Coronavirus: Unions call on Johnson for clearer workplace guidance

Lucy Harley-McKeown
Boris Johnson is being called on to make advice clearer. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
Boris Johnson is being called on to make advice clearer. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Business leaders and trade unions have called on prime minister Boris Johnson for clarity in advice for going back to work.

They say he risks spreading confusion by letting employers decide whether or not to bring staff back into offices and other workplaces, and is passing over responsibility on a big decision.

John Phillips, acting general secretary of the GMB trade union, said: “The prime minister has once again shown a failure of leadership in the face of this pandemic.

“Passing the responsibility of keeping the people safe to employers and local authorities is confusing and dangerous.”

“The government is passing the buck on this big decision to employers,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“Getting back to work safely requires a functioning NHS test and trace system. Yet progress on test and trace is still patchy, and the government is still refusing to support workers who have to self-isolate by raising statutory sick pay from just £95 ($120) per week to a rate people can live on,” O’Grady continued.

Many trade bodies and business leaders agree that reopening the economy is vital for protecting jobs in the long-run, but it needs to be handled safely and in stages.

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The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said companies should receive tax breaks to re-open offices.

"Businesses should be able to offset the investments they make to ensure their premises are Covid-secure against their tax bill, which would help many to return to workplaces over the coming months," said BCC director general Adam Marshall.

As it stands, the government says people should work from home if they can. However, Boris Johnson has announced government guidance will change from 1 August and employers will have more discretion about how their staff can work safely.

Anybody will be able to use public transport - including to get to work - the prime minister said.

From 1 August employers must follow strict rules, including maintaining a 1m gap between employees, introducing one-way systems to minimise contact and more intense cleaning regimes.

Official figures show almost half of the working population in Britain worked from home in April during the first full month of lockdown.