The Prime Minister’s statement tonight on the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions in England will “cause working people a lot of confusion and anxiety”, the TUC has warned.
Commenting on the update, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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.”
Responding to the PM’s statement, Keir Starmer said: “This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions.
“The Prime Minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.
“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”
“Those that can’t work at home are being told to go to work… that’s quite a thing to spring on people for tomorrow morning”
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 10, 2020
An earlier draft of the government plans for workplace safety was met with criticism from trade unions. They were given just hours to respond to guidance that GMB said was “thrown together in a hurry”.
“They cannot just flick a switch, say it’s safe to work within two metres of other people without PPE and expect them to head merrily off to work,” the GMB acting general secretary said last week.
But the Prime Minister this evening announced that “anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work”.
He said: “You should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.”
More detailed back-to-work plans on safety are expected to be published in the coming days, but those who cannot work from home are already being told to return to their workplaces.
Reacting to the news, Labour’s business spokesperson Ed Miliband said: “Workers in manufacturing and construction who are being told they should go back to work tomorrow need to know that they will be safe.
“Yet tonight the government has still not published the official guidance to assure those workers of their safety. This isn’t good enough for both workers and for the vast majority of good employers who want to do the right thing.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis has said that the return to work “must be safe”, adding: “There must be no cutting corners, no playing fast and loose with employees’ safety. The economy is important, but lives are too.”
Transport union TSSA has described the “mixed messaging” from the government as “disappointing and frankly dangerous”. General secretary Manuel Cortes has said that “only key workers” should be using rail services.
Cortes commented: “The PM telling people who can’t work from home to go to work but not use public transport is a ridiculous notion… It will cause chaos and our transport network is not ready for any increase in passengers.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “The message around unlimited exercise, and the self-policing of it, will make it now impossible to differentiate between those travelling as key workers and in those areas where return to work has been encouraged, and those who are not.
“Rightly, social distancing limits capacity on public transport and, if we believe that staff or public are being put at risk, we will not hesitate to ensure that all are protected.”