'We're skating on very thin ice'

Unite warns over government easing of UK-wide lockdown

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As the government has signaled that it could very soon be gradually lifting the UK-wide lockdown amid the coronavirus epidemic, Unite has warned that above all safety must come first in any discussions of people returning to work.

Prime minister Boris Johnson today (May 6) said that he would give a statement on Sunday about potentially easing the lockdown from Monday (May 11). While speculation is running high on what a return to normality may look like, chancellor Rishi Sunak also warned this week that the government would seek to wind down its Jobs Retention Scheme from July.

Speaking to Sky News today (May 6) Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner highlighted that while many millions of workers have continued to work throughout the pandemic and lockdown, for those now not in work, their return must place safe workplaces as a top priority.

“Safe workplaces are paramount to us,” he said. “We need to make sure that workplaces are safe and there are a number of issues around that that have been under discussion with the government for some time.”

But beyond safe workplaces, Turner added that the public must be confident in any easing of the lockdown.

“There are a number of issues that…need to be addressed, about people’s fears and anxieties – genuine fears and anxieties – about a return to whatever normality looks like at the end of this,” he said. “And of course their families and wider communities also [must be] taken on a journey to return back to normal. And that’s a public information discussion that needs to take place on a much broader level.”

Turner’s intervention comes as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also highlighted the importance of safe workplaces in a message to members.

“Just as they have throughout this crisis, three principles will guide us through these talks and govern the judgements your officials make on your behalf: your safety; your income; and your job security,” he said.

“We recognise that the task before the government’s is an enormous one and that the right calls have to be made to avoid further death and ill health and to avert a deep recession,” he added. “We are therefore committed to contributing fully to the back to work discussions, ensuring that ministers and employers hear your voice at the table.”

Turner also highlighted on Sky News today that the lockdown can only safely be undone once consumer and business confidence picks up to avert an even more devastating economic hit.  

“[We need to] ensure that the products we are producing, the work we’re doing – that there is a demand for it,” he said. “And that’s about consumer confidence at the end of all this — to make sure we have a successful economy and that we avoid a very deep and damaging recession, which will have its own problems.”

Calling for the government to extend the Jobs Retention Scheme for as long as necessary, Turner added, “We’re skating on very thin ice here, and we’re in danger of breaking through that ice. And the consequences will be very, very damaging for the long-term of the economy as well as millions of people’s jobs, rising unemployment and everything that stems from that.”

You can watch the full interview with Steve Turner in the video below:

By Hajera Blagg

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