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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Essential workers

by New Worker correspondent

AS ALWAYS, it is the working class that is at the sharp end of things. In the present situation workers are being laid off in vast numbers or are having to work in difficult conditions. Perhaps worst of all are the bosses in inessential business that still force workers to still come into work in order to boost profits.

Obviously, far more than NHS workers are essential. We clearly need binmen to empty bins, especially if they are full of rotting food purchased in the panic buying spree, but that is no excuse for private and municipal employers not providing them with more safety equipment than usual. Workers all too often have had a struggle to secure the essential equipment. Supermarket workers are having their hour of glory taking revenge on formerly irritating customers whilst farmworkers are clearly needed prevent mass starvation when what is in the shops and warehouses runs out.

Some companies have an impressive number of excuses for ignoring government guidelines. Outsourcing company Norse Medway has been attacked for saying the potential danger of cholera is a good enough reason for forcing refuse workers in the Kent town to work four to a cab without personal protection equipment.

Unite the union, which represents 150 binmen, described the instructions as a “dangerous and stupid” approach to coronavirus safety and criticised Medway council, including leader Alan Jarrett, for ignoring serious health and safety breaches going on “right under its nose”.

Unite has more than 150 members at Norse Medway, which operates refuse collection, street cleaning, crematorium, gardening and other services for Medway council.


Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said: “Other councils and providers have put in place various measures, such as two people to a cab, supplying wipes and hand sanitiser and allowing loaders to meet out on routes to avoid sitting in cabs and restrict social gathering in yards.”

He went on to deplore the fact that: “Norse Medway have done none of this and are intent that refuse staff carry on as normal. Absolutely no effort was made until recently on the part of Norse Medway to identify or communicate with staff who have underlying health conditions. Like those who need to self-isolate, workers with health concerns at Norse Medway are not being provided with medical suspensions on full pay. Instead they are being put on statutory sick pay, even while Medway council employees in the same position get full pay.”

Across the Thames, in Thurrock, Unite forced the council to introduce social distancing only after threatening industrial action.

The essential workers raised concerns that their working practices meant they were unable to social distance during the current health crisis whilst providing waste disposal services to the residents of Thurrock. Securing social distancing included permitting employees to do the waste collection route in their own cars and be paid mileage and ensure parking exemptions. The Greens will be furious that the dreaded private car has become the safest mode of travel.

In the food industry, Unite has condemned bosses and government for not imposing the two-metre social distancing rule on production lines.

It has demanded Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice to make social distancing compulsory to protect food workers and supplies from the coronavirus.

Already there has been a major walk-out over the issue, by 1,000 workers at the Seagoe Moy Park poultry production site in Portadown, northern Ireland.

The union’s food industry national officer, Bev Clarkson said: “The lack of the mandatory imposition of the two-metre rule by government is a problem currently nationwide.

“Ministers need to make the two-metre rule mandatory as a matter of urgency across food processing and also in the retail sector.”

It is not however mandatory on the production lines.