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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 26 July 2021

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.

20 July 2021

Government decision to end free COVID test for employers labelled ‘barmy’

The government’s decision to no longer supply free lateral flow tests to employers has been labelled ‘barmy’ by Unite, which has warned that the decision will lead to an increase in exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

The final day for employers who were already registered to order lateral flow tests was July 19, which coincided with the government’s so called ‘freedom day’, when all remaining restrictions end and all areas of the economy re-open.

The decision to stop providing employers with free tests comes at a time when the number of people infected with COVID-19 is rapidly increasing.

Unite is especially concerned that the decision to end free testing in sectors such as social care, construction and retail and hospitality – where workers may be reluctant or unable to access testing for themselves – will lead to a further significant increase in infections.

Ministers mixed messages on self-isolation not helping UK manufacturing

Commenting on the mixed messages regarding self-isolation coming from government, Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: “Unite would welcome any move by ministers to keep plants moving and our manufacturing members working, as long as it does so in a safe and considered manner.

“If we are to prevent production lines closing and even more jobs going, then manufacturing industries need government to step up and work with employers and unions on the solution.

“For plants to remain open now and in the months ahead, there needs to be faster testing, the continuation of free lateral flow tests for employers, a statutory sick pay rate that means people will actually stay off if ill and the extension of the furlough scheme.”

21 July 2021

Pay Review Body’s three per cent pay recommendation ‘grossly inadequate’ for NHS staff

The Pay Review Body’s (PRB) recommendation for a three per cent pay rise for NHS workers in England is grossly inadequate and underwhelming, given the sacrifices that health staff have made over the last 18 months combating coronavirus, Unite said.

Unite also said the independent PRB’s recommendation for 2021/2022 did not even keep up with the RPI rate of inflation, currently at 3.9 per cent, and it also did not start to make up for the 19 per cent loss of earnings in real terms that many NHS staff have suffered since the Tories came to power in 2010.

Unite called on health and social care secretary Sajid Javid to boost the PRB’s recommendation substantially, otherwise staff would continue to walk with their feet, such as nurse Jenny McGee who cared for the prime minister when he had COVID; and the NHS ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis would become even more acute with the adverse impact that would have on the nearly five million patients in England waiting for non-COVID procedures and operations, such as cancer treatments and hip replacements.

22 July 2021

Unite urges Welsh government to proceed with extreme caution over Wales lockdown easing

Unite Wales urged the Welsh government to continue to follow the science and proceed with extreme caution when considering further easing of lockdown rules in Wales. Cases of COVID were twice as high in England than they were in Wales. Unite said cases across the border are likely to rise significantly following the lifting of all restrictions on so called “Freedom Day”.

Unite represents thousands of NHS staff in Wales, who are bracing themselves for further increases in Welsh hospital admissions as the third COVID wave continues to rise.

Workers frustrated and angry as government fails to get a grip of pandemic and ‘pingdemic’

Unite warned that frontline workers are becoming increasing exasperated with the government’s failure to get a grip on surging numbers of COVID-19 infections, which has the knock on effect of requiring hundreds of thousands of workers to self-isolate.

The union, which represents tens of thousands of workers in the haulage and warehousing sectors, issued its warning after stories emerged of empty supermarket shelves as a result of the high number of workers being forced to self-isolate and the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers.

23 July 2021

Proposed three per cent pay award for Welsh NHS workers “insulting”

Unite Wales will be holding a consultative ballot of its NHS Wales membership in opposition to the proposed imposition of a three per cent pay award for NHS staff. Unite has used the past few days to seek the views if its members and the reaction has been one of grave disappointment and anger.

Richard Munn, Unite lead officer for health, commented: “Our members within NHS Wales have reacted with extreme disappointment to the announcement that a three per cent pay award will be imposed on them. They have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and they now face a third wave, which will again put immense pressure on them, day in day out. The decade long UK government’s policy of austerity has led to a real terms reduction in wages and we believe it is now the time to redress this.”

‘Vaccination is not immunisation’ as Scottish government announcement criticised by Unite

Unite Scotland has criticised the announcement by the Scottish government on workers suspected of contracting COVID not being required to self-isolate, stating that it could lead to a new spike in the pandemic.

As one of the nation’s leading trade unions in the health and social care sector, which has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, Unite has raised serious concerns directly with the Scottish government over its approach to level zero.  The Scottish government has removed the blanket requirement for close contacts to self-isolate as long as they're double vaccinated and take a PCR test. This includes removing the requirement for those working in health and social care to self-isolate as had previously been the practice throughout the pandemic.

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.