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Usdaw Conference 2022 Bosses must be forced to support workers with long Covid, union demands

Call comes as supermarket giants Sainsbury’s and Tesco cut the right to extra sick leave for workers affected by the virus

BOSSES must be forced to support workers suffering from the “unpredictable” health impacts of long Covid so they are not under pressure to return to work early, Usdaw members demanded today.

Delegates on the opening day of the retail union’s 2022 conference backed a motion which called for extra help for those suffering “life changing consequences” due to the poorly understood condition.

It urged the union’s national executive council to lobby the government and employers to implement more flexible absence policies for sufferers of long Covid, which affects 1.3 million people in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

The call came as supermarket giants Sainsbury’s and Tesco cut the right to extra sick leave for workers affected by the virus today.

Bosses claimed the change, which followed a similar move in April by fashion firm Next, was prompted by the Tory government’s new “living with Covid” policy, introduced on February 24. 

But Sainsbury’s worker Kate Vourdachas said the change seemed unfair as staff in the sector are often exposed to additional risk.

“What happened to us being key workers?” she asked delegates in Blackpool. “It seems we’re totally forgotten now.”

Ross-on-Wye member Angela Marsh asked whether it is fair to leave people “at the mercy” of long Covid, which still lacks an internationally recognised medical definition.

She said: “Some people have had a profound reaction, including fatigue, muscle pain, brain fog, breathing difficulties, and in some cases, heart problems.

“Information is vague and we’re learning as we go along.

“Surely companies must look at their policies and amend them to treat Covid absence separately.”

Bournemouth and South Dorset delegate Elizabeth Skelding told members in the Winter Gardens ballroom about a friend who required a liver transplant after contracting coronavirus.

“Fortunately, his employer was absolutely fantastic, but I do know that there are others who say: ‘Oh, it’s just a bad flu.’ It isn’t.”

Backing the motion, Usdaw deputy general secretary Dave McCrossen warned the condition is “not being taken seriously” and could make life impossible for shop workers.

“Sectors our members work in can be physically and mentally demanding.

“For example, in customer services, you’re often on your feet all day long, leaning over tills to scan heavy items [and] kneeling down to stack shelves.

“How can we live with Covid if workers are not being supported?”

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