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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 20 April 2020

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

15 April 2020

Government must end PPE postcode lottery

In a letter to Michael Gove on Wednesday, Unite Assistant General Secretary, Steve Turner, urged the government to improve the supply and distribution of PPE to key workers.

Turner, who leads Unite’s campaigning work on PPE manufacture and availability in coordination with industry federations, said: “The current postcode lottery in respect of supply and distribution, even to our NHS and frontline care services must end. This will only happen, however, when government plays its role, as only it can, in bringing the full resources of the nation together in a heroic effort to see off the invisible enemy that is COVID-19. 

“We are at war and thousands are dying. What is now needed is a wartime plan to coordinate our response and that requires a minister with authority, clout and nothing else to distract them from their sole purpose which should incorporate PPE and our need for ramping up our testing capabilities, which are woefully inadequate right now."

16 April 2020

Coronavirus and its impact on paramedics, other NHS workers and social care staff

On Thursday, Unite issued a statement on coronavirus and the impact on paramedics and other key workers.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite’s National Officer for Health, said: “Pressures on our ambulance members are unprecedented with the profession not currently being given the correct guidance as to whom they should take to hospital.

“They are also not being given the correct level of personal protective equipment (PPE) if they suspect a patient has Covid-19.  Ambulance workers are putting their health, perhaps their lives, at risk, by not receiving the correct PPE and also by not receiving the correct fit test training to wear the PPE. 

“Unite is urgently calling for ambulance workers to be given clear guidance regarding triaging which patients should be taken to hospital and more action on PPE which needs to be supplied to paramedics, so they are able to do their essential duties.”

17 April 2020

London bus measures welcome but government and public must play part

Unite welcomed the measures announced by Transport for London that central door only loading will be imposed on London buses, but advised that the government and the public must now play their parts.

Unite’s London and Eastern Regional Secretary, Pete Kavanagh, said: “We now need to see government introduce emergency measures requiring members of the public to cover their faces while using London transport. This is shown to prevent individuals spreading the virus to others, rather than protecting those wearing a mask or a face covering, and it is vital for the safety of our members.

“There also needs to be more signage and announcements on buses and public transport to remind passengers to adhere to social distancing and safety measures, as well as strict rules on the maximum number of passengers buses can take at any one time.” 

Extension to Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme announced

The government announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS), which was originally due to run until the end of May, will be extended until the end of June.

The announcement was welcomed by Unite with General Secretary, Len McCluskey, commenting: "The government took a great step forward when it brought in the JRS.  Yes, there have been gaps and teething troubles but the fact that employers were told that the state would stand behind their employment costs if they stand behind their workers has helped stave off mass unemployment.

"So we're hugely relieved to hear the announcement today that the scheme will last at least until the end of June, and thank them for listening to our pleas for an extension.” 

18 April 2020

Unite issues a statement on the PPE scandal

Unite, who is backing the Mirror’s ‘Protect Us’ PPE campaign, released a statement on Saturday on the current PPE scandal.

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “The continued lack of PPE is a national scandal and the government’s litany of broken promises over the last month is shameful.

“The public is looking on aghast as brave doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are risking their lives to provide care to very sick patients – yet, they don’t have the necessary protection to carry out their roles.

“Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock needs to sort out the logjam in PPE supplies urgently, otherwise he may have to consider his position as this situation can’t continue, as health professionals would be quite right to decline to put themselves in danger.”

19 April 2020

Government appoints PPE ‘tsar’

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, appointed Lord Deighton, who was the chief planner on the 2012 London Olympics, to the position of PPE 'tsar' following a weekend of shocking claims that NHS staff were being advised to re-use their safety kit and that shipments of new materials are delayed. 

Unite, who has been calling for this appointment, welcomed the announcement with Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, commenting: "It may have taken the government a while to heed our calls but Unite is relieved that they are eventually understanding that the country needs this key appointment at this time of crisis. 

"Unite has been working with manufacturers the length and breadth of the country to coordinate the mass manufacturing drive needed to provide the safety kit our frontline staff need in order to stay safe.

"There is a huge amount of dedication in the army that we're proud to have helped build but as we have long said, this is a volunteer army without a general.  

"With the appointment of Lord Deighton, I sincerely hope that the shortcomings in PPE supply of recent weeks can be rapidly overcome so that our workers can feel that they are being cared for while they care for us. It is quite clear from the distressing reports of NHS staff going without the equipment that they need that there is not a minute more to be wasted.”

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.

For more information on coronavirus COVID-19 related benefits, Unite has set up a dedicated benefits advice line which members can access by calling 0333 202 6563.