Victory for test centre workers!
For the past few months Safe and Equal has been working with Labour MPs to demand full sick and isolation pay for all frontline Test Centre workers. Yesterday, we received a letter from Sodexo confirming that Test Centre workers will now be entitled to full isolation pay and that this provision will be written into new Test Centre contracts when the government puts them out to tender in July 2021.
In a letter to Safe and Equal and Emily Thornberry MP, Sodexo HR Director Greg Austin writes: “Since receiving your enquiry I am pleased to report that the DHSC have approved the payment of occupational sick pay for periods of self-isolation for all workers at Test Centres. This commitment has also been included in the tender specification for the new Test Centre contract which commences in July 2021.”
Before receiving this news, G4S and Serco had confirmed that many workers in their Test Centres would only receive Statutory Sick Pay of £95.85 a week if they got suspected Coronavirus infection and had to isolate. As we said at the time: “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.”
It is good that the government has seen the error of its ways and taken steps to ensure workers can now isolate without financial penalty. We wonder how many infections might have been prevented if this provision had been in place from the start. This u-turn is a tacit admission that SSP and their £500 isolation pay scheme are wholly inadequate and are contributing to the spread of the virus. If full isolation pay is necessary for Test Centre staff then why not for the other 12 million workers who lack occupational sick pay?
We are yet to see the details. We know that many Test Centre workers are employed by agencies creating another layer of bureaucracy and complication. In the NHS agency workers are the only group of workers who have not been guaranteed full sick and isolation pay (all outsourced workers and bank staff have been entitled to full isolation pay since March 2020). But agency workers at Sellafield power station are guaranteed full isolation pay showing that it is possible. Will agency workers at Test Centres be covered by this new provision?
Also we are concerned about how this new entitlement is being communicated to workers? When the government introduced full isolation pay in the NHS in March 2020 and then in carehomes in June 2020 it did it very quietly with little fanfare. We know that many outsourced workers in the NHS were unaware they were entitled to full isolation pay and some employers actively denied this provision was in place. This u-turn by government needs to be advertised widely so that Test Centre workers are aware that they are covered.
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