirsty McNeil of Save the Children powerfully put across the need for a volunteer army to catch-up children’s educations post-lockdown. It also pointed to the view of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration that the three-quarters of a million people who signed up as NHS Responders risk being turned off volunteering altogether as a result of the handling and lack of success of the scheme.
However, there are fantastic examples of more organic and co-operative spirited activity right across the country. From fantastic new platforms like the Co-op Group’s Co-operate website to 3DCrowd, which has 8000 volunteers knocking out over 150,000 facemasks. So many communities already stepped up where the Government failed: when the lack of PPE endangered lives and rendered Government decisions redundant or counter-productive, the Harrogate Scrubbers stepped in to raise money for and make large quantities of PPE for their local hospital. These are among so many more examples to be chosen from.
So whether it be a volunteer army helping with education or a large-scale community push towards generating the vital protective kit like masks and PPE, we know our communities are ready to serve. We know the solution lies in co-operation. What the Government could help with is the guiding, the incentivising and the opening of doors and minds to make it happen – then we might be better prepared for any second wave that may come.food
Unite the union, which represents over 80,000 UK bus workers, has called on bus operators to “get a grip” to ensure passengers wear face coverings on buses.
Face coverings compulsory
From last Monday (15 June), it has been a requirement under the condition of travel that all passengers (unless exempt) must wear a mask or face covering when travelling on buses and all forms of public transport, to help reduce the transmission of Covid-19.
Although the measure has been widely supported there have been concerns raised about non-compliance in some areas.
While only the police have the power to apply on-the-spot fines for a failure to comply with the conditions of travel, Unite believes that bus companies should be utilising staff other than drivers to order people who are not wearing a face covering to leave the bus.
Bus drivers not enforcers
Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “Unite has been receiving concerns about passengers not wearing a face covering.
“It is not the responsibility of the bus driver to enforce the wearing of a face covering. Given the challenges and risks they have faced during the pandemic they already have enough on their plate.
“Unite has advised its members not to get involved with passengers who are not wearing a face covering.
“Bus operators need to get a grip on this matter. They should be utilising other staff members to order passengers without face coverings to leave a bus. On routes where there is significant non-compliance the bus operator needs to ensure that the police are involved.
“It is vital that all passengers comply with the regulations in order to reduce the danger of transmission and to ensure that confidence returns to using public transport.”
As retail businesses across the country begin to open, Labour is today (Monday 15 June) urging the government to give the hospitality sector the clarity it needs to safely reopen.
Lucy Powell MP, the shadow business and consumers minister, is warning that the sector faces collapse with a wave of closures and redundancies unless ministers ensure sector specific support is made available to businesses struggling through no fault of their own.
Labour is also encouraging the public to shop local and back small British business.
Ms Powell calls on the government to do whatever it takes to save businesses and protect jobs by making sure as many businesses as possible can reopen safely in a way which “maximises economic viability, whilst minimising the risk to the health of customers and staff”. The economic support for businesses needs to sit in tandem with their ability to trade. For hospitality this is going to take a lot longer than other sectors.
Figures this week show the scale of the economic cost of Covid-19, with the economy shrinking at the fastest pace on record in April. Hospitality and small retail have been particularly hard hit. Every previously viable business that goes bust will prolong and deepen the economic downturn we face. A long and deep recession is a far greater threat to our long-term public finances than the support which businesses need today to help them bounce back more quickly.
Small retail and hospitality businesses are the lifeblood of our high streets and at the very heart of our communities but the lack of support for some in the sector and a series of contradictory anonymous briefings have created confusion about re-opening for companies and the public alike.
Labour is calling on ministers to:
Stop anonymous speculative briefings on social distancing guidelines.Social distancing guidelines are vital information for venues to prepare to reopen safely in respect of layout of venue and capacity of venue, both of which impact on revenue and financial decision making. Businesses will require clarity and transparency. As with other aspects of Ministers’ response to the Covid-19 crisis anonymous speculative briefings to the press are deeply unhelpful, confusing business and the public with mixed messages. Any changes to the guidelines should be led by the science and come about through a transparent and clear process.
Give guidance on business-critical issues such as sanitising, PPE for staff, security provision, use of toilets, the use of phone apps for ordering, vertical drinking and table service. Without this information, many business operators are struggling to plan their opening and short-term business model.
Set out what help will be available for operators who have to remain closed because the 2m rule prohibits them from being able to open safely and/or it is not financially viable for them to do so.
Ensure furlough flexibility. Business wants clarity around the part time furlough scheme and whether this can be brought forward. If outdoor areas are open from 22 June, this will not require a full-time complement of staff. For others businesses such as theatres, nightclubs, small indoor pubs and summer festival businesses for whom social distancing makes opening not viable, the furlough top up will be impossible because they have no cash coming in.
Consider what flexible support can be given to other operators. For many businesses that do reopen it will be at significantly reduced capacity with higher costs such as more staff, security and PPE. They too need more flexible support.
Work with local authorities, take innovative action to help businesses expand operations and boost tradeby reducing bureaucracy including:
o Ensuring rapid license variations, on issues such as opening hours or setting up licensed spaces, which currently require long notice periods.
o Reforming the operation of temporary event notices so they are not subject to time limits. Reduce 5 working day time limit for late temporary event notices to 3 working days.
o Deregulating the sale of alcohol as part of any outdoor licensed seating area for the duration of the crisis, so that there is no requirement for separate premises licence/temporary event notice, to allow outdoor bars, or allow a fast track licensing scheme for this.
o Enabling local authorities the ability to operate licensed spaces without going through full licence process or needing temporary event notices
Investigate the conversion of parking spaces and other areas into outdoor seating uses
Build public confidencein going to pubs and restaurants, and the high street by ensuring the track and trace and other measures are fully in place.
Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Business and Consumers, said:
“Small businesses closed to keep us safe. With retail now re-opening, we should shop local and support high streets to give them a boost.
“It’s vital that ministers turn their attention to the hospitality sector, providing clarity and guidance so that businesses can plan to reopen in the coming weeks. That means no more backroom briefings to Tory MPs, and more public advice and guidance to companies about how they can safely reopen.
“Alongside this, we urge the government to publish an action plan which maximises economic viability, whilst minimising the risk to the health of customers and staff. If they fail to act, our communities will lose much-loved pubs, bars and restaurants, and we’ll see a wave of closures and unemployment which will damage villages, towns and cities across the country.”
Commenting on a report published today (Friday) by the National Audit Office on how the government prepared the NHS and social care for the Covid-19 pandemic, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said
“This is a catalogue of errors and highlights once again a complete absence of planning or thought for social care.
“Discharging patients to care homes without testing was simply scandalous and accelerated the spread of the virus among an obviously high-risk group.
“This report confirms what staff have said from the start, that the supply of protective equipment in social care was woefully inadequate.
“And it makes clear the government doesn’t know how many people have actually been tested in care.
“It’s plain the care sector was out of sight, out of mind in the early stages of the pandemic. The result has been a tragic and catastrophic loss of life.
“When the government announced compulsory face coverings for the NHS but made no mention of care, it was clear lessons haven’t been learned. The sector’s still being treated as an afterthought.
UNISON reports Horizon Care to the Care Quality Commission after residents die in Sheffield
A major social care company has been reported to regulators after the deaths of multiple residents from COVID-19, says UNISON today (Thursday).
The three homes in Sheffield, where the deaths occurred and are run by Horizon Care, are now under investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after staff raised a catalogue of safety and hygiene concerns with UNISON.
The union has written to the CQC outlining practices atWoodhill House, Woodhill Lodge and Woodhill Grange, which UNISON says breach safety guidelines for residents and staff.
Issues highlighted to UNISON by employees include managers asking care workers with persistent coughs and staff who live with people infected with coronavirus to carry on coming in to work.
Care employees sent 12-week isolation letters were told they could work as long as they did not carry out personal care duties, such as helping to wash residents.
Other practices the union says are unsafe include failing to inform staff that residents they look after have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
In one case, a manager who had ‘better things to do’ refused to test residents despite one dying from the virus.
Many workers in the three homes run by Horizon Care said they had no access to personal protection equipment (PPE) because kit has been locked away in an office. Some have resorted to bringing in their own antibacterial hand gel.
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “All employers have an obligation to protect staff and the people they look after. Horizon Care has clearly failed in its duties.
“This case highlights the urgent need for the government to reform the social care sector. The fact it’s fragmented and underfunded means unscrupulous employers are able to exploit staff.
“Unless action is taken some care companies will continue to fall short of the high standards required.”
Unite, which represents over 80,000 bus workers, has welcomed the announcement today (Thursday 4 June) that passengers on public transport will be required to wear a face covering before boarding and throughout their journey.
The new requirements will come into effect from Monday 15 June in England.
The union is also calling for the maximum capacity of buses to be reduced to protect drivers and passengers from becoming infected, a measure that has already been introduced in most of Yorkshire and London.
Bus drivers have been particularly at risk of dying from Covid-19, with 33 bus workers in London having died and drivers in other parts of the country also known to have died during the pandemic.
Unite national officer for public transport Bobby Morton said: “This is the right move from the government. The wearing of face coverings has been shown to reduce transmission of Covid-19. It will improve safety for both drivers and passengers.
“With no imminent cure for Covid-19 or a vaccine becoming available, the wearing of face coverings on public transport should become the new normal.
“In the short-term, the government should follow the lead of various parts of Yorkshire and London and impose a reduced maximum capacity on all buses to further reduce the danger of infection.
“Unite is committed to working with the government and bus operators to ensure that, as infection rates fall and the lockdown further eases and bus usage increases, passengers and drivers are not placed at risk.”