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Food And Haulage Firms Slate Government's "On The Hoof" Plan To Decide Who Can Skip Isolation

3 min read

Pressure is mounting on the government to publish a list of which sectors have critical workers after they announced that more people in strategic jobs can request to avoid isolation if they test negative for Covid-19.

The government said that as well as some NHS staff, a small number of other businesses and organisations with critical workers can request permission from the civil service for their staff to avoid isolation rules.

Bids for exemption open from today, but there has been a backlash over the fact the government said it will not list which sectors are critical, meaning individual businesses must apply to Whitehall for permission for their staff to avoid isolation, and will be considered on a case by case basis.

Supermarket chain Iceland is among those with severe staff shortages due to the so-called “pingdemic” and today its boss criticised the government’s plan.

“The government needs to provide a clear list of key workers asap - just like they did at the start of the pandemic," Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods, tweeted.

"Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation, not writing letters to relevant “suitable Government departments” requesting exemptions."

No.10 has defended the plans and hinted that supermarket infrastructure would be exempt. “Those who work in critical infrastructure, those we’d expect to be exempted, we are already in conversations with," the Prime Minister's spokesperson said this afternoon.

"A lot of those exemptions are in process of being granted.”

But they added that only a very limited number of exemptions are likely to be granted, and dismissed suggestions that the critical workers list could run into hundreds of thousands of people being exempt from self-isolating.

Businesses are being told to contact their corresponding Whitehall department and apply for their workers to be given exemptions from having to isolate when contacted by Test and Trace, or "pinged by the app" if they do not have the virus.

Rod McKenzie, managing director for policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association told PoliticsHome said they needed to know if hauliers are still classed as essential workers, as they have been in previous waves of the pandemic.

“This feels like a plan thought up on the hoof without proper organisation or thought," he said. 

“Truckers were classed as essential workers at the start of the pandemic; now they may be or may not be. It’s too confusing. The criteria isn’t clear and it risks being both unfair and devastating to an already creaking supply chain.”

The Food & Drink Federation’s, chief executive, Ian Wright CBE, said: “Food production has been hit hard by isolations with a number of companies needing to scale down output to cope with worker shortage.

"We welcome the Government’s update that food production workers will be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate but we urgently need clarification from the Government including further detail on how the scheme will work.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said most businesses that need the exemption, are already in talks with their contacts within government, including at transport and Defra.

Under the current rules leading supermarket chains would need to apply for exemptions individually, and not as a group.

Usdaw, the Union of Shop Distributive & Allied Workers, said their members in food and pharmaceutical retail, manufacturing, distribution and the funeral industry are all key workers "who have helped to keep the country fed and well throughout the pandemic."

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