Coronavirus outbreak at the DVLA highlights everything that’s wrong with the government’s pandemic response
More than 500 cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) have reportedly been confirmed among Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) staff in Swansea. With a total of around 6,000 workers employed by the DVLA, this is thought to be Britain’s largest employee outbreak of coronavirus infections yet.
What’s more shocking is that this horrific number of positive cases has occurred among staff employed by a government agency.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps is facing outrage for the way the DVLA has handled the outbreak.
Public Health Wales’s outbreak control team has put forward a complaint which claims “DVLA workers were asked to turn off their test-and-trace apps ‘so that their phones do not ping'”.
To make matters worse, absences involving coronavirus were “counted against workers’ sick leave, with anything over 10 days triggering a warning”.
If that wasn’t shameful enough, some employees claim that those with coronavirus symptoms were “encouraged to return to work”. And “vulnerable workers have had requests to work from home turned down”.
People took to social media to express their thoughts about the whole ordeal. Pauline Lane summed up the mood of many in a tweet:
Just imagine how much lower Welsh Covid infection numbers would be if it wasn't for DVLA staff being bullied into an unsafe working environment.@KevinPascoe @MaireadcanC https://t.co/zsZbvHGYAn
— Pauline Lane (@Antonineone1) January 24, 2021
Lane tweeted a video of Labour MP Ian Lavery speaking about the lack of employee coronavirus protection in the workplace, in which he says:
In a recent poll there’s only 49% of workers who’ve said that their employer has enabled social distancing. There’s only 47% [of] workers [who] say that they’ve been provided with adequate PPE and there’s only 48% [who] are actually certain that their employer has carried out a suitable risk assessment. That isn’t a single employer being prosecuted! Not one.
The government is now under pressure over whether workplaces really are covid-secure.
Covid Justice described the matter as “downright criminal”:
Hang on, DVLA employees were not only told to work from the office, but also to turn off the Covid tracking app? This is downright criminal.
— Covid Justice 💙 (@JusticeCovid) January 24, 2021
And Artist Taxi Driver said:
Covid absences over 10 days trigger a warning… what?! These Tories are sick! They are dangerous. We are not safe.
This pandemic, coupled with Brexit, is a banquet! It’s a feast for the disaster capitalists and for the realignment of who provides the necessities of life.
DVLA Swansea OMG!!
The disunited Kingdom 🇬🇧
None of us are safe from the Tories pic.twitter.com/lhzQf3Wte9
— ARTIST TAXI DRIVER (@chunkymark) January 24, 2021
Are safe workplace guidelines “legal fiction”?
Duncan Robertson also voiced uncertainties about whether the government’s guidelines of “safe workplaces” risked creating “legal fiction”:
We risk creating a legal fiction that workplaces are safe when they are not.
A short thread on the DVLA outbreak, and Government policy. pic.twitter.com/OqFjgOvkhO
— Dr Duncan Robertson (@Dr_D_Robertson) January 24, 2021
Robertson also noted that the government had changed its wording in its communications on workplace safety:
There is a new statement today from the Government.
The words 'completely safe' have disappeared. And the Government is no longer saying that workplaces *are* safe, just saying it's critical to keep workers safe. We can all agree with that.https://t.co/INubZpeSV0 pic.twitter.com/f772s8LJKC
— Dr Duncan Robertson (@Dr_D_Robertson) January 24, 2021
Meanwhile, Labour MP Claudia Webbe shared her support for non-essential workers, saying that the DVLA putting workers put at risk was both “shocking” and “grim”:
There are far too many workers who cannot afford to be COVID safe and stay at home or who are being denied furlough
I am pleased to sign this letter with fellow MPs to the Chancellor calling for all ‘non-essential’ workers who cannot work from home to be furloughed on full pay pic.twitter.com/cjj2lzsRJC
— Claudia Webbe MP (@ClaudiaWebbe) January 23, 2021
As the government continually seeks to shift the blame for the pandemic onto individuals not following the rules, this case suggests that it is, in fact, our government that can’t be trusted to implement safety measures within its own agencies. Not giving adequate protection to workers – whether that’s money to self-isolate or making sure workplaces are covid secure – is at the heart of everything that’s wrong with the government’s response to the pandemic.
Now is the time to stand up for workers’ rights and ensure that both essential and non-essential workers, alongside everyone else, are kept safe. To threaten workers’ pay, contracted rights and employment status is a disgrace at any time, but particularly during a global pandemic. We stand in solidarity with all workers.
Featured image via Dimitri Houtteman / Pixabay
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