UNISON’s assistant general secretary for bargaining, negotiations and equalities Christina McAnea shares how the public service union has been supporting its frontline workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
UNISON represents those working throughout the public sector - including healthcare, education and police and probation services – and, as such, most of our members are still working throughout the pandemic. We have been concentrating on getting advice, guidance and support to them to ensure they can continue to provide vital public services.
Communicating with members
My priority is to ensure we’re getting agreements with national employers across our main sectors, including NHS Employers, the Local Government Association and national utilities companies to name a few, as well as developing clear guidance for members and branches on all coronavirus (COVID-19) issues.
It’s important that we are able to get advice out quickly. We have set up dedicated coronavirus (COVID-19) pages on the website where we upload daily news and guidance following the government’s briefings.
We’ve been producing model agreements on topical workplace issues such as the furlough scheme, sickness pay and working from home. Our negotiating guidance model was recently picked up by Public Services International as a template to help other unions across the world.
I’m also involved in talks with government ministers, senior civil servants and government agencies including Public Health England and the Health & Safety Executive.
Health and safety provision
Without doubt, getting access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the single biggest issue for our members - particularly those in the health and social care sectors.
We have set up a social care hotline, along with a PPE alert system, giving members a platform to report insufficient health and safety provision. We are constantly challenging the government on this issue and, using the information we are receiving from our members directly involved in providing lifesaving and essential services, highlighting just how serious this issue is.
All of our regional centres are providing round-the-clock support and continue to represent members who find themselves faced with the challenge of fulfilling their duty without the necessary means to do so safely.
Life after the pandemic
It’s really important that when this crisis is over, the true value of the jobs our members do will be recognised and rewarded. The reality that low-pay doesn’t mean low-value has never been clearer.
In the short-term, I’m exploring how we can compensate those who have put themselves at risk. In the long-term, I want to ensure we don’t go back to business-as-usual when the effects of the pandemic begin to lift. I want to see a civilised society, which will only be possible with a strong public service at its core, where workers are paid properly, looked after and valued by their government.
UNISON members are putting their and their families lives at risk and I will be making sure this isn’t forgotten.
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