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WORKERS SELF-ISOLATING TO PROTECT LOVED ONES SHOULDN’T BE PUNISHED

FRIGHTENED WORKERS SELF-ISOLATING TO PROTECT VULNERABLE LOVED ONES SHOULDN’T BE PUNISHED SAYS UNISON

The government must do more to protect key workers threatened with dismissal or put on unpaid leave if they’re off work self-isolating because of vulnerable relatives, says UNISON.

Anxious staff have come to UNISON with heart-breaking stories, terrified that if forced to go into work, they might take the virus home – with potentially devastating consequences.  

Local government and NHS employers have put agreements in place to protect the income of any staff off work because of the health of family members. But some employers – including councils and schools – are instead using Public Health England (PHE) guidance to compel frightened staff to go into work, says UNISON.

The PHE guidance states that staff with shielding or clinically vulnerable family members can still go to work, so long as they observe social distancing both at their workplace and home. 

But many workers have jobs where social distancing isn’t possible – such as in schools or care homes – or live in houses or flats that are simply too small to make this a practical option, says UNISON.  

As a result, workers who have, for example, partners with cancer or severe asthma, children with cystic fibrosis or frail and elderly parents, are faced with the unenviable choice of being forced to work or left with no income.  

In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis has asked the government to extend the furlough scheme beyond private companies. 

This would allow staff working for employers that receive public money to help provide services – for example, charities, businesses providing contract cleaning or catering services for hospitals and schools, or nurseries receiving state support to provide free childcare – to qualify for government assistance if they self-isolate.

The letter also asks that employees off work because they’re protecting vulnerable loved ones be treated the same as those in self-isolation and therefore eligible for statutory or occupational sick pay and leave. 

Commenting on the letter, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Key workers are being forced to choose between protecting vulnerable loved ones or losing pay.

“Employers putting their staff under pressure need to stop hiding behind public health guidance and use more common sense. Leaving staff with no income when there are other options to pursue is simply wrong. 

“UNISON has put forward simple solutions that we hope ministers will take on board before more livelihoods and, potentially, lives are lost.” 

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