TUC calls for a safe return to work

6 April 2021

As hospitality and non-essential shops prepare to reopen in England on 12 April, the TUC has warned that infections could rebound if workplaces are not made Covid-secure.

With more than 11,000 working age people having died during the pandemic, and with thousands of outbreaks recorded in workplaces, the union body insists that the vaccine rollout and workplace testing must not be used as an excuse to relax safe working rules.

Its A Safe Return to the Workplace report sets out the steps ministers and employers should take to prevent another spike in workplace infections.

In the report, the TUC suggests that all employers should update their risk assessments to take account of what is now known about the importance of ventilation.

Any activity which can be conducted outside should be, it points out, and employers should invest in ventilation systems, as well as continuing to enforce social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.

The report also insists that decent sick pay remains critical to ensuring a safe return to work.

The TUC says that the Government should increase statutory sick pay (SSP) to at least the rate of the real Living Wage and extend eligibility to the two million low-paid workers who currently do not qualify for it. SSP is now £96.35 per week.

With less than half of firms surveyed (45%) giving their workforces paid time off to get vaccinated, the report argues that this is another area where employers could do more.

As well as giving staff paid time off to get vaccinated, it suggests that companies should seek to persuade staff to get the vaccine but not make it a condition of employment.

Finally, the TUC has called on the Government to start “cracking down” on employers who break the rules on workplace safety.

Despite thousands of workplace outbreaks, not a single employer has been fined and prosecuted for putting their staff in danger, it points out.

The TUC also highlights that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has still not amended its much-criticised designation of coronavirus as a “significant” rather than a “serious” workplace risk, which limits the enforcement options open to inspectors.