Nurse urges colleagues to escalate sick pay safety concerns

On Friday 17th April, mental health nurse, Stuart Jordan, wrote to Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May citing the duty under the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code to escalate patient and public safety concerns. He argues that the many workers across the health and care sectors have no right to occupational sick pay and cannot afford to follow public health advice to if they need to self-isolate. This creates a situation where the people least able to follow the public health advice if they need to self-isolate are caring for those most likely to die if they are infected by Coronavirus.

Figures from the GMB union suggest over 400,000 care workers have no occupational sick pay. “Without occupational sick pay it is likely that some care workers will come to work with signs of Coronavirus infection. Many of my patients who are dependent on social care have underlying health conditions and are supposed to be shielding. The only people they see are people least able to follow the government’s public health advice.”

Low wages and the lack of occupational sick pay for health and social care staff means many more vulnerable adults will be infected with Coronavirus than is necessary.

Having become aware of this major patient and public safety issue, each nurse, including the Chief Nursing Officer, has a professional duty to escalate concerns. If you are a nurse, act without delay.

Write to Ruth May at and to other senior nurses, such as the lead nurse in your Trust. If possible give examples from your own experience of speaking to colleagues about their sick leave entitlement. Make the broader arguement about the lack of occupational sick pay for over 400,000 social care workers. See Stuart’s letter below. Let us know how you get on.

Dear Ruth,
The NMC code of conduct states that we must “raise and, if necessary, escalate any concerns you may have about patient or public safety, or the level of care people are receiving in your workplace or any other health and care setting and use the channels available to you in line with our guidance and your local working practices.”
I wish to bring to your attention a serious and widespread risk to patient safety within the NHS and other health and care settings that could be mitigated by employer and/or government action.
At my place of work I have met  several members of staff who have no right to occupational sick pay or are unaware of their right. These include agency staff employed to backfill vacancies by Serco who have a contract for security, reception, and domestic services, cleaners employed by G4S and bank staff who are unable to access full paid leave to selfisolate because of the way this provision is organised. These workers are low paid and many have told me that they would struggle to cope financially if they or a family member developed Coronavirus symptoms and they had to take time off to selfisolate. Some of them might take the financial hit and follow the government advice. But across the NHS there are many individuals in this situation and some of them will continue to work. There have been several newspaper reports of individuals coming to work with symptoms because they cannot afford not to, including in a NHS 111 call centre. Any workplace where there are workers without entitlement to full paid sick and selfisolation pay, are workplaces where there is a heightened risk of Coronavirus infection. In the NHS that means a heightened risk of death for staff and patients.

Moreover, some of my patients live in care homes or are reliant on home carers. My patients require the services of these workers to maximise their independence and allow them to live fulfilling and dignified lives. However the local provider who organises a care package does not pay occupational sick pay. Again, without occupational sick pay it is likely that some care workers will come to work with signs of Coronavirus infection. Many of my patients who are dependent on social care have underlying health conditions and are supposed to be shielding. The only people they see are people least able to follow the government’s public health advice. A recent survey by the GMB union found that 55% of care workers have no right to paid sick leave: that is over 400,000 keyworkers.

Myself and colleagues have raised these concerns locally and yet the risks we identified persist. However these problems are not limited to my workplace, the risk exists throughout the health and social care system. It is a risk that can easily be mitigated by government and/or employer action to ensure the right to full sick and self-isolation pay for all workers.

I hope that now that you are aware of this risk to patient and public safety you will fulfil the duty to act without delay to escalate these concerns.
Yours sincerely,
Stuart Jordan
Community Mental Health Nurse

No going back at Tesco!

The 10% bonus being paid on actual hours worked over the crisis is welcomed by Tesco staff in what has been an extremely challenging tine for us with busier stores, stressed out managers and concerns about our health and safety at work.

But our work has been getting harder for years. This 10% shouldn’t be just a pat on the back for working hard over these few months, we should be demanding that we keep this as a permanent 10% pay rise! The company can afford it. Despite the constant refrain from lead managers of Lidl and Aldi forcing us to cut staff and work harder, Tesco’s profits and wider financial position have been improving year on year as the financial report sent out to us all last week shows.

And why stop there?

The 12 weeks paid leave for vulnerable colleagues should be extended to make Lifestyle Breaks paid – it’s all well and good saying we can go out and travel the world or take time off work, but if we can’t afford to eat, then it’s of little use!

The minimal notice period and line-manager approval for all types of leave should be continued, too. As we’ve seen, the company has no problems in finding cover when it’s really needed.

Finally, but by no means least, the suspension of the degrading attendance review process should continue. Our managers aren’t doctors nor are they aware of everything going on in our lives – we shouldn’t be asked to justify for a second time, months down the line every day we’ve needed off. This, alongside full paid sick leave from day 1 will make a huge difference to our lives and our ability to take time off when need it.

We shouldn’t accept any retreat on the things we have won over the past few weeks, and we should organise in our shops to keep them and to push USDAW to take a militant stance and fight for more.

Charlie George,

Charlie is and USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

NHS agency staff need full self-isolation pay

At the start of the pandemic NHS England, understood the need to ensure everyone carrying out duties in NHS premises had rights to follow public health advice to self-isolate on full pay. Without this right, workers are under huge financial pressure to come to work when they should be self-isolating, creating avoidable risks of infection for all staff and patients.

On 2.3.20 NHS England said this right should extend to all workers, including bank staff and workers employed by sub-contractors. However, a joint statement by Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, Public Health England, NHS Employers and NHS Improvement substantially weakens this earlier pledge to just bank and subcontractors. In guidance issued on 27.3.20 they state: “Where an individual has no substantive employment with an NHS employing organisation, they will not be entitled to any pay from the NHS. Individual agencies should determine their own approach to pay for employees that have to self-isolate.”

The original pledge was not made because NHS management had suddenly become champions of workers’ rights. On the contrary, management issued this statement because they understood that it was essential for infection control purposes that there was no financial pressure forcing workers into NHS hospitals when they had signs of Coronavirus infection. They understood that the degrading of workers’ rights over many decades of outsourcing and real-terms pay cuts was one of the important ways in which the NHS was ill prepared  to deal with the pandemic.

It is not clear what happened between the 2nd and 27th March that meant agency workers were dropped from this basic protection. And if agency workers are not covered by the latest guidance then the infection control problems remain.

The government and NHS employers resent having to pay agency nurses wages but it is a problem of their own making.  Since 2010, nurses pay has fallen by around 15% in real terms. Nursing shortages due to poor workforce planning, Brexit, the scrapping of the student bursary and similar mean that there were 44000 fulltime nursing vacancies across the NHS when we entered this crisis. Many nurses, fed up with low pay and increased workload, have opted for agency work. They are now a large section of the NHS workforce. Some may be able to take the financial hit of a week or fortnight in selfisolation but some will not. If we are serious about slowing the spread of the virus then they need the same right to sick and selfisolation pay as substantive staff.

Moreover, agency work is not just confined to clinical staff. Many outsourced cleaning, security and transport services use agency to backfill staff vacancies. These are often very low paid and have very few rights.

As staffing shortages increase through the pandemic, the NHS will become ever more dependent on agency workers. They will be working alongside substantive staff through the crisis. As a basic infection control measure and to fulfil the employers’ health and safety duties, all workers including agency workers, need the right to selfisolate on full pay.

USDAW: Unions are an essential service!

In response to the pandemic, USDAW – the shop workers union – has closed down it’s democratic structures, cancelled all its conferences, meetings and schools, and sent everyone on release back to work.

It is precisely in crises that we need our unions to increase its activity and generate wider discussions across workplaces and companies.

While it may be a good idea to postpone our larger conferences, there is no reason at all why our branch meetings and educational discussions couldn’t happen online, and why, with appropriate PPE, reps on stand down couldn’t continue to provide support in their area.

Most worryingly of all, in Tesco at least, the monthly store rep team meetings, where we discuss what’s going on in our store and how to react, have been cancelled. There’s no obvious reason for this, especially seeing as we’re all working with each other anyway!

USDAW must rapidly find a way to reopen its branches and divisions for democratic discussion on how best to respond to this crisis.

Most reps I’ve spoken to understand this, with our group chats and Facebook groups more active than ever. But we can’t just allow this to be a discussion amongst ourselves on how best to implement the policies from our managers – we need to be talking with our colleagues in our store (particularly in the absence of larger meetings) and agreeing amongst ourselves what protections and policies we want to fight for.

Charlie George,

Charlie is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

Tesco: let’s extend these policies

Charlie is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

Tesco’s response to the pandemic has been unusually clear, and provides a firm starting point for those of us wanting to ensure greater protections on the shop floor now and better pay and conditions when this crisis starts to subside.

We’ve been given paid leave to self-isolate up to 14 days, and our vulnerable colleagues (everyone who needs a flu jab, or is pregnant or over 65) have been given 12 weeks paid leave to make sure they stay safe.

Gloves, masks, and hand gel should be available to anyone who feels like they need them, and there’s a one-way one-in-one-out system in operation across all stores, and barriers are being put up around the tills.

This all sounds pretty good, but here’s the catch:

The paid leave is based on core hours and isn’t available to the 45,000 new starters! In order to protect our staff and our customers, it should surely be the case that everyone we work with should be able to isolate themselves without worrying about paying for food or rent. We demand full paid leave, based on average hours worked, for all staff working in Tesco.

Despite the clarity of the policy, however, some line managers or even store managers think they know better! I’ve heard reports of managers refusing the 12 weeks paid leave without the letter from the NHS declaring them “extremely vulnerable”, despite this leave being available to all vulnerable colleagues; line managers have been encouraging staff to come to work despite the fact they should be self-isolating; store managers have been ignoring the social distancing policies and bragging about how much money they’re making.

This is unacceptable. If this is happening in your store, talk to your USDAW Rep and your colleagues around you. File grievances against your managers and refuse to work unless the policies are properly implemented, or better still, until they’ve implemented what measures you’ve agreed with your colleagues that you want in place, regardless of how much further they go than what head office wants.

What are management up to?

As we go out every day, worried for our own safety, struggling with inadequate PPE and whether we are bringing the virus back to our families and housemates, what are management up to?
Roy Lilley writes a e-newsletter NHS Managers which claims to reach 300,000 NHS managers’ inboxes. This morning he gave a glimpse of the challenges facing management and offered some advice:
How are you getting on?  Working from home.
Are you settling-in, got a routine, got organised?
It takes some doing.  Competing for a bit of peace and quiet with the dog, the kids, the cats, the TV, ordering from Ocado, Amazon, Linked-in, Twitter, WhatsApp… I’m amazed anything gets done!  And, if your other half is working from home, the battle for the kitchen table!
Do you need some help?  Here are some ideas. 
The transition from the duvet to the desk is the tricky bit.  You are probably used to a routine in the mornings.  If there are kids around there’ll be synchronised showering, co-ordinated corn-flakes, and scheduled-sandwich-sorting-out.
If you live alone, the temptation will be to get up later and slob-about-a-bit… that’s me.
If you can manage it, get up and get ready for the day, like you always have.  Not necessarily suited and booted, but certainly smart enough to appear on an unexpected Zoom meeting.
Pretend like you’re going to the office and you’ll kid yourself to get into the right frame of mind.
Put some structure into the day.  Manage your time and include breaks.  It’s easy to get stuck-in and work through.  Bad idea.  Figure out what you have to do and when.
Give yourself a treat, a coffee break, a lunch stop.
Don’t get distracted by the rolling-news on the telly.  These are absorbing times and it’s easy to get, well… absorbed.  Give yourself times to keep across the news.  Get up, listening to the Today Programme, watch the One-o’clock news and that’s it ’till the evening.  
Agree with yourself, times to look and respond to SoMe.  If anything serious happens the Sky and BBC news apps with send you a warning.  Take the SoMe links off your computer-screen, tool bar.  
Where are you working?  Can you dedicate a place that is ‘the office’, somewhere you can ‘go to’, in the morning.  Try and make it somewhere that isn’t associated with leisure.  That means keep off the sofa.
A ‘to-do-list’ is a good friend as is a phone call to a colleague, not for the usual meetings but just to see how they are getting on.  What they are up to.  Make time for a gossip… you have permission.  
Celebrate small successes, jobs done, achievements.  Give yourself a pat on the back.  At the end of the day, share a FaceTime drink with friends.   We have to assume that Lilley is giving this advice because he knows many of his readers are failing “the transition from duvet to desk”, but are wasting  their days watching “telly” and on “SoMe”. He has made a career rubbing shoulders with these people and hears the “gossip”. 
Makes you wonder whether really are all in this together? 

Union action wins full sick pay at Amey

Swift action from GMB union organisers has won full sick and self-isolation pay for 17,000 workers employed by Amey plc.

Following negotiations for refuse workers in the London Borough of Ealing, the GMB released correspondence with Amey’s HR boss causing a small PR disaster for the outsourcing firm.

During the negotiations, Amey’s senior HR boss, Simon Schumann-Davies claimed: ““when compared with many other diseases such as normal influenza, the impacts [of Covid-19] on the individual are currently actually less severe…[and so] we are applying exactly the same rules regarding sickness benefit as we would for any other condition in that we will be paying contractual entitlement.” In other words, most workers will get Statutory Sick Pay (£94.25 per week).

Within a day, Amey had done a U-turn and agreed for full sick and self-isolation pay not just for the Ealing workers, but all workers across its firm. They even put a statement on their website thanking the union for bringing the matter to their attention!

Simon Schumann-Davies had the misfortune of saying what many bosses are thinking in the privacy of their own self-isolated safety: the lives of essential workers are worth less than the need to maximise profit. There remain hundreds of thousands of essential workers without basic rights to sick and self-isolation pay and whose bosses are not as blunt as Mr Schumann-Davies and who are not currently in trade unions.

The refuse workers in Ealing have shown trade union action gets results!

Model letter for NHS staff

Dear [THE BOSS],

We are writing to raise an urgent concern the serious risk posed to frontline staff, patients and our infection control measures by insecure work and zero hours contracts.

We are writing to seek assurances that all workers operating in [TRUST NAME] premises will be entitled to full paid leave, where necessary, to comply with the government’s public health advice to self-isolate for the safety of others. This includes bank, agency, outsourced workers and sub-contractors. Without this assurance many of these workers, who are often some of the lowest paid, will be forced into an impossible situation. The government has pledged that some of these workers will receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is £94.25 a week. This is less than a third of the take home pay of a minimum wage worker.

If these workers develop symptoms of Coronavirus or a member of their family develop symptoms they will be faced with an impossible situation: either follow government advice to self-isolate and face very rapid and severe financial hardship, or continue to work and risk infecting colleagues and the patient population with this potentially deadly virus.

We have seen a letter dated 2.3.20 which you received from NHS England instructing the Trust to “Ensure that any member of staff, including bank staff and sub-contractors, who has to be physically present at an NHS facility to carry out their duties, receives full pay for any period in which they are required to self-isolate as a result of public health advice.” We would like to know what has been done to enact this instruction and communicate it to all workers working alongside us within the Trust.

Many workers in our buildings who ordinarily do not have rights to paid leave, may be unaware of the provision [IF YOU HAVE EXAMPLES PUT THEM HERE]. If workers do not know that they are entitled to paid time off then the risks we identified remain.

We are unsure whether steps have already been taken to this end. We hope that if the matter has not already been resolved that it is resolved rapidly. If there is no swift resolution, we will be taking advice and considering options for further action under health and safety legislation and according to our professional codes of conduct.

Yours sincerely,