Branch Secretary :

Unite urges government to see sense on social distancing

Arguments for blanket reduction of social distancing do not stack up


As the government prepares to report on the conclusions of its review into the two metre social distancing rules Unite, has repeated its offer to deploy its ‘army' of health and safety reps to help keep the country's workplaces safe.


This website has previously reported on research revealing risks associated with stepping back from the two meter recommendation.  In a newly published commentary, safety experts conclude the arguments for a blanket reduction of the two meters social distancing guidance do not stack up.


Science limited or absent


“The arguments for a blanket reduction of 2m in the UK economy do not stack up. A limited but growing body of scientific evidence, based on a better understanding of particle physics and aerosols and supplemented by case studies of very recent clusters, continues to support a precautionary approach to 2m and its continuation in many settings where public and worker safety is at risk and there are no effective alternatives and no vaccines.


The science for lowering the 2m distance, however, appears to be limited if not absent at this stage.”


Len McCluskey


Unite has also written to the government to raise concerns that trade unions were not asked to contribute to the government's review of the social distancing advice.


Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said that he was baffled by the Westminster government's reluctance to put the tens of thousands of highly skilled experts to best use in re-opening the economy safely, especially as the devolved governments have been working with trades unions for some weeks now to ensure that workplaces there do everything possible to eliminate coronavirus risk.




Commenting Len McCluskey said: "Being serious about re-opening the economy safely means, as the government has repeatedly pledged, doing whatever it takes to build public and workforce confidence.


"Any suggested reduction to the two metre rule which has prevailed throughout the lockdown could backfire if the prime minister and the government cannot give an absolute assurance that public health will not be compromised.


"So I urge the prime minister to take Unite up on its repeated offer to deploy our army of tens of thousands of health and safety reps to assist in re-opening workplaces and community spaces safely.


"Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Mark Drakeford in Wales have advised employers to work hand-in-hand with unions and safety reps to ensure that their workplaces are safe; surely English workers deserve the same investment in their safety?


Union expertise


"Prime minister, Unite's offer still stands.  Put our expertise to best use, assisting in workplaces with no dedicated health and safety expertise.  We could save small businesses a small fortune as our expertise comes with no cost.  


"This is literally a win: win for the government - safer workplaces and a more confident public.  I am baffled by the government's reluctance to accept this contribution to the national effort of bringing the country out of lockdown.


"There will inevitably be confusion as any new guidance is rolled out, and there are concerns in specific sectors of the economy, including warehousing, hospitality and meat processing that mixed messages on social distancing will actually hamper the recovery.


"Again, we have the infrastructure the length and breadth of the country to communicate and monitor as we transition out of lockdown.  This is an investment in public and worker confidence and I urge the prime minister to see the sense in accepting our assistance."


June 22nd 2020




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