COVID-19 UPDATE: 26th March 2020

The update below was sent out as an email to all members on Thursday 26th March 2020, from Branch Secretary Steve North

Dear UNISON Member,

We continue to do our best to support you to face this pandemic – whether you are in a workplace, working from home or absent through self-isolation, caring responsibilities or illness.

For that group of our members who are identified as key workers and who are taking risks to get to your place of work, my first comment is to say thank you! My next comment is to say that we know many of you are still working in situations that are riskier than they should be. We are making steady improvements with employers, but we are challenging where we need to and we are doing everything we can to push for the PPE and the testing you need. This unfortunately is against a backdrop of a complete lack of both. Even NHS staff don’t always have access to it! All we can say to members who do not have the correct PPE is that, if you don’t feel you have it, we are happy to provide advice – as there are a lot of myths  out there. If after speaking to us, you still don’t feel you have it, then we will support you to remove yourselves from dangerous situations. You have the right to do so under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, but as with everything, such steps are best taken after discussion with your colleagues and consultation with your union. Unity is always strength.

Even if you are a key worker, who cannot work from home and you sit in one of the “at risk” categories, you should not be in a workplace. If you are reading this and you are still being expected to go to work, please tell your rep or come to us directly – ideally after speaking with your colleagues to see if there are others affected. If you receive a letter from Government, telling you not to go to work, then you must follow that. Under section 64 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, if you receive one of those letters and cannot work from home, you should be classed as “medically suspended|” and be on full pay for up to 26 weeks. If you receive one of those letters and are told differently by your employer, then come to us immediately.

As we increasingly see many members working from home, we are stepping up our focus on safe home working practices and expecting employers to put measures in place to protect you. We have seen some good corporate guidance from a number of employers, but not all. Even where there is good advice, if it is not being adhered to by managers on the ground, we need to challenge.

We are proud that we have been able to protect the wages and terms and conditions of the vast majority of our members, but we know that there is more still to do. On Monday we reported a massive victory in social care, after we were told – in writing – by the Council, that no care worker in Salford who cannot work as a result of Government guidance should be out of pocket. We now know that this is not what our members are being told by their employers and we are working as hard and as fast as we can to sort this out. In the meantime, our message to any care worker who is being left out of pocket as a result of following Government guidance is – keep a record of any losses – because as soon as we sort this out, we will be expecting you to be compensated.

One silver lining to this very dark cloud is that we are seeing a greater recognition of the value of public servants – as I’m writing this, my neighbours are clapping and banging pans in appreciation of those who are holding society together. People are ready to listen to what we have to say. The best way any group of workers can have a strong voice is to come together elect a representative and engage with us through that representative on a frequent basis. We never tire of talking to reps and we always get a better outcome for members when somebody doing the job in question is in the discussion. So if your team doesn’t have a rep, think about electing one. You won’t regret it.

Take care and stay safe,