The outgoing head of the country’s biggest trade union has criticised the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and their treatment of public sector workers.
Dave Prentis, who has been general secretary of Unison for 20 years, said ministers had been behind the curve on procuring enough safety equipment at the start of the pandemic, made promises they hadn’t kept, and were now denying a pay rise to workers who had heroically served their communities.
He called for a public inquiry into how the government had handled the crisis, saying there has to be a “day of reckoning”.
He accused the government of not being geared up to deal with the start of the pandemic, claiming people had died as a result of issues such as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). He said:
Every promise made by the Government has not been delivered. You expect the Government to be proactive but they have only reacted to events.
PPE could have been in place to protect workers.
Prentis said a helpline opened by Unison on PPE was flooded with thousands of messages about shortages which “brought tears to your eyes”. He added:
We sent details to the Government but we didn’t even get a reply.
Unison has helped pay for school uniforms, funerals, and other financial support to its members, said Prentis, adding:
We can see at first hand what is happening – and it’s at complete variance to the platitudes from the centre of politics.
Prentis said valuing public sector workers wasn’t just about clapping every Thursday – they deserved decent pay. He said:
This crisis is not just about doctors and nurses, it’s about cleaners, porters, care home staff, mortuary workers, many on the minimum wage. My worry is that all too easily people will forget what public sector workers have done for their communities.
They have done so much throughout the pandemic. They are exhausted and live in fear of catching the virus but they are being told by the Government they will not have a pay rise. It’s disgusting.
Prentis said he had held a few conversations with health secretary Matt Hancock and Public Health England officials – but not the prime minister. He said:
We are telling them things that are beyond their comprehension. I don’t think there’s any point in meeting Boris Johnson. He wanted to be a good time Mayor of London and his ambition was to be a good time Prime Minister.
In contrast there were senior officials of Unison who had jobs on the front line working nights in care homes, he added.
Unison has recruited an extra 25,000 members since the start of the virus crisis, including thousands of school support staff in recent weeks since the union joined campaigns to close schools because of the rapid spread of coronavirus.
Prentis’s successor will be announced on 11 January following a ballot of members, and he will formally retire on 22 January, saying he will spend the next few months trying to persuade as many people as possible to have the vaccine.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?