During this deeply troubling time, it’s shocking to see so little protection given to frontline workers who are at the coalface of this crisis. With plenty of media attention rightly given to NHS staff who are being forced to work in unacceptable conditions that put their health and lives at risk, care workers are often overlooked.
Yet they face similar challenges with a lack of personal protective equipment and testing to keep them safe as they look after the most vulnerable people in our society, including the over 70s and those with underlying health conditions.
That’s why I’m delighted to see that a care worker and shop steward for UNISON – the union I used to work for as an industrial organiser in the North West region – has produced a petition calling on the government to protect their health, pay, employment and families.
One of the biggest challenges is that care workers are in the worst of both worlds: paid too little for the vital role that they fulfil, but too much by the government’s standards to be eligible for statutory sick pay.
Many private firms – already subjecting their staff to immoral zero-hour contracts – are ignoring the government’s advice to pay staff who are forced to self-isolate. Those workers have then left to choose between the health of themselves and those around them, and their employment. That should never be the case.
It’s also completely unacceptable, given the highly contagious nature of this deadly virus, that staff are inadequately equipped with sufficient levels of PPE. They often have no guarantee from one day to the next if they do receive PPE. Meanwhile, they’re still not considered a priority for testing.
Care workers should be entitled to receive full pay if they are in the unfortunate position of having to self-isolate through illness, or because someone they have been in contact with has displayed symptoms.
They should have job security if they need to take the recommended time off work to prevent the spread of the infection, or to care for their loved ones. They should not be punished for following the government’s advice to stop the spread of this pandemic and keep the rest of us safe.
That’s why I would urge you to please spare a minute to sign the petition and help call on all social care employers, local authorities and other commissioners of social care to do the right thing and support our care workers during this desperately challenging time. You can sign the petition here. Thank you in advance for your support.