Level playing field demanded on Covid 19 protections for workers across the wider T&FS sector

Telecoms & Financial Services

More than 20 companies in which the CWU has substantial memberships, but is not currently recognised for collective bargaining purposes, are being urged to provide categorical assurances that they have policies and staff guidance in place to minimise the risk of the spread of Covid 19.

Against  a backdrop of detailed discussions with all the employers with which the CWU has long-standing relationships to secure best practice in the fight against the pandemic , concern has been mounting that the gap between the best and worst responses to coronavirus is often the widest where no dialogue with a recognised trade union exists at all.

Those fears have been borne out by feedback from members and also by the intermediary findings of a major ongoing investigation of company responses to the threat posed by coronavirus to workers across the contact centre sector that was published yesterday (Tuesday) to mark Workers Memorial Day. (See report here)

As trade union members across the country commemorated those who have lost their lives on account of unsafe working conditions, it was poignant that letters from the CWU urging across-the-board compliance with tried and tested measures to reduce the spread of Covid 19 were being delivered to un-unionised companies in which members carry out either contact centre or field engineering functions.

Addressed to either the chief executives or employee relations directors of firms as diverse as Vodafone, Virgin Media, Talk Talk, Teleperformance, Sitel, Homeserve, Concentrix and Webhelp, the letter focussing on the contact centre sector highlighted a number of areas where actions can be taken to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections.

These include:

  • The withdrawal of all non-essential work and key workers only being  required  to carry out critical work that assists the vulnerable and keeps existing customers connected
  • Employers taking the lead in assisting members to work from home wherever possible
  • Employers adopting rigorous and regular cleaning processes in shared spaces, stopping hot-desking and providing hand-washing facilities or sanitiser
  • The rigorous application of Government guidelines for social distancing in offices
  • The prioritisation of homeworking for pregnant women and any employee who lives with, or cares for, an individual classed by the Government as being ‘extremely vulnerable’.

Additional reassurances being sought for members conducting field engineering roles in companies including Virgin Media, Vodafone, Sky, Babcock, Carillion Telent, Colt, Comex, Daisy Communications, Equinix, HGS Hinduja, KCOM, Kelly, KN Group, MAP, McNicholas/Kier, Mitie, Sky, TalkTalk and Verizon include:

  • Engineers only being required to go into properties if they absolutely have to and, in those instances, the provision of unequivocal guidance to the customer on the need for social distancing
  • Enhanced cleaning of sites that engineers may need to access
  • The cessation of van sharing
  • The provision of appropriate PPE and hand sanitiser
  • A company guarantee that, where an employee believes a premises or residence is unsafe to enter, they will not be penalised in any way for refusing to do so.

Additionally, the letter sets out the union’s sector-wide expectations that:

  • If an employee needs to self-isolate, whatever the circumstances, they should be paid in full – and that the individual should not suffer financially  if their basic pay is normally bolstered by  commission payments or bonus
  • Anyone being furloughed having their full contractual pay topped up by the employer – with staff on commission-based salaries having personal averages included in their pay
  • A proactive approach being exercise by the company to eliminate any financial detriment suffered by employees as a result of them working from home.

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr explains: “All employers have both a moral and a legal duty of care to their employees under health and safety legislation – and that applies whether or not a company recognises the CWU or any other trade union for collective bargaining purposes.

“As far as the CWU is concerned all workers, whoever they are employed by, should be able to expect to be treated decently and fairly at this time of national crisis – and I’m pleased to say that across both the recognised and unrecognised sectors there are great examples of companies doing the right things by their staff.

“I’d urge all those CEOs and HR directors we’ve written to respond to this approach by the CWU in the spirit in which it is intended – namely a genuine offer to provide the benefit of our expertise in this area when it comes to developing best practice policies addressing the workplace issues thrown up by coronavirus.”