Isolation pay for all!

Submitted by AWL on 15 July, 2020 - 3:11 Author: Editorial
Safe and Equal campaign

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In the Ministry of Justice, the United Voices of the World union has won an agreement with the contractor OCS for full sick pay for workers covering time taken off since April, for a period of up to 14 days.

In care homes, after months of campaigning, some 40% now give isolation pay; the government has set up a fund explicitly designed to allow isolation pay for all workers; and a government report has recognised officially that absence of isolation pay increases the Covid-19 death toll.

In the USA, a prospectus for reopening schools in the autumn, written by the USA’s former disease-control chief Tom Frieden, with two former Secretaries of Education, says: “Every person who works at a school, including staff members, contractors, and maintenance workers, must be given paid sick leave”.

They add that people in crowded housing who need to self-isolate because they have Covid-19 symptoms, have tested positive, or are identified contacts of sufferers, should have the option of “alternative temporary housing so patients and contacts don’t spread disease to others”.

That’s been done in South Korea and Taiwan, and is certainly possible in Britain, where a much smaller proportion of elderly people live in shared households with younger generations. (28% of over-65s living with 18-65 year-olds, and 1% with under-18s, compared to 55% and 15% in Korea).

The Australian unions have announced a new campaign for “paid pandemic leave” for all, “focused on casual workers who are not entitled to paid leave”.

We are in a pandemic lull now, in Britain. New Covid-19 cases are probably lower now than at any time since the start of March. There may well be a “second wave” of the virus in autumn. Worldwide it has been spreading fast again since about mid-May, and the rate of spread is accelerating. It’s not going away.

The labour movement should use the lull to regroup, remobilise, and push for the social measures needed to scaffold future pandemic response. All those measures will also make a better society even if the “second wave” is small or delayed.

As well as isolation pay, we need an public-health test-and-trace operation, run through boosted local-authority public-health departments, not one half-outsourced to Serco, Deloitte, and other private contractors, with poor coordination and communication of information.

We want PPE supplies secured for the future with production, stockpiling, and logistics all as accountable public services, not opaque webs of profiteering subcontractors.

We want private hospitals integrated into the NHS, expanding capacity as the NHS strives to make up a huge backlog. Not just given pay-outs to hold their facilities as temporary reserves.

We want care homes, and home-carer work, taken into the public sector, as public services done by permanent workers on public-sector pay and conditions, not casualised and temporary labour.

All those moves will create better services and more security for all, as well as providing for the risks of this and future pandemics.

They will also create large numbers of socially-useful, well-trained, adequately-paid, secure new jobs.

Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 8 July jobs plan, boosted in Boris Johnson’s bluster as a “new deal”, offers only a few sops.

• Six-month minimum-wage “placements” for 16-24 year olds

• Bonuses to firms if they restart furloughed workers and keep them on the books to January 2021

• A temporary cut in VAT for restaurants, hotels, and cinemas until January 2021, and a government-subsidised discount on restaurant meals on Mondays to Wednesdays in August.

It is probably lucky that restaurants and pubs had only about 50% of pre-lockdown traffic when reopened from 4 July. With any but the lowest levels of virus circulation, crowded indoor places where people eat, drink, and chat face to face are more likely to spawn clusters of infection than most workplaces or shops.

And if “work from home” is going to continue on any scale at all, cafés and pubs relying on office-worker trade cannot but become less numerous.

Reorganise economic life to offer workers new and better jobs!

The big manufacturing and aviation firms declaring mass job cuts — like Airbus, Rolls Royce, BA, JLR, Easyjet — should be nationalised with minimal compensation and retooled (and their workers retrained) for the “green” projects which we need now to stop economic relapse to a fossil-fuel-based “line of least resistance”.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has recommended a standard four-day work week to rebuild after lockdown there, though saying that “ultimately that really sits between employers and employees”. In France, a strong minority in government-sponsored citizens’ commission on climate change has proposed a 28 hour standard work week.

A standard four-day, or 32-hour, work week, with a corresponding increase in hourly pay rates to avoid loss of income, would reduce rush-hour crowding, push back overwork, and create millions of good new jobs.

We will push for our unions to develop plans for their sectors, coordinate, and remobilise to make Labour back those plans.

• Safe and Equal campaign:

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