ISU Membership Circular 25.04.2020

Dear Members,

We know many of you feel strongly that you should be able to wear face-masks routinely at work in order to protect yourself and others from Covid-19 infections

We are therefore very worried that Border Force are preventing you from wearing your own face-masks at work and in places threatening you with Disciplinary action if you do try to wear a mask. To say the least, this seems to us an aggressive and unreasonable attitude to take towards staff with genuine welfare concerns.

The ISU have been continuously reviewing the balance of public health responses to Covid globally. We now feel there is an emerging weight of evidence in favour of the widespread wearing of face-masks in public.

The European and US Centres for Disease Control have now recommended the use of face-masks in the community. Several European governments – notably including Germany – have now made the wearing of masks in the community mandatory or recommended. The Lancet this week published a peer-reviewed article assessing the available studies and concluding that community use of face-masks does prevent virus spread. The Mayor of London, the First Minister of Scotland and a number of MPs have recently called for face-masks to be more widely used. There is plainly a sizeable, growing body of reputable opinion in favour of the widespread wearing of face-masks in the community.

We recognise this is not – yet – the formal UK government position. The Home Office continue to rely on Public Health England advice that routine use of face-masks is not required. That seems to us a view they can legitimately hold. But it is quite certainly not the only legitimate view the evidence will support. It is plainly reasonable for members to conclude that wearing a face mask at work is essential to protect themselves and others from risk of Covid infection

And now the legal bit.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 – at Section 44(e)  – specifically allows you to take such steps as you reasonably and genuinely believe will protect yourself or others from serious and imminent danger. And your employer should neither prevent you nor subject you to any detriment for doing so.

Therefore if you are persuaded on the balance of the scientific/public health evidence that you should bring a face-mask to work and wear it, then you should do just that. You will find a template letter here which you can use to set out the position for the benefit of your managers.

We wish we could reassure that you will not face resistance from senior Border Force leaders. But we cannot. As we go to print they seem determined to maintain the position that their interpretation of the evidence is superior to any other. We find their attitude arrogant and dismissive of the genuine, serious fears of their own people. It certainly calls into doubt their true welfare credentials. We will, of course, support members who face issues with managers for wearing face-masks and will not hesitate to bring Employment Tribunal actions.

We do think it would be better for the Home Office to make standard provision for all, of course. However they show no signs of doing this and we cannot ask members who are now anxious to wait for government procurement. If members have masks and wish to wear them, then they should. People should not be prevented from protecting themselves and others.

If you do choose to wear a mask please make sure you look at the guidance on how to put it on, take it off, wash and/or dispose of it. A mask is not a substitute for washing your hands or social distancing – it is an addition to that.

If you have any queries or concerns about the issues in this circular please contact [email protected]

Mark Gribbin                                                                                            Stuart Band          

General Secretary                                                                                    National Chair