Proposals for compulsory vaccination of care home staff condemned by Unite

‘Encouragement, not compulsion’ for health and social care staff when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19 is the best approach, Unite the union said today (Wednesday 16 June).

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, was commenting on reports that the government is to announce that care staff are expected to be given 16 weeks to have the jab - or face being redeployed away from frontline care or losing their jobs.

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said today: “Unite strongly opposes forcing any health and social care workers to have a vaccine or risk sacrificing their job.

“Encouragement, not compulsion is the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the very good reason that such an approach is shown to work.

“A checklist of reasons behind the shocking level of infection in care homes points to a stack of government failures. It is invidious that social care staff should be singled out in this fashion – it smacks of the government trying to divert attention from its massive failure at the beginning of the pandemic to protect elderly residents from coronavirus.

“The social care sector is in urgent need of ‘root and branch’ reform – there needs to be a national care service with the same status as the NHS where staff are paid fairly. NHS and social care workers need and deserve respect from our government, a decent pay rise and a drastic reduction in vacancies that are placing an immense strain on the system. 

“Boris Johnson pledged on the day that he became prime minister in July 2019 that he had a plan ‘to fix’ the decades-old social care crisis – two years on we are still waiting for this blueprint.”

Unite has already submitted its response to the Department of Health and Social Care consultation on making vaccination a condition of deployment in older adult care homes.

In the submission, the union said: “Unite believes all COVID-19 vaccination and COVID-19 testing regimes in the UK should be voluntary and not mandatory. Compulsion is a very bad way to achieve a high level response, will lead to increased resistance, a worsening staffing crisis and is embroiled with issues such as equalities, human rights, privacy, and ethical breaches.

“Social care workers are some of the most exploited and vulnerable in the economy, with many working on precarious contracts such as through agencies or zero hours arrangements that mean many have no access to basic workplace health protects such as sick pay or sufficient PPE.”