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Statement from Business Secretary on Covid-19

12 May 2020


Following the Prime Minister's announcement on the Covid-19 strategy, the Business Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons regarding businesses, employers, employees and guidance.

Alok Sharma: "we have published new Covid-19 secure guidelines"

Business Secretary, Alok Sharma started by thanking "the many workers in distrubtion centres, supermarkets, transport, construction and manufacturing across the country who have been playing their part in keeping Britain moving".

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, "set out steps to beat the virus and restart the economy" on 18 May.

To support the Governments steps to "beat the virus", he says "we have published new Covid-19 secure guidelines, available to UK employers across eight settings which are allowed to be open".

This includes outdoor environments, construction sites, factories and takeaways. It also includes shops which "may be in a position to begin a phased reopening, from at the earliest from 1 June".

The Business Secretary went on to say:

"It has been developed with input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations.

"We have worked with Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive to develop best practice on the safest ways of working across the economy.

"As we return to work, the Government wants to give employers and workers confidence that their workplaces will be safe for them to return to because we recognise this is an anxious time for many."

The guidance 

The guidance has five key points:

  • Work from home if you can
  • Maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible
  • Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage the transmission risk
  • Reinforcing cleaning processes in line with the guidance
  • Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment in consultation with workers or trade unions.

Edward Miliband: "Whatever the economic pressures, their health must be protected"

Edward Miliband, Shadow Business Secretary, responded to the Business Secretary's statement.

He said "the confusion and mixed messages of the last 48 hours have been ill-advised and, I believe, avoidable".

He asked:

  • "How many extra people does he expect to go back to work as a result of the Government's change of emphasis and what is the scientific advise on the impact of the 'R' number"
  • "For work places, the overview document that he has published only asks for an observance of 2 metres distancing wherever possible", he said "the only requirement is that, and I quote, employers should look into various mitigation measures".
  • "Why is there no requirement for mitigation if social distancing cannot be observed?"
  • Enforcement - "given the challenges of enforcement will he discuss with the trade unions how their 10s of thousands of health and safety reps can play a bigger and, I believe, constructive role in ensuring Covid-19 compliance?"
  • Parents going back to work - "can the Business Secretary now provide an answer for those parents being asked to go back to work tomorrow but are not deemed essential workers and therefore have nobody to look after their children because they cannot send them to school or nursery?"
  • Vulnerable people - "to protect their health and provide clarity would it not make sense to place an obligation on employers to furlough these individuals if they cannot work from home?"
  • Health and Safety - "can the Secretary confirm that work places that are not safe should not reopen tomorrow and that by law, workers who have a reasonable belief that they'll be in danger do not have to be at work?"

He concluded by saying:

"It's the highest paid workers who will generally carry on being able to work from home, and lower paid workers who are being asked to go back to work.

"We also know from yesterday's ONS figures that among men, construction workers have, so far, been more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as the average member of the population.

"I know he will agree that working people are being asked to go back to work to help us all.

"Whatever the economic pressures, their health must be protected.

They deserve to be safe."

Image: Parliamentary Copyright 

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