‘If you don’t feel safe, don’t go to work’ - Eamonn McCann advises workers following announcement by Boris Johnson

Derry People Before Profit Councillor Eamonn McCann said anyone who feels it would be unsafe for them to go back to work shouldn’t do so.

By Brendan McDaid
Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 8:44 am

Mr McCann said that workers cannot be docked pay or disciplined if they refuse to go in or decide to walk out because they cannot be sure that your workplace is safe.

Reacting to the statement by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday that people should return to work where they can if they cannot work from home, Colr. McCann said:

“Since Johnson’s announcement, we have been contacted by many workers who fear they’ll be forced back to work in unsafe conditions. But legally, workplaces can only re-open if it’s safe.

Eamonn McCann

“Workers should expect to hear discussions of split shifts or similar so there aren’t so many people crowded together and to ensure social distancing within the workplace.

“If there aren’t clear measures to enforce social distancing, they can’t force people into work or sack them if they refuse to go in.

“Besides social distancing, workers should be able to wash their hands regularly and, if people have to work closely together in order to do the job, they should have masks etc. to ensure their safety.”

Mr McCann said that if there is a union in the workplace, the union safety rep should be telling the employer all this and making sure it is enforced. “If there is no union rep, the workers have a right to elect a safety representative to carry their concerns to management,” he said, adding:

“The law on both sides of the border says that management has to consult with the workforce whether or not there is a union. The employer must carry out a risk assessment and share this with the union rep or staff safety rep if there’s no union. If health or safety is being risked, workers cannot be sacked for refusing to work.

“Some employers want to pressure workers into coming back in. They are putting their company’s interest above the health of their employees. They have no legal or any other right to do this.

“The pressure now being put on workers underlines the need for workers to be organised so they can stand up to the bosses and for one another. In every workplace we need a collective voice.”

Mr Johnson said on Sunday that his government was taking “the first careful steps to modify our measures”.

“And the first step is a change of emphasis that we hope that people will act on this week,” he said.

“We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must.

“We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.

“And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited.

“So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.

“And to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure.

“And when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following COVID-secure standards.”

However despite the message changing to ‘Stay Alert’ in England, the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have said that their message remains unchanged and that everyone should ‘Stay at Home’ except for essential journeys or to exercise.

The NI Executive is today expected to publish a lockdown exit strategy setting out its phased approach to relaxing restrictions provided the infection rates continue to fall.