With regional meetings and events currently suspended due to lockdown and social distancing, we recently held several informal branch forums, initially focusing on the branches engaged in frontline work during the crisis. The first forums were held the day after the televised announcement from the PM that lockdown was to be eased.
Branches shared their experiences during Covid-19 lockdown, including success stories, issues with employers, and any extra support they may require from the region.
The majority of staff in local authorities were working remotely, and most Local Government branches were not expecting any rush to return to work. There were a few exceptions to this, with a small number of employers pressurising high risk members to return to work.
Issues were reported around accessing PPE for care homes and special schools, where personal care was necessary. Some branches also reported issues over sick pay in care homes.
Requests for support and guidance on Health & Safety and risk assessments highlight the need to recruit more H&S reps, in line with the regional campaign that is underway.
A number of branches reported that employers were working closer with UNISON than usual, as union knowledge and expertise was needed and valued during this unchartered territory, we are all working through.
A similar forum was arranged for Health branches, but a considerable number of Health branch secretaries were called to frontline duty and were unable to attend. PPE issues had, overall, been sorted out at an early stage, but there had been problems sourcing PPE for cleaning staff. Several Trusts were working with other hospitals to source PPE, rather than through traditional routes. Many staff had been redeployed from their usual work, in order to expand capacity in ICU (intensive care units) and critical care. Most Trusts had expanded their ICU capacity and repurposed wards.
Worryingly, it was reported that some staff who had received letters instructing them to shield due to Covid-19, had been called into work within the NHS. Branches also reported that many staff were off sick with stress and anxiety issues related to treating patients with C-19.
Police & Justice branches were invited to take part in a similar forum, but as branches were preparing for dealing with the easing of lockdown measures, only one branch was able to send a representative. Non frontline staff were working remotely, and changes had been made to call centres to enable social distancing at the start of lockdown. Concerns were raised over what a return to work would look like, and the need to recruit more H&S reps to carry out vital risk assessments.
We will be inviting branches to share their experiences again in a few weeks’ time, during the week commencing 15 June. Invitations will be sent to branch secretaries two weeks prior to this.