Words matter. Clarity is essential. And if the new post-lockdown measures, which the Government have announced over the last few days, are to work and make people feel safe then they need to be backed up by new laws. Without some form of enforcement, it will be a free for all and the second COVID spike, which we all fear, will become inevitable.

What’s clear from the guidance is that the Government has given too much discretion to employers, some of whom have been irresponsible, in an attempt to get them on board. If employees are to feel safe, then that guidance needs to be clearer and the safety of staff needs to be put front and centre rather than it being left to employers to decide. In respect of social distancing for example, the Government’s guidelines – ‘Working safely during COVID-19 in shops and branches’ – says: “You must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible.”. It goes on to say: “For people who work in one place, workstations should allow them to maintain social distancing wherever possible.” Either social distancing is key to stopping the transmission of the virus or it isn’t. If it’s not possible to maintain social distancing then how can staff feel safe in that environment, especially when they are coming into contact with customers? The reality is they can’t. The Government’s guidance is littered with the words “wherever possible” or “Steps that will usually be needed”. It needs to be clearer and more declaratory.

And let us not forget that sales and customer service occupations was one of the five major occupational groups that had statistically higher age-standardised mortality rates of death involving COVID- 19 than the rate of death involving COVID-19 among men of the same age in the general population according to data released by the Office for National Statistics. Male security guards, chefs and taxi drivers among the most likely to die with COVID-19 says the same research. The virus is still as deadly as it ever was and staff still need to be protected from each other and from customers. That’s not changed and won’t for a long-time.

The extent of the problems in Lloyds – eight weeks into the lockdown – is laid bare in the union’s latest branch survey results. The survey was sent out a few weeks ago and the key results are as follows:

  • 17% of members reported their branches were not observing social distancing.
  • 43% of staff being asked to do training.
  • 39% of members reported their offices were over-staffed for essential banking.
  • 5% of members reported their offices do not have adequate cleaning supplies.
  • Only 1.6% of members reported their offices had any protective visors (essential for face-to-face conversations with customers).
  • 35% of members reported they had been abused or threatened by customers.

Industrial Action?

Our deep dive analysis of the survey results – taken together with calls to the Advice Team – show that there are a small number of branches, including some clusters, who are persistently putting the health and safety of our members at risk. We would not be doing our job properly if we allowed that to continue unchallenged. The bank is doing nothing to ensure that branches and offices are following its own basic guidelines. There is no enforcement mechanism; branches and offices are simply left to get on with it. Most are doing the right thing in difficult circumstances but some branches have been putting staff at risk.

If nothing changes in those branches, then we will be left with no alternative but to ballot members on some form of industrial action. We don’t want to do it but it’s the only thing left to protect our members. Under the law, the default position is for a union to arrange separate workplace ballots. With our lawyers, that’s what we’re currently looking at if nothing changes in the next few weeks. Those branches have been warned and we will be watching them very closely.

In the meantime, members with any issues they would like us to deal with on this should contact the Union’s Advice Team on 01234 262868 (choose Option 1).

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