Virus could have been slowed with decent sick pay and proper PPE – TUC

The coronavirus could have been slowed down if decent sick pay was available, care workers had got proper PPE, and bad bosses who put staff safety at risk had been prosecuted, according to a union leader.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the virus crisis should be a catalyst for real change in the workplace.

Speaking to the TUC’s annual Congress in London, she said years of austerity had taken its toll and meant the pandemic was fought “with one hand tied behind our backs”.

She said that suddenly, supply chains delivering goods and services to industry mattered, continuing: “The people who keep essential supplies moving should matter too.

“But after long hours, many HGV drivers are sleeping in their cabs on lay-bys, no payments for truck stops, no place to wash, no toilet facilities. Treated worse than animals.

“Ministers may scratch their heads about how to protect supply chains and fill vacancies. Well, here’s a novel idea: invite unions in with employers.

“Get us around the table, and let’s make that industry deliver decent conditions, direct employment and a proper pay rise.

“After decades of real wage cuts and falling living standards, no-one can seriously say working people don’t deserve a pay rise.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

“If pay had continued to grow at its pre-crash rates the average worker would be £5,900 better off.”

Ms O’Grady said ministers seemed to live “on a different planet”, failing to understand that not everyone had gardens they could work from, or could survive on the current level of sick pay, or be aware of how working women had coped with childcare during the pandemic.

Challenging the Prime Minister to deliver on his promises to level up Britain, she added: “Ministers tell us they’re going to level up Britain.

“But levelling up means nothing if they freeze key workers’ pay, slash Universal Credit, and the number of kids in poverty soars.

“If levelling up means anything, it must mean levelling up at work and levelling up living standards.

“In the pandemic, unions have shown the value we bring. When we are in the room and our voices are heard.

“But look at the price we all pay when unions are shut out and ignored. Who can doubt that we could have slowed down the virus, if everyone had had decent sick pay?

“Or if care workers had got proper PPE from the start? Or if bad bosses, who put staff safety at risk, had felt the full force of the law – prosecuted and fined?”