STUC Congress (3.20pm 17th November) has heard a General Council statement delivered on its behalf by Denise Christie, FBU, responding to the First Minister’s announcement extending restrictions in eleven areas. The statement outlines major concerns in relation to the strategy particularly as it affects schools, the NHS, care and non-essential workplaces.
“Around half an hour ago the First Minister announced new restrictions as part of the COVID 19 Framework. 11 local authority areas have now been moved up to level 4 reflecting stubbornly high infection rates and the risk of the NHS and care services being overwhelmed. High infection rates are a risk to our members working on the front-line in health, emergency services, care, essential industry, transport and many sectors besides.
“The Trade Union movement in Scotland has been clear from the outset that reducing infection levels and suppressing the virus is the overriding priority. This is first and foremost a public health issue. Prioritising health now will also provide the platform we need for a real and sustainable economic recovery.
“We have serious questions to ask. Why, earlier this year in an attempt to decisively break the back of the virus was non-essential work in sectors such as construction and manufacturing suspended. And why now is the Government so insistent that this will not be considered?
“Protection of the public and our members is the priority. That is why we remain enormously concerned at the insistence from government, that even at level 4 schools must remain open. School closures can contribute to virus suppression in local areas, so that level 4 is effective and not a prelude to complete Lockdown.
“The decision to open up universities and college proved to be a disaster and, whilst we understand the reluctance in the first instance to unilaterally close primary and secondary schools, the truth is that we are now reaching, in level 4 areas, a situation where neither the objective of protecting public health, nor the aim of providing the best possible educational experience for our children is being achieved.
“In truth, we have schools in areas such as Glasgow and Clyde which are riven by staff shortages and by massive numbers of self-isolating pupils. The latest updated figures, published on the Scottish Government website yesterday, indicate that almost 30,000 pupils were absent from school on 10th November for COVID-related reasons – an increase of 28% on the previous week’s figure of 23,000. 1,600 teachers are also absent for COVID-related reasons - an 18% increase on the previous week. This is an issue for the whole community of school workers. We know from union surveys that cleaners, caterers, and support staff do not feel safe or equipped. The result is that, even for those able to attend classes, the normal educational experience is enormously compromised with mixed classes and a shortage of staff.
“The move to level 4 will inevitably further heighten concerns over school safety and we call on the Scottish Government to consider a temporary return to blended, online or distance learning. Should they not do so, and schools are forced to remain fully open when staff feel it is unsafe to work, the STUC stands ready to support industrial action by teachers and school-based staff. Blended learning does not automatically necessitate the full closing of schools but it does ensure that the health, wellbeing and safety of all school staff and the health, wellbeing and safety of the young people in their care should never be compromised.
“As well as protecting those working in our schools, and those most vulnerable to the virus, we need to protect workers in non-essential manufacturing, construction and other sectors of the economy who face the economic fall-out of new restrictions. And if we do see a development of school closures, workers with school-aged children must be adequately supported and given financial protection.
“As Jackson outlined in his Presidential address this morning, pay is a public health issue. Our hospitality and retail workers are among the lowest paid and most likely to be furloughed on 80% of their wage. It cannot be right that these workers are asked to live on less than the minimum wage through no fault of their own. Greater financial support from Government is needed and it must go to workers on the frontline, not be hoovered up by bosses.
“Congress, we must protect our key workers who are battling the virus and those who face the economic consequences of it. In the days and weeks ahead I ask all of you to stand in solidarity with one another and with those unions considering taking action to protect lives and livelihoods.”
For further details contact Dave Moxham 07891026870