Press release: Test Centre workers cannot afford to isolate

Test and Trace may be a net contributor to virus transmission due to super-spreader employment practices

– Test and Trace workers tell campaign they cannot afford to isolate if they get suspected Coronavirus infection 

– Lack of proper sick pay and job security for G4S workers turns Test Centres into potential Corona hotspots

– Parliamentary Committee finds no evidence that £37 billion Test and Trace system is reducing infection rates 

An investigation by keyworker campaign Safe and Equal and Labour MPs has found that Test and Trace may be a net contributor to virus transmission as frontline Test Centre staff are employed on “super-spreader contracts”.

Safe and Equal, a keyworker-led campaign for full sick and isolation pay, hasreceived reports from frontline Test Centre workers who say they do not have the financial security to isolate if they develop Coronavirus symptoms. 

In response to an enquiry from Emily Thornberry MP, G4S have confirmed that many staff operating Test Centres are employed on zero hours contracts and have no rights to company sick pay. If these staff have to isolate then at best they would be paid £95.85 a week Statutory Sick Pay. 

Stuart Jordan from the Safe and Equal Campaign explains: “Many Test Centre workers are employed on super-spreader contracts without occupational sick pay or job security. If they have suspected infection they are in an impossible situation: either isolate and face severe financial hardship or go to work and potentially infect others. In effect, NHST&T is a system for concentrating together all the people in the country with suspected Coronavirus infection and getting them to file past an army of workers who cannot afford to follow isolation rules. By using outsourcing firms that employ their workers on these super-spreader contracts, the government have created potential Corona hotspots at every Test site. This £37 billion disaster may actually be a net contributor to the spread of this virus.” 

According to the government’s own research only 1 in 5 people are fully compliant with isolation rules. Head of Test and Trace Baroness Hardingis well aware of this problem. On November 10she explained to a parliamentary select committee: “All evidence shows that people are not complying with isolation not because they do not want to but because they find it difficult. The need to keep earning and be able to feed your family is a fundamental element of it.” The campaign has written to Harding asking why she has replicated this problem within her own organisation. They are yet to receive a response.

On Wednesday 9th March the Commons public accounts committee published a report which struggled to find evidence that Test and Trace made any difference in reducing transmission.

Ends

Notes

1) Safe and Equal campaign is an organisation of keyworkers campaigning for full sick and isolation pay for all. For more information contact Stuart on 07817595626 or safeandequal@gmail.comSee website for correspondence between Emily Thornberry and G4S. https://safeandequal.org/2021/03/11/g4s-test-centre-workers-on-super-spreader-contracts/

2) “In May last year NHS Test and Trace (NHST&T) was set up with a budget of £22 billion. Since then it has been allocated £15 billion more: totalling £37 billion over two years…there is still no clear evidence of NHST&T’s overall effectiveness.” Public Accounts Committee report 9/3/21

3) In September 2020 SAGEfound NHST&T was having a “marginal impact on transmission”. A government backed study published February 19th found contact tracing reduced the R number by between 1.7% to 4.6%. 

4) UK has one of the worst Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) schemes in Europe. In 2018 the Council of Europe described the scheme as “manifestly inadequate” and a breach the UK’s obligations under EU law. In September, in response to lobbying by Baroness Harding the government introduced a £500 isolation payment for low wage workers. But aTUC investigation found that 73% of applicants are turned down for this financial support. Many Test and Trace staff would not meet the criteria for this payment.

5) The Department of Health and Social Care issued instructions to NHS Trusts on 2 March 2020 saying it was “essential for infection control purposes” that all workers with duties in NHS premises, including outsourced workers employed by G4S, are able to isolate on normal wages. This was the first admission that SSP was so inadequate that it posed an infection control risk. Despite carrying the NHS brand this rule does not appear to apply to NHST&T.

6) Emergency legislation introduced in March 2020 to allow workers in the USA two weeks full isolation pay has prevented an estimated 600,000 infections. 

7) Safe and Equal have also written to Serco, Sodexo and Amazon about the same issue and are awaiting a response.

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