The Prime Minister reiterated his key message at PMQs – Stay at home.

However, thousands of people in the Easington constituency cannot heed this message, as employers continue to expect them at work.

The government have not closed down non-essential business, and people are permitted to travel to and from work, where it is not possible to work from home.

In East Durham, this has led to people in call centres, construction sites and factories being told to work, despite their obvious concerns, with the majority of businesses being left to determine whether or not to close.

Employers are now taking on the risk of remaining open. They have a duty of care to their employees, which must include the government’s social distancing rules. I would ask all those being forced to work to take notes and collect evidence, as failure to enforce social distancing in the workplace may result in legal action against employers who do not protect their staff.

I have also had reports of companies closing down, essential furloughing workers, but refusing to consider using the government’s job retention scheme, that will cover 80% of workers’ wages.

The government have introduced various business support schemes and Business Durham provide a good overview of the help which is available:

https://www.businessdurham.co.uk/news-events-county-durham/covid-19-information

This support is only effective if companies are willing to access it.

There have been many exceptional employers who have placed their staffs’ safety above all else. These have often been the small and medium sized independent and family run businesses.

However, we are living with the consequences of eroding Trade Union and workplace rights with larger, multinational businesses, failing in their duty of care to employees. A look on the ACAS website shows the lack of protection for workers.

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus/good-practice-steps-for-employers

Many are facing the prospect of claiming Statutory Sick Pay or Universal Credit for the first time and are rightly shocked at the lack of support available. Social Security is an issue many of us ignore, until we need to access support, which isn’t available.

I hope that by the time you are reading this post, that it is out of date, and that the government have mandated the closure of all non-essential business, and have given the police the powers to enforce a lock down.

This is a matter of life and death, and every day we delay will causes hundreds, possibly thousands more people to lose their lives.

Professor Neil Ferguson told a parliamentary committee that demand on intensive care units will peak in “two-and-a-half to three weeks’ time” if current measures for tackling the coronavirus work.

However, social distancing advice has been ignored, non-essential business continues, and large numbers of people are still using public transport to commute to and from work.

We need clear leadership, where messages about staying at home, is backed up with financial support for individuals and businesses, and where needs be, enforcement powers to close all non-essential activity.

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