Covid rules: Workers face terrible choice, says TUC

People should not be forced into making a “terrible choice” over going into work with Covid or risking losing income by self-isolating at home, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said.

The trade union raised concerns ahead of the expected scrapping of the legal requirement in England to self-isolate.

It said two million workers in low-paid jobs do not qualify for sick pay.

Boris Johnson is expected to set out plans for the end of all Covid rules in England in the Commons this afternoon.

Kate Bell of the TUC said people who do not qualify for sick pay due to their wages were facing a “major issue” over choosing whether to self-isolate with Covid or not.

“If they have got Covid they want to be able to stay at home without facing a terrible choice about whether that means losing income for a week and they want to keep their colleagues safe and the other people they work with safe too,” she said.

“That shouldn’t be a choice that people are forced to make on their own.”

“We want to get people back into their workplaces, we want to get the economy working,
but it will be up to employers and employees.”

The prime minister has said the end to restrictions will return people’s freedoms, but some experts have urged caution and Labour has questioned plans to reduce testing.

No 10 has said the success of the Covid vaccination programme had put England in a “strong position to consider lifting the remain legal restrictions”.

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Rachel Knappier, director of service at HR company Croner, told the BBC’s Today programme that it looked like the decision over isolation would be “put back in the hands” of employers.

She urged workers who were concerned to speak to their employers and said it was “really important” businesses have clear policies.

Charlene Lyons, chief executive of the Black Sheep Brewery, told the BBC that the company would pay for Covid tests for staff “if we need to”.

But she said she did not think the brewer would be “happy paying them sick pay” if someone had a dry cough.

“Luckily the majority of people, they can work from home if they need to,” she added. “For us, we’re trying to adopt a principle whereby this is something we need to live with, it’s like flu.

“If you feel unwell you stay off work, if you feel well you come in.”


Workers meeting in offices

Image source, Getty Images

Ms Lyons said there had been “various conversations” with people who felt vulnerable, and added people could be isolated in the company’s offices from others.

The legal requirement to self-isolate for a fixed period after testing positive in England has been in place ever since mass testing was rolled out. Before that, most Covid testing was limited to people as they arrived in hospital with symptoms, so self-isolation was not an issue.

Currently positive or asymptomatic people have to isolate for up to 10 days, but can end their isolation earlier if they register negative lateral flow tests on both days five and six.

Mr Johnson said on Sunday that Covid testing would take place at a “much lower level” after revealing £2bn was spent on the system in January alone.

Community PCR testing for people with symptoms was expected to stop under the new plan, but it is unclear whether the availability of free lateral flow tests will be reduced.

Business Minister Paul Scully said the £2bn spent on testing “could be spent on other priorities”.

“In terms of whether people should go into work, clearly the guidance will come out once the decision has been taken,” he told the BBC. “But we are basically saying to people if we know that cases continue to fall, hospitalisations continue to fall, and deaths continue to fall, then people are going back to their normal life.

“We want to get people back into their workplaces, we want to get the economy working, but it will be up to employers and employees.”

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