Union’s letter to Johnson: No return to work until we feel safe

Staff in a London bus depot pay tribute to NHS workers. Public transport workers need protection too. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Employers who fail to prioritise the wellbeing of their staff when they return to work should be held to account

As the country debates how and when to get the economy up and running, it would be wrong to pretend that Britain can return to business as usual. As even the prime minister admitted, we will need to proceed with “maximum caution”. That’s why we are calling on government to guarantee that the right policies and practices are in place to make workplaces safe. This must be a central part of any return.

A crucial first step is to ensure all employers carry out thorough assessments of risks and identify the actions they are taking to deal with them. We want those risk assessments published. This is vital for giving workers confidence that it is safe to return to work. But it’s also a matter of national interest.

One bad employer who plays fast and loose with safety not only puts those workers and their families in danger – they put public transport workers and whole communities at risk of infection too. What happens behind workplace doors must be consistent with the wider public health approach. If work cannot be done safely, it should not proceed.

We cannot afford to cut any corners. The last few weeks have laid bare the terrible damage this virus can wreak.

Our national death toll is now the highest in Europe. Many of our members have lost their lives transporting people and goods, protecting the public and caring for the vulnerable. Health and safety used to be mocked by the free marketeers and the role of union health and safety representatives undervalued. Now it and they must be an integral part of the fight against this pandemic.

We know that most employers want to do the right thing. But for those who don’t, and whose actions risk the health of their workforce and our economic recovery, there must be no hiding place.

After years of cuts, the government must boost funding for pro-active monitoring and health and safety enforcement. And we need a public information campaign so rogue bosses face sanctions.

The trade union movement wants to be able to recommend the government’s back-to-work plans. But for us to do that we need to ensure that ministers have listened and that we stay safe and save lives at work too.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary,

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary,

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary,

John Phillips, GMB acting general secretary,

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary

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