There’s nothing ‘mad’ about health and safety

Continuing his blogs during the Covid-19 crisis, UNISON Eastern acting regional secretary Tim Roberts looks at the trade union movement’s renewed emphasis on safety.

Safety at work has been always been central to trade unionism.

Since the birthing throes of the modern trade union movement in the early 19th century, organised workers have sought to improve their conditions at work alongside improvements to wages.

And despite tabloid snides and pub bores complaining that health and safety has ‘gone mad,’ people know that the surest route to a safe and healthy working life is with a union card.

That’s why tens of thousands of public servants have joined UNISON since the lockdown.

It’s why in the fortnight since Boris Johnson announced the latest ‘be alert, stay at home, go to work’ phase of the lockdown we’ve had more people join the Eastern region than ever before. In fact, more people have joined than in any previous six-week period.

They’ve not just joined because they’re scared for their jobs or scared about their health. They’ve joined because they know that by being in UNISON they can actually do something to stay safe.

While Matt Hancock boasted of a “protective ring” around care homes, UNISON has actually been speaking to care workers supposedly shielded inside it.

A Bedfordshire care worker told our PPE Alert: “I’m very concerned. Our employer has been given 300 masks but we are not allowed to use them. The boss has emptied half the hand sanitiser for their own usage.”

Another member, working in an 70-bed Essex care home questioned why they were only expected to wear masks if patients are symptomatic when there’s at least five days before symptoms show themselves.

They said: “Five days in a care home such as the one I work for would be a disastrous amount of time. Surely, prevention is better than cure. I feel like we are lambs to the slaughter.”

And a community carer, going into multiple clients’ homes, told us they’re only being provided with three masks for their six-day week. They’ve bought their own PPE so that they can follow UNISON’s guidelines on PPE rather than the laxer standards of their employer.

“The whole picture of us domiciliary carers is being ignored by the government and we are all taking it upon ourselves to keep these people and ourselves safe on our own backs. Brilliant!”

Woe betide anyone else offered protection by Matt Hancock!

We haven’t solved all these problems, but we have worked tireless, day in, day out, to improve conditions in care homes, securing PPE and proper pay for care workers.

Regionally, we’re pushing councils to sign up to our Stop the Spread pledge.

Stop the Spread

As well as ushering in thousands more members to UNISON, Johnsons’s 10 May speech opened the current front in the battle for our rights.

Our staff and reps are in overdrive ensuring any return to work in schools will be safe.

Just as health workers and care workers should only work if they’re not putting themselves at risk, we won’t stand by while school support staff are sent into unsafe workplaces.

Look out for future updates on what we’re doing in schools.