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Unions demand public inquiry into Johnson’s handling of Covid-19

UNIONS are demanding a public inquiry into Boris Johnson’s handling of Covid-19, as the Prime Minister faces growing pressure over reported comments that he would rather see “bodies pile high” than approve further lockdowns.

His government, already rocked by multiple accusations of sleaze linked to the Greensill scandal, is facing calls for an inquiry on Workers’ Memorial Day from the TUC, Unite, Unison, GMB and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.  

Mr Johnson chaired a Cabinet meeting yesterday as he attempted to shift the focus from his incendiary comments, reportedly made before he imposed the second of three lockdowns in November.

Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves has described Mr Johnson’s alleged comments, which he denies, as “stomach-churning” and called for him to apologise yesterday.

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “[The PM’s reported] comments undermine public trust and reinforce the idea that people were not put first during this crisis. 

“The ‘bodies’ the PM callously seems to believe are an acceptable consequence of keeping so many non-essential services open are people’s loved ones.”

Labour piled on the pressure yesterday, accusing the PM of lying over who paid for renovations to his Downing Street flat after claims by former No10 adviser Dominic Cummings that he planned for Tory donors to secretly pay for the work, costing tens of thousands of pounds.

After Mr Johnson’s spokesman refused to say whether the PM had received a loan from the Conservative Party to cover the costs, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth demanded a “full and frank” explanation from the PM yesterday.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said that now is not the time for a public inquiry, but the TUC is calling for a start date to be announced immediately.

The union confederation said a public consultation should be held to shape what any investigation will cover, adding that the voices of workers and their families will be central to understanding what went wrong.

The call was made as people around the world mark Workers’ Memorial Day, in memory of those who have died or been injured at work.

The TUC, the Royal College of Nursing, and Unite are asking members of the public to observe a minute’s silence at noon.

Representatives will join grieving families at the National Covid Memorial Wall in London, made up of 150,000 individual painted hearts: one for every life lost to the virus in the UK so far.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the nation would “forever be in the debt” of the workers who had died during the pandemic.

“We owe it to them to get on with the public inquiry. This isn’t about settling scores. It’s about getting answers and learning lessons to save lives in future,” she said.

STUC general secretary Roz Foyer echoed those comments, saying: “[We must] make workplaces safer, strengthen workers’ voice, and bring employers and government to account.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The people we lost must be remembered, and the whole country, including the government, has to learn lessons [via] a full and frank public inquiry.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea stressed that only an independent judge-led public inquiry would be good enough, adding that it must have “full power to summon any witnesses, compel evidence to be disclosed and hear testimony under oath.

“It also needs to hear the voices of the key workers at the sharp end to ensure lessons are learned,” she said.

Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths said: “It is vital to continue marking Workers’ Memorial Day, because the carnage of deaths, diseases and injuries at work continues unabated.

“Workers need to join a trade union. Unionised workplaces are safer workplaces. This should be the paramount message [today].”

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