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Coronavirus – bosses who fail to protect their workers must pay the penalty

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​​​​​​​Everyone has to do their bit to stop the spread of coronavirus, but it seems there is one rule for workers and another for bad bosses.

The coronavirus crisis has created an unprecedented public health and economic emergency in the UK.

The response by some bosses has been shocking – keeping workplaces open when government guidance is to close, laying workers off with no pay, or failing to introduce measures to slow the spread of contamination.

Everyone has to do their bit to stop the spread of coronavirus, but it seems there is one rule for workers and another for bad bosses.

That’s why we’re calling on the government to do more to stop bad bosses from putting workers at risk.

We need stronger, clearer and enforceable measures to keep everyone at work safe.

Employers should be doing everything they can to protect the health and safety of their workforce. And if bosses flout the rules, the government should close them down.

We’re also deeply concerned by reports from our unions that workers on the frontline of this fight don’t have access to or enough of the protective equipment they need to stay safe.

The government needs to act now to keep every worker in the UK safe from this deadly virus.

What are bad bosses doing?

The government is enforcing social distancing measures with the threat of fines and police powers to disperse gatherings.

But since the stricter social distancing measures were announced last week, reports of businesses failing to take health and safety seriously have been pouring into unions.

We’ve heard of unsafe working practices in services and sectors including retail, logistics, energy, waste management and parts of the public sector (including schools).

Members are rightly concerned about their safety and that of their colleagues.

Some employers are staying open even though they’ve been told to close. And others that continue to operate are failing to put in place basic safety measures to protect their staff.

It took a national outcry and union pressure to force Sports Direct to finally close its stores .

But the Sports Direct warehouse remains open and workers there are reporting no new measures for distancing, little access to soap for hand washing, and orders for vulnerable workers to come in or face the sack.

Construction sites – already one of the deadliest workplaces – have introduced little to no new measures to curb contamination risk.

Workers, many of them self-employed, see little alternative but to show up for shifts.

And over a thousand people have responded to our own survey over the past three days, with more than half raising concerns about unsafe working practices.

What do we want all bosses to do?

Bosses should be doing everything they can to support working from home wherever possible.

Employers should use the government’s Job Retention Scheme to furlough all non-essential staff, while topping up pay and issuing advance payments.

And they should immediately implement staggered shifts and break times to reduce the number of people in work.

There are several other actions we want employers to take:

  • Suspend biometric clocking in systems and the use of shared tools
  • Provide workers with access to washing facilities, as already required by law, introduce strict cleaning regimes and make available the appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Consult with health and safety union reps and committees – as already required by law.
  • Ensure workers have access to free parking so as many as possible can avoid public transport.
  • Provide changing facilities to allow workers the option to change clothes before attending work and going home.

What do we want the government to do?

We want the government to provide further direction to employers on what they need to do to ensure safe working, and to set out the enforcement action that it will take against those that refuse.

The government should immediately strengthen its guidance on the safety measures all employers must introduce now – including distancing and personal protective equipment.

It must urgently regulate employers so that they are required to undertake proper risk assessments in line with guidance and in consultation with union reps – or face a penalty.

Ministers should also establish a new enforcement body, involving employers, unions and the Health and Safety Executive, with the power to issue enforcement notices for immediate compliance and to shut down workplaces if bosses fail to comply. Similar arrangements are already in place in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

And the government must ensure protection from detriment for workers who have genuine concerns about being exposed to Covid-19, so that no one is disciplined for refusing to work in unsafe conditions.

What about PPE?

We’re clear that when it comes to protective personal equipment (PPE), the NHS, health and care sectors must take priority.

That’s why we’re so concerned by reports from our unions that frontline workers urgently need access to more and better quality PPE. Doctors and other healthcare workers are dying on the front line.

Workers in other key services including energy, utilities, transport, supermarkets, schools, refuse collection and the postal service also need protection, as do many others across the economy.

Despite what ministers say, there still isn’t even enough PPE for key workers in critical sectors – let alone across the wider economy. The government must act or more lives will be lost.

In her letter to the Prime Minister today, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady asks for further details on what the government is doing to get PPE to the workers that need it most.

What can I do?

The first thing you can do if you’re worried about how your employer has responded to this crisis is contact your union and report it .

You can also respond to our survey – confidentially if you prefer – and let us know what’s going on.

You can additionally write to your MP to demand government action and read our guidance on coronavirus for trade union reps .

Protect workers now

Coronavirus deaths are growing by the day, yet some bosses are still not taking the safety of their workforce seriously.

We don’t think there’s any excuse for workers to be put at risk during a pandemic.

So where employers fail to put reasonable safety measures in place, the government should have the power to ask them to stop work.

And any bosses who try to flout the rules won’t just be judged by the court of public opinion, they’ll be judged by a court of law.

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