COVID-19 and Critical Workers – NJC circular for Local Government Workers +Private Sector

Please see the attached latest circular for local government workers.

On 23 March the National Joint Council (NJC) trade unions agreed a further joint NJC circular with the employers’ side, and this was circulated to employers. The circular is attached. It is important that branches read the circular carefully, but its key points are summarised below.

Critical workers

The circular makes clear that local government staff are likely to be critical to the delivery of the COVID-19 response irrespective of their formal role; in schools this includes teaching assistants and other support staff.

Employers should be mindful of the pressure categorising workers as critical workers will have on those working in schools, while using their discretion to determine which categories of employee are reasonably needed to deliver the COVID-19 response.

The government’s information on who might constitute a critical worker can be found here:

 People with health conditions – and people who live with them or care for them

The circular reiterates that people with health or clinical conditions that put them at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 should not be expected to attend the workplace. All options for working at home should be considered, as well as for those employees who live with and/or have caring responsibilities for people in those groups. As previously advised, employers will have no option other than to accept that some employees will be staying at home on full pay for the duration of this emergency as they are not able to work from home.

Staff undertaking different roles

The circular reminds employers that if staff are asked to undertake different roles, volunteers should be sought first (volunteers should not be sought from employees who live with and/or have caring responsibilities for people in vulnerable groups) and relevant training and risk assessments must be undertaken.

Unless there are urgent, mitigating reasons, employers should not require staff who do not have experience of supervising large groups of children as part of their usual role, to be doing so now without adequate support being provided.

Employees who agree to undertake a different role and/or working pattern should suffer no financial detriment and continue to be paid at their usual contracted rate. Where employees are temporarily undertaking roles that are paid at a higher rate than their usual contracted rate, they should receive the higher rate of pay for the duration of the assignment / redeployment.

Branches are encouraged to speak to local authorities to ask them what they are doing with respect to care providers, and the Salford example may be helpful. If you have reached your own agreements or your council has taken steps, please let us know.

Private contractors

Many of our members who work for private contractors deliver public services and will be impacted by the most recent government announcements on ‘lockdown’ rules. They will be restricted in different ways depending on where they work, who they work for and what decisions private contractors are making with regard to their employees.

UNISON will be contacting employers where we have a national relationship to establish procedures each company is adopting and we will send details as soon as we have a response from each of the companies listed below. The situation is extremely fast moving and we are doing all we can to engage with private contractor employers in the days and weeks ahead as issues arise.

For clarity the list of national employers that we engage with from the private contractors unit is:

Capita, Compass (including Chartwells), Four Seasons (including Huntercombe), ISS, Kier, Liberata, Sodexo, Caterlink, CHP, OCS, Serco and Veolia

Any local issues that you may have for other employers not on the list above should be directed to the monitored email address so that we can respond promptly. The email address is A number of colleagues have access to this email and can provide support as needed.

Job Retention Scheme

We have been receiving a number of queries relating to the Job Retention Scheme.  The Chancellor announced some details relating to the Job Retention Scheme on Friday 20 March 2020 – but we do not have the substance of the legislation at this time.

At this point we are only able to advise members with queries on the scheme that UNISON will issue guidance once the specifics of the legislation are laid before Parliament.

UNISON negotiators will be in a position to support members and consult with employers on the scheme and its application once more detail is available.

NJC Circ Coronavirus and Critical Workers 23Mar20

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