Despite pubs, clubs and restaurants being shut on Friday 20 March, six main Town libraries were expected to open on Monday 23 March. So whilst the Government believed it is not appropriate to gather in a pub – it was OK to gather and socialise in a Library. This was clearly placing staff and the public at unnecessary risk of catching or spreading Coronavirus COVID-19. UNISON members at Blackheath library decided to shut the doors citing Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Section 44. provides employees with the means to contest the adequacy and/or suitability of safety arrangements without fear of recriminations (e.g. getting sacked or transferred) or suffering detriment (e.g. loss of wages).
Section 44. provides employees with the ‘right’ to withdraw from and to refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe. Employees are entitled to remain away from the workplace (e.g. stay at home) if – in their opinion – the prevailing circumstances represent a real risk of serious and imminent danger which they could not be expected to avert.
Shortly after Blackheath closed it’s doors, all six Town Libraries were finally shut.