As the largest independent trade union representing staff in TSB we have written to Rt. Hon. Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy making it clear that once the lockdown is eased any changes to working practices must be legally enforceable. If those practices are not backed up the law then they will be worthless.
The Government is discussing a range of options before it publishes its guidelines on how to protect employees returning to work next week. We understand that those options include the use of physical shields to separate members of staff, the use of personal protective equipment, limits on time spent in close proximity, not sharing equipment, social distancing measures in offices and staggering the working day.
In our letter we said: “All of those measures will help to create a safe working environment but only if they are properly enforced by a statutory body with the necessary legal powers. Our concern is that without some form of legal liability employers will either ignore the proposals directly or, more likely, allow an environment where ‘rules’ can be ignored by line management who are under pressure to meet business targets. The safety of staff is too important to be left to the goodwill of employers”.
We’ve all been willing to stick to the very tough lockdown rules because we know it saves lives and protects the NHS. However, individuals will be reluctant to go back to work if their health and safety is not being properly protected. That must come in the form of legal protections enforced by a statutory body.
In an organisation the size of TSB you would expect strict rules setting out what line managers can and can’t do when dealing with this pandemic, and that those rules would have be enforced rigidly. But that’s not what is happening. We are still getting reports of staff doing non-essential work, of over staffing of branches, social distancing rules being ignored in branches and offices, the sharing of equipment and face-to-face interviews being conducted when it’s not safe to do so. Our surveys have showed that the vast majority of line managers are doing their best in difficult circumstances but what everyone wants is a clear set of rules and TSB refuses to provide that.
The Government will publish its proposals later this week and we will write to members thereafter. If the Government refuses to back up its guidelines with proper legal protections then we have instructed our lawyers to look at all options to protect our members and nothing, and we mean nothing, will be left off the table. Ultimately, under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act all employees have the right to refuse to work in unsafe environments. There is nothing more unsafe than COVID-19.
Members with any issues they would like us to deal with on this should contact the Union’s Advice Team on 01234 716029 (choose Option 1).