Below is the text of the speech made by Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough, in the House of Commons on 6 May 2020.
Last Sunday, the Government sent trade unions and businesses seven consultation documents outlining proposals for a return to workplaces. We all share a common objective of a safe return to work at the appropriate time that protects public health. However, when the Government’s plans fall short, it is our duty to say so. Trade unions were given just 12 hours to respond. The documents were not shared with the Opposition and the proposals themselves are wholly inadequate.
No worker should have their life or the lives of their loved ones risked simply by going to work. This is a legal right, which held true before this crisis and, crucially, must not be cast aside now. The documents present measures to maintain safe workplaces, such as hand washing and social distancing, as being at the discretion of employers, when in fact they are requirements of the law. The Government must make this clear and inform workers and businesses of their respective rights and duties. I share the surprise of trade unions that the documents provide no recommendations on personal protective equipment, without which it is impossible to make judgments on safe working practices.
Critically, the proposals exclude workers. A safe return to work is a significant challenge that can be met only if Government and business work with staff. My ask of the Minister is that the Government now bring forward guidelines requiring specific covid-19 risk assessments for most businesses, and that assessments are made public and registered with the Health and Safety Executive. Given the lack of capacity for inspections, these assessments must be agreed with staff. In workplaces with trade unions, this can be done by health and safety reps. In those without them, the Government should enable trade unions to assist workforces in their sectors to elect or appoint a rep to be consulted and involved in the settling, implementation and enforcement of assessments.
Finally, workers need to have confidence and trust that the Government have got their back, so will the Minister confirm that employees will not be prejudiced in any way for drawing attention to safety failings in the workplace? This time, we are truly all in this together. I trust that my comments are received in the constructive spirit in which they are offered.