Essential workers at East London NHS Foundation Trust have organised and taken action to reduce the risk of infection and to keep each other and the patients safe.
“We are the workers that will keep going through this pandemic. Together we can take action for safer workplaces”, they say.
On 16 March mental health nurses, doctors, social workers, admin and cleaners in East London, emailed the chief executive seeking assurances that all workers operating in ELFT premises would be entitled to full paid leave, where necessary, to comply with the government’s public health advice.
By Thursday 19 March they had still not heard back from the Trust managers. By that time they had discovered that the provision they had asked for already existed, buried deep in a policy document. Only, no effort had been made to inform staff, least of all the staff most affected.
Workers then put up posters advertising the policy throughout the hospital as a basic infection control and health and safety measure.
On Friday 20 March they discovered a leaked letter from NHS England to all NHS Trusts dated 2 March. Contained within that letter was the provision they had been asking for. On page three it instructed NHS employers to:
“Ensure that any member of staff, including bank staff and sub-contractors, who has to be physically present at an NHS facility to carry out their duties, receives full pay for any period in which they are required to self-isolate as a result of public health advice”.” (“COVID-19 NHS preparedness and response”).
This will only be effective as an infection control measure if essential workers on zero hours contracts who will be working in the NHS through the shutdown are aware that it exists.
ELFT workers are calling on NHS employers to make the policy known, loudly and publicly.
• More at elftworkerssolidarity.org
Union action makes the difference
In the week ending 20 March, bus drivers for Metroline were told they were now running a Saturday service and would be paid for only 20 hours a week. However at Victoria Coach station, TfL (Transport for London) management, under pressure from union stewards, committed to full pay on reduced time and even in a shut down. With the government offering an 80%-pay guarantee, the unions need to go on the offensive: no job cuts, no cuts in pay, full sick pay, and a fallback rate for any zero hours workers.