This week marks six months since the country went into lockdown. Regular readers of this blog will recall that I warned some months ago, that the spread of the virus had not yet receded nearly enough for society to be reopening. However, on this occasion, I take no comfort in being proved correct with my warnings.
Only last month we were being encouraged to ‘Eat out to help out’, we are now returning to ‘work from home where you can’ and limiting contact with colleagues and friends. Whilst the restaurant discount scheme was a much–needed boost to the hospitality sector; it now looks likely that it may have been a contributing factor in the rise in cases and we are preparing for a challenging autumn and winter. It could well be that measures announced for England this week may be too little, too late, a constant feature of the Johnson / Cummings Government, and that they could and should have gone further to limit the spread. Within the space of just a few weeks, the daily cases have jumped to close to 7,000 a day (at time of writing) and the number of deaths is sadly creeping up again.
As furlough comes to an end next month, the newly announced Government wage subsidy scheme will be welcome news for many workers and is an important first step helping bridge the gap to keep people in work and ready to kick start economic recovery, but there are too many caveats and it ignores those who are already under notice of redundancy. I fear it will prove to be too little, too late for many thousands of workers as unemployment looks set to rocket. Crucially, fixing the flawed testing system and providing full sick pay are also key to keeping the economy moving.
UNISON repeatedly warned the government that a return to school must be safe for all involved, and we have written to the Education Secretary this week, highlighting concerns over safety for staff and students in schools. In some schools, the ‘bubble groups’ are as large as a full–year group. We have heard the media reports of a lack of availability of tests for schools meaning that although schools are open, in some areas large groups of staff and students are unable to attend due to a lack of testing. Keeping schools open, and staff and students healthy must be a top priority. UNISON will continue to raise these issues at the highest level of government.
It was fantastic last week to see so many health branches take part in the #OneTeam2k campaign. UNISON submitted a pay claim to the government for an early pay rise for all NHS staff, ahead of the Autumn Spending Review. For two days, branches took to social media and took part in socially distanced demonstrations across the region. The regional and branch social media accounts were a blaze of activity. It was a fantastic example of digital campaigning from so many, thank you to everyone who got involved.
As the nomination period for the General Secretary election draws to a close, we will soon be entering the voting period for members (28 October). Please encourage all members to participate in this important process to elect the next leader of our union.
As we brace ourselves for the tough times ahead, UNISON will continue to support members and branches with the latest advice across all work sectors. The coronavirus advice page on the website is constantly updated in line with the latest guidance. Be sure to check it out and direct members to this.
On a final note, I’m pleased to be able to tell you that, following a lengthy and rigorous recruitment process, I have recently been appointed as Regional Secretary to the South East region on a permanent basis. I look forward to continuing to work with branches and activists for many years to come.
Keep yourselves, colleagues and your families safe.