Coronavirus: Draft post-lockdown workplace rules contain ‘huge gaps’ – union

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Draft guidance for getting people back to work during the coronavirus pandemic could compromise worker safety, the head of the TUC has warned.

Its general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the TUC cannot recommend the advice in its “current form”.

She said there were “huge gaps” over protective kit and testing.

Reduced hot-desking and alternatives to social distancing where it is not possible are among measures being considered by the government.

The plan, seen by the BBC, is in one of seven draft plans to ease anti-virus restrictions and also urges employers to minimise numbers using equipment, stagger shift times and maximise home-working.

Buzzfeed has seen all seven draft documents. In guidance for hotels and restaurants, the news outlet says proposed measures include bar areas, seated restaurants and cafes being kept closed, with all food and drink outlets to serve takeaways only.

Ms O’Grady, who said the union had seen some documents on Sunday, added workers’ safety must not be compromised and called for “robust direction and enforcement” so employers can “do the right thing” and action can be taken against those who do not.

She told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “The problem is the government is asking us to trust to employer discretion, use words like ‘consider social distancing’, ‘consider having hand sanitiser or soap available’, and frankly that’s just now good enough.”

Asked whether the government’s current advice will compromise worker safety, Ms O’Grady said No 10 has time to “get this right” and it should work with unions to ensure “a proper job” and “not a botched job”.

The BBC has seen one of seven draft documents, which says additional hygiene procedures, physical screens and the use of protective equipment should be considered where maintaining distancing of 2m (6ft) between workers is impossible.

However, the section marked PPE contains only a promise that “more detail” will follow.

The guidance covers the whole of the UK – but devolved governments have the power to make their own decisions on how businesses get back to work.

Boris Johnson is to reveal a “roadmap” out of lockdown on Sunday, but in a video message on Monday he said the the UK must not lift restrictions too soon.

In the video, posted on Twitter, Mr Johnson said: “The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of coronavirus.”

Mr Johnson said 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.

Many companies have been shut since widespread limits on everyday life were imposed on 23 March, in a bid to limit the effects of the virus’s spread on the NHS.

Ministers are obliged to review those restrictions by Thursday.

How might workplaces reopen with social distancing?

Finnebrogue Artisan, which makes sausages and bacon in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, has kept operating throughout the pandemic.

Director Declan Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “totally doable” for other companies to reopen.

He said they had introduced physical markers to keep staff 2m apart, take workers’ temperatures when they arrive, and issue them with masks and visors on the factory floor.

Doors are kept open wherever possible to reduce the number of things staff need to touch, and social distancing marshals ensure the rules are being followed.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK stands at 28,446 – an increase of 315 on Saturday’s figure – with 14,248 people currently being treated in hospital.

However, admissions have fallen, along with the number of critical care beds being used.

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London’s NHS Nightingale was built in just nine days

Meanwhile, London’s NHS Nightingale hospital is expected not to admit any new patients and be placed on standby in the coming days.

The ExCel Centre was turned into a 4,000-bed facility to increase the NHS’s capacity for treating patients with Covid-19.

In a briefing to staff, the hospital’s chief executive said it was “likely” the hospital would not need to admit patients in the coming days while the virus remained under control in London.

The BBC understands fewer than 20 people are currently being treated there.

In other developments:

How have you been affected by coronavirus? Share your experiences by emailing .

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist.

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