England’s reopening risks a 'confusing free for all', say unions

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Following the announcement from the prime minister that most Covid rules will go from 19 July in England, unions have expressed concern that the move has been made without any thought for workers and their employers.

“People want clarity from the government as restrictions are eased. They don’t need a confusing free-for-all, with ministers absolving themselves of any responsibility for public health,” said UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards after the PM made his announcement on Monday 5 July.  

Richards said that ditching mask wearing in schools had led to hundreds of thousands of pupils currently isolating at home. “Let’s not repeat the same mistakes elsewhere.”

“Face coverings and well-ventilated workspaces provide a level of reassurance and security to staff who deal with the public. Safety laws also require their employers to keep these workers safe,” he continued.

Ditching mask wearing in workplaces is a risk, say UNISON. Photograph: iStock

Mike Clancy, Prospect General Secretary, said that the decision to end the advice to work from home needed to be communicated better. “The end of the work-from-home guidance must not lead to a chaotic free for all with employers making decisions about their workforce with no consultation, and little guidance from government.

“Managing this transition well will require employers to work with staff and trade unions to adjust to a new normal, whether that is returning to offices or continued home working, and government should be making it clear that employers should not be acting unilaterally in either forcing employees back into offices or keeping them at home.”

Gary Smith, GMB General Secretary said the PM needed to spell out the duty of employers to their workforce, not just the freedoms of individuals to decide how to protect themselves. “The Government wants people to exercise judgement, but not employers exercising their legal duties by reducing the covid transmission risk to the lowest level possible,” he said.

GMB is calling for masks to remain mandatory for the time being, saying that ditching goes against the science. “The UK has the unenviable status as one of Europe’s covid hotspots - with eight of Europe’s 10 highest infection rates in England and Scotland.”

TUC is looking to the practicalities of the announcement and says that guidance is needed for workplaces of all types after 19 July.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ministers must consult with unions and employers on clear and consistent guidance for workplace safety after the end of restrictions, in every type of workplace. Otherwise we risk widespread confusion.”

“The government has to take the lead – not wash its hands of its responsibility to keep workers and the public safe.”


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