Health & safety

Schools: recovery, not catch-up

According to the Daily Mail on 27 June, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson used a speech to Tory backbenchers to describe the largest and most vocal schools union, the National Education Union (NEU), as “the No Education Union”. This follows attempts by Boris Johnson to blame the NEU for the low numbers of children returning to school after 1 June, the date announced as the start of wider reopening. The government know there is huge frustration at the lengthy closure of schools and the lack of any clear idea as to when that might change. They understand the risk that, if parents blame them...

Jobcentre workers and Covid-19: Unsafe, unworkable, unacceptable

The Secretary of the State for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that she wants job centres to open from 4 July, with mass opening to the public on Monday 6 July. This is unsafe, and unworkable — there is no means to safely distance in an interview with a claimant in a small job centre, and no mitigations and additional safety measures have been installed, such as perspex screens or additional hand sanitising facilities. The government also plans to introduce stricter conditionality on claims, meaning claimants will face more stringent checks on how much job searching...

New Covid plans

Doctors and scientists want a shift in virus-control policy. An open letter to all the political parties, on 23 June, by leading medical figures, called for an urgent effort to map new policies because "the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk".

Scientists say: "1 metre? Not yet"

Boris Johnson announced on 23 June that he plans to let pubs and cafés reopen from 4 July with only one metre covid-distancing. The Independent SAGE group of dissident scientists said on 18 June that "until there is evidence that infections have dropped to much fewer than 1,000 cases a day [the current 7-day average is 1,205, falling slowly] [one-metre] is not safe in indoor spaces particularly in restaurants, bars, or workplaces..." The official SAGE scientists in late May blocked government plan to reduce the virus risk rating from 4 to 3, and got that move delayed to 19 June. One of them...

Back to "conditionality"

Some Jobcentre staff have spent the last couple of weeks calling the new Covid-19 claimants offering voluntary job support, work all staff are or were meant to be moved onto. But now we're being told that it's not voluntary for 18-24s, and that besides, "conditionality" — meaning regular phone appointments, mandatory work search activity and sanctions — is returning in July. Confusion and indecision reign. Meanwhile, existing vulnerable claimants from pre-March have been left to rot, in many cases with no contact or support in three months. They are the lowest priority in management's eyes...

Dying for sick pay (John Moloney's column)

On Monday 15 June, PCS launched our new campaign, “Dying for Sick Pay”, with an online rally. The demand of this campaign is for equal terms and conditions for outsourced workers, specifically full occupational sick pay from day one. Early on in the pandemic, we secured an agreement with the Cabinet Office that outsourced workers would be paid in full for sickness and self isolation, but on some contracts this simply wasn’t enforced, such as OCS at the Ministry of Justice, where Emanuel Gomes tragically died after working through his symptoms, because he couldn’t afford to live on Statutory...

No time to lose on isolation pay and PPE

The government has dropped its plans to reopen primary schools to all year groups before the end of term in July, but will allow shops to reopen from 15 June, and pubs, hairdressers, cinemas, etc. from 4 July at earliest as long they meet covid-distancing rules. Face-coverings will become compulsory on public transport from 15 June. Britain’s lockdown-easing policies are more erratic than in other European countries. So far, as in those other European countries, the curve of cases and death is still moving downwards, but in Britain the movement is slow. There is no good reason for the labour...

Protesting in the pandemic

A radio interviewer asked David Nabarro, World Health Organisation special envoy on Covid-19, what he’d say to the interviewer’s (or Nabarro’s) young adult children about the Black Lives Matter protests. Nabarro replied: “Yes, of course, you go [to the protests]. Because it matters. This is so important. “But you wear a mask, and you keep it on properly. You keep physical distance, and it can be done...” He added: “It’s probably on the transport going to and from [the protests] that the risks are greatest”. The (mostly) young people who have gone on the streets against racism are right to do...

A ragged 1 June, but schools union grows

On 30 May, four scientists from the government’s SAGE advisory group went public saying that the Tories’ easing of the lockdown, including the wider opening of schools, is unwise at this time. The number of cases and the infection rate are still high, and we don’t know whether or how much children can spread the virus. As I write on 1 June, the wider opening of schools planned by the Tories for today looks ragged. In Wales schools are not going back. The Assembly has set no date for a return. In Scotland schools will return from 11 August (the regular start to the school year there); Northern...

Make the schools safe!

The government’s aspiration to partially open schools on 1 June is likely to be largely unrealised. While we all want children back in schools, as soon as safe enough, that is good. Success in resisting unsafe reopening is dependent on union strength on the ground. We must fight for rank-and-file school worker control over the strategy, locally and nationally.

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