Worker protections urgently needed to combat Covid-19

Thu, Dec 23, 2021, 9:15 AM

The Covid-19 situation is rapidly getting worse in the UK. As the Omicron variant spreads and we face a new wave, the government and employers are, yet again, failing to keep workers safe. This is despite 150,000 deaths. The only way forward is to make sure every worker’s rights, health and safety are protected.

Precarious workers have been on the frontlines of this crisis and the protection of their rights has been recognised as a major public health issue. They continue to play a vital role controlling the spread of the virus, whether by going out to work and providing for those most in need or making the difficult decision when sick to stay home.

We urgently need to see longer-term measures that make the protection of public health more compatible with the protection of our civil liberties. That means investment in the NHS, it means defending and extending worker rights and it means holding corporations accountable for gambling with peoples’ lives. We cannot afford to continue with one rule for us and another for them.

As the IWGB, we have fought throughout the pandemic to ensure that our members have safe working conditions and the support they need. Faced with the current crisis, we are demanding three immediate measures:

1. Increase and extend Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The current rate of £96.35 per week is one of the lowest in Europe and nowhere near enough to support workers who become sick. SSP should be paid at the rate of normal wages and should never be less than the real living wage.

We demand sick pay that is equal to wages, accessible to all workers regardless of status.

2. Bring back furlough and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The closure of many workplaces with support for workers or the self employed will help to control the spread of Covid-19. These measures need to be made available to all those who need it, regardless of status or whether they have recourse to public funds.

We demand a return of furlough that is compulsory and indefinite and SEISS that is available to all who need it.

3. Third, enforce health and safety regulations and laws at work. Many employers failed to provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to workers during the pandemic. The Office for the Department of Labour Market Enforcement has only recently appointed a chair, leaving enforcement lacking throughout the pandemic. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has only investigated 0.1% of reports it received of avoidable Covid transmissions, failing to enforce regulations that could keep workers safe.

We demand PPE and the enforcement of health and safety regulations, with a plan to urgently establish the independent watchdog for workers’ rights already promised by the government.

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