Safety side-lined as workers warn that exposure to virus will cost lives

April 11th 2020

Safety side-lined as workers warn that exposure to virus will cost lives

April 11th 2020

Safety side-lined as workers warn that exposure to virus will cost lives

Key points:

• more than 50% of workers do not feel safe

• workers in ‘filthy’ call centres ‘being backed into a corner’

• Carers’ bodies exposed, as ‘social distancing from 5-year-olds doesn’t really work’

• STUC says bosses will come to realise their 'greed has cost the highest price'

Most workers do not feel safe, according to a survey of over 1500 workers in Scotland.

The survey, issued by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, exposed the sense of dread and unease pervading across workplaces in Scotland, including in care, call centres, and transport.

Call centre workers are being told the need for an ‘office presence’ is the reason they are required to come to shared, unclear work-spaces. One respondent said:

“Companies [are] classifying themselves as key workers when they are not. Call centres are filthy and tripling the cleaning in them right now only brings them to a level they should have been at in the first place. It’s not a safe environment. Call centres not letting staff work from home with their safety. Vulnerable employees being backed into a corner regarding absence pay and disciplinary action.”

Professor Phil Taylor of Strathclyde University, has released a survey to call centre workers across the UK (but a large number of responses have been received from Scotland) to build a clearer picture of the conditions and coercive measures being used to keep staff working, interim results of which will be issued on Monday. He said:

‘Many agents have told me their fears: insufficient social distancing, multi-occupation workstations, lifts, poor sanitation, re-used headsets, heating and ventilation systems spreading germs. Open-plan offices spread contamination and home working is denied.

‘But alongside bad practice, there is exemplary behaviour where some employers are being highly responsive to requests for supportive home working and are implementing good procedure. The more we expose what is happening – and the more workers complete surveys like these – the stronger we will be and the more we can stop bad practice and learn from the best.

The STUC survey also revealed more of the day-to-day dangers facing care workers that have been highlighted by Unison, GMB and Unite who represent care workers. A joint statement and guarantees on PPE was agreed by the Scottish Government and unions earlier this week, but monitoring practice, particularly in non-unionised work settings remains a major challenge.

One support worker on 24-hour shifts with individuals with complex needs in their own home, said:

‘It is not possible to social distance. No masks are supplied unless the individual gets the coronavirus’.

Another, working in the community as a personal carer said they are not managing to remain 2 metres distant when carrying out tasks:

‘Parts of my body are being exposed, as [we are] only being issued with gloves, aprons and hand gel when it is in stock, which is not very often right now.’

Roz Foyer, STUC General Secretary Designate, said:

‘When workers and communities are standing together and putting safety first, there will always be those who will not resist the temptation for profit.

‘We appreciate that in some care roles, 2 metre social distancing is not possible, that’s why having the right equipment is crucial and regular testing programs should be implemented for such workers. As we find out more about virus more we should be refining guidance on PPE to ensure that it is of the most effective standard.

‘This Easter weekend, we remember the workers putting themselves in harm’s way to keep earning for their family, or to care for their community. And we rue that there are some who value their profits more highly than life itself.

‘That harm is not inevitable, but is the result of decisions by companies and bosses. It is inevitable that workers will die as a result of their actions, and then they will realise too late that their greed has cost the highest price.’

'By coming together, sharing information, and organising, workers can expose poor practice and make their own safety non-negotiable.'

**STUC How safe is your work survey **

Professor Phil Taylor Call Centre Survey

A Just Scotland

Scottish Union Learning