Socialist Worker

Thousands of workers forced back to unsafe workplaces

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2738

Construction workers ordered back to work

Construction workers ordered back to work (Pic: Flickr/ Eric Haglund)


Thousands of workers across England have felt pressured to return to workplaces, despite government advice to work from home.

And where safety concerns are raised, bosses are not held to account.

That’s the message from a survey for the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

It found that more than one in nine workers said they had been ordered back to work despite being able to work from home.

One in ten of people in insecure jobs said they had been to work within ten days of a positive Covid-19 test. The figure for workers overall is around one in 25.

Alan Lockey from the RSA said workers face a “terrible trade-off between health and putting food on the table”.

“Millions feel forced to put themselves and others at risk because of insecure work, pressure from bosses and the failings of our deeply inadequate welfare state,” he said.

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The RSA figures expose the Tories’ handling of the virus as utterly inadequate. For many people, working from home means losing pay or work.

The research also exposes the reality that dangerous workplaces are spreading the virus.

Virus outbreaks in England’s workplaces shot up by nearly 70 percent in the first week of the national lockdown.

Around 175 outbreaks were reported, not including care homes, hospitals and schools.

Some 50 workers at a Tesco superstore in Stretford, Greater Manchester, are either ill or isolating after a coronavirus outbreak. A female manager at the store has died.

One worker said, “We are all petrified. It’s such a surreal time and a lot of us are struggling.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was contacted 2,945 times between 6 and 14 January about safety issues in workplaces.

No firm has been prosecuted for breaking the rules.

And of the 97,000 safety cases the HSE has dealt with throughout the pandemic, just 0.1 percent have led to an improvement or prohibition notice.

One worker, who cleans portable toilets on construction sites, told BBC Radio 5 Live that he doesn’t feel safe at work.

Yet he is “forced to carry on working so I can pay my bills”.


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