Protecting workers’ safety in the coronavirus pandemic
Keeping the economy running must be balanced with workers’ welfare and wider public health objectives.
Keeping the UK's economy moving during this exceptional time is essential.
We know from our member unions that many good employers are working with their unions to agree safe working practices – making changes to their usual ways of working, developing appropriate risk assessments, and communicating clearly with staff. Effective, pragmatic working between government, employers and unions enables us to share expertise and experience and to design solutions that can work.
But we are also hearing of too many employers across a range of sectors that are not making the practical changes needed to keep work as safe as possible for their staff. This includes unsafe working practices in services and sectors including retail, logistics, energy, waste management and parts of the public sector (including schools).
Keeping the economy running must be balanced with workers' welfare and wider public health objectives. The evidence we have is that this balance is not currently being achieved, with far too many people facing unnecessary risk. It remains unclear to many of our members why the social distancing and public health measures they are being asked to take at home and in the community are no longer always required nor enforced when they enter the workplace.
We therefore call on the government to provide further direction to employers on what they need to do to ensure safe working, and to set out the enforcement action that they will take against those that refuse.
The TUC has five key asks:
- Strengthen government guidance on the safety measures all employers must give consideration to now.
- Regulate to require employers to undertake proper risk assessments in line with guidance and in consultation with union reps, accompanied by meaningful enforcement action and sanctions for those employers that are unwilling to comply.
- Establish a tripartite network, involving employers, unions and the HSE, with the power to instruct employers that refuse to take reasonably practicable safety measures to cease work.
- Ensure protection from detriment for workers with genuine concern of being exposed to COVID-19 risk.
- Urgent action on the provision of PPE – particularly to those workers who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus, such as health and social care professionals – followed by a wider roll out across all sectors of the economy.