|Volume 50 Number 15, April 25, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
A webinar held by Waltham Forest Trades Council speakers on April 21 called for sufficient PPE for all workers who require it, the right training and safety measures. Speakers working in health, public transport, education, and the retail distribution sector, emphasised how important it is for workers to organise in their workplaces to ensure they can work safely, and gave some inspiring examples of this. Below are just some of the powerful points raised during the meeting.
The Branch secretary for Unite who works as a porter at Whipps Cross said that he had never in his 31 years of work in the health service had this experience - the fear, anxiety, and worry as people go about their duties. We have to look at the state of the health service when we entered this pandemic. We should have been in a far better position in terms of resources, staffing, and organisation but were not because of the running down and fragmentation of the health service by successive governments over decades.
He said that he really wanted to get over that the dichotomy that is presented between the health workers' right to have PPE and patients' needs to receive care is false. Only by ensuring health workers have the protection they need and the right training can we ensure the safety of our patients. Workers have the right to refuse to carry out duties in a way that will put them at serious risk, and this needs to happen. He himself is now self-isolating with Covid-19 symptoms. At the time he was in work, staff on some wards were having to keep PPE to re-use on the next shift in case there was none.
The TUC is calling for a minute's silence on Workers' Memorial Day, April 28, at 11.00 am. The Unite rep called for everyone to spread the word. It will be a moment to pay tribute to the sacrifice made of so many workers during the pandemic, to remember those who've sadly lost their lives, and to thank all those who continue to do vital work at great risk.
A paramedic based with the ambulance service in London, who is a member of the GMB, told how initially ambulance teams were being sent to suspected Covid-19 cases without the PPE they needed. The unions took this up and campaigned hard; some crews were refusing to go without the equipment onboard. We have finally won the battle that no ambulance crew in London should be going out without PPE on their ambulance, and they now have what they need. This shows, she said, that we can succeed and how important it is that health workers organise themselves to take action for their own and their patients' defence.
On top of the years of running down the health service, the government's failure to provide PPE of the right standard at the time it is needed to health and other key workers is nothing short of a national scandal and the Government must be held to account, said the paramedic. They should go for it, they have blood on their hands. We have over 100 NHS and care staff now dead.
If the political will was there, they could requisition enough PPE - they built the Nightingale Hospital in nine days. I believe, said the speaker, that health workers are being treated as if we are expendable. We will be sent out and some will survive and some will not. Well, she said, we are organising collectively to make sure we are not treated in this way. This crisis has shone a light on the huge level of racial inequality in this country - a high proportion of the health and other key workers who have died are from BAME and migrant communities. They make a huge contribution to our health service, yet migrants are being surcharged for NHS care.
This speaker concluded by saying that, when this is over, we have to say we are never going back to the level of underfunding and undervaluing of our workforce.
At least 29 transport staff - including 23 bus drivers and workers have now died of Covid-19. A bus driver and Unite union rep spoke of the drivers' battles for their safety. Some brave drivers used their own initiative to close off the front doors to entry by the public, and cordon off the seats by their cab as the most effective way to ensure their two meter safety distance. Some found themselves threatened with action by their employers, but the union responded to calls from the reps and gave support. Activists also brought the drivers' dangerous working conditions to the attention of the media. Now bus companies have adopted this measure officially. This bus driver spoke of his and his colleagues' commitment and pride in their role, ensuring key workers can travel to their work, and how their battle is for passengers' safety, too.