Unions call on govt and employers to do more to protect workers from Covid-19

Unions have called on the government and employers to do more to protect workers’ wages and health during the Covid-19 crisis.

17 Apr 2020| News

Unions have continued working hard to push for more protection for workers across the UK. Here we summarise some of their key recommendations.

Minimum Wage

A pressing issue for many unions is the fact there is no ‘floor’ to the wages of furloughed workers, meaning they can be paid less than the statutory minimum. The Job Retention Scheme currently provides for workers to receive either 80% of their wage or £2,500 a month – whichever is lower.
GMB wrote to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, urging him to amend the Scheme to ensure all workers receive at least the Minimum Wage.

“Failure to do so is already causing unnecessary and significant hardship for many low-paid workers,” General Secretary of the union, Tim Roache, said.

“It is a moral outrage to pay workers less than the minimum wage – full stop.”

Government workers

Public sector workers need a pay rise and better health and safety protection, unions have said.

The latest Local Government Association (LGA) pay offer for local government workers, including refuse collectors, school workers and child protection professionals, was announced yesterday at 2.75%. Unison, Unite and GMB unions have jointly urged employers to join them in writing to Rishi Sunak to demand a more sustainable wage to these key workers, who are continuing to work through the pandemic at their own risk.

“This is a totally unrealistic offer, especially given the current crisis where it is our frontline local authority workers who are protecting our communities and vital services, caring for our young and our vulnerable elderly, collecting our rubbish, cleaning our streets, and working in our crematoria to ensure dignity for those who have, sadly, fallen victim to this terrible virus,” Unite’s National Officer for Local Government, Jim Kennedy, said.

The employers’ association has agreed with the unions that their workers deserve more, but claim government cuts have left them so cash-strapped that they are unable to afford fair pay. The LGA says it will urge Ministers to provide the funds, while unions have called on the government to recognise the value of key workers.

Unison’s Head of Local Government, Jon Richards, said: “Some are facing huge risks as they go about their work. The least the government can do is to reward them with a proper pay rise and ensure all those that need protective equipment to help keep them safe have access to it now.”

Rehana Azam, National Secretary at GMB, added: “Right now, our most precious resources are our key workers. They are getting us through this pandemic with their invaluable and selfless dedication in numerous critical roles.”

“The ask is simple; we want employers and the government to recognise the strain and huge risks our members are working under. Many of them are struggling to access PPE and are still waiting for the coronavirus testing they have been promised,” she said.


Indeed, many frontline workers still do not have access to the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that could save their lives when working directly with Coronavirus patients.

While unions have joined the much-publicised call for additional PPE for NHS workers – many of whom are putting themselves at significant risk – they also warn that care workers are getting ignored.

Unison, Unite, GMB and the TUC were joined by employers’ representative the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in urging government to act immediately to save lives in the sector.

In a joint statement, they said: “Social care is facing a crisis without precedent. Problems with supplies of protective equipment and a lack of testing is causing much anxiety amongst employers, staff, and the families of the people they care for. Many care home residents and care workers have already died.

“People who rely on social care are often more vulnerable to catching and dying from Covid-19. Yet a month into this crisis, many care workers are still working without suitable PPE, despite their heightened risk of exposure to the virus and to spreading it.”

Those who have been hospitalised for Covid-19 symptoms are often discharged into the social care sector, they warned, and the “critical lack of PPE and testing” among staff and service users there is likely to be fuelling the spread of the disease. As a result, the employers and unions said “we are almost certainly underestimating how far the virus has spread”.

They called on the government to publish a national procurement and distribution strategy for PPE, set a clear deadline for the provision of testing to all care workers and service users, stop rapidly discharging Covid-19 patients to care homes, and fully involve unions and employers in its social care response to the virus.

Social distancing at work

Unions have welcomed the actions of the Welsh government to implement a new Social Distancing Law that requires workers to be separated by two metres in the workplace.

Wales TUC General Secretary, Shavanah Taj, said: “This is a step further than any other part of the UK and will make Welsh workplaces safer as we battle the Covid-19 pandemic.”

But workers in other parts of the UK – many of whom are still being forced into non-essential work at retailers like Amazon and ASOS – are forced to rely on their employer’s good will. Encouraging businesses to do the right thing, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the CBI and the TUC today issued an “unprecedented joint call” to employers to enable social distancing.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said that “companies who refuse to follow the rules must face the threat of closure” – a statement backed by the HSE, which warned it would issue enforcement notices and possible shutdowns to businesses that put their workers at risk.