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• Union body says draft guidelines will not guarantee safe working
• TUC calls for “binding new rules” for employers to publish risk assessments and action plans
• Latest guidance is ”an open goal” for bad bosses, warns TUC

The TUC has today written to ministers to raise urgent concerns about the government’s back-to-work plans.

The union body – which has seen the latest draft guidelines on exiting lockdown – says the proposed guidance places “no new” requirements on employers to keep workers safe at work.

And the TUC warns there is no commitment from ministers to increase enforcement to stop companies from flouting the law and putting staff in danger.

The TUC’s top concerns about the government’s back-to-work plans are: 

  1. The lack of a binding requirement on employers to ensure safe working conditions. The guidance repeatedly suggests that “employers should consider” actions such as enabling social distancing or providing handwashing facilities, but also suggests individual employers can decide to ignore the suggestions. 
  2. The lack of any recommendations on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The TUC says unions cannot be expected to support the guidance without knowing what the government is asking employers to consider in terms of workers’ use of PPE. 
  3. The lack of any requirement on employers to publish their risk assessments, nor to agree them with recognised unions. 
  4. The lack of any reference to the Health and Safety Executive’s existing powers, for example to issue prohibition notices, nor to workers’ existing rights to refuse to work in situations which present a serious and imminent danger to them. 
  5. The lack of safe working requirements for vulnerable groups (for example pregnant women). The TUC says the guidance appears to suggest that pregnant women can be expected to work in unsafe environments, in violation of their existing rights under health and safety law. 

Commenting on the Government’s draft proposals, Regional Secretary of the TUC South West, Nigel Costley warns the proposals are far from ready.

“Working people need to see that the government is genuinely committed to protecting their safety. At present, this guidance fails to provide clear direction to employers who want to act responsibly, and is an open goal to the worst of employers desperate to return to business as usual at the risk of the health and safety of their workforce.”

Throughout this crisis, the TUC has sought to engage constructively with ministers and local leaders. Unions who have seen sight of the current proposals are right to be concerned.

“We want to be able to recommend the government’s approach to safe working and help get the country back on its feet. But as it stands, we cannot support the proposals until the health of workers is prioritised and the government can guarantee everyone will be safe at work.”

Editors note
  • The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 

  • TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady sent a letter yesterday (Sunday 3 May) to Business Secretary Alok Sharma expressing concerns over the proposals, including that the current draft “appears to disregard the TUC’s suggestions entirely”, despite regular engagement between the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the TUC.

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