Message from Len: Chaos and confusion – but your safety, jobs and pay come first

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Dear Unite activist  

Firstly, thank you for everything that you are doing to support our members and represent our union during these very testing times. Our members and their families will not forget that we are here for them when they need us most.

More than six weeks into lockdown, the government at Westminster now wants to set out a path to unlocking the economy. This process has got off to an unfortunate start, however, with the confusing and chaotic communications around the next steps.  

We heard from the prime minister last night, when he said that the message in England would now switch to `stay alert’ while in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales it remains ‘stay home’. It has also only now been clarified that the government wants manufacturing and construction to begin to open further in England from Wednesday and not today as was initially inferred by the prime minister.

Then there is question of the yet-to-be published government guidance on safe working and safe travel to work. We would have preferred for this guidance to be termed as instruction to prevent employers from differing in their interpretation of the advice, and it would have been far more sensible and helpful for this guidance to have been seen by and agreed with unions and employers before the government announced the loosening of lockdown. The government guidance will emerge later today, we are told.

These are points I made when I spoke with the BBC this morning where I also called for the government to turn to our `army’ of health and safety workers to get this country working in a safe and confident manner.  

Unite’s approach to the government’s proposals and guidance remains as before: do these protect your safety, your jobs and your income? If they do not then we will not hesitate to say so and we will be voluble in our demands for a better deal for you and your colleagues. We will not permit anything that dilutes or diverts from the health and safety provisions that this movement fought hard to secure.  

The first duty of a government is to keep its people safe. Of course, we have tens of thousands of members who have been at work throughout this crisis and through your efforts, we have been working to keep them safe. We want those not at work to be able to go back to their workplaces as soon as possible but it has to also be in as safe a manner as possible.  
We will not allow this to become a choice between lives and livelihoods, especially when there is practical assistance that we can provide and a raft of expertise across our movement about how to ensure safe workplaces.  

Over the course of today and tomorrow, we will hear more of the government’s plan for the workers in England. We will analyse these and provide briefing to you as soon as possible. In the meantime, our guide to safe workplaces can be found on our website (https://resources.unitetheunion.org/unite-at-work-bargaining-support/health-and-safety) and I advise that you use this as the basis of your conversations with your employers.  

We continue to be in discussions with all the governments of the UK and to speak with force and good sense about what is needed to re-open this country safely, with the long-term, strategic investment and partnership programme needed to recover our economy.  

These are changed times but the role of unions in protecting working people has never been more evident. It is vital that we encourage workers to join our union as we fight to secure their safety and their futures.  

As ever, our solidarity will see us through.  

Len