Advice and PCS actions in relation to the Covid19 outbreak
As everyone will be aware, the Covid19 virus has spread to virtually every corner of the world over the last couple of months, and the UK government has now amended its previous advice in relation to dealing with the spread. This means a move to what is termed the ‘delay’ phase. In other words, there appears to be no realistic prospect of the spread of the virus in the UK being prevented. It’s not hyperbole to state that these are unprecedented times.
It is important to stress that PCS cannot and should not give health advice regarding Covid19. We are simply not qualified to do so and would recommend all members with specific medical and clinical concerns to refer to the Public Health England (PHE) website, the links now available on the Coronavirus Hub on Horizon or the 111 helpline.
On 16 March the Prime Minister made an announcement that significantly ramped up the UK’s response to the pandemic. This has been followed by an email from the Permanent Secretary. This outlined specific instructions in four bullet points.
- if you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started.
- if you live with others and you or one of them have symptoms of coronavirus, then all household members must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill
- Those who can work from home should do so. Fortunately, many members have been issued laptops which will allow home working. Managers should be preparing work that can be done by members at home remotely. Furthermore, we are asking for a significant increase in laptop provision.
Specific At-Risk Groups
- The acting Permanent Secretary states that “people in at risk categories should remain at home”, and that these members are “strongly recommended to stay at home”, and although she states “working if you are able”, the clear guidance is that if you are not able to you should still remain at home.
- The risk categories are set out below;
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)
- those who are pregnant
- Gatherings and events should be cancelled where possible and meeting to take place via skype or teleconference.
PCS is concerned that the gravity of these announcements from the Permanent Secretary and the Prime Minister may not have been fully digested in some areas. We have already been made aware of some managers not allowing home working despite laptops or refusing to allow members with serious underlying medical conditions to remain at home.
PCS is pushing for unequivocal clarification of the Permanent Secretary’s email, and have written today requesting this, so that all managers are instructed to follow this.
Furthermore, we are making demands over how absences are treated. Whilst anyone testing positive for the virus is clearly covered by an exemption under the sick policy, this does not take account of the limited testing taking place, and therefore lack of formal diagnosis, and the preventative guidance now issued.
We are demanding the following and any COVID-19 related absences should not result in detriment to staff;
- All staff who can work from home should be told to and Home Office need to do all they can to facilitate this for the maximum amount of people possible.
- Anyone who is 65 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system should be told not to come into work. If staff cannot work from home they should be guaranteed paid special leave and told to self-isolate.
- Anyone who has caring responsibility for elderly or infirm relatives should be given the option to stay at home on paid special leave if they cannot work from home.
- Anyone with childcare responsibilities due to nursery or school closures should be given the option to stay at home on paid special leave if they cannot work from home.
- Anyone having to support a dependant with symptoms who is self-isolating for 14 days, as per Government advice should be given paid special leave if they cannot work from home.
- For fit and healthy staff continuing to work and keeping operations running this will still be an extremely anxious time for them. We would like assurances that members of staff can remove themselves from any situation they feel puts them at risk without the threat of a penalty. And PPE and risk assessments are regularly reviewed. Also we would welcome, if possible the expansion of services available to staff over and above the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and volunteer mental health first aiders in order to support staff.
As noted above these are unprecedented times. We all have a duty to protect ourselves, our families and our colleagues. This involves responsible self-isolation where necessary and the prioritisation of those most at risk.
Please get in touch with your local reps if you believe that your local workplace are not following the requisite guidance.