Thu, 30 November 2023

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Shut down firms that put workers at risk during coronavirus shutdown, unions warn ministers

The TUC wants tougher enforcement action against firms that do not take steps to protect their staff from the coronavirus.

3 min read

The Government should be able to immediately shut down companies that put their staff at “unnecessary Covid-19 risk”, unions have said.

The TUC, which acts as the umbrella group for the UK’s trade unions, is calling for “strong new rules” from the Government to challenge firms that make their workers “endanger their own health and put their families and the wider community at risk”.

The Government has already urged people to work from home wherever possible, with non-essential shops, pubs, cafes, cinemas and theatres among the workplaces ordered to shut down in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

But the union group is warning that workers who cannot do their jobs from home are being imperilled by companies who are failing to put “adequate safety measures in place”.

The intervention follows a public outcry after firms including Sports Direct and Waterstones initially insisted that their stores would stay open.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With coronavirus infections increasing, employers must do all they can to keep their workers safe.  

“But many people who have to go into work are raising the alarm about their working conditions.  

“No one should have to endanger their own health and put their families and the wider community at risk. 

“Government must introduce strong new rules to keep workers safe. And those employers who flout the rules should be forced to close.  

“We all want businesses to get through this crisis and keep workers in their jobs. But employers must also play their part in stopping the spread of the virus, protecting our NHS and saving lives.” 

The unions are urging the Government to order formal risk assessments from every employer that still expects it staff to come in to work in person.

A new enforcement body - which the TUC says would bring together employers, unions and the Health and Safety Executive - should also be set up to enforce public health advice and “shut down workplaces if employers fail to comply”.

Bosses are also told to do more to help staff work from home “if at all possible”, while the TUC wants firms to waive car park charges to reduce the need for workers to take public transport.

And companies are urged to be more flexible with shift patterns, including bringing in split shifts and staggering start and finish times to cut employees’ possible exposure to Covid-19.

The call from comes after Labour urged the Government to implement the “strict and enforceable closure” of non-essential business to try to contain the spread of the bug.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, Shadow Employment Rights Secretary Rachael Maskell said she had received “thousands of examples of workers continuing to work in non-essential industries”.

Under the sweeping emergency Coronavirus Act passed by MPs last month, ministers can already close any premises in the country, including workplaces, if doing so is deemed to help in “preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of coronavirus”.

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