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‘Knee-jerk’ policy on Covid exemptions a dangerous mess, say unions

“The problem isn’t workers being pinged, but workers getting coronavirus”

THE government’s “knee-jerk” policy on worker exemptions from Covid-19 quarantine must be recalibrated with safety at the fore, unions demanded over the weekend.

As ministers announced the expansion of workplace testing, with 200 new sites to be opened this week for emergency and other “critical” workers, unions demanded a rethink and that ministers talk to them.

The government has faced a barrage of criticism over its attempts to stem the tidal wave of self-isolation notices received by workers, caused by its abandonment of Covid-19 safety measures.

Its list of “essential” workers who can be tested daily rather than self-isolate sowed confusion, and the crisis has drawn warnings of food shortages and breakdown in services and supply chains.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Daily testing will keep our front-line teams safe while they continue to serve the public and communities across our country.”

But with official estimates that one in 75 people in England now has the virus, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack described government policy as “a mess … based on knee-jerk reaction rather than foresight and sensible planning.”

He said: “We have warned about that from the start of the pandemic.

“This is the latest example of the blundering we have seen from the start, over safety advice, over testing, PPE, other vital equipment and resources and, of course, dodgy contracts.

“It is also remarkable that this government wants to exempt entire groups of workers because they are deemed ‘essential’ yet refuses to give the same workers a decent pay rise.”

Demanding an urgent rethink from ministers, GMB general secretary Gary Smith said: “The problem isn’t workers getting pinged, the problem is workers getting coronavirus.

“Whether it’s in energy, waste or in our supermarkets, the story is the same: workers who have to make sacrifices as a result of the failure of those at the top have to take the most risk.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is ludicrous that this announcement has been made without any discussion with the unions or detailed briefing on who this scheme is supposed to cover and how it will be implemented.

“This cavalier approach seems to be aimed at hitting headlines rather than mapping a serious way out of the current crisis. ‎

“It leaves our members facing yet more uncertainty: I am seeking urgent clarification from both the employers and the government before more damage is done.”

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