The UK government should adopt German-style protections for staff during the Covid-19 pandemic and compel bosses to make workplaces safe, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has urged.
Writing for HuffPost UK, Dodds warned that current draft guidelines were too vague to give workers and customers the reassurance that they needed when the current lockdown restrictions were eased in coming weeks.
Dodds hit out as Labour leader Keir Starmer prepared to meet Boris Johnson on Wednesday to discuss concerns from the TUC and others that some companies could be putting staff at risk without adequate protections being put in place.
She said that the exit from current rules must include “robust, unambiguous and strictly enforced health and safety standards for businesses, to keep workers and members of the public safe”.
This weekend ministers announced a ten-hour long consultation on ‘guidelines’ the TUC claimed could be an “open goal to the worst of employers who want to return to business at usual”.
Dodds said that the UK should look at the way Germany was organising its own return to work.
“Unlike the UK guidelines, German employers have been told they ‘must’ (not “should”) adopt a number of safety requirements. Workplace safety representatives ‘must’ be involved. Protective equipment ‘must’ be used where social distancing cannot be achieved,” she wrote.
“Employers are required to undertake risk assessments and implement infection control measures identified by that assessment.
“There are no doubt aspects of the German approach which we might wish to take exception to, but their radically more stringent guidelines raise big questions for the UK government. Our workers and consumers deserve better.”
Some unions believe staff will come under pressure to return to work before necessary safeguards are in place.
Tory MP Sir Graham Brady told MPs on Monday that “in some instances it may be the public has been a little bit too willing to stay at home”, adding that some firms were struggling to fulfill orders “because it’s difficult to get employees back from furlough”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has said any new measures had to be “practical” and No.10 insisted on Tuesday that it wanted to work with unions and employers to find the safest way to get the country’s economy going again.
“Clearly it is absolutely vital that people are as safe as possible when they’re at work. We’ve got to do that in a way that’s practical,” Hancock told the BBC.
In a video message posted on Twitter on Monday, the PM said the UK must not lift restrictions too soon.
The UK would only be able to move on to “the second phase of this conflict” when the government’s five tests had been met, including a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths and being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak which could overwhelm the health service.