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Unions are working hard to save jobs and protect front-line workers

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On Thursday evening this country clapped from its doorstep for the NHS and public sector workers protecting families and saving lives

I could not be more proud of those workers and the trade unions representing them. They are doing an extraordinary job with long hours, often without the right equipment.

The TUC with our trade union colleagues have been working closely with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to ensure workers are paid if their company is struggling and protected if they are classed as an essential worker, there is still more to be done however.

In our region unions have been quick to respond, providing education through courses on a range of topics which are helping reps to understand the implications of the pandemic for workers and their families.

We’ve been keeping reps informed through specially designed webinars led by experts on health and safety, rights at work and, this week, we will be running a session on the wage subsidy policy.

These are indeed unprecedented times; we are hearing that unions are inundated with requests for membership as workers worry about their futures. We are in close contact with unions and regional response groups and as a result are hearing that PPE for frontline NHS services is still desperately needed.

In most workplaces, the risk of an outbreak is low. However, there are many sectors that may require more specific precautions. Those in public services, social care and the service/retail industry, who work with large numbers of the general public, will naturally be at greater risk of exposure.

Workers in public-facing roles are on the front-line of responding to COVID-19 their jobs are vital to saving lives but in order to protect them and the NHS it is vital that any work places classed as essential undergo specific risk assessments under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) and those workers are provided with the necessary PPE.

Unions representing NHS, social care, education, transport, prisons and other relevant sectors have produced specific guidance and are in contact with employer organisations.

Where work involves visiting a person in their own home (such as care provision, maintenance work etc.) the employer should notify service users and customers that they should advise them if any person in the household is suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. If the work is non-urgent then no visits should take place for that period.

Home working

Employers have been instructed to allow working from home wherever possible. There are measures that can be taken to ensure working from home is adequate. That means looking at issues around IT, including broadband capacity and the management and coordination of work. Issues reps should raise with bosses include:

  • Ensuring their home is a safe, secure place of work, taking into account ergonomics.
  • No worker is expected to pay for their own equipment i.e. computers or wifi.
  • Workers continue to work their normal hours.
  • Any benefits related to usual place of work are maintained (for example if lunch or childcare is paid for).
  • Steps are taken to address concerns of isolation and loneliness.
  • Unions should be consulted in any WFH policies

Another issue for trade unions is the fact that many workers, such as cleaners, are simply not able to work from home. The TUC is concerned that this may mean that there will be two tiers of staff with those unable to work from home, but who still have domestic responsibilities, being treated differently from those who can work from home if they need to care for a dependant and remote working arrangements should ensure that no staff are disadvantaged through not being able to work at home because of the nature of their job.

My advice to anyone not sure what to do in this time of uncertainty is to join a union.

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