The government must stop playing Russian roulette with the public's health and the wider economy with a national lockdown in order to get a grip on the deadly virus that is once again ripping through the country, the leader of the country's leading union, Unite, has said today (Monday).

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also urged the government to work with the trade unions who know what is happening on the frontline.

Calling for a nationwide lockdown without further delay, he said that schools must be closed to contain the spread of the virus, with laptops and internet access for pupils and furlough support for parents forced to stay at home. He reiterated that the union movement has a 'standing army' of health and safety experts that could be deployed to make workplaces safe but warned that the continued refusal to provide adequate sick pay for workers who have to isolate must end, with sick pay, among the lowest in developed nations, raised to a living wage level.

Len McCluskey said: "The country has had enough of the slow and politically determined decisions of this government. The horrific human costs paid in life and raging levels of sickness in the UK demand clear and urgent action. End the bewildering tiers system because it has not worked and return to the lockdown of March 2020 when rates of the disease were actually lower.

"The prime minister and his ministers must cease this Russian roulette with jobs and the public's health, gambling that the vaccine cure is on its way yet failing to address the immediate need for the clarity, support  and leadership that the nation desperately needs.

"Faced with the frightening rates of disease and the emerging new variants, pleasing a small grouping of Tory backbenchers must not be of greater importance than the health and livelihoods of the people of the country. Listen to those on the frontline, work with the trade unions who are experts in keeping people safe at work, and accept the repeated offer to put our standing army of health and safety specialists at the disposal of the country.

"Unite's members have been working right through this crisis, many of them on the frontline. Their continued service, along with that of working people up and down the country, has been immeasurable. The very least they deserve is the safe schooling of their children, to know that the NHS is able to function and that instructions to employers and the public are crystal clear – none of which this government seems capable of providing.

"This is a disease that attacks the poor and vulnerable and it must be met with a government response that does not supercharge these existing inequalities. Without hesitation, the prime minister and chancellor must step forward with a full programme of income support for working people and their children, including the long-promised but yet to be delivered laptops and internet access for home schooling.  

"Further, it shames our nation, the fifth richest on earth, that many of those who need to isolate are not able to afford to do so. This pandemic will not be defeated until the diabolical choice between their health and their income has been removed.

"Our public services and our people are being put through hell by this government. It needs to get a grip and now."


Notes to editors:

 During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.