Government and management attacks and incompetence are the main cause of the spread, photo London Socialist Party

Government and management attacks and incompetence are the main cause of the spread, photo London Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Katrine Williams, PCS trade union rep

The Tories are setting up another colossal experiment which could put wave three of the pandemic into super-exponential growth. Placing all the blame on us.

The ‘learning to live with Covid’ mantra just means the Tories are happy to accept more people will die and do nothing about it. This same phrase was repeated by the Welsh Labour Government health minister. The trade union movement must bring pressure on the devolved politicians to not just follow in Johnson’s reckless footsteps.

Leaving the virus spread unchecked means it is more likely to mutate and become resistant to the vaccine. This is on top of the fact that a significant proportion of people are not fully vaccinated. Even those who have had both jabs can still contract Covid, spread the virus, and become ill.

Any increase in hospital admissions will put impossible pressure on exhausted NHS workers. The failing track-and-trace service must be brought into the public sector. We need to stop the Tories’ plans to reduce the need to self-isolate which is the only effective way to break transmission. They are placing too much confidence in the rapid lateral flow tests that US regulators have recommended be thrown in the bin because of the danger of spurious performance claims.

One in five of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 have been affected by long Covid. In many cases this has a severe impact on people’s ability to do day-to-day activities.

While the Tories are rushing to dump all the safety measures, employers still have a legal duty to protect workers from harm. They must risk assess the workplace and trade unions must ensure that employers take into account that the risks associated with Covid-19 are still severe, with life-threatening or long-term debilitating consequences from contracting the virus.

Trade union demands

Trade unions must make demands on employers to protect workers and the public by:

  • No forced return to the workplace. Any return and on what basis only in agreement with the union
  • Full safety measures to protect all members at home and in the workplace, including supportive measures on mental health and stress
  • Full pay for all workers who need to self-isolate
  • Support transport and retail unions’ demands for face coverings and social distancing to remain on public transport and in shops

Where work does need to be done in the workplace unions must demand:

  • Full risk assessment done with the union safety reps
  • Keep all safety measures in place to stop onward transmission of Covid in the workplace
  • Minimise staffing levels to only levels to deliver essential work that cannot be done from home.
  • Additional cleaning of all touchpoint surfaces regularly through the day
  • Ensure all indoor spaces are well ventilated with fresh air throughout the day
  • Flexibility for workers to travel when it is quietest
  • Individual risk assessments for workers who are even more at risk with underlying health conditions, clinically extremely vulnerable workers and black workers. And for those not yet vaccinated.
  • No use of sickness absence procedures to penalise those self-isolating
  • No use of unreliable quick lateral flow tests to reduce self-isolation time
  • Full support and reasonable adjustments for workers suffering from long Covid

Unions must mobilise

Trade unions must mobilise our members to prevent any attempts to remove safety measures in workplaces. Alongside using the health and safety legislation on serious and imminent danger (Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Act), where necessary

It is also clear that the fight for safety must address the impact of austerity, which has been a major contributing factor to the high Covid-19 death rate that has swept through working-class communities.

The fight for safety needs to include wider demands for job security, decent pay, reversal of cuts to our services, affordable good quality housing and a shorter working week, with no loss of pay. As well as resisting any attempts by the Tories to make us pay for the pandemic.

Workplace and trade union