The Covid 19 pandemic has seen over 55,000 (and rising) people in the UK die and many more suffer from the disease. This does not include the number of deaths that resulted from delays in treatment such as cancer. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the government had taken the disease seriously from the beginning and not put the economy above health. As the government has no effective track and trace system, it is difficult to know where people are contracting the virus. However, Public Health England has produced some data and singled out workplaces for 23% and educational establishments for 27% of cases outside the home. Certainly workers in the health and social care sector as well as in transport and other frontline industries have seen significant cases and deaths. But there are other industries, such as food processing, which have seen large number of cases. In particular the meat processing industry has been identified as a superspreader with at least 10 factories in the UK having a large concentration of cases. These workers, often migrants, are packed into crowded conditions and afraid to speak out because of job insecurity. Of course it is also spreading in the home as individuals catch it in social settings and then bring it home to their families. These cases are due to individual behaviour and rely on awareness and social solidarity. The cases in workplaces, including schools, colleges and universities are different because the workers often have little choice about working and little control over their working conditions.
There is a sense that during this ‘second wave’ the sense of outrage that many shared at the beginning of the outbreak has been dampened down. This could be because we have got used to the pandemic and the news of deaths and/or the fact the government and the media have played down the seriousness of the situation in order to get people back to work and to spending money. It is vital that we regain this anger and willingness to struggle on behalf of ourselves in the workplace but also for our communities. Covid may often get transmitted in the home, but it has to come from somewhere. By stopping Covid in the workplaces, including educational establishments, we protect our families and friends, and potentially get rid of Covid altogether.
The No Safety, No Work campaign aims to ensure that no one is working in unsafe conditions, for the sake of the workers themselves but also for their families and friends who they are in close contact with outside of work. This will only be possible if workers have control over their work situation, are not forced to work just to maintain profits of non-essential industries, and have alternative sources of income to support themselves if they are not working.
We campaign for:
In the workplace and on the way to work
- Workplaces must be Covid-secure before they are open. Every workplace must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in conjunction with a workers’ representative. Every workplace must have a named person in management who is responsible for health and safety, who is available for employees to raise concerns. Workplaces must have a rank-and-file health and safety committee (not necessarily a union one, as long as it has independence from the employer).
- Workers must be able to get to work safely. Transport should be free and more capacity needs to be created to ensure social distancing. Transport staff should be increased so they can support passenger safety.
- All frontline workers, public and private, need to have a pay increase to reward them for the extra responsibilities and risks. No to any public sector pay freeze!
- Support for businesses from the government should only be forthcoming if the workplace is Covid secure and workers have collectively agreed to the arrangements.
- Colleges and universities need to move to online learning. Students should remain at home after Christmas and halls of residence should be closed for all but international students. Students need to be reimbursed for what they have spent on fees and accommodation.
- Schools need to have extra funding in order to ensure safe conditions for both staff and students. There needs to be more classroom space so that class size is greatly reduced and where possible, schools should work with parents to encourage more at home learning. This is particularly the case where students have to take public transport. Options could include opening up village halls and community centres. The important thing is that staff and families should work together to develop safe ways of delivering education.
The prison estate
Prisons are also workplaces and prisoners are workers so they are entitled to the same level of security and consideration as the rest of the population. Putting people into solitary confinement should not be an option as the mental health of the prisoner must also be taken into account.
Closing of non-essential workplaces, redeployment and income support
- If a workplace cannot be made safe and it is not essential then they should be closed until an effective vaccine is widely available.
- Given that there is a shortage of workers in essential occupations such as health and education, training could quickly help to fill gaps with workers who have lost their jobs elsewhere. These jobs could support the skilled workers in these occupations. Funds need to be made available for a redeployment of workers from the private to the public sector and wages increased so that there is parity with jobs they have lost.
- Support should also be given for workers wanting to move to other jobs in demand such as distribution and production of essential goods.
- Furlough needs to be continued until the end of the crisis.
- Employers should be banned from sacking workers until the pandemic is over or else it is just a way of avoiding furlough payments.
- The eviction ban needs to be extended after January 11th so people do not have the pressure of housing problems.
- There must be an increase in Universal Credit. The extra £100 should be extended indefinitely.
Workplace and the bigger picture
- Workplace safety cannot be seen in isolation. The conditions which workers live in impacts workplace safety. If a worker comes into work from a place where virus transmission is unavoidable through overcrowding, then workplace infections will inevitably increase. Moreover, homelessness also has an impact on workplace safety. Sofa surfing and rough sleeping are conducive to virus transmission among working people. It is in all of our interests, therefore, for all people to have a decent home to live in.