Unions respond to Johnson’s lockdown easing

Unions have responded to the government’s easing of the lockdown.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The safety of our members and the public is our top priority, so Usdaw worked with the British Retail Consortium on joint safety guidance for shops based on the 2-metre rule. Retailers have to publish risk assessments and implement robust safety measures and it appears that they have taken that seriously and are complying.

“Reducing the 2-metre rule in stores could be disastrous for our members and send a message to the public that social distancing is over. It has taken a lot of hard work and effort to make the changes to encourage customers to follow 2-metre distancing in shops that stayed open throughout the lockdown. Non-essential retailers have also redesigned their stores on the basis of 2-metre social distancing for their reopening. Changing the rules would be an unnecessary burden on business, compromise the safety of staff and customers and create confusion.

“There is plenty of evidence to show that 2-metre separation is at least twice as safe as 1-metre. Independent SAGE warns that the risk of transmission is still too high to reduce social distancing rules indoors. Apart from the increased risk of infection, there is also likely to be a rise in violence and abuse because of the confusion it will cause. One of the triggers for abuse of staff at present is conflict between customers when someone is perceived to be getting too close and not following the rules. This is likely to get worse once a change is announced.

“Covid-19 is still a killer disease that is at large in our communities. Retail has adapted well to the new circumstances, it is not necessary to change the 2-metre rule and it certainly shouldn’t be done without full discussion and agreement.”

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The NEU is of course in favour of all children being back in school, but even with a one-metre rule that will need more teachers and more spaces.

“It is not clear whether in less than three months the science will permit classes of 30. If social distancing of one metre remains in place, that will still be difficult for schools. Class sizes are already at record highs in secondary schools, but the current situation calls for groups around half that size. This is not just important for social distancing but to ensure that children get the increased one-to-one attention that is so essential to getting through the trauma of the pandemic, and back into normal learning and social interaction.

“Mathematics dictate that for this we need extra class spaces and extra teachers for the vast majority of schools. Government must support local authorities in making available public buildings, and encourage teachers who have left the profession, often due to excessive workload, to return.

“The NEU recently wrote to the Prime Minister with its 10-point recovery plan, which sets out our recommendations for building back from Coronavirus. 

“Employers and school leaders have been thinking through the implications of social distancing in their school for many months. One would be forgiven for thinking the government has not. For a safe return what we need to be hearing from the Prime Minister is not just hope, but pragmatism and a detailed, thought-through, strategic plan for schools based on the scientific evidence available. We will wait and see what the Department for Education guidance on making a full return in September possible looks like and will examine it carefully for its clarity and operability.

“It is now more vital than ever that Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson listen to the profession so that parents, teachers and pupils can be reassured that a return to school is as safe and as well planned out as possible for  the whole school community and wider society.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Many people will jump at the chance to see more family and friends, and visit pubs and restaurants, but others will be understandably cautious.

“Good public services need a thriving economy and the spectre of mass unemployment – particularly among the young – must be avoided.

“But the slow return to normal must happen safely. Squandering the lockdown sacrifices ​and progress made in the past three months would be foolish.

“All workplaces opening up must make proper risk assessments of the virus threat. Avoiding ​a second wave in the autumn and preventing the NHS, social care ​and other public services from being overwhelmed ​is vital.”

GMB acting general secretary John Phillips said: “Everyone wants to get back to normal as much as humanly possible but it has to be safe – we need quick and urgent progress on supplying everyone who needs it with PPE, testing and tracing if we’re going to avoid a second peak.

“Employers need clear guidelines about what is acceptable and safe – that can’t just be in theory, it needs to be practical and enforceable. We know many employers have modified ways of working and made every effort to keep workers safe and well, but that can’t be said for everyone.

“No working person should be put at risk by unscrupulous bosses cutting corners to save a few pounds. The entire plan needs to be joined up across every workplace, public transport, public services, our shops and open spaces.”

The BFAWU tweeted: “We as @UKLabour affiliate do not welcome today’s announcement and do not agree with the reduction of the 2 meter guidance it’s likely that this decision will put our members lives and and that of their families at risk. Profit before people.”

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