Fight for full sick pay and trade union control of workplace safety

Tories threaten to remove access to free Covid testing

Tories threaten to remove access to free Covid testing   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Katrine Williams, Cardiff East Socialist Party

Numbers of Covid cases and hospital admissions are at a similar level to February last year. There are still over 200 deaths per day. But, for political reasons, the Tories are using a drop from the record-high Covid case rates to abandon the last of the Covid protections.

The government plans to stop publishing the number of deaths, an inconvenient reminder of their reckless plans. Scrapping self-isolation requirements will cause chaos and increase risks in workplaces and on our health and care services – forcing workers to return to the workplace while they are still unwell and infectious, unable to afford to lose pay.

It is necessary for the trade union movement to resist this latest attack. Employers still have a responsibility to protect our health, safety and welfare. Where trade unions have won full pay for self-isolation and a relaxation of the sickness absence policies for Covid-19 there’s been a reduction in overall sickness absence. Workers unwell with cold and flu-like symptoms have stayed away from work to get a Covid test.

‘Presenteeism’, where workers attend work when sick, means bugs spreading around workplaces like wildfire. Many come in, worried about harsh sickness absence policies and dismissal. Bringing Covid-19 into normal sickness absence policies puts workers even more at risk.

Since December, the government has been reimbursing employers for the statutory sick pay they have paid to workers who need to self-isolate. But not all workers, especially those on low pay or in bogus self-employment, qualify for the paltry £96.35 per week. The pandemic has shown the need for full-pay for all workers during sickness absence, paid for by the employers; this is what the unions should be fighting for.

The brunt of Covid legislation has taken aim at individuals, not employers. Workers breaching lockdown restrictions face fines up to £10,000, the same applies to employers. With the end of self-isolation rules, the government wants to ditch this limited measure which could be used to pressure bosses to keep workplaces safe.

But the most effective fights for Covid safety have been organised by workers, health workers’ fights for PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, and the teachers refusal to work in unsafe schools in January 2021. The battle continues for workplace ventilation and other measures to keep us safe at work.

Our trade union movement must campaign and mobilise collectively to ensure that workers are not put into danger. We should fight for:

  • Supportive sickness absence policies and full pay for workers when sick to keep all viruses out of the workplace
  • Proper ventilation of workplaces and public spaces, subject to trade union-agreed ventilation standards
  • No forced return to the workplace. Return only when safe, with agreement from trade unions
  • Maintain access to free Covid testing for all

Government hypocrisy

Just weeks ago the government was insisting that tens of thousands of NHS staff, including outsourced workers, should be sacked on 1 April if they had not had the first two doses of the Covid vaccine.

Now they are saying they may scrap all Covid restrictions in late February, a month earlier than planned, including the legal duty to self-isolate for people who test positive for Covid!

This underlines the utter hypocrisy of the government. No wonder many people have lost trust in government advice on Covid. Not only do large parts of the government not follow their own rules, but they are in total confusion.

NHS worker