A group Unite electrician members have launched a fund to ensure that if any of them contract Covid-19 or are forced to self-isolate they will not be left financially destitute.
The workers are employed by electrical sub-contractor NG Bailey and are working on the new MENSA building at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermarston, Berkshire.
If the workers are required to self-isolate because of coming into contact with someone with Covid-19, they are only entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) – worth just £95 a week.
The workers are also in theory entitled to industry sick under the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement. However, this is not paid for the first two weeks of sickness, meaning by the time it is payable the isolation period has ended and the worker has returned to work.
The workers initially approached their employer to seek agreement that an additional payment could be made to allow them to afford to self-isolate but this was rejected.
Own collection system
In response the workers agreed to establish their own collection system. The workers collect £10 a week from those participating in the scheme and if a worker is required to self-isolate or develops Covid-19 they are paid £205, which together with the £95 SSP means they receive a total of £300 a week.
Between 100-120 workers are participating in the scheme and there are 8-10 workers involved in collecting the workers’ money. Most weeks the scheme collects around £1,100. The workers have also introduced an electronic card payment system to make collection easier.
In total 16 workers have required support from the scheme, 15 have been required to self-isolate and one developed Covid-19.
Last week, the scheme paid out £900 to workers self-isolating and a total of £6,785 has been paid out since the scheme began In November.
Unite has highlighted this story to coincide with Heart Unions week, which is the annual opportunity to remind workers and the general public why unions are vital in society.
“Our members deserve nothing but praise for establishing this scheme, where they are supporting and protecting each other,” commented Unite national officer for construction Ian Woodland.
“The excellent work by our members on the Aldermarston site, exposes construction employers and the government’s dirty secret: Employers and the government have failed to ensure that workers who are required to self-isolate or who are displaying symptoms can afford to not go to work to avoid spreading the virus.
“Workers are left with the stark choice of doing the right thing or paying the bills. No one can survive on £95 a week.
“This has inevitably led to the further spread of Covid-19 and ultimately increased fatalities from the virus.
“While this is a heart-warming story of workers taking collective action, it should shame construction employers and the government to act and ensure that all workers are better protected.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Unite contacted all employer sides on construction industrial agreements requesting that the qualifying period for industry sick pay was suspended in cases of Covid to ensure workers could self-isolate. This was rejected and Unite was informed that industry sick pay “was an economic consideration” and such matters could only be considered during pay negotiations.
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