“It’s time to stop sacrificing people’s health, jobs & livelihoods at the altar of private profit.”Claudia Webbe MP.
Figures recently released from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) revealed that nearly one in five (19%) workers are currently going to their workplace despite being able to do their job from home, thereby unnecessarily and dramatically raising the risk of them catching and spreading Coronavirus at a time when we are supposed to be in ‘lockdown.’
The YouGov poll commissioned by the TUC also showed that the largest driving factor behind this was bosses exerting pressure on their staff to physically attend work, with 40% (two in five) respondents saying that this was the primary reason they are not working from home.
As General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady said “bad bosses are needlessly putting workers at risk and increasing transmission in local communities.”
What a damning indictment of an economic system that always chases short-term private profit, leaving unscrupulous bosses to exert further domination and exploitation of their workforces, which the Government lets them get away with.
Throughout this and previous ‘lockdowns’ the formal government advice has repeatedly been that anyone who can work from home ought to do so. This clearly means that no one should be forced into the office or another workplace if they can do their job from home.
Yet – even as the Government talks about its ‘roadmap’ out of this lockdown – trade unions report that hundreds of members have complained to them that their boss was forcing them to break this rule, and every member of Parliament knows that in their constituency there are people being pressured into going into a workplace that they don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – at.
Additionally, workplaces up and down the country have failed to put in even the most elementary changes to enable social-distancing and other measures to help workers be safer.
Alongside this, several recent news reports have shown that enforcement has been virtually non-existent with regards to ensuring workplaces that shouldn’t be open are closed and that people are not forced into going into workplaces when they could be working from home.
An ‘Observer’ investigation in January revealed that “Irresponsible firms are exploiting looser lockdown regulations to bring thousands of non-essential workers into sometimes busy workplaces, with little chance of enforcement action by the nation’s safety watchdog.”
It revealed the shameful statistic that just 0.1% of the nearly 97,000 Covid-19 safety cases dealt with by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) agency during the pandemic appear to have resulted in an improvement or prohibition safety notice, with not a single company prosecuted for Covid-19 related breaches of safety laws.
A follow-up report then found that analysis of the HSE enforcement database reveals there have been no Covid-19 related prohibition notices, which allow inspectors to immediately halt activity in workplaces deemed injurious or damaging to health, since last March.
Workplaces are behind numerous Covid-19 outbreaks, yet the Government continues to let bosses get away with risking the lives and health not only of their own workers but wider communities, undermining all our efforts to safe lives, stay safe and fight the virus, and contributing to putting our NHS under unnecessary further pressures at this devastating time.
Furthermore, the Government recently defended the HSE’s decision not to place Covid-19 in its highest risk category in response to a parliamentary question from Labour’s shadow employment minster Andy McDonald, with Tory Minister Mims Davies saying it was “significant” rather than “serious.” As Andy put it himself, “How you could describe Covid-19 contracted in the workplace as being not serious but merely significant is absolutely beyond me.”
The Tory Government’s complete reluctance to in any way act against their corporate chums and paymasters is shown by the fact that whilst we regularly see headlines about individuals being fined for breaching lockdown parameters, employers are simply not being penalised for the same.
In advance of the Budget, the Labour Party and broader labour movement needs to come together and loudly say that enough is enough – it’s time to stop sacrificing people’s health, jobs and livelihoods at the altar of private profit.
- Claudia Webbe is the MP for Leicester East.