Although this pandemic has been with us for over a year, there are still multiple cases of inadequate Covid-19 safety provision in workplaces across the country.
Proper Covid-19 safety measures are vital in preventing a resurgence in cases, as restrictions are gradually but increasingly relaxed over the coming months.
The many disputes over the last year have highlighted the role of trade unions in advocating on behalf of members where employers fail to protect them.
On 18th March, Easington MP Grahame Morris questioned the Solicitor General over safety in courts, following reports of PCS union members being forced to improvise their own perspex screens, having failed to be provided with proper safety equipment:
“Court staff in London and Liverpool recently voted for strike action, and listening to evidence from the Public and Commercial Services Union to the Justice Committee this week it is easy to understand why, when PCS members are having to improvise their own perspex screens to protect themselves from covid after managers said it was unaffordable. Does the Solicitor General appreciate how this cavalier approach to health and safety by management has left court staff scared, angry and prepared to take strike action?’
The Solicitor General replied,
‘I appreciate the amazing work that everyone in our justice system is doing on the frontline. As a former Prisons Minister, I recognise what prison officers are doing and I know that HMCTS has done a tremendous amount of work to make our courts safe. I pay tribute to all the work of court staff who are going in and allowing our justice system to continue. HMCTS has put in a number of measures, and my understanding is that it is no less safe to be working in a court than in any other environment.’
Meanwhile, the PCS union dispute at Swansea continues. An estimated 1400 members operational staff being made to work on site took strike action from 6th-9th April over the company’s refusal to listen to safety concerns.
PCS reports that bosses have responded to the strike action with intimidation tactics. They maintain that only 750 staff took action. Having initially said that cancelling leave to strike wouldn’t be an issue, they have since said that staff can’t cancel and their strike action days will be recorded as annual leave. PCS believe this is an attempt to reduce the numbers of staff they record as having taken strike action, to play down the impact of the strike.
Members are now set to take a further four days of strike action next month after senior management refused to reduce the number of staff forced to go into the Swansea office.
Elsewhere, Unite the Union has received reports of lack of social distancing and a general disregard for health and safety regulations at Go North West. There have been reports of overcrowding, with some buses being so full that passengers had to stand in the aisles.
Whilst government advice remains to work from home where possible, it is vital that those who return to the workplace are given the adequate protection to prevent transmission and another spike in case numbers.