Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing, has today (Tuesday 27 July) called for the government to urgently rethink its decision not to exempt the automotive and steel sectors from self-isolation rules.
In light of the severe production problems of recent weeks it was largely expected that the sectors would be embraced by the guidance, but they were not included in the new list of critical workers.
The union has been lobbying the government to exempt major manufacturing from the requirement for workers who continuously test negative to isolate if ‘pinged’ by the test and trace app, fearing that UK work will be moved overseas and that continuous process manufacturing such as steel will be seriously damaged.
Steve Turner met with BEIS ministers last week to press the case that the enforced isolation of manufacturing workers who test negatively everyday caused a significant loss of production and costly `hassles and headaches’ as shifts and schedules right across industry had to be reworked. He called for all those on production lines or working in continuous processes like steel to be redefined as ‘critical workers’.
With the summer shutdown now in place across much of the sector, Unite says that there is an opportunity for the government to rethink its list, but it must do so urgently as many plants operate 24/7 every day of the year, while others will re-open well before the planned removal of the requirement for those double jabbed and contacted by the app to isolate on 16 August. If not, the union fears the problem will grow and the sector will be plunged straight back into the same workforce problems.
“It has been frustrating and baffling in equal measure for manufacturers and our members. We have worked extremely hard and companies have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds across the sector, to ensure our plants are Covid-safe,” commented Turner.
“Manufacturing simply cannot operate with thousands of workers, sometimes whole shifts, stuck at home as has been the case of late. The costs are horrific to workers and industry alike and there are real concerns that work will move overseas or even that steel furnaces could be damaged, which would be devastating for this industry. We simply cannot have a situation, for example, where a blast furnace is shut down because workers are stuck at home, testing negatively daily, but forced to self-isolate.
“UK workers must not lose out because the government’s reopening of the economy is incoherent.
“So I repeat the calls I made to the minister when we met last week: listen to us when we warn that the damage to UK PLC by the failure to exempt critical workers will be real and significant.
“A whole load of fresh hassles and headaches for this sector can be avoided in the coming weeks if the government redefines these workers as critical.
“It must also ramp up daily testing, reverse its decision to end the free provision of lateral flow tests at the end of this month and allow those who actually test positive to be placed on furlough and not the £96 per week statutory sick pay so many are forced to accept.
“Additionally, it must reinstate mask wearing on public transport and in confined public spaces and act now to restore public confidence in an app millions are currently deleting or disabling from their phones.”
By Shaun Noble