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Frightened key workers forced to work under threat of the sack

FRIGHTENED workers are being forced back to work under threat of the sack putting vulnerable relatives at risk, Unison warned today.

The union said it had reports of council, school and NHS workers being told to return to work or be sacked or forced onto unpaid leave.

It reported “heart-breaking” stories of staff forced to make impossible choices.

Unison argued that in some areas local government and NHS employers have agreements protecting the income of staff off work because of the health of family members.

But other rogue employers — including councils and schools — are using Public Health England (PHE) guidance to compel frightened staff back to work, the union said.

PHE guidance states that staff with clinically vulnerable family members can still go to work, so long as they observe social distancing both at their workplace and home.

But Unison said that many workers have jobs where social distancing isn’t possible — such as in schools or care homes — or live in houses or flats that are too small to self-isolate from family members.

As a result, workers who have partners with cancer or severe asthma, children with cystic fibrosis or frail and elderly parents, are faced with the unenviable choice of being forced to work or left with no income.  

Unison is urging the government to protect the workers by putting them on the “furlough” scheme which pays 80 per cent of wages and has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock urging him to intervene.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Key workers are being forced to choose between protecting vulnerable loved ones or losing pay.

“Employers putting their staff under pressure need to stop hiding behind public health guidance and use more common sense. Leaving staff with no income when there are other options to pursue is simply wrong.

“Unison has put forward simple solutions that we hope ministers will take on board before more livelihoods and, potentially, lives are lost.”

The union quoted a list of case studies including a care worker, mortuary attendant and a school caretaker forced to choose between protecting their families and losing their income.

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