Portsmouth council 'recklessly putting workers and tenants at risk'

Portsmouth council accused of exposing tenants and workers to Covid-19

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Portsmouth council has been accused of needlessly exposing its council housing tenants and outsourced workers to potential exposure to Covid-19.

Unite has become increasingly alarmed that workers at Comserve, Portsmouth council’s outsourced building maintenance division, who are responsible for maintaining the local authorities housing stock are being forced to continue to undertake routine maintenance work in tenant’s homes.

By being forced to undertake routine maintenance work in occupied properties, tenants, workers and their families are at increased risk of being exposed to contracting and transmitting Covid-19. It will also result in higher rates of transmission in Portsmouth as a whole.

As the client, Unite believes that Liberal Democrat led Portsmouth council, could simply instruct Comserve not to undertake routine maintenance work, but it has chosen not to do so.

The demand to undertake routine maintenance in occupied homes is entirely contrary to the guidance that Unite has issued and is being widely followed by most council and reputable maintenance organisations. The guidance states that during the lockdown only emergency repairs and maintenance work in void, or empty, properties under strict social distancing rules should be undertaken.

Unite believes that Portsmouth council is applying different standards for its directly employed staff, who have strict instructions not to enter people’s homes compared to its outsourced staff who are being forced into exactly these scenarios.

Unite is also demanding that clear rules are put in place to allow workers to exercise their legal right to refuse to undertake work if they believe their health is at risk, for instance if tenants cannot or will not socially distance.

Unite has raised its concerns on behalf of its members at Conserve with both the management at the company and the council without success,

Unite is publicising the matter ahead of a meeting of a meeting between Portsmouth City Council and Comserve on Thursday 4 February where it is hoped that the authority will finally see reason and end the demand that routine maintenance is undertaken until it is safe to do so.

Unite regional officer Richard White said, “Portsmouth council and Comserve are recklessly putting the health of tenants, workers and their families at risk by forcing them to undertake routine maintenance work during the lockdown.

“Our members are entirely prepared to undertake emergency work and continue working on void properties, but insisting they work in people’s homes, when that work does not have to be undertaken is both foolhardy and dangerous,” he added.

“Portsmouth council is guilty of applying double standards, it has strict rules for its directly employed staff who must not enter people’s homes while at the same time insisting outsourced workers do exactly that.

“The council and its councillors need to come to their senses and place an immediate ban on routine maintenance work, until it is safe to do so.

“Unite is committed to working with the council and Comserve to ensure that both tenants and workers are kept safe during the pandemic,” White went on to say.

“If the council fails to act, Unite will be issuing strict instructions to our members to exercise their legal right not to put themselves in danger.”

While the majority of local authorities have introduced measures to ensure that only emergency work and essential maintenance is undertaken in occupied properties there have been problems in some areas. A ballot for industrial action in Dundee was only narrowly averted when the council stopped demanding that non-essential works was undertaken.

Clarion Housing one of the largest housing associations in London has also failed to protect workers by outlawing routine maintenance, despite pressure from Unite.

By Barckley Sumner

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