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TUC - Northern: Covid-19 Advice for Workers

Information for workers in the North East and Cumbria during the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic covering health and safety at work, taking time off and working from home.

TUC Northern are working with our affiliated trade unions and engaging with regional bodies to support workers in the North East and Cumbria.

Our priorities during the pandemic are to make sure workers don't lose their jobs due to Coronavirus, to make sure workers are protected if they have to work and to lobby for the strongest possible safety net to protect parents, carers and the most vulnerable in our society.


  1. Introduction from Beth Farhat
  2. Negotiating Around Covid-19 (Advice for Reps)
  3. Health and Safety (Workplace Closures and Social Distancing)
  4. Health and Safety (Clean Working Environment)
  5. Health and Safety (Personal Protective Equipment (PPE))
  6. Health and Safety (Working from Home)
  7. Parents and Carers (Parental Leave)
  8. Parents and Carers (Pregnancy)
  9. Income Support (Self Employed and Casual Workers)
  10. Income Support (Employed)
  11. Domestic Violence (Support for Victims)
  12. Apprenticeships (Breaks)
  13. Apprenticeships (End Point)
  14. Press Enquiries 

Introduction from Beth Farhat

It is a difficult time for workers and their families in the North East and Cumbria, we have seem unprecedented disruption and changes to our way of life which are likely to last longer than any of us initially thought. 

My team have been working with our affiliated trade unions and key local coordinating bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to raise issues and share intelligence. 

We have been asking trade union members and workers to share key intelligence from their workplace either good or bad on a range of issues to help us build up a picture of whats happening across the region. 

Listen to Beth's Introduction

If you have any intelligence you can let us know by completing our online form:

Complete Form 

You can also stay up to date with regular information on workers rights and our activity within the region by subscribing to our regional mailing list.

Beth Farhat

TUC Northern Regional Secretary


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Negotiating Around Covid-19 (Advice for Reps)

We have a range of useful resources for reps including the following links and resources. For bespoke advice please make sure to contact your trade union regional office. 

Reps Representing Workers

10 things you can do now to organise on coronavirus at work

We are seeing a growing number of people looking for advice on how to join and setup a trade union in their workplace. The TUC have published a guide with ten things you can do to help organise on coronavirus at work.

Read More

Negotiating with employers to avoid redundancies because of Coronavirus

Some employers are still ploughing ahead with redundancies, despite the significant help being offered to them by the government to get businesses through the coronavirus crisis.

Read More


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Health and Safety (Workplace Closures and Social Distancing)

Which Businesses Must Close

The Government have published important information you can refer to if you are concerned that a business is remaining open when it should not be. 

Read the List

Government Advice on Social Distancing if a Business Remains Open

This is a list of tailored advice for different scenarios as an example of how social distancing and other measures might be implemented by employers in England to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus while still continuing to trade.

Read More


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Health and Safety (Clean Working Environment)

Cleaning Expectation of Employers

If you are still required to go to workplace make sure your employer meets these basic expectations:

  • Increase cleaning regime of workplaces
  • Clean with damp cloths not dry cloths to prevent spreading dust and particulars
  • Use hot water and detergent when cleaning, or Chlorine based cleaners where necessary
  • If a member of staff contracts Covid-19, deep clean the workplace with specialist cleaners 

What the Law Says

Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides workers with the right to withdraw from and refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe.

There has already been an example of one union branch walking off the job citing this law. Where reps feel their workplace is unsafe due to Covid-19 contamination, they should contact their union's legal team for urgent advice on using this.


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Health and Safety (Personal Protective Equipment (PPE))

Key Workers

If you represent or are a key worker you will likely be entitled to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in order to protect you while you do your job. 

  • As a postal worker for instance you are entitled to gloves from your employer.

Paper Facemasks

There is no evidence that, outside health care situations, the general use of facemasks has any actual effect on protecting people or reducing the speed of a pandemics development. 

In fact, the surgical paper masks most commonly seen offer little in the way of protection. They can reduce viral droplets being expelled by the wearer if they already have the virus, but they will not go a long way in preventing exposure.


A face fit test should be carried out to ensure the respiratory protective equipment (RPE) can protect the wearer.

According to TUC Advice:

"The most effective mask for those dealing directly with Covid-19 patients is the asbestos respirator level 3 (FFP3), and tests have shown it reduces the level of exposure by six-fold."

(TUC, March 2020)

You can read a comprehensive guide on making sure respirators are properly fitting on the Health and Safety Executive Website. 

Interacting with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19

If workers are engaging with people who have tested positive for Covid-19 for example health care providers then specific personal protective equipment is required. The governments guidance states:

  • Use of long-sleeved disposable fluid-repellent gown
  • Disposable gloves with long tight-fitting cuffs for contact with the patient or their environment
  • Eye protection to be worn for all patient contacts
  • Refrain from touching mouth, eyes or nose with potentially contaminated gloves

PPE Checklist

  1. Make sure it is properly fitted as per HSE guidelines.
  2. Make sure if PPE has an expiry date that it is in date.
  3. Make sure PPE is for personal use and is not shared.


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Health and Safety (Working from Home)

TUC Advice for Working from Home

  1. Have access to safe working conditions in their own home. 

  1. Have access to relevant equipment and IT. Bosses should pay for wi-fi for workers who don't have internet access at home. 

  1. Have a clear understanding of what work they are expected to carry out, especially if this differs from their usual duties. 

  1. Take regular breaks and follow their usual working hours if possible. 

  1. Keep in contact with colleagues by email, Skype, phone and chat for example to avoid the mental health effects of isolation. 

For further information on working from home you can read the full ACAS guide on your rights while working from home.

Working from Home: Webinar

More of us than ever are working from home. 

In this Coronavirus at Work webinar, we heard from Quinn Roache, Policy Officer in LGBT+ and Disability Rights, and Shelly Asquith, Health and Safety Officer.

We discussed:

  • Ergonomic working and workplace assessments - health and safety in your homeworking environment 
  • Reasonable adjustments - working from home for Disabled Workers and those with long-term health conditions
  • Mental health at home

Watch Now


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Parents and Carers (Parental Leave)

If you are a worker who needs to take leave to look after children there are several options open to you:

  • Emergency Dependents Leave: This can be taken at any time without needing to give notice, and is for a period of between several hours and several days.
  • Parental Leave: Working parents and guardians are also entitled to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave for each child in their care. That leave can be taken at any point before each child turns 18.

Read More


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Parents and Carers (Pregnancy)

On Monday 23 March, the government announced new measures to combat COVID-19.
Everyone, including pregnant women, should stay at home and stop all but essential contact with other people outside of their home.

This includes:

  • Only going outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home)
  • Staying 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
  • Washing your hands as soon as you get home

Read More


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Income Support (Self Employed and Insecure Workers)

A large number of insecure workers are eligible to be put on furlough, updated guidance published by the government has confirmed.

Those on fixed-term contracts, so-called limb (b) workers, those on zero-hours contracts and many agency workers can go on paid leave under the terms of the Job Retention Scheme.


Fixed Term Contracts

The government has confirmed that someone on a fixed-term contract can be furloughed and that contract can be extended or renewed during the furlough period.

However, employers are not obliged to offer extensions.

Limb B Workers

Some workers are not classified as employees (correctly or otherwise), nor are they conventionally self-employed.

Instead they fall under the category of worker: someone who provides a service as part of someone elses business. Though often they a worker may be oblivious to their employment status.

Often gig economy workers for online platforms have worker status.

Such workers do not enjoy the full rights of an employee. But the government has made it clear that they are eligible to be furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme, just as an employee is, if they are paid through a firms payroll on a Pay as You Earn basis.

Those who instead pay tax through self-assessment might be eligible for the Self-employed income support scheme.

Agency Workers

Where agency workers are paid through PAYE, they are eligible to be furloughed and receive support through this scheme, including where they are employed by umbrella companies.

Furlough should be agreed between the agency, as the deemed employer, rather than the end client.

However, it remains unclear whether agencies will pay workers holiday leave accrued over the period.

There also remains little financial motivation for agencies to put workers on furlough because they have no obligation to offer work.

Zero-hours Workers

A similar issue faces zero-hours workers who are not guaranteed work by their employer. The TUC has long called for a ban on such exploitative working arrangements.

The government has made it clear that such workers are eligible for furlough under the scheme.


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Income support (Employed)

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold changes to the way we live and work. Millions of workers have been affected by the outbreak.

Last week, the government announced a new package of support for employees affected by coronavirus. 

As part of our Coronavirus at Work webinar series, we'll be hearing from Kate Bell, TUC Head of Rights, International and Social Affairs on:

  • What reps need to know on wage subsidy 
  • Supporting implementation of the package
  • And ensuring members benefit


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Domestic Violence (Support for Victims)

The National Domestic Abuse helpline has reported a 25% increase in calls since the coronavirus lockdown began, as well as a 150% increase in visits to their website.

Domestic abuse is always a workplace issue. Trade unions know that work is often a place of safety for women experiencing domestic abuse.

Read More

Domestic abuse and coronavirus: Online Guide

This section is adapted from a TUC online guide which will expand upon the information we have provided below.

Read Guide

Domestic abuse is a union Issue:

The physical workplace can be a place of safety, but with social distancing measures in place that option may be gone, leaving women isolated from their support networks.

Many are still in contact with their reps, co-workers, and employers that means we can all play a role in ensuring they and their children stay safe.

What is Domestic abuse:

  • Verbal abuse

    Belittling, insulting, or demeaning someone with words alone or in front of others.

  • Physical violence

    Any type of violence against someone such as pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, choking or using weapons.

  • Controlling

    Attempting to restrict who someone sees or talks to. Preventing them socialising with friends or family.

  • 'Gaslighting'

    Persistently undermining or manipulating someone, so they doubt their own sanity or become convinced that they're the problem.

  • Financial abuse

    Taking control of someone's finances to deny them money and limit their independence.

  • Sexual abuse

    Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex when they don't want to (rape), touching or groping, making someone watch pornography.

  • Online abuse

    Insulting or threatening someone via social media, messaging, or email.

  • Other forms of violence against women and girls

    Female genital mutilation, honour based violence, forced marriage, etc.

Read Guide 


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Apprenticeships (Breaks) 

Employers and training providers should make every effort to keep apprenticeships going. However, some apprentices may face a break in their apprenticeship because training isnt available for them, they work from home because the employer is enforcing the working from home policy or they are in self-isolation.

A break in an apprenticeship can now temporarily be instigated by the employer and provider as well as the learner. The Department for Education (DfE) also proposes breaks as an option instead of putting apprentices on furlough, for instance. If an apprentice is on a break but continues to work they should be paid according to the job role. If an apprentice is furloughed they can still take on learning if the provision is available.

Government funded apprentices have an entitlement to off-the-job (OTJ) training equivalent to at least 20 per cent of their working time. Because of the pandemic this may be in jeopardy as well as the on-the-job training when whole workplaces are working from home or the training provider cannot deliver training in their regular way. If the 20 per cent OTJ training cannot be met with remote or digital learning, the apprentice may need to take a break.

Some training can be done remotely using online learning. To ensure the quality of training it is important to discuss with the employer and the provider whether remote learning is adequate and helps the apprentice to gain the skills and competencies they need to achieve their apprenticeship.

The length of the break needs to be agreed with the apprentice, employer and the provider:

  • a short pause of less than four weeks in an apprenticeship will not affect the planned end-date of the apprenticeship
  • a formal break in learning of four weeks or more will be reported by the training provider to the funding body, ESFA. The planned end-date of the apprenticeship will be moved back to after such time when the learning resumes. When making a new plan for the end-date the duration of the break needs to be taken in consideration.
  • any assessment will be re-scheduled according to the new plan for the end-date.

Read More


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Apprenticeships (End point)

The recommendation from the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (IfATE) is to continue with end-point assessments (EPAs) as planned. Where this is not possible, they should consider extending the apprenticeship and reschedule the EPA keeping in line with the notion that the apprentice takes the EPA while they are employed. This means that where apprentices are on fixed-term contracts the employment contracts should be extended accordingly.

The training provider and end-point assessment organisation will be able to tell about the potential new arrangements they have for EPAs. Remote assessment or simulation instead of face-to-face assessment can be valid options in some cases although observations may prove difficult to fulfil.

Read More


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Press Enquiries

Please direct all press inquires related to the North East and Cumbria to Beth Farhat and Craig Dawson

Beth Farhat

TUC Northern, Regional Secretary

Craig Dawson

TUC Northern, Policy and Campaigns Officer

Direct Line: 0191 2275 557
Mobile: 07712 675118


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