07899715085 or 07899713498 unison1@wirral.gov.uk

Coronavirus update 13.10.20

Dear Member

We hope you are keeping safe and well during these anxious times.

We decided not to issue an email last night to allow for consideration of last night’s news – and further clarity in the guidance. So we start tonight with two pieces focussing on the Tier 3 situation and for those who were  shielding or clinically vulnerable, which we hope you find useful and informative. We then have a piece on workplace stress, and some notifications for our black members and announcement of a Unison Bi+ webinar.   

Tier 3 – What does it mean.

The government announced over the weekend that they would be introducing a three tier system of restrictions. This was welcomed as it would simplify the guidance and lead to a more consistent and understandable framework of measures; and lets be honest we’ve all been confused at times. Last night it was announced that the Liverpool City Region including Wirral, would be the only part of the country that was in the highest level. It’s not entirely clear, why only here, but what is more worrying is the suggestion that further measures may be applied to some local parts of Tier 3, potentially casing further confusion. We shall wait and see and monitor developments, but we all hope that these measures do help slow the rise of infection.

A postcode checker has been introduced that can help you see which tier you live in, which may be helpful if you live outside the Region.

The heightened restrictions for our area come in from tomorrow, these include a number of must nots, and should nots, including

  • Indoor Leisure Facilities must close
  • You must not meet socially with anyone indoors in any setting unless they are part of your household or support bubble.
  • You must not meet with people outside of your household or support bubble in a private garden or in most outdoor public venues.
  • Office workers who can work effectively from home should do so over the winter. (this in Unison’s view removes to a significant degree the element of choice- we will refer to this later this week.)
  • People should try to avoid travelling outside their local area other than for work, education, accessing youth services, or to meet caring responsibilities
  • People should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are resident in the Liverpool City Region. (We will speak more on this later in the week)  

You may continue to see friends and family you do not live with (or have formed a support bubble with) in groups of 6 or less in certain outdoor public spaces, such as: parks, beaches, countryside, forests, public gardens, allotments, outdoor sports courts and facilities, and playgrounds

Informal childcare can be provided via a childcare bubble. A childcare bubble is where someone in one household provides informal (unpaid and unregistered) childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household. This must always be between the same 2 households. Friends or family who do not live with you and are not part of a support or childcare bubble must not visit your home to help with childcare

As referred to above the government have implemented “baseline measures” for Tier 3 but as Chris Whitty the Chief Medical Officer highlighted last night, the may apply additional measures. Amongst the suggested additional measures that are NOT in place at the moment, include the closure of public buildings including libraries and communities. To confirm libraries can remain open at the moment.

On an incidental issue – you may have seen your Unison reps engaged in protests, lobbies etc during this crisis. The Guidance for Tier 3 specifically (and rightly in our opinion) allows for protests to take place – if they are Covid secure. We can assure you any protests we take part in and organise will be Covid secure.

The full and detailed local guidance can be found here:

Formerly Shielding or Clinically vulnerable

The government announced today that Shielding is not being reintroduced in England, despite rising levels of coronavirus across most of the nation. Similarly there will be no specific measures for the clinically vulnerable. The government suggest that, unlike in March, there are other adequate  protective measures in place - such as the rule of six and the wearing of face coverings in shops - to help reduce the spread. The advice now is tailored according to the local Covid alert level the person lives in, using the new three-tier system. Therefore in Liverpool City Region the advice is:

  • Work from home if possible
  • Stay at home as much as possible
  • Avoid all but essential travel
  • Reduce shopping trips, and if possible use online delivery or ask people in your household, support bubble or volunteers to collect food and medicines
  • People in these areas are encouraged to still go outside for exercise, and can still go to school and to work if they cannot work from home

Those who were on the shielding list will receive a letter about the advice with tips on how they should take precautions to avoid getting Covid.

The full guidance for those formerly classed as shielding can be found her guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19

If you are clinically vulnerable the advice is even more limited :

  • You can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low
  • You can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops, whilst keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible or 1 metre plus other precautions
  • You should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace

It is disappointing, and no doubt a cause for concern that specific measures, including financial support, will not be in place for those most at risk should they contract Covid. The Government have stated that they are acting thus, because they are concerned about the mental well-being of the most vulnerable. That may be so, but we can’t help but speculate as to whether there may also be other motives.

Nevertheless all workers are legally entitled to a safe working environment. For those of us who are the most vulnerable to Covid, specific risks should be considered, and managed by your employer to ensure you are protected in work. You should have, and are entitled to an individual Risk Assessment. If you already have one in place this should be reviewed in light on recent changes. If you feel the measures in places to protect and keep you safe at work are not sufficient please get in touch.

Stress At Work – It’s not all about Resilience.

Many of us have experienced stress at work, and it certainly has been on the increase; the current pandemic has often only changed the nature of stress. You may equally be familiar with employers offering “Resilience Training” to deal with stress  – suggestion being that you are not resilient enough, you need to toughen up! Below we copy a blog posted on the TUC website on World Mental Health Day. We hope you find it informative.

“Resilience, we are told, allows us to harden ourselves to stress and anxiety. You may be familiar with employer-sponsored stress-busting initiatives like mindfulness, exercise or even pet therapy. While none of these activities is a problem per se, the overall approach is. Let me explain why.

These strategies are usually an example of organisations failing to tackle the problem of stress at its root cause. They ignore that stress is often a result of work itself, requiring a change to work structures, rather than a shift in the behaviours and attitudes of individuals. Stress does not tend to occur randomly but is triggered. TUC research indicates that the biggest causes of stress at work are:

  • Workload (74%)
  • Cuts in staff (53%)
  • Change at work (44%)
  • Long hours (39%)

The problem is widespread.
More than 2 million people  have a work-related mental health problem and 70% of union reps report stress as a top safety concern at work. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive show that work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost. What’s more, many disabled workers have long-term mental health problems which are not work-related but can be exacerbated by working conditions.

These overwhelming figures point to structural issues in the way we work – not just problems with workers and their lack of ‘resilience.

Training workers how to deal with stress is not the answer.
Too often, people see their workloads rise but not their pay; and the increasing rate of zero-hours contracts leaves many worried about where their next pay cheque will come from.
By focussing on us toughening up, these campaigns deflect attention from the real causes of stress. The truth is, bosses want us to shoulder the responsibility for protecting our mental health so that they don’t have to. It is not just trade unionists concerned by the narrative, but professionals in the field, too.

Nick Pahl, CEO of the Society of Occupational Medicine says “It is not acceptable for staff to be required to be more “resilient” - services such as occupational health need to be put in place who, with trade union representatives, can contribute to coordinated workplace health and wellbeing programmes.”

Trade unions are the best route to change
We need employers to invest in policies that monitor and enforce measures to tackle chronic work-related stress, as well as support those experiencing it. Mental health and wellbeing is a collective concern – and just like pay and pensions, they are concerns we can organise around.

Firstly, employers have a legal duty to remove or reduce stress levels and carry out risk assessments, and so trade unionists have leverage in demanding change. The TUC also wants to see mental health assessed in every risk assessment: because every place of work and every worker could be exposed to dangerous levels of stress.

Stress risk assessments – which could look at factors such as workload, targets and hours - are something trade unions can request and campaign for at a workplace level.

In addition, employers can be encouraged to implement the HSE’s stress management standards, which has proved to reduce stress levels in workplaces. Union reps can make use of the TUC and HSE’s joint guide to managing stress, as well as numerous resources from Hazards magazine. Finally, the TUC Education team will also be launching a brand new organising course for union reps, focussed on mental health organising in the workplace, launching in early 2021, so keep a look out.

If we want to combat harmful work-related stress, we need to start by changing work, not ourselves”

UNISON Black Members

The latest issue of the Unison North West Black Member’s Magazine is out now and can be accessed here: Unison NW Black Members Magazine 2020

The Unison Black Members Group is a self-organised group discuss and highlights issues that particularly affect black members. It looks to bring about improvements and equality, in the union, in the workplace, and in society. With the disproportionate impact Covid is having upon the BAME, that has never been more relevant. The magazine contains many useful and interesting articles so please have a look.

2021 Black Members Conference 22-23 January. It is not clear yet, but it is likely this will be a virtual event. If you are a black member and you would be interested in attending that would be brilliant! Just get in touch with Dave or Lois by 27 October.

Webinar for Bi+ members 15 October 3:30 to 4:30

Due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, the 2020 UNISON Bi+ members’ network meeting will take place on a virtual platform. All UNISON Bi+ members are welcome and encouraged to attend. Joining details for the webinar will only be sent to those who have registered to attend in advance. If you would like to register to attend the webinar please email out@unison.co.uk with your name and UNISON membership number and let us know if you have any access requirements for a virtual platform.

As always, please feel free to 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

Take care and we’ll be in touch soon with further updates.    

In solidarity!

Your Wirral Unison Team

Branch Office: 0151 666 3040
Central email: unison1@wirral.gov.uk

Published on: October 14, 2020