'Stand behind workers'

Covid-19: Unite responds to Boris Johnson’s announcement of UK-wide lockdown

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Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (March 23) night far stricter measures that have effectively placed the UK on a ‘lockdown’ similar to other countries such as in Italy and France.


From last midnight, only shops selling essential items are allowed to be open, including supermarkets and other food shops, health shops, pharmacies including nondispensing pharmacies, petrol stations, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, laundrettes and dry cleaners, bicycle shops, garages, car rentals, pet shops, corner shops, newsagents, post offices, and banks.


In a dramatic address on Monday, Johnson said people should only go out to get essentials like food and medicine — and this too as infrequently as possible. People are still permitted to go to work, but only if it is absolutely essential and cannot be done from home. The public has been told they may only exercise once a day, and only with members of their immediate household. The police will have powers to enforce the new measures, and any gatherings of more than two people who are not from the same household can be dispersed.


The government was praised for bringing in tougher measures but also criticised for lack of clarity.


Unite expressed disappointment that the government has not as yet relieved the fears of the millions of self-employed and insecure workers who will not benefit from new financial support measures so far only aimed at employees.


Responding to the announcement that the UK is going into `lockdown’ in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the general secretary of Unite the union, Len McCluskey has said that the prime minister’s statement “illustrates the gravity of the situation”.


“This is a national health emergency and every resource, business and community in the country must be laser-focused, pulling together to do what needs to be done to protect public health,” he said.


“The message to employers is clear: be responsible, help workers be part and parcel of the essential efforts to support the nation. Keep workers and their families safe. That means turn to the government’s job retention scheme to pay wages to keep households afloat. Please, do not sack workers – use the mechanisms that we have persuaded this government to bring in to avert mass hardship.


“But I also say to the government, you are very aware that there are very many millions of people in this country with insecure employment and wages. They need your urgent assistance. They desperately want to heed this clear public health message but they need to know that the awful false choice between health and hardship has been removed.


“I urge you now, prime minister, stand behind the UK’s workers. You promised that you would do whatever it takes. It takes you to now to keep to your word – bring forward the measures that every worker needs in order to keep the country safe. Do not let any worker be left behind.”

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