Health & safety

A ragged 1 June, but schools union grows

On 30 May, four scientists from the government’s SAGE advisory group went public saying that the Tories’ easing of the lockdown, including the wider opening of schools, is unwise at this time. The number of cases and the infection rate are still high, and we don’t know whether or how much children can spread the virus. As I write on 1 June, the wider opening of schools planned by the Tories for today looks ragged. In Wales schools are not going back. The Assembly has set no date for a return. In Scotland schools will return from 11 August (the regular start to the school year there); Northern...

Make the schools safe!

The government’s aspiration to partially open schools on 1 June is likely to be largely unrealised. While we all want children back in schools, as soon as safe enough, that is good. Success in resisting unsafe reopening is dependent on union strength on the ground. We must fight for rank-and-file school worker control over the strategy, locally and nationally.

Call for action on social care

Late May has seen significant developments in the fight around social care. After months of refusing to even address the issue of sick pay and isolation pay for care workers, the Tories have announced a £600m “infection control fund”. Guidance for the fund states that part of its purpose is to “maintain the normal wages of staff who, in order to reduce the spread of infection need to reduce the number of establishments in which they work, reduce the number of hours they work, or self-isolate”. This is potentially an enormous victory. But the announcement has been very quiet, no doubt because...

Children, parents, school workers: stand together!

The education unions are right to say schools should not accept further mass return of pupils until the five tests are met. We should fully support any school workers who will take action on health and safety grounds from 1 June to keep their workplaces open only to vulnerable and key workers’ children. That does not mean we, or school workers, are oblivious to how difficult school closures have been on families. Solidarity has covered, and will continue to cover, the increased risk of domestic violence and neglect in a stressful period with less contact between the household and the outside...

Safety inspection shut down

Britain’s official Health and Safety Executive responded to the virus danger in the many workplaces still operating throughout the lockdown, by… suspending its workplace inspections. It phased out everything that couldn’t be done by its staff working from home. Between 9 March and 7 May, the HSE received 4,813 reports about workplace issues relating to the virus, but it has started no proceedings against any employer. From 2009-10 to 2016, successive Tory cuts reduced the HSE’s budget by 46%, and the number of inspectors it employed fell by over a third. On 20 May the HSE announced it would...

Section 44 and the civil service

Civil service employers have been reticent to go for a return-to-work drive in the short to medium term. The Cabinet Office informed the union that they would continue to support homeworking. That approach isn’t completely uniform, and the Cabinet Office hasn’t exerted any particular pressure to rein in departmental employers who are taking a different approach, but there has been no central, concerted, back-to-work lurch. The major exception to this is the outsourced contractors, who have behaved appallingly and are forcing workers to continue working despite the buildings they clean or...

Diary of a Tubeworker: Going cashless

18 May was meant to be crunch day, with services up and running towards some kind of normal. An expected rise in passenger numbers. I’m not at work and don’t hear anything to suggest a dramatic change has happened. The next morning at 0430 the bus is definitely busier. But I can still socially distance and now I have a crappy surgical mask. How effective, I don’t know. It’s a pain. It makes my glasses steam up and I really want to scratch my nose. When I flag down the bus, I wave at the driver, I say “morning” as I board, when I leave, I shout “thank you” and we wave as I get off. Before the...

Factory gate meeting

Unite members working for Great Bear distribution recently organised a factory gate meeting at the Unilever Port Sunlight factory to protest at the dismissal of a Unite shop steward and the company’s refusal to pay full sick pay for workers self-isolating. The meeting, organised by Unite North West, showed how protests and workplace meetings can still be organised safely and effectively. Everyone observed social distancing rules. When the organisers were explaining why the meeting took place, they made sure that they explained to local residents who were watching and listening why the meeting...

Fined for taking a stand on safety?

On 18 May, train drivers’ union Aslef reported that up to 30 London Underground drivers were sent home after raising safety concerns, including some who raised concerns about not being able to safely distance in staff mess rooms due to the number of drivers on duty. Some drivers were issued with a letter from their local manager which read: “You have indicated you are not willing to undertake your normal rostered duty, despite the fact that it is safe to do so and you have been provided with assurance documentation that confirms [there is] no serious and imminent danger. “I must now advise you...

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