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April 2021

Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in England – 31 March 2021

Coronavirus restrictions remain in place across the country. In England:

Find out the rules on what you can and cannot do: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do

UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) Survey on Prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK – 1 April 2021

Estimates of the prevalence of self-reported “long COVID”, and the duration of ongoing symptoms following confirmed coronavirus infection, using UK Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey data to 6 March 2021.

Over the four-week period ending 6 March 2021, an estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK reported experiencing long COVID (symptoms persisting more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) episode that are not explained by something else).

The estimates presented in this analysis relate to self-reported long COVID, as experienced by study participants, rather than clinically diagnosed ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 or post-COVID-19 syndrome. There is no universally agreed definition of long COVID, but it covers a broad range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and difficulty concentrating.

Self-reported long COVID symptoms were adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 674,000 people in private households in the UK, with 196,000 of these individuals reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

Of people with self-reported long COVID, 697,000 first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 at least 12 weeks previously, and 70,000 first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 at least one year previously.

Prevalence rates of self-reported long COVID were greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with a pre-existing, activity-limiting health condition; however, it is not possible to say whether these patterns are because of differences in the risk of coronavirus infection or susceptibility to experiencing long COVID following infection.

These estimates provide a measure of the prevalence of self-reported long COVID across the whole population, and reflect both the risk of being infected with coronavirus and the risk of developing long COVID following infection; to investigate the second of these components, we examined the duration of self-reported symptoms following confirmed infection.

Among a sample of over 20,000 study participants who tested positive for COVID-19 between 26 April 2020 and 6 March 2021, 13.7% continued to experience symptoms for at least 12 weeks. This was eight times higher than in a control group of participants who are unlikely to have had COVID-19, suggesting that the prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus infection is higher than in the general population.

Of study participants who tested positive for COVID-19, symptom prevalence at 12 weeks post-infection was higher for female participants (14.7%) than male participants (12.7%) and was highest among those aged 25 to 34 years (18.2%).

Full report: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/1april2021

UK TUC survey reveals widespread Covid-Secure failures

The TUC’s latest biennial survey of workplace safety representatives has found widespread workplace Covid failures. The 2020/21 survey of more than 2,100 workplace safety representatives reveals employer failures on risk assessments, social distancing and PPE during the pandemic.

More than threequarters of safety representatives (83 per cent) said employees had tested positive for Covid-19 in their workplace, while more than half (57 per cent) said their workplaces had seen a “significant” number of cases.

Almost one in ten (9 per cent) said their employer had not carried out a risk assessment, while 17 per cent said they did not know whether a risk assessment had taken place. Of those who said their employers had carried out a risk assessment, more than a fifth (23 per cent) said they felt the risk assessments were inadequate. A quarter (25 per cent) of representatives said their employer did not always implement physical distancing between staff. Just over a fifth (22 per cent) said their employer did not always implement appropriate physical distancing between employees and customers, clients or patients. More than a third (35 per cent) said adequate PPE was not always provided.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086527

Pub vaccine passports ‘reckless’ warns UK union

Hospitality union GMB has warned any plan to demand vaccine certificates to enter pubs would be reckless and a fast track to undo the gains of the present lockdown.

The union said this type of scheme could lead to false certificates, potential violence for pub workers and even a black market for vaccine doses. The idea of asking pub goers to show a vaccine certificate was raised at last week’s House of Commons Liaison Committee hearing, when Conservative William Wragg asked Boris Johnson if vaccine certificates were “compatible with a free society such as ours.” The Prime Minister said the concept “should not be totally alien to us” as doctors already have to have hepatitis B jabs. When the Tory MP followed up with a question about vaccine certificates to enable “ordinary citizens going to the pub”, the prime minister replied: “That’s the kind of thing that may be up to individual publicans.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086531

Face coverings in UK schools make staff feel safer

The introduction of face coverings in schools have made school support staff feel safer – and taking them away when infection rates are still high and rising in some areas would be a mistake, UNISON has warned.

Seven in ten (71 per cent) teaching, learning and special needs assistants, administrators, lunchtime supervisors and facility staff in England believe face coverings in secondary schools are an important safety measure, the union’s survey found.

The union said is research had shown more than six in ten (63 per cent) say face coverings make them feel safer at work. It said these findings are being sent to the UK government to inform its review of face coverings as a safety measure in schools and to highlight the risk of removing them, particularly from classrooms. The survey also found 75 per cent of secondary school staff say their school has introduced face coverings for staff in class. An even higher proportion (84 per cent) said pupils were wearing them in classrooms.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086532

UK NHS workers need ‘sensitive’ Covid mental health support

Unite has called for “maximum sensitivity” and full consultation with unions to deal with the mental health challenges health workers face as a result of the pandemic.

The union, which represents over 100,000 workers in the NHS, made its comments following a report from the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, calling for ‘local leaders’ to ensure staff have ‘decompression time’ to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086533

Warning on ‘huge gaps’ in British law over AI at work

The TUC and legal experts have warned that “huge gaps” in British law over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) at work could lead to “widespread” discrimination and unfair treatment at work.

A new report – carried out for the TUC by leading employment rights lawyers Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy – says that employment law is failing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of AI at work. The report says unless urgent new legal protections are put in place, workers will become increasingly vulnerable and powerless to challenge “inhuman” forms of AI performance management. In what it described as an “unprecedented” move, the TUC issued a joint call to tech companies, employers and government to support a new set legal reforms for the ethical use of AI at work. The reforms would include a legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace. There should also be a legal right for all workers to have a human review of decisions made by AI systems so they can challenge decisions that are unfair and discriminatory. And there should be a legal right to ‘switch off’ from work so workers can create “communication free” time in their lives.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086535

Homeworking call centre staff to be monitored by webcam

Thousands of staff at one of the world’s biggest call centre companies face being monitored by webcams to check whether they are eating, looking at their phones or leaving their desks while working from home.

Teleperformance – which employs about 380,000 people in 34 countries and counts dozens of major UK companies and government departments among its clients – has told some staff that specialist webcams will be fitted to check for homeworking “infractions”.

The Guardian reports that if workers need to leave their desks, for example to have a drink, they will have to click “break mode” in an app to explain why – for example, “getting water” – to avoid being reported for a breach. Eating while on shift is not permitted, staff are told. “If the system detects no keyboard stroke and mouse click, it will show you as idle for that particular duration, and it will be reported to your supervisor. So please avoid hampering your productivity.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086536

Unite campaign for a ‘new deal’ for Amazon workers

A major newspaper and digital advertising campaign to alert Amazon workers to a new Unite confidential whistleblowing hotline has been launched by the union.

It says Amazon workers can blow the whistle and expose poor treatment free from reprisals by contacting the hotline Freefone or online. The hotline coincides with the launch of the campaign alliance ‘Action on Amazon’ that is demanding a ‘new deal’ for Amazon workers, including a union and a greater share of the firm’s enormous profits.

The world’s largest retailer increased its permanent workforce by one-third (10,000) in 2020 as well as taking on 20,000 additional seasonal staff. The company almost doubled its profit in 2020 compared to 2019 and Jeff Bezos is now ranked the world’s richest man. But Unite says Amazon stops any attempts by workers to gain a collective voice of their own. It has failed to join either the United Nations Global Compact or the Ethical Trading Initiative base code – agreements that recognise the right of all workers to a collective voice and that most of the biggest names on the high street have signed up to.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086537

Survey exposes appalling abuse of shopworkers

Retail trade union Usdaw has again called for legislation to better protect retail staff.

The union was speaking out after new figures from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) revealed that 89 per cent of those working in local shops have experienced some form of abuse, with over 1.2 million incidents recorded over the last year. ACS also found that two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents have seen Covid-related threats to staff around face coverings, social distancing, queueing and age identification.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said: “It has been a terrible year, with ACS and Usdaw both finding nearly 90 per cent of shopworkers suffering abuse and Covid safety measures becoming significant flashpoints. Over 104,000 people signed Usdaw’s parliamentary petition on the issue and we are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086541

Covid-19 is an occupational disease: Campaign video and IIAC Position paper

Global unions BWI, UNI and PSI have produced a campaign video on the need to classify Covid-19 as an occupational disease.

They note: “It’s time that we declare Covid-19 an occupational disease. Such a classification will provide workers additional protection against the pandemic and make our workplaces safer and healthier. Workers who contract the virus while at work will be justly compensated and workplaces can implement more preventive measures based on the generation of national statistical analyses from the occupational disease situation of different countries.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086544

Is your workplace properly ventilated?

We’re all by now familiar with many of the ways we can help protect ourselves and prevent others from contracting Covid-19 – physical distancing, face masks or coverings, cleaning surfaces, washing hands, getting tested and self-isolating.

But safety advocacy group Scottish Hazards says, “we now know that an additional and crucial protection is good ventilation: and, by that, we mean taking measures to increase the amount of outside air entering a building.”

The group has produced a 7-minute YouTube video. “In this video, we explore means of improving ventilation, and the key questions workers can ask of their employers,” it says.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086545

‘Fundamental’ health and safety moves a step closer

A significant step towards making occupational health and safety a fundamental workers’ right has been taken at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Governing Body, an influential committee comprised government, employer and union delegates.

On 23 March 2021, governments at the governing body’s meeting overwhelmingly supported a call from worker members to move ahead with the process. It is expected that the decision will be formalised at the ILO Conference in 2022.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086547

USA to seize PPE over labour and safety abuses

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has ordered the seizure of disposable gloves made by Malaysia’s Top Glove company.

The order said CBP had sufficient information to believe that Top Glove uses forced labour in the production of disposable gloves. Top Glove is the world’s largest producer of latex gloves, and exports to 195 countries, including the UK.

The US had already banned products from two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries in July, but the new ban extends to all disposable gloves from Top Glove factories in Malaysia. Although Top Glove makes personal protective equipment, it was forced to shut more than half of its 28 factories in November 2020 after almost 2,500 employees tested positive for coronavirus. Top Glove had its strongest ever sales, with revenue of $1.3 billion in its most recent quarterly results.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086548

Germany: Firms to face justice for safety violations abroad

Germany could force companies to take responsibility for any labour or environmental abuses in their global supply chains.

The law, which still needs approval from the country’s parliament, was spurred by a deadly fire in a textile factory in Pakistan and a devastating dam collapse at a Brazilian iron ore mine, both of which had links to German companies. In a bid to prevent repeats of such workplace disasters, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed on the new rule which provides for companies with annual revenues of 400 million euros (£340 million) or more to be fined up to two per cent of that amount if their contractors abroad are found to breach human rights or environmental rules. Companies could also be excluded from public procurement processes in case of violations, the cabinet agreed.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-union-health-and-safety-news-number-991-31-march-2021#_Toc68086549

TUC Hazards at Work – 6th Edition

This is the Sixth edition of the TUC’s best-selling guide to health and safety at work.

Used by reps, officers, employers, professionals in the field and even enforcement officers. This incredibly popular book is now even more informative at over 400 pages, an invaluable resource, which incorporates common hazards and cause of ill health at work, and how to assess and prevent them.

The book also contains HSE and other guidance, extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/publications/hazards-work-6th-edition