Following a pressure from Labour MPs and the Safe and Equal campaign last winter, we were told that “the Department of Health and Social Care has 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 specifications for the new Test Centre contract which commences in July 2021.”
However, Safe and Equal activists have visited Test Centres across the country and found that the situation is more complicated. The government has outsourced the Test Centres to G4S, Serco and Sodexo. But these firms have further outsourced staffing their Test Centres to other agencies. Many workers we spoke to are employed via agencies on zero hours contracts. Some were unsure about the pay arrangements if they had to take time off to isolate. Others told us that they got paid to isolate if they could provide evidence of a positive test but not for other reasons e.g. a member of their household was ill. One worker was sent home to isolate due to being a close contact of a confirmed positive case and was not paid for this time.
In March 2020, NHS bosses were told they needed to arrange full isolation pay for subcontractors and bank staff. In May 2020, the PCS union negotiated full isolation pay for outsourced workers operating in civil service buildings. In June 2020, the government introduced the Infection Control Fund for care homes that included provision for full isolation pay for care workers. This new agreement for full isolation pay for Test Centre workers is a further admission that exploitative employment practices and the UK’s desultory Statutory Sick Pay scheme, is undermining attempts to control the virus. However, instead of addressing the problem at its root and legislating to ensure all workers are entitled to full sick pay (as exists in many European countries) – the government has introduced sector-by-sector isolation pay quietly and half-heartedly leaving plenty of workers excluded from the provision.
Part of the issue here is that the work-from-home bosses believe that paying workers to take time off to isolate will encourage absenteeism. In reality, presenteeism is a far greater problem. Workers attending work when they are unwell allows all sorts of infectious diseases to spread and accidents to occur.
Head of Test and Trace, Dido Harding told Emily Thornberry MP that she was “making changes to increase the financial support available to staff during periods of isolation” in recognition of the “immense contribution” of frontline Test Centre workers. But sick pay and isolation pay are not rewards for hard work: they are necessary health and safety measure to slow the spread of the virus.
Activists have spoken to workers at the following test centre:
Bristol Nethan Park – main employer Serco? – full isolation pay only after producing a positive test, “not if you just have symptoms”. Workers unsure if they got paid for isolation if they get pinged etc.
Bristol Bridlington Park and Ride – main employer G4S – workers employed by agency Randstad – “some pay” if they are sick but not full pay. Workers unsure if they get paid to isolate if they get told to by test and trace app etc.
Islington – main employer Mitie – workers directly employed by Mitie and say they get full isolation pay.
Newcastle – main employer Serco – workers employed via agency. Full pay on producing a positive test but no pay for other reasons.
Bristol Badock Hall UoB – main employer G4S? – some pay if they have to isolate but workers unsure whether it is full pay or SSP.
Sheffield – security and test centre workers all employed by agency, all on zero pay for periods of isolation.
If you are a Test Centre worker get in touch. If you need to visit a test centre in the next few weeks, speak to the workers about their isolation pay arrangements, tell them about the Safe and Equal campaign and let us know what you find out.