Unite's unique support set to reassure extremely vulnerable workers as they return to work

Amid the confused messaging concerning vulnerable workers returning to work as the COVID-19 lockdown eases, Unite has produced detailed guidance to help ensure these workers return safely to the workplace.

An estimated 627,000 workers are deemed to be in the extremely vulnerable category. Recently, the government changed its advice to say that this group of workers no longer has to shield but should aim to return to the workplace.

However, with lockdown going on for longer than anticipated and local lockdowns emerging as a growing feature of the continued response to the virus, and with many workplaces without the necessary health and safety specialists, Unite has acted to provide clear information designed to reassure an uncertain workforce.

Unite's new checklist is for use by its workplace reps as they assist members who have been shielding to safely return to work provided it is “COVID-secure”.

Unite has said that this is yet another example of the trade union movement acting proactively to support public health and the recovery of the economy in response to the pandemic.

Unite’s checklist advises reps to ensure that employers are consulting with union reps on all aspects of the work being undertaken by extremely vulnerable workers.

As part of the reassurance to vulnerable members returning to work, Unite's reps will

  • Ensure that the employer has undertaken a survey of the worker’s concerns 
  • Check that individual health assessments are being undertaken which take into account specific health issues as well as other factors such as weight, age, pregnancy and ethnic background
  • Ensure workplace risk assessments are being undertaken and are adapted for extremely vulnerable workers
  • Assess if working from home is a possibility
  • Consider if redeployment is a possibility
  • Ensure a suitable mental health support system is in place.

     The full checklist is available online

Unite National Health and Safety Adviser, Rob Miguel, said: “Extremely vulnerable workers returning to the workplace will be tremendously nervous and will need support from their union in order to safely readjust.

“Given the length of time workers have been required to shield and the nature of the pandemic, employers need to be equally aware of protecting workers' mental health as well as their physical health.

“Workers may have developed additional mental health issues and an absolute fear of returning to work.

“If extremely vulnerable workers returning to their workplace have any concerns about their safety they should immediately seek support and advice from their workplace reps.

“The checklist is an essential tool. Every workplace is different and each worker has different circumstances and vulnerabilities, a one size fits all approach is not at all acceptable in these circumstances.

"This is another example of trade unions showing to their members and employers that, just as we have demonstrated throughout this crisis, we are here to assist with the safe return to working and the re-opening and recovery of the economy."