No time to lose on isolation pay and PPE

Submitted by AWL on 10 June, 2020 - 11:41 Author: Colin Foster
Safe and Equal

The government has dropped its plans to reopen primary schools to all year groups before the end of term in July, but will allow shops to reopen from 15 June, and pubs, hairdressers, cinemas, etc. from 4 July at earliest as long they meet covid-distancing rules.

Face-coverings will become compulsory on public transport from 15 June. Britain’s lockdown-easing policies are more erratic than in other European countries. So far, as in those other European countries, the curve of cases and death is still moving downwards, but in Britain the movement is slow.

There is no good reason for the labour movement to be last-ditch defenders of keeping lockdown measures as strict as possible, as long as possible. The lockdown brings its own human and health costs, and those hit the worst-off hardest.

Workers’ control is our principle, and there is reason to be cautious so long as rates remain so high. Britain’s rates of deaths and cases are still three to four times those of France and Italy, since their rates are going down too. In terms of new cases per day, Britain is roughly where Italy was in mid-May, and France at the start of May.

The return to work announced by Boris Johnson on 10 May is moving very slowly. The number of workers furloughed continues to increase, now to 8.9 million, 1.4 million more than it was on 10 May.

Slow return

London Underground traffic has gone up only slightly. Looking at it from a miniature level, at the industrial estate in London where Solidarity has our office, the bike shed, overflowing in usual times, has just one bike in it each day, and only about six out of 35 units are working at any level.

World-wide, numbers of deaths and cases are rising most in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Chile. The rise there, so far, is more straight-line than the exponential curve seen in Europe in March and April, but it shows no sign of slackening.

Whether there will be a “second wave” of the virus in the autumn, internationally or in Britain, no-one knows. We do know that the chance we now have to create a better infrastructure for infection control must not be missed. The boss of the NHS trusts’ umbrella group NHS Providers says: “NHS Test and Trace can only, at this point, be described as a work in progress. Given how much depends on it, building public confidence in NHS Test and Trace is vital and ministers should stop describing it as world-beating when it clearly, currently, isn’t”.

The main social measures needed to underpin infection-control become more urgent rather than less:

• The test-and-trace operation should be run as a public-health operation, by public health workers on good pay and conditions and contracts, rather than handed over to contractors like Serco and Deloitte, employing workers on minimum wage or little more for 12-week gigs.

• Industry should be publicly requisitioned to supply PPE, rather than relying on a web of private contractors and sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors. More PPE will be required with steps back towards normal life, not less.

• Full isolation pay should be guaranteed for all workers staying home because testing positive for or showing possible symptoms for Covid-19. No test-and-trace operation can work well without good guarantees of the identified virus-carriers self-isolating.

In the first place, full isolation pay is needed for all care home workers. Despite the government announcing a £600 million fund for that purpose, the pay guarantees are still not filtering through.

The “second wave” already surely under way is one of job cuts. Maybe a million jobs have been lost in the lockdown, and unemployment has gone up from 4% to 7% or more. A new cascade of job cuts has been triggered more by the lockdown-easing than by the lockdown. Big companies in manufacturing and aviation have announced plans for huge job cuts, and they are being followed by more and more smaller companies down the supply chain. The labour movement needs to campaign for jobs for all!

• A shorter working week with no loss of pay. Shift to a standard working week of four days or 32 hours.

• Expand public service jobs: in health care, in social care, and elsewhere.

• Take the manufacturing and aviation giants declaring job cuts into public ownership, and reorganise their equipment and workforce skills towards green and socially-useful production.

• See safeandequal.org for campaigning on these issues

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