NUJ backs the TUC's concerns over end of shielding
Union’s Disabled Members’ Council calls the UK’s government's decision a sick April Fool’s joke.
While the government's letter says shielders should work from home where possible and continue to limit their exposure to coronavirus, the support for those who cannot work from home has been cut.
Employees will no longer be able to claim sick pay if they cannot work from home and many will be faced with the impossible decision of weighing up their health against their livelihood. Freelances and casual workers who lack employment rights are especially at risk where the financial support from the SEISS has been insufficient or non-existent.
The Disabled Members' Council called upon NUJ reps to work with employers to keep shielders safe and asked members experiencing difficulties with their employers to get in touch.
Ann Galpin, chair of the NUJ Disabled Members' Council and Co-Chair of the TUC Disabled Workers' Committee said:
"This seems like a cruel April Fool's joke. With very little notice, shielders have had a vital form of support snatched away from them. The end of shielding doesn't mean the end of risk from Covid-19. Being given two weeks' notice has not given employers sufficient time to carry out risk assessments or implement additional safety measures.
"We encourage members to get in touch with the union if they experience difficulties with employers refusing to provide support or a safe working environment."
She said sister unions had heard some good practice where employers were offering phased returns and access to psychological support through occupational health or employee assistance programmes. Natasha Hirst, NEC Disabled Members' rep said:
"Even in a Covid-19 secure workplace, employees are placed at risk travelling to and from work and we urge employers to continue supporting disabled journalists to stay safe and keep their job. Equally, not everyone is able to work from home and will now be in an incredibly stressful position, potentially worsening both physical and mental health.
"Disability equality is a collective issue that needs to be built into health and safety processes, as well as educating employers on the duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled workers."
Trade unions should seek to prevent unreasonable attempts to return shielders to the workplace before the end of restrictions which may vary in different countries of the UK and – regardless of existing UK Government advice.
Union reps should seek to negotiate:
- Workplace policies that make clear that shielding workers should not be asked to return to workplaces before they have received both doses of the vaccine.
- The use of furlough for shielding workers and those who live with people who are shielding.
- Risk assessments conducted on an individual basis to account for health conditions, which make relevant adaptions to work duties to reduce transmission risk.
- That Covid-19 safety measures remain in place regardless of workers' vaccination status, including social distancing and ventilation control.
- Advice from Welsh government
- Speaking to Scottish Parliament on 16 March, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, said people on the shielding list will be able to return to work from 26 April.