For the past few months the Safe and Equal campaign (S&E) has been working with Labour MPs to demand full sick and isolation pay for all frontline Test Centre workers. On 29 March 2021, S&E and Emily Thornberry MP got a letter from Sodexo HR Director Greg Austin: “Since receiving your enquiry I am pleased to report that the DHSC have approved the payment of occupational sick pay for periods of self-isolation for all workers at Test Centres. This commitment has also been included in the tender specification for the new Test Centre contract which commences in July 2021.”
Previously, G4S and Serco had confirmed that many workers in their Test Centres would receive only Statutory Sick Pay of £95.85 a week if they got suspected Coronavirus infection and had to isolate. As S&E said at the time: “In effect, NHST&T is a system for concentrating together all the people in the country with suspected Coronavirus infection and getting them to file past an army of workers who cannot afford to follow isolation rules.”
Many infections might have been prevented if isolation pay had been in place from the start. And if full isolation pay is necessary for Test Centre staff then why not for the other 12 million workers who lack occupational sick pay?
We are yet to see the details. We know that many Test Centre workers are employed by agencies, creating another layer of bureaucracy and complication. In the NHS, agency workers are the only group of workers who have not been guaranteed full sick and isolation pay: all outsourced workers and “bank” staff have been entitled to full isolation pay since March 2020.
But agency workers at Sellafield power station, for example, are guaranteed full isolation pay. Will agency workers at Test Centres be covered by this new provision?
And how is this new entitlement is being communicated to workers? When the government introduced full isolation pay in the NHS in March 2020 and then in care homes in June 2020, it did it very quietly, with little fanfare. Many outsourced workers in the NHS were unaware they were entitled to full isolation pay, and some employers actively denied the entitlement.
The u-turn by government needs to be advertised widely so that Test Centre workers are aware that they are covered. That’s a job for the labour movement.
• Adapted from Safe and Equal. In Sheffield S&E has been working with workers in Exemplar care and residential homes to win full pay for self-isolation. Despite being given hundreds of thousands of pounds of Infection Control Funding by the council, Exemplar have refused to put one penny of it into the pockets of their workers. They have forced workers needing to self-isolate to take annual leave. The council has dished out the money without making any effort to stipulate conditions. Unison Sheffield community health branch is now circulating a statement to support the workers here.