We hope you are keeping well. We have a few updates today, the first few being Covid related; we hope you find them informative.
The vaccination program is now rolling out at pace with over 4million people having received their first jab. We welcome that the numbers are increasing and that the vaccine is to be offered now to those in the lower tiers of the priority list and to key workers, in Wirral, as elsewhere. We also are pleased that the government is utilising local public health services to administer the program. The money and time wasted, and health damaged by outsourcing the track and trace system to their ‘chums’ on big contracts has, we hope been a lesson learned; the public sector is a cheaper and more efficient way of delivering key services.
Many of our members, whose services in the Council are not operating such as libraries and leisure are volunteering to be redeployed onto the vaccine project. If you are considering this, you will remain employed by the authority, but work under the direction of the NHS. Your pay and hours etc will be protected. As in the first lockdown we knew our members would volunteer; and we are pleased that the Council agreed that redeployment would be voluntary, and not compulsory.
Wirral Unison welcomes that the vaccine is shortly to be rolled out to key workers, who continue to work in the community during this latest surge in the pandemic. However we firmly believe that being vaccinated must be a voluntary step; compliance with the vaccination programme should be achieved through persuasion not compulsion. Getting vaccinated must not be made a condition of employment or of access to public services. Trust and confidence in the vaccination system may be lacking in some parts of the community; this will be best addressed by a system designed and led by public health professionals, rather than politicians, who, perhaps, have lost a touch of respect and trust during this pandemic. Workers should be given paid time-off to get vaccinated, and have travel expenses covered if necessary.
We recognise that some people, and some of our members may have concerns about the vaccine, for example worries about side effects. Whilst we do not share those views they should be respected. We are also aware however that some misinformation may be shared about the vaccine. Figures have recently been shared indicating that upto to 70% of BAME community have indicated they are unlikely to get the vaccine. That appears in part at least to be due to stories playing on religious concerns, including that the vaccine might contain pork and is not halal. This is clearly misinformation: Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said “We need to be clear to our communities that there is no meat or meat products in the vaccine. There is no pork, there is no alcohol and it has been endorsed by religious leaders and religious councils.”
Whilst the Government have been clear in re-introducing shielding for the clinically extremely vulnerable, they have been less helpful to those who are clinically vulnerable. They have not for the first time changed the terminology; the clinically vulnerable are no longer described as high risk, but rather moderate risk. The level of risk hasn’t changed, just the label. They have also raised the age threshold back to 70, after earlier lowering it to 60. They also suggest no specific protective measures, other than “it’s very important to follow social distancing.”
Given the very high rates of transmission, and the increased virulence of the new variant Wirral Unison believes it is important to have an individual risk assessment, if you cannot easily work from home if you are in the vulnerable category. This individual risk assessment should address all possible measures that can be taken to ensure that you are not at risk. You should not have to work in an unsafe environment.
We know that many members will also be concerned if they live with someone who is shielding. If you are concerned about the risk you should request a risk assessment. Again the government make no specific provision with one specific exception that is that furlough is available for “caring for a vulnerable individual in their household”. Whilst furlough is not generally available in the public sector, this provision is suggestive that appropriate adjustments should be considered for anyone in this situation.
We know that many members who work in schools and are clinically vulnerable are being asked to come in. Here is a Model Letter that you can use; please also speak to Steve Bennett our Schools Officer.
If you have any concerns about any aspects of this area please do contact your Unison rep.
Testing For Schools Staff
UNISON supports mass testing in schools as an ‘additional’ measure to try and identify asymptomatic cases. However, due to the reported number of false negatives generated by the lateral flow test (some reports suggest that self testing can miss over 50% of positive cases) we are clear it should not be used as an alternative to self-isolation. Self isolation of whole bubbles should still take place until more assurance about the accuracy of this test can be provided. The Government has suggested that if you have close contact with someone who has tested positive but you have not had symptoms you can have daily tests for seven days as a alternative to self-isolation. You would continue to attend school unless you tested positive. The regulatory body (MHRA) has not given regulatory approval for this, but the government believes that is not necessary. We understand that the government is in further dialogue with the regulator. Unison have strongly objected to this approach, and Wirral Council has confirmed that any member of school staff identified as being in close contact with a positive case, must self-isolate for 10 days.
The test will be self-administered by pupils and staff however some roles will be needed to oversee, manage and clean the testing centres in schools. UNISON has been clear that this must be on a voluntary basis, with full training, clinical oversight, appropriate PPE and clear guarantees around any potential liabilities. Additional staff time must be fully paid at the appropriate rate. Many pupils in special schools and colleges will not be able to self-administer the lateral flow tests. UNISON believes that testing falls under the statutory guidance Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions. This says:
- Any member of school staff may be asked to provide support to pupils with medical conditions, including the administering of medicines, although they cannot be required to do so (our emphasis).
- School staff receive sufficient and suitable training and achieve the necessary level of competency before they take on responsibility to support children with medical conditions. Helping pupils to administer a lateral should flow test is voluntary. If your contract of employment does not explicitly state you must administer medical procedures. If your contract states that you have responsibility for administering medicines then you must receive full training and only take on the task once you are fully competent to do so.
If you are having issues with testing in your school please contact Steve Bennett.
Council – Unpaid Leave Ends
This year sees the end of compulsory unpaid leave, that has been in operation for the last eight years; therefore members will see their pay rise by about 1% on April. Wirral Unison has been pressing for the end of compulsory unpaid leave for the last couple of years, and we know many members will be glad to see the end of this. We are clear that this does not mean job cuts; our red line is no compulsory redundancies. We do recognise however that many members have welcomed the Christmas Shutdown which has accompanied unpaid leave (although not for all areas of the Council), and some have welcomed the extra holidays (albeit unpaid).
Wirral Unison can confirm that we have been leading negotiations with the Council to maintain a Christmas Shutdown. We can confirm that we have agreed in principal with the Council that for the majority of the Council Christmas Shutdown will continue; additionally we have also agreed (in principal) a ‘Holiday Purchase Scheme’ to enable you to ‘buy’ additional days leave. This will mean in effect a voluntary unpaid leave scheme. We will finalise the details shortly and then consult with members electronically.
Save Williamson Art Gallery
The Williamson Art Gallery first opened in 1928 and boasts a collection of 6000 art works in various mediums and with over 42,000 visitors last year, the art gallery continues to be a valuable and much loved community asset in the heart of the borough. And yet, Wirral Council propose closing the gallery in order to achieve a saving of £327,500, this is the council’s estimated saving if the gallery were to be temporarily closed for 1 year. Wirral Unison opposes any such closure be it temporary or otherwise. We have experienced before the mothballing, partial or temporary closure of community assets only to discover that there is no intention to re-open, this cannot be allowed to happen to the Williamson Art Gallery.
Rather than looking to save money in the short term, we believe that Wirral Council should be looking at how the assets it has including the Williamson Art Gallery can be used in imaginative ways to create more income. In the months and years to come, residents of Wirral will once again need beautiful spaces to get married, hold parties and conferences and the Williamson art gallery is well placed to capitalise on this need.
We have heard so much over the past year about the terrible impact that loneliness can have. The Williamson Art Gallery is so much more than its beautiful art, it is a place where people from all walks of life can socialise with others and prevent the risk of social isolation. When we emerge from the current lockdown restrictions, spaces such as the Williamson Art Gallery will be more important than ever and proposals for its closure must be challenged. Wirral Unison are working with community groups to campaign to keep the Williamson Art Gallery open, we will of course keep members updated on the progress of the campaign.
The Williamson Art Gallery is a much loved cultural space in Wirral and this love has been demonstrated through the online petition to ‘Keep the Williamson Art Gallery open’ which has received almost 10,000 signatures. We urge all of our members to show your support for the art gallery and send a clear message to Wirral Council by signing the petition if you haven’t done so already, using this link
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 soon with further updates.
Your Wirral Unison Team
Central email: email@example.com
Telephone: 07899713498 or 07899715085