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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson to set out lockdown guidance as Labour and unions blast ‘irresponsible and wrong’ back-to-work push

The PM said some workers in construction and manufacturing should return to work (PA)

4 min read

Boris Johnson will give a fresh update on the Government’s coronavirus response later as Labour joined unions in criticising its new advice for workers.

The Prime Minister will update MPs in a Commons statement this afternoon, while a batch of documents is expected to be published on Tuesday giving more detail on how workplaces can become 'Covid Secure'.

Mr Johnson told the nation last night: “We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance, those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.”

Workers are also being encouraged to avoid public transport where possible in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

But Labour’s Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, Ed Miliband, and Shadow Employment Rights Secretary, Andy McDonald, have said they are “deeply concerned” by a lack of detail in the Government's plans.

In a letter to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, they wrote: “Every worker deserves to work without fear. 

“Without clear rules in place for workplaces, this cannot happen. 

“Ordering a return to work with 12 hours' notice and no official guidance on how workers can keep safe is irresponsible and wrong.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister's statement “raises more questions than answers”, adding: “What the country wanted [on Sunday] was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”


Labour’s calls echo those of a string of trade unions, with the TUC umbrella group branding the PM's statement a “recipe for chaos”.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Boris Johnson’s statement will cause working people a lot of confusion and anxiety.  

“The Government still hasn’t published guidance on how workers will be kept safe.

"So how can the prime minister – with 12 hours' notice – tell people they should be going back to sites and factories? It’s a recipe for chaos.  

“Unions want to support a safe return to work so we can start rebuilding Britain.

"Government must provide clear direction to workers and business by introducing tough new rules on workplace safety.”

Shopworkers' union Usdaw has also called for clearer safety measures, with its general secretary Paddy Lillis adding: “Usdaw’s absolute priority is the safety of our members and we have emphasised safety first in all the discussions we’ve had with the Government. 

“Non-food retail should only start trading again when expert public health advice agrees, but even then we must have a guarantee that the right policies and practices are in place to make workplaces safe.”

It comes after the UK's largest unions warned yesterday that they would tell workers to stay at home if safety demands weren't met.


The Government has also been criticised for announcing plans to reopen some schools from June 1, a move described as “nothing short of reckless” by the National Education Union (NEU).

Mar Bousted, the union's joint general secretary said: “Coronavirus continues to ravage communities in the UK and the rate of Covid-19 infection is still far too great for the wider opening of our schools.”

She also urged ministers to follow the example of Wales and Scotland, both of which had opted not to reopen schools this summer. 

Further clarity on the guidelines has also been called for by the Police Federation, which claimed “mixed messages” had led to many people breaking the rules.

The organisation's national chair John Apter said: “Police officers will continue to do their best, but their work must be based on crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation - because that will be grossly unfair on officers whose job is already challenging.”

But the Government's message was cautiously welcomed by some.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: "Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy. 

“A phased and careful return to work is the only way to protect jobs and pay for future public services. 

“The Prime Minister has set out the first steps for how this can happen.”

Further detail on the PM’s statement is set to be delivered to the House of Commons on Monday in a statement alongside a 50-page document. Mr Johnson will also field questions from the public this afternoon.

Adam Marshall, director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, coordinated with all nations across the UK and supported by clear guidance.

He added: "It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)."

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