Britain’s biggest trade unions are today threatening to tell millions of members not to return to work unless the government introduces policies to ensure workplaces are safe again.
Leaders of unions such as Unite, Unison and the General have written an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding he guarantees ‘the right policies and practices are in place to make workplaces safe’ in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter, published in The Observer today, and which is backed by other unions including Municipal, Boilermakers (GMB) and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), also urges the government to boost funding for health and safety enforcement in the workplace.
It comes as Mr Johnson is today expected to announce a slow easing of lockdown measures following the outbreak of coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 31,000 people in the UK.
Leaders of unions such as Unite, Unison and the General have written an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding he guarantees ‘the right policies and practices are in place to make workplaces safe’ in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic
The open letter comes as Mr Johnson is today expected to announce a slow easing of lockdown measures following the outbreak of coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 31,000 people in the UK. Pictured: A graph showing the number of Covid-19 deaths in the UK
The PM is expected to drop the ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ order in the next phase of the crisis during a televised address tonight at 7pm in an effort to reopen parts of the economy.
Government set to tweak lockdown rules today amid warning of 100,000 deaths if policies are wrong
Boris Johnson is facing a moment of truth in the coronavirus crisis today as he prepares to tweak draconian lockdown rules – amid warnings 100,000 Britons could die by the end of the year if he gets it wrong.
In very tentative first steps towards easing the curbs strangling the economy, the PM will use a televised address to the nation at 7pm to drop the blanket ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ slogan.
Instead people will be urged to ‘stay alert, control the virus, and save lives’, and a DefCon-style five stage alert system will be introduced to set out the country’s outbreak condition.
With evidence increasingly suggesting the virus spreads far less readily in the open air, the once-a-day limit on outdoor exercise will be dropped.
The focus will shift to getting businesses running, with detailed guidance for firms on how they should operate, and garden centres allowed to open from Wednesday with social distancing measures.
Shoppers could be urged to wear face coverings, as has already happened in Scotland.
Breaches of the more nuanced rules could be enforced with harsher fines.
Plans are being drawn up to use ‘peer pressure’ to get people to self-isolate, as those who test positive will be told to get in touch with anyone they might have infected.
It comes as the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) received warnings that there could be 100,00 deaths by the end of the year if measures are relaxed too far and too fast.
But unions say a significant numbers of their members have died while engaged in essential work during the pandemic.
And they have warned members must be properly safeguarded at work as the country moves out of lockdown.
In the letter to The Observer, they wrote: ‘After years of cuts, the government must boost funding for pro-active monitoring and health and safety enforcement.
‘And we need a public information campaign so rogue bosses face sanctions.
‘The trade union movement wants to be able to recommend the government’s back-to-work plans.
‘But for us to do that we need to ensure that ministers have listened and that we stay safe and save lives at work too.’
The warning comes as transport union chiefs also threatened to derail the government’s plans to ease the country out of lockdown.
Yesterday, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, Mick Cash, warned the union will ‘not compromise’ on the health and safety of its members.
He said: ‘There is a headlong dash to lift the lockdown on our transport services for the 18th May and it is fraught with danger for both passengers and staff alike.
‘To maintain the government’s own social distancing guidance would mean huge logistical and staffing input to manage passenger flows onto trains and it is imperative that all staff involved in this process are properly protected.
‘RMT will not compromise on the health, safety and livelihoods of our members and we will not agree to anything that fails to put the safety of staff and passengers first.
‘If that means advising our members not to work under conditions that are unsafe and in breach of the government’s own guidelines then that is exactly what we will do.’
Unions have also threatened to stand in the way of the government’s plans to reopen schools, which have been closed to the majority of students, apart from the children of key workers, since March.
Yesterday, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, Mick Cash, warned the union will ‘not compromise’ on the health and safety of its members. Pictured: Passengers on a tube in London earlier this month
Ministers are believed to be targeting a phased return for schools in June, with primary school students set to return first, followed by Year 10 and 12 classes in secondary schools.
Unions threaten to derail phased return of schools until demands are met
Union chiefs have threatened to derail plans for the phased return of schools in June.
Ministers want to start sending children back to school within weeks.
But unions have said they will only sign off on a return once their demands are met.
They include that a ‘test and trace’ system is fully operational so that all new cases of coronavirus can be immediately located and isolated.
Other demands include extra money for deep cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) and local powers to close schools if clusters of Covid-19 infections break out in a particular area.
Unions sent a joint statement to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Friday by bodies including the NAHT school leaders union and the National Education Union (NEU).
Published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it called for ‘clear scientific published evidence that trends in transmission of Covid-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase and that schools are also safe to reopen’.
But union bosses have sent a list of key measures to the Government which they say must be met before pupils in England can safely return to their desks.
It includes extra money for deep cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) and local powers to close schools if clusters of Covid-19 infections break out in a particular area.
The joint statement was sent to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Friday by bodies including the NAHT school leaders union and the National Education Union (NEU).
The tests that the school workforce unions said were ‘essential’ to have in place before pupils return include no increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme.
Later today, the government is expected to begin easing the country out of lockdown, which it imposed in March in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The government is expected to drop its ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ message and replace it with ‘stay alert, control the virus and save lives’.
It comes after Mr Johnson and other top cabinet members reportedly approved a less aggressive strategy to get the country out of lockdown on Wednesday, on the basis that the country’s infection rate is still too high.
The real figure is reported to be around 14,000 people a day, while the government’s target is said to be around 4,000, according to a report in the Sunday Times.
Policies such as allowing more than one household to mix again and reopening schools for more pupils are reported to have been pushed back several weeks.
Meanwhile, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) received warnings that there could be 100,00 deaths by the end of 2020 if measures are relaxed too far and too fast.
Mr Johnson (pictured here speaking to a member of the public in St James’ Park) and other top cabinet members reportedly approved a less aggressive strategy to get the country out of lockdown on Wednesday, on the basis that the country’s infection rate is still too high
The government is expected to drop its ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ message and replace it with ‘stay alert, control the virus and save lives’
Researchers at the London School of Tropical Hygiene, Imperial College London, and elsewhere, modelled a number of different approaches to exiting the lockdown ‘to evaluate which were viable and which were not’, a source told The Times.
Greggs reopens stores to customers
Greggs are now selling coffee, pasties and cakes to customers in store.
The Newcastle-based baker has reopened an undisclosed number of shops in the Tyneside area.
The gradual reopening process has followed a series of trials with staff testing working practices while remaining shut to customers.
A Greggs spokesman said: ‘We are initially operating shop trials behind closed doors in order to test the effectiveness of our new operational safety measures.
Chief executive Roger Whiteside issued a statement on the firm’s website, stressing the trials were in line with the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines.
He said: ‘These trials are being conducted across a number of channels, including delivery through Just Eat, Click + Collect and walk-in customers.
‘Colleague and customer safety continue to be the primary focus of the decisions we take as we start to reopen our shops.’
Fast food outlets Burger King, KFC and Five Guys have restarted their delivery operations at selected stores, while McDonalds remains closed across the UK.
As part of the changes, Mr Johnson will also announce a five-tier warning system, administered by a Joint Biosecurity Centre, to monitor the virus risk around the country and encourage public adherence to the new measures.
The alerts will range from Level One (green) to Level Five (red), with Britain currently on Level Four.
Mr Johnson is expected to announce that England is on the verge of moving down to Level Three from its Level Four grading, in a sign that there is no significant increase in the Covid-19 infection rate.
The grading system will be administered by a Joint Biosecurity Centre, which will be responsible for detecting local spikes of Covid-19 so ministers can increase restrictions where necessary to help reduce the infection rates.
Despite the government moving towards easing the country out of lockdown, many have raised concerns.
A poll for the Sun on Sunday today revealed that 90 per cent of Britons oppose lifting restrictions this week.
Meanwhile, Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, tweeted that it ‘feels to me like a mistake to me to drop the clear’ stay at home message.
Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said: ‘The messaging from this Government throughout this crisis has been a total joke, but their new slogan takes it to a new level. Stay alert? It’s a deadly virus not a zebra crossing.’
However, there was praise for the new message from the Bruges Group think tank. It tweeted: ‘The Government’s new slogan is good.
‘Green replaces red for a calmer feel. ‘Stay Alert’ replaces ‘Stay Home’ and underlines individual responsibility.
‘Control the Virus’ is a positive message. It’s within our power to achieve.’