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Demands for immediate return of shielding workers would be ‘heartless and reckless’, says TUC
The TUC recently (Friday) called on employers to prioritise the safety of shielded workers and not demand that they return to workplaces immediately.
‘Shielded workers’ are those with health conditions that make them more likely to experience serious complications from a Covid-19 infection, so they have needed to follow more stringent guidance on social isolation.
In March the government asked around 627,000 people who had been in work to shield from coronavirus. One in three (31%) of them – nearly 200,000 people – could not work from home and were furloughed.
Government guidance states that shielding will be paused from 31 July in Scotland, 1 August in England, and 16 August in Wales, so shielding workers may face demands from their employers to return to workplaces.
However, this does not mean that there are no longer risks to these workers. The TUC is concerned that tens of thousands of people who have been shielding – especially older workers and those with ill health – may not yet be able to go back to workplaces safely.
And although shielding will be paused it may subsequently need to start again, either in local areas or nationally, depending on future Covid-19 levels in the population.
The TUC is warning employers not to make reckless demands for early returns to the workplace. The union body is calling on employers to:
- Make full use of the job retention scheme up until at least October (its current end point) for shielded workers, and for carers or household members of people shielding
- Publish full risk assessments for each workplace, conducted in consultation with staff unions, and covering the needs of workers who are at higher risk
- Conduct individual risk assessments in consultation with each shielding worker, or worker who is a carer or household member of someone shielding
The TUC is calling on the government to extend the job retention scheme for circumstances where support is needed beyond October. This should include:
- Workers whose GP or clinician advises that they should continue shielding - and workers who live with them
- Workers affected by local lockdowns
- Carers, particularly working parents who must prioritise childcare until schools and childcare settings fully reopen
- Businesses in the hardest hit sectors, like retail, aviation and manufacturing
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady recently said:
“It would be heartless and reckless for employers to demand the immediate return of shielding workers. After self-isolation for a number of months, requiring shielding workers to immediately travel to workplaces may cause anxiety and distress.
“We all want people to return to workplaces as soon as possible. But the virus remains a threat to shielding workers. And we may see further outbreaks that require local lockdowns
“The government must make clear to employers that they cannot give shielding workers unreasonable ultimatums to return to workplaces. The job retention scheme is in place until at least October, so employers must continue using it if home working is not an option.
“And the government should make clear that furlough will still be an option after October for shielding workers who cannot safely travel to workplaces or who may be subject to a local lockdown.”
- TUC report: Earlier this month the TUC published a report, ‘Job security: Saving the jobs of those who cannot work at home’, that called for the furlough scheme to be extended for various groups that may need support beyond October, including workers who are shielding or at higher risk: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-
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