As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to claim lives and put an ever-growing number of people in hospital, further stretching resources for an NHS already at breaking point, Unite presses on fighting for its members whose health and livelihoods are now threatened.
Today (March 23), Unite re-iterated its call for the 5m self-employed and insecure workers left out by the government’s employment retention scheme – which is to cover 80 per cent of employees’ wages – be likewise supported urgently. You can read our full story here.
Further in our latest coronavirus news round-up, Unite on Monday (March 23) highlighted how social care workers are being left to fend for themselves, risking their health and safety.
‘Fearful of what may happen’
Unite, which represents thousands of members in social care, is warning that the sector is at breaking point and workers do not even have basic personal protective equipment (PPE).
Social care workers, many of whom are employed on low wages by private sector companies and who look after some of the frailest and most vulnerable in society, are reporting that employers are unable to supply basic PPE such as gloves, aprons, masks and hand sanitizer.
The sector is highly fragmented with 1,200 different organisations and companies providing home care assistance in England alone.
A Unite member who wished to remain anonymous spoke for the sector when he said, “I have worked in social care for 30 years and like many of my colleagues we are fearful of what may happen in the coming days, weeks and months.
“The crisis created by the coronavirus has highlighted more than ever the need for a national care service making social care universally available to all,” he added.
“Many social care workers will be under enormous pressure to come on shift and do extra hours. Many will have to make the difficult choice between feeding their families or self-isolating with no pay and the £94.00 Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
“The social care sector was already at breaking point only state intervention at an unprecedented scale can provide the support for the vulnerable in our society at this time of national crisis.”
The government on Sunday (March 22) promised that the social care sector would have adequate PPE in a week but that was seen as too little too late.
Social care workers, operating in residential centres and in people’s homes are becoming increasingly concerned that the lack of adequate PPE is placing the health of their clients and themselves at risk.
Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said, “The social care sector is the fourth emergency service and it is crucial in helping the most vulnerable in society survive the coronavirus crisis.
“With workers reporting they are already at breaking point the government has to intervene to ensure that there is joined up thinking and those who need care continue to receive it safely.
“Given the critical role social care workers are playing it is absolutely essential that they are fully protected,” he added.
“Public Health England and the government need to intervene immediately to make sure, that essential PPE is supplied to the workers who must have it to do their jobs safely and protect the vulnerable who rely on their services.”
End NHS car parking charges now call
Unite has also on Monday (March 23) issued a call for all hospital car parking charges for NHS staff in England to be immediately abolished this week.
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said that NHS trusts in England were charging employees an estimated £50-to-£200 a month for the privilege of parking at their place of work.
Unite contacted shadow Labour health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth on Monday (March 23) afternoon asking him to raise the issue of abolition of the parking charges for NHS staff for the duration of the coronavirus emergency with his Conservative counterpart Matthew Hancock.
Unite said such a move, ideally this week, would remove the additional worry for NHS staff concerned about travelling on restricted public transport networks.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “It is a long-standing Unite policy that NHS staff should not be charged to park their cars for coming to work to look after the sick, injured and vulnerable.
“This is even more important and relevant, given that NHS staff are already risking their lives round the clock to save those suffering from COVID-19,” he added.
“We have been in touch with Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth this afternoon asking him to raise this with his counterpart Matthew Hancock as a matter of urgency.
“NHS staff don’t need the additional worry of parking, especially when there are restrictions on public transport and it is safer in these times to drive to work than risk infection on trains and buses.
“Many NHS staff are not well-paid and the fact that NHS trusts in England are charging them £50-£200-a-month to park in normal times is wrong – in this exceptional period of national emergency, it is doubly so.”
Unite made a similar demand for NHS workers in Scotland to have parking charges suspended.
Speaking on the situation in Scotland, Unite regional industrial officer James O’Connell, said, “It’s vital that all NHS Scotland workers are given free parking during these difficult days.
“It’s being reported to Unite that free parking is still not happening with private parking firms based at hospitals continuing to charge, while local authorities are also not doing enough to assist through temporary street permits. We are also requesting that all permit fees which many NHS staff are often faced with paying are reimbursed to those workers who are providing essential and life-saving services.”
Also in Scotland, Unite has today (March 23) demanded that Glasgow Life, a charity delivering a range of services related to arts, sports, music, libraries and community development, limit the number of workers required to attend work in line with government advice.
On Sunday (March 22) Glasgow Life announced that they were moving from meaningful to essential work but have declined to discuss or define what is an ‘essential task’, and still appear to be instructing workers to attend work.
Unite has been attempting to engage Glasgow Life in discussions as to why certain members of the workforce are still being instructed to attend work – and is alarmed that this will result in workers being unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19 as confirmed cases in Scotland increase.
“The government’s advice is clear that we should avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible, work from home where possible and avoid gatherings in public spaces,” Unite regional industrial officer Wendy Dunsmore said.
“However, Glasgow Life continue to give mixed advice, potentially dangerous advice, as many workers who we believe should not be attending work continue to be given instruction to do so. We repeat our call for Glasgow Life to engage with Unite in order to ensure clarity is immediately brought to this situation before anyone is unnecessarily put at risk.”
Guaranteed sick pay win
Meanwhile, as Unite continues to make demands of the government and employers to support all workers through an unprecedented crisis spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Unite is day-in and day-out making a difference in workplaces across the UK.
The union announced on Monday (March 23) that waste collection workers for Bexley London Borough Council have won guaranteed sick pay from their employer Serco after a series of protests and strike action.
Last week, 150 workers employed by Serco, which provides refuse services to Bexley Council, took strike action in a dispute over the absence of proper sick pay, low pay and management bullying.
Rock solid strike action forced Serco and Bexley Council to concede full sick pay for those isolating after potentially being exposed to the coronavirus. Unite has now agreed to postpone further action in the interests of the residents of Bexley during this unprecedented period but the issues of low pay and longer term guarantees on sick pay remain unresolved.
Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said, “Bexley refuse workers do an incredibly important job keeping the borough clean but they had no sick pay provision whilst handling rubbish during the current Coronovirus outbreak.
“By standing firm and taking rock solid action the workforce, backed by Unite, secured sick pay guarantees. In the interests of Bexley’s residents the workers have returned to work and postponed further action but the issue of low pay remains unresolved,” she added.
“The workers’ solidarity alongside the backing of Britain and Ireland’s biggest union shows just how important it is to have the backing of Unite during these unprecedented and uncertain times.”
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