Nearly one in 10 workers with Covid symptoms are being pressured by managers to come into work, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has claimed, as a new wave of coronavirus infections and hospitalisations sweeps across the country.
Polling by the TUC reveals that 9% of employees displaying symptoms have been forced into workplaces, and, in the past 12 months, 10% have been asked to work alongside colleagues who had tested positive.
The survey, carried out in May, shows that only 29% of workers and 14% of disabled workers feel safe going to work since the government lifted the remaining legal protections in England in February, including the requirement for infected people to self-isolate and for employers to produce a specific Covid risk assessment.
Mandy Green (not her real name) was told to work on a supermarket deli counter even though she was still testing positive. She refused, and was threatened with disciplinary action when she returned to work 10 days later in May. “My manager called me on the third day and told me to come in because they were short [of staff]. But I was still testing positive – the line was still strong. I was really ill. I had to get an asthma pump because I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I said no to them because we work with the public and older staff.”
But Green said some of her colleagues came in after falling ill with the virus. “A couple of people said they were positive but they had been told to come in,” she said. “[The supermarket] was not bothered about our welfare … or Covid.”
TUC health and safety officer Shelly Asquith said vaccines were saving lives but Covid remained a real risk. “No one should feel unsafe at work. Conservative ministers have been too complacent in removing requirements for Covid-specific risk assessments in workplaces,” she said.
This comes as infections, driven by highly transmissible Omicron variants, surge. The latest weekly Covid data shows positive tests are continuing to rise. More than 11,000 were admitted to hospitals in England in the seven days until 4 July – up 33% on the preceding seven days. Deaths are also increasing, with 454 dying after testing positive up to 1 July. Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has warned that admissions caused by the current wave are likely to exceed the April peak, when more than 2,000 people a day were being admitted.
Yet many firms have failed to take even basic precautions, the TUC claimed, with workers reporting that about a quarter of workplaces have not taken steps to improve ventilation, and 18% have not carried out a Covid risk assessment.
Government public guidance, which replaced legally binding regulations, asks employers to consider various measures including improving ventilation, supporting the vaccination programme and helping workers self-isolating.
Some employers, however, could be hindering the continuing vaccine booster rollout: 30% of the workers polled said they were not offered paid time off to get vaccinated. A quarter were being denied the opportunity to work from home.
The UK’s low rates of sick pay continue to force ill people into workplaces, the TUC claimed, with 20% of workers surveyed unable to afford to take time off. Earlier in the pandemic, workers could claim statutory sick pay from day one, but they now have to wait for four days before they can claim £99.35 a week, one of the lowest rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development group of rich economies.
Asquith added: “Make no mistake about it, this is a class issue. Those on low pay and in insecure work are significantly less likely to receive decent sick pay – with more than a million receiving nothing at all because they don’t earn enough.”
Dr Mike Gent, a UKHSA director, said workers with Covid should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people, especially those whose immune systems mean they are at higher risk of serious illness, despite vaccination.
“Businesses and workplaces are advised to strongly encourage employees to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if they are unwell with symptoms of a respiratory infection such as Covid-19. They should only return to the workplace when they no longer feel unwell or until they don’t have a high temperature,” he said.
This content was originally published here.