Workplace Report (March 2020)

Bargaining news

 - confused guidance on who can go out to work

There has been a lot of confusion over who should and should not be going out to work in the wake of the prime minister’s call to “stay at home” (see page 3). 

A thousand workers walked out at poultry meat producer Moy Park in Portadown in Northern Ireland, on 25 March, after the Unite general union’s attempts to secure the minimum two metres between workers (and other measures) were dismissed by management. 

Public services union NIPSA condemned the NI Department for Communities for not putting necessary social distancing measures in place.

The protests came as community secretary Robert Jenrick repeated the government’s line that “if you can work from home, you must do so, you must try every way of working from home”. 

Challenged about people who feel they can’t or won’t be allowed to work from home, he said: “If that’s impossible then you can go to work, but when you’re in the workplace your employer should follow Public Health England’s guidance and if your employer believes it is not possible to do that, then they should consider whether they continue to trade at this time”.

Guidance issued to schools listed what the GMB union called an “indispensable hidden army” of critical workers in health and social care; education and childcare; key public services; food and other necessary goods; public safety and national security; transport; and utilities, communication and financial services. 

But not being on the list did not deter some non-critical businesses from calling staff in (including the Sports Direct retail chain, before it made a U-turn), while in the construction industry some sites were open and some not.

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