Lockdown is back – so it’s time for a recap
As we enter the latest and what we all hope will be the last COVID-19 lockdown, Work Voice Pay Monthly has been looking at some of the key issues that can be addressed through collective bargaining – and the tools we have that can help.
The Work Voice Pay Lockdown Agreement Template is a great starting point. This agreement sets out a framework for the union and employer to manage changes to working life during the pandemic. It covers temporary homeworking, work to be done in the workplace during the crisis period and temporary lay-off periods (furloughs). You can use as little or as much of the template as is useful.
For those who must still go to work as they “cannot reasonably do so from home” making sure the workplace is safe is a top priority. To help, we produced a Work Voice Pay COVID-19 checklist covering issues such as access points, entering and moving around the workplace and welfare facilities such as toilets, locker rooms, rest areas and canteens as well as general policy. It is designed to be signed-off and monitored by management, union reps and a health, safety and environmental professional.
If your employer is considering homeworking arrangements beyond lockdown, you may also want to negotiate arrangements to ensure that it is done in a way that is fair, safe and voluntary and that the union has a say about how it is rolled out. Our Work Voice Pay Homeworking Agreement Template can help with this.
When members are still going in and taking on additional risks by working for an employer that is doing well from the pandemic (think supermarkets and online delivery services) they will want to demand their share of the rewards. If you are negotiating on pay, it is important to know whether management claims about the finances stand up. This is especially true of employers who plead poverty due to the financial impacts of the crisis as justification. The crisis makes it hard to get a view of company finances just using the latest accounts. So, to help with this we have produced Work Voice Pay guidance on Crisis Disclosure, to help you ask the right questions and demand your right to answers.
Of course, any new changes to furlough arrangements should also be negotiated. The UK Government has recently extended the Job Retention Scheme to the end of April 2021. The government contributes 80% towards wages up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. (Employers have to pay for all National Insurance Contributions (NICS) and pensions, as well as wages for any hours worked.) However, whenever possible reps will want to get employers to top-up the 20% pay gap left from the government’s contributions. Any pay proposals taking members below the real living wage (see https://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-real-living-wage) will be especially hard to accept, as this would not leave them with enough money to support a minimum standard of living. Also remember that if members are unable to work due to lack of childcare employers can and should be using the scheme to furlough them.
Employers should also be asked to ‘medically exclude’ any staff that can’t work from home and can’t come in to work because of self-isolation (for example after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 or following a period overseas). This is important to make sure workers are not being pushed into flouting the rules for financial reasons – putting more workers at risk. When an employee is medically excluded they have the right to normal pay (including bonuses) for up to 26 weeks, as long as they’ve been in their job for a month or more.