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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 17 January 2022

red rectangle on cream background with black text  CORONAVIRUS COVID-19

At Unite Legal Services, we’ve collated the latest news and information regarding employment matters and workers’ rights in relation to coronavirus COVID-19 developments.

12 January 2022

Two long COVID Bedford council care workers rely on food banks, as ‘heartless’ bosses stop pay

Two committed Bedford Borough Council care workers are relying on food banks to survive, after the council stopped paying them due to absences caused by long COVID used up all their sick pay allowance.

Unite said this case raised issues for other UK workplaces where employees also suffer from long COVID and called for council bosses to pay its two members full sick pay while they recover, a discretion that is allowed under the ‘Green Book’ national agreement.

Unite regional officer, Richard Gates, said: “We will not allow this heartless treatment of our members to stand, as they are being penalised for becoming sick from long COVID after years of dedicated service.

“The impact of long COVID has resulted in both members having days when they can’t even get out of bed, brain fog, no energy, and breathlessness, so the last thing they need on top of this is the stress and worry of having no money and the prospect of being taken through the sickness absence procedure over being off from work.”

Unite calls for government to reverse fit note relaxation

Unite is calling on the government to cancel the relaxation to the fit note system, which the union believes is leading to attacks on employees conditions and could damage workers’ health. Meanwhile, doctors have described the changes to the fit note regime as a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the challenges faced by GPs.

Shortly before Christmas, the government announced changes to the fit note system in order to relieve pressure on GPs and allow them to concentrate on getting patients the COVID booster vaccine.

Under the government’s changes, an employer can only ask an employee who is off sick for a fit note after 28 days of absence, rather than the usual seven days. This applies to all sickness absences from 10 December and will remain in place until at least 26 January. Unite is concerned that, among other issues, this could encourage unscrupulous employers to put pressure on employees’ to return to work sooner than they should.

Unite’s NHS workers call for Johnson’s resignation over ‘disastrous’ handling of COVID pandemic

Unite’s national health committee called for Boris Johnson to resign as prime minister due to his ‘disastrous’ handling of the pandemic.

Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “Health workers have toiled long and sacrificed much during the last two years of the pandemic. They have taken huge personal risks caring for the public and day-after-day observed all the standing rules on COVID. 

“The prime minster has set these rules and yet he has flagrantly broken them. His position in office is now untenable. His reprehensible personal conduct follows his disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen the UK suffer the highest death toll in Europe with more than 175,000 deaths – equivalent to the population the size of the city of Southend.”

Unite’s lead officer for London buses, John Murphy, added: "The prime minister's conduct is disgraceful. More than 50 London bus workers have died of COVID, the vast majority in the first wave when Boris Johnson thought it was OK to have a party.

"Bus drivers and their families made huge sacrifices during the pandemic to keep the capital running. The prime minister didn't even follow his own rules and should resign."

15 January 2022

Improved COVID grant for Welsh taxi drivers welcomed by Unite

Unite Wales has welcomed the decision by Welsh government to double the grant funding available to taxi drivers to cover their loss of income over the festive period. The earnings of Welsh taxi drivers took a huge hit as a result of the introduction of tighter COVID restrictions in Wales.

Taxi drivers will now be able to claim up to £1,000 if their takings were reduced by 50 per cent, making the grant more accessible for the many who need it. The grant available has been raised from an initial figure of £500.

Get more support

For more information on how we are fighting to protect the health and safety, and economic stability of our members during the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, please visit the Unite the Union advice hub.

If you are in need of further advice on an employment law query during the crisis, you can visit the Unite Legal Services coronavirus COVID-19 page, or call Unite’s dedicated coronavirus COVID-19 Legal Advice Line on 0333 202 6557.

COVID-19 personal injury claims

Unite has set up a specialist legal team to advise and represent members who have suffered injury as a result of COVID-19

If you have suffered injury from developing COVID-19, or have tragically lost a family member to the condition, then please call Unite’s COVID-19 PI team on 020 8799 4023.