This statement was circulated to all members by email on the afternoon of Friday 20th March 2020:
Dear UNISON Member,
As you will hopefully appreciate, it’s very difficult to communicate updates on this situation because things are changing so rapidly.
However, we wanted to make sure something was sent out before close of play today on the most urgent issues members are facing.
Firstly we would encourage all members to check the latest information being shared by their employers. We know for example that the Council’s information on MyZone is being updated this afternoon.
Support for time off with children
Our view is that any parent or registered carer who cannot work from home, and who is not entitled to continuing childcare as a key worker and therefore has to be at home with their children, should still be entitled to full pay for the duration of any school/nursery closure and should not be required to use annual leave to facilitate this. We are aware of a number of councils who have agreed to this position. Unfortunately Salford City Council has not fully adopted this approach. They have recognised that it may be necessary to do so as matters develop, but are not giving the absolute commitment at this stage. We hope to see further developments imminently.
At Risk Groups
It is our firm view that staff who fall into one of the “at risk” areas should not be in the workplace. We support efforts to assist these staff to work from home if they can do, but we believe employers need to go further and request that such staff do not come into work, regardless of their role, and that they receive full pay during this time. Most councils seem to have confirmed this position. We have also been informed that For Housing have taken this approach, and other local employers will no doubt have done the same. Unfortunately, the current guidance from Salford City Council does not yet go this far. We are told that there may be progress on this matter over the weekend. If not, we will be revisiting this as a matter or urgency on Monday. In the meantime, members should be aware of their legal rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which allows you to take action to keep yourself safe. You can find more about it at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/18/section/44.
The “at risk” categories are currently:
- pregnant women
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (broadly anyone instructed to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)
- People who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
- People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
- People with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
- People with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)
By now, it should have been confirmed to you by your employer, whether you are a key worker – and therefore eligible for additional childcare. If that is not the case and you desperately need some information on this – or you have any other concerns in this area – please speak to your manager or HR team in the first instance. Government advice is that, where at all possible staff should be working from home, and the emphasis is on maintaining critical services. If you have concerns that this balance is not being struck appropriately within your workplace and your manager disagrees, then we would request you contact your local steward before seeking branch officer support if necessary.
Payment for Sickness or Self-Isolation
If you are on NJC or Agenda for Change terms and conditions, you should have received confirmation from your employer that if you are either off sick with Coronavirus, or required to self-isolate, you will receive full-pay for the duration and will not trigger sickness management stages. Salix Homes have confirmed to us that any Coronavirus-related sickness will be disaggregated from future absences, meaning there will be no impact on future sick pay. We welcome this development and are encouraging other employers to follow suit.
If you are not on NJC or Agenda for Change terms and conditions, your entitlement will determined by your employer’s local position. We are doing as much as we can to strengthen the offer to staff. We are pushing particularly hard for members who would only receive SSP if they are off. For social care staff in this situation – where there is a critical need for staff who are ill to be able to stay off work without fear of destitution – this has been raised at the highest levels within the City Council and NHS and we are expecting some form of solution to be found imminently.
Most of our members work in areas that are more stretched than ever, but we are conscious that the possibility of work shortages is a real fear for some of you. We are doing all we can to protect your pay and jobs throughout this period, both by engaging with employers (challenging them where necessary) and by adding our voice to the need for Government to do more to protect workers.
We are doing our best to maintain union organisation throughout this period and have today held three successful stewards meetings over Zoom. When it comes to service delivery across the range of the employers and teams we cover, one size does not fit all. Therefore, we continue to encourage our local reps to engage with members and to raise concerns or issues with managers, in the hope that these can be resolved locally. We would equally expect managers to proactively engage with our reps. If however, there are issues that need to be escalated, our reps know that they can contact branch officers whenever they need to. If you do not have a rep in your workplace, we would strongly advise electing one – or at least electing a point of contact to liaise directly with branch officers at this difficult time.
We hope to see some positive developments on outstanding issues in the next few days. Please, rest assured that if matters need to be escalated to protect our members, this will happen.
Finally, our Branch Office is now physically closed, in order to protect the wellbeing of our staff. However, our phone lines are operational, so you can call us on 0161 794 7425. Owing to the exceptional nature of these circumstances and the understandable levels of anxiety amongst our members, we have decided to remain contactable throughout the weekend for any urgent matters that cannot wait until Monday.
Thank you for the tremendous work you all do to keep our city going. But also remember that you have a right and a responsibility to put your health first.
Branch Secretary, Salford City UNISON