Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

St Mungos staff - rising health and safety concerns

Five new reps

 

Five health and safety reps have been elected over the past couple of weeks at the homelessness charity St Mungo’s reflecting mounting concerns from staff about the organisation’s inadequate and slow response to staff and resident safety during the COVID 19 crisis. Shocking cases of unsafe ‘guidance’ from senior managers have been left uncorrected and members feel they are placed in serious and unnecessary danger.

 

Unite reps have underlined the reasonable concerns of staff to management and their attention to provisions in health and safety and employment legislation enabling staff to maintain their safety. Reps were disappointed that management disputed the relevance of the legislation in this crisis. They had hoped that management would recognise its importance, as other organisations in the sector have. As a last resort staff could legitimately and lawfully decline to put themselves in further danger and risk of injury at work.

 

Remarkable effort

 

St Mungo’s workers have been at the forefront of a remarkable effort to get rough sleepers of the streets. Front line staff have improvised new ways of working and have made extraordinary efforts to achieve this vital task. They have been prepared to work flexibly in extremely difficult conditions but feel they are not getting enough back up from the organisation.  

 

Unite has called for weekly JNC meetings during the crisis, these are the full meetings between management and the union. While weekly meetings have proved effective in other homelessness organisations, St Mungo’s refuse to schedule any and contact is restricted to fortnightly meetings of the health and safety committee.

 

Outrageous

 

The outrageous explanation from the executive for refusing JNC meetings is that they are unwilling to meet with the union while in dispute about other issues. St Mungo’s staff believe that the urgency of the issues involved mean that management must drop this posture and meet to discuss serious health and safety questions. Reps say health and safety must come first, but they also point out that this intransigent approach by the executive makes resolving the serious outstanding issues in dispute all but impossible.

 

Video conferences have enabled a large numbers of St Mungo’s staff to discuss their pressing concerns. Many shocking examples of unsafe practice have been reported by members, space permits just a few examples.

 

Ripped down

 

When hostel staff very sensibly posted a notice asking residents with COVID19 symptoms to contact them on the intercom rather than entering the small office it was ripped down by a senior manager who said they should be trying to get closer to residents.

 

When staff in a care home started to use face masks, they were advised by management that this was not a good idea because residents might feel left out, and the masks were not effective anyway.

 

Complex needs

 

Some St Mungo’s projects house people with complex needs and staff describe how their client’s behaviour makes advice on social distancing unrealistic. In some project’s residents spread their faeces’ around rooms and staff are expected to clear up. It is clear that safety measures are of vital importance in this context. The World Health Organisation has reported on ‘viral shedding’ from faeces.

 

It is important that staff who need to change to home working during lockdown are provided with the necessary equipment to do so. Following negotiations with Unite, laptops have been routinely provided for frontline staff homelessness agencies in other agencies for several weeks, but St Mungo’s currently sets its face against doing this.

 

Unnecessary risk

 

The result can be pressure on staff to expose themselves to unnecessary risk by travelling to their usual workplace. The risible executive claim is that it is currently not possible to procure laptops. But this does not appear to have been a problem for other agencies and St Mungo’s apparently were able to purchase laptops for finance staff.

 

Management have imposed new shift patterns in which staff are expected to work up to seven twelve hour shifts in succession without consultation, and seemingly without reference to legal requirements. Reps understand that more changes to working patterns are planned by management and will expect full consultation, within the requirements of the law as a minimum.

 

Unite is clear, “When employers fail in their responsibility to provide safe ways of working, we will robustly support action taken by our members to achieve this.” Members are encouraged to report concerns to reps. The branch has created a health and safety tool kit to help answer questions thrown up in the crisis.

 

 

April 16th 2020

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