Hello everyone. We hope you and yours are all keeping safe and well. We continue to live through concerning times as the rate in Wirral rises still. Since our last email, the rate locally has risen from 696 to 915 per 100,000 people.
The rise in infection rates across the country is undoubtedly concerning for many of us, we know that the new variant means that transmission rates are rising more rapidly, with scientists estimating that the new strain is 50- 70% more virulent. It is against this backdrop that the new lockdown has been implemented. Yet, with infection rates continuing to grow and pressure on the NHS increasing significantly, the government has sought to point the finger at ordinary people, by consistently emphasising in recent days in the media, the importance of following the rules thereby diverting attention away from the fact that this lockdown is significantly weaker than restrictive measures we saw in Spring 2020 when infection rates and hospital admissions were lower.
Following the rules is of course important, as is adhering to the principles of hands, face , space, but we cannot ignore that despite a more virulent virus this time, around nurseries, places of worship, estate agents etc remain open. To effectively combat Covid-19 we need a more robust set of measures in place with full and adequate financial support to protect families, communities and businesses. Given that the government consistently seems to resist the scientific evidence, we cannot help but wonder if it is the government’s own ideology that is preventing it from implementing such supportive measures. We will wait to see if the government make further announcements of support this week but in the meantime we implore them to act swiftly to support working people- our lives and livelihoods are not worth less now than they were at the start of this pandemic.
Clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable workers
After England entered a third national lockdown, the NJC employers wrote to all local authorities, reminding them that NJC guidance jointly agreed with the trade unions still applied. This followed a request from the trade unions to ensure maximum protection for workers who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) or clinically vulnerable (CV).
They made clear that joint circulars of 17 March and 23 March 2020 are particularly important. These circulars state that:
- Vulnerable employees should work from home if they can.
- If they cannot, then they could be redeployed to an alternative post that can be done from home.
- If they cannot work from home, they should be allowed to remain at home and must receive their normal full pay.
Whilst we acknowledge that government may have weakened its position of late around the clinically vulnerable, we welcome that the Local Government Association, who represent councils and other NJC employers have taken a position that puts the health and wellbeing of the clinically vulnerable (and indeed those who live with people who are shielding) first. We know some employers have taken this approach and we have raised it with the Council. If you fall within the clinically vulnerable category, which includes people who are over 60, pregnant or with underlying health conditions, and you feel you are being asked to work in a manner that may compromise your safety, please do get in touch.
Schools Meeting and Joint letter issued to Head Teachers
As we announced in our email last week, Wirral Unison and Wirral NEU (representing teachers) are holding a joint meeting for all our members who work in schools about the latest developments in ensuring that our members in schools are all operating in a safe environment. The meeting will take place tomorrow (Wednesday) 13 January at 5:30pm. To register for this meeting please follow this link Schools Meeting
UNISON and NEU have jointly written directly to all Head Teachers, reminding the employers of their legal responsibilities around Health and Safety. The full letter will appear on our the national website, but for ease, the main points are as follows:
We only summarise the relevant legal provisions below. The key point is that all these legal duties must now be viewed in circumstances where Covid-19 is much more transmissible than it was before owing to the new strain.
- Schools owe duties under s 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their employees. This includes a duty to provide work systems and work environments which are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health. Schools owe similar duties to others, who are not in their employment, under s.3 of the Act.
- Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety affected by the conduct of the employer’s undertaking. The risk assessment must be reviewed whenever there is a “significant change in the matters to which it relates”. The new strain of Covid-19 triggers this duty.
- Employers must establish appropriate procedures which enable employees to leave or stop work if they are exposed to serious, imminent and unavoidable dangers.
- Measures for controlling risks to health and safety must be adopted in accordance with a hierarchy of measures set out in the Schedule 1 to the 1999 Regulations. The primary duty is “avoiding risks”, followed by “evaluating risks which cannot be avoided” and then “combating the risks at source”. All these duties point towards avoiding face-to-face teaching and teaching on-line given the high risk of transmission posed by the new strain.
- While there is a duty to provide suitable PPE to those who are exposed to risks to health and safety, this is only intended as a last resort, where a “risk has not adequately been controlled by other means”.
- Schools owe duties to assess risks and to protect employees against exposure to biological agents, such as the new strain of Covid-19, under the COSSH Regulations 2002.
- Employers must inform and consult with safety representatives under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977 (and the linked regulations where no union is recognised) on all matters to do with health and safety. This should include consultation on the appropriate steps to take in light of the risks posed by the new strain of Covid-19.
- Finally, under sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are protected from detriment or dismissal where there exist circumstances of danger which they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent, and they leave or propose to leave, or otherwise refuse to return to their place of work. There are also protections under these provisions for those who take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others in circumstances which the employee reasonably believes amounts to a serious and imminent danger., These rights remain very relevant to those engaged in face-to-face work in schools, especially in light of the new strain of Covid-19. Employees must not be subjected to any disadvantage, such as deductions from pay, where they exercise these rights.
We hope that that this makes our position clear and corrects the impression given by the e-mail from the DfE.
We urge any members who are concerned about their safety in school to contact our Schools Officer, Steve Bennett via one of the mobile numbers below.
Care Workers and Self Isolation
As you will know Wirral Unison has been campaigning throughout this pandemic for better pay and conditions for Care Workers. One of the improvements achieved, following Unison pressure, has been the funding of full sick pay (your normal wage) if self-isolating due to Covid-19.
It is vital over the winter months that care workers continue to receive their normal wages when self-isolating. This protects care users by ensuring workers are incentivised to stay at home when necessary, and means no care worker is financially penalised for doing the right thing by adhering to Government guidelines. Many Care Workers have benefited but not all, as some providers have been reticent to pay it. The Government has now written to all social care providers which makes clear that care workers should receive their normal wages when they are required to self-isolate.
Of course Unison believes this should be extended to cover all sick pay; the same principles apply and we will continue to campaign for this. However if you are self-isolating and do not receive full sick pay please do get in touch.
That’s all for today everyone. As always, please do pass our updates on to colleagues and encourage them to join Unison if they haven’t already. Here’s the link to join up! JOIN UNISON
We’ll be back in touch later in the week with further updates.
Your Wirral Unison Team
Central email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 07899713498 or 07899715085