Labour MSP David Stewart urges firms not to “put profit over people” amid anecdotal reports some employers are keeping staff behind their desks despite strict new measures.
And he is calling for immediate action by police to shut these offices and hold these bosses liable if their workers get ill.
Employers have come under fire for staying open and asking staff to work as normal, despite government guidance for all but essential businesses to shut and workers to travel to work only where completely necessary.
Regional Labour MSP David Stewart said on hearing third hand stories of employees being pressured into work or threatened with their jobs he is calling for legislation which would force these employers to send their workers home and hold them responsible for any subsequent impact staying open past the lockdown has on the health of their employees.
Mr Stewart said: “Those people could get infected by Coronavirus and in turn continue the spread. Anecdotally, I’ve heard about a company where the boss has been ill with the virus but he’s still got his staff in working. I’ve also been told of an office which is closed to public but staff are still working together behind its closed doors. In most people’s interpretation it would be hard pushed to call them key workers. I would call for cross party support to help me stamp this out and I would appeal to any employees who are being treated in this way to get in touch.”
He went on: “Non-key sector employers shouldn’t have their staff in working through this. They must adhere to what government is saying on this. This lock in will not work if we cannot self-isolate and only have our key workers out there. The reproduction of Covid-19, or the coronavirus, is phenomenal. By having people in close contact when they should be working from home only means they are going to spread it. Employers should not be interpreting the key workers lists liberally for their own ends. Please don’t put profit over people. Maybe some employers are genuinely confused as to whether or not they are operating key workers and for those people there needs to be clarity from the Scottish Government.”
Guidance on key workers was published by the Scottish Government on 24 March 2020. It is available in a document called ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): school and ELC closures – guidance for key workers’. In the section ‘Which key workers qualify for critical childcare and learning provision?’ there are definitions for three groups of key workers. I have copied the definitions below:
“We have asked local authorities to make provision for children of key workers in their areas to ensure that their parents can continue to work.
The initial definition of key workers is as follows. There should be a particular focus on:
- Key workers in posts which ensure that essential services can be delivered and cover tasks within the local community which support the vulnerable and aid community resilience. This may be slightly different in each community to allow the country to address local priorities. Whilst decisions will be taken at the local level, we would expect this to include consideration of:
- Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID response, and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers (small numbers identified as top priority already); staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff.
- Category 2 – All other Health and Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (e.g Fire, Police, Prisons, Social Workers, etc), as well as those supporting our Critical National Infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused.
- Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to COVID-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised).
Local authorities have been asked to take this definition as a guide and prioritise critical childcare and learning for key workers accordingly. They should consider any circumstances that mean that specific classes of worker are critical in their local contexts.”
The full guidance document is available at:
On 24 March the Scottish Government also published a press release about supporting coronavirus key workers. The press release stated that:
“To ensure front line staff in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) have access to essential childcare provision, employers are being urged to think critically about what staff are considered key workers.
The plea from the Scottish Government and COSLA comes as further guidance on key workers is published.”
The COSLA webpage ‘Supporting COVID-19 Key Workers’ refers to both the Scottish Government’s press release and the ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): school and ELC closures – guidance for key workers’ document.
I have looked at the websites of two local authorities to see if have they have published the rules they are using. Please let me know if there are 3 or 4 other councils that you are particularly interested in and I will check to see if they have published the rules they are using.
Highland Council’s ‘Managing care for children of keyworkers’ webpage states that:
“In line with national guidance, essential workers are considered to fall into three categories:
Health and care workers directly supporting COVID response and associated staff
- Life threatening emergency services work
- Critical primary/community care provision
- Energy suppliers
- Childcare/learning for Category 1 staff.
- All other health and care workers/Public Sector workers – Emergency critical welfare services (e.g. Fire, Police, Prison, Social Work, Housing)
- Workers who are critical for national infrastructure (e.g. water, transportation, telecommunications, food production and distribution)
- Other essential services, people who keep the country running”
Here are links to some BBC online articles which might be of interest to you.
BBC Coronavirus: What is a key worker in Scotland?
Coronavirus: Who is allowed to go to work during ‘lockdown’?
You may also be interested in a SPICe blog post ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Constituency support’ which is being updated on a daily basis.