Government announces plans for coming out of lockdown

Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for England to move slowly out of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Westminster

 

Boris Johnson has announced plans for England to loosen lockdown restrictions over the next few months. It is based on a five-tier system of monitoring, but will not apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who have chosen to maintain their lockdown.

The main slogan of the campaign was a shift of focus from staying at home to “staying alert”. The Prime Minister stated that the population should continue to work from home if they can, but if they can’t they should be “actively encouraged” to go in to work. He stressed, however, that everyone should avoid public transport as much as possible.

From Wednesday people will no longer be restricted to one hour of exercise outside per day, and can play sports as long as they stay within their household groups. Social distancing is still firmly on the table, however, and should be maintained at all times. Fines for those who don’t maintain social distancing properly will be increased.

The rate of infection (the R Rate) will be monitored closely with regard to any further loosening of restrictions. From 1st June there will be a phased reopening of some shops, and potentially a phased reopening of primary schools – such as certain year groups only and with social distancing measures in place – if it is safe to do so. Johnson stated that some restaurants, cafes and bars may be able to reopen from July, if it was safe to do so and with social distancing maintained. Constant monitoring to check infection rates will stay in place and affect further decisions.

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has published a YouGov survey of 1,000 people showing 44 per cent of UK workers are anxious about returning to their workplace because of concerns about health risks. Nearly a third are worried about the commute to work, with that number rising to 52 per cent in London.

Response to the announcements

Carolyn Fairburn from the Confederation of British Industry welcomed the announcement and said: “This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex. It must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a roadmap, with dates they can plan for.

“Success will rest on flexibility within a framework: clear guidance which firms can adapt for their particular circumstances. Financial support will also need to evolve for sectors moving at different speeds – some remaining in hibernation, while others get ready to open safely.

However, some trade unions declared the government’s strategy a “recipe for chaos”. Several are demanding a nationwide health and safety revolution before they send their members back to work, meaning all employers would need to publish risk assessments and state what measures they have taken to make work safe for their employees.

The TUC has also outlined its concerns around the reopening of schools, writing to the Education Secretary and spelling out six areas that need to be addressed beforehand. General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return.

“The government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out. Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers.

“The best way to do this is through a national taskforce for safe schools, with government, unions and education stakeholders. Schools must also get extra funds from government to pay for essential safety measures like PPE and additional cleaning.”

Potential legal issues

Rustom Tata, partner at DMH Stallard, said workers would be worried about getting to work and health risks. He thinks that if employees fail to turn up because of these concerns a dismissal would be unlikely. He stated: “A dismissal would almost certainly be unfair. In fact, employees who raise concerns about their safety in the workplace, may be able successfully to claim unfair dismissal with increased compensation and without needing any minimum period of service.

“Clearly,  the PM is attempting to ‘move the needle’ but until the position on public transport and school reopening are clearer and deliverable,  little is likely to change for the overwhelming majority of workers.”

He added that this would apply to workers with a minimum period of service if they can show that they were dismissed as a result of raising serious health and safety concerns about their workplace. 

He stated: “Given the lack of detailed clarity about precisely what employers are supposed to do in terms of health and safety in the context of Covid-19, and the seriousness of the threat posed by this ‘invisible killer’, employers would struggle to force an employee to come back to work, or sack them if they did not.

“While there will be a few exceptions, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is likely to be many weeks before most employers (a) can be clear about what they need to do and (b) can source the various items required.  Until then, it is highly likely that employers will find many employees reluctant to return to their old workplaces.  The position is further complicated while the furlough scheme remains in operation.”



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