Let staff and students work from home wherever possible

The commuting problems are not as great in the Liverpool City Region as they are in places like this scene in London but some employers are needlessly making their staff travel to work when they would be much safer at home

Yesterday I launched an appeal through the media to encourage all Liverpool City Region employers to let their staff work from home wherever possible. I believe that should apply to school and University students as well.

Now it is clear that the Omicron variant of Covid might be a severe threat to people especially the unvaccinated and people at clinical risk. Omicron is already spreading through the community with 6 people known to have it in Scotland. It may be that the current vaccines will work against this new variant, but the signs are not good. This variant has features which will enable it to infect more people and it is likely that our current vaccines will need to be adapted to cope with it.

It is becoming abundantly clear now that Covid will always be with us along with other viruses such as the common cold and influenza. This should not necessarily change our lifestyle but should change the way that we think about illness. Just as I go every year for a flu jab which is slightly different from last year’s, I suspect that we will all be doing the same for Covid.

I also repeat the call that I have already made for the jab to be made much more widely available throughout the poorer parts of the world to prevent the likelihood of more and more mutations.

AND if you haven’t been inoculated yet please go. Doing so will help protect you, your family and friends and your community. I promise Bill Gates will not be monitoring you after the inoculation!

I would give half a cheer to the government because they seem to have very swiftly to this latest threat. We will all need to wear masks on public transport and in retail outlets from tomorrow. Planes have been cancelled to and from the 11 Countries which are clustered around what appears to be the source of this change. People still coming in from those countries will need to isolate for 10 days and take a PCR test.

We should learn from this, however, that it’s always too late. By the time that we know about a variant it may already be within our shores. In many cases it won’t matter. Not all mutations will be dangerous. But in some cases, and everyone assumes this one the mutation will be dangerous.

But it’s only half a cheer because of what the Government hasn’t done. They haven’t insisted on masks from last Friday when they acted on international travel. They have not acted on the clear need to insist on greater protection in places where we meet up such as pubs and offices and other indoor places where we mix and mingle.

Given that the Government is reintroducing the mask regime on public transport and in shops it must be sensible to let people work from home. Over the past few months, it has become clear that many employers are forcing people back to work in conditions that, at best, meet minimum requirements for safety and social distancing. I have spoken to many employees of large firms forcing their staff into work although working from home would be safer and more productive.

The organisations that I am associated with are taking a much more pragmatic approach. We have been expecting most staff to come in 2 days a week and work from home the other 3. This is just common sense and has built on what was beginning to happen already. For many years BT ‘telephone operators’ have worked from home. If considered necessary staff response times and output can be monitored to ensure that they are not slacking.

I suspect that these and many other organisations are doing what a good employer would do and are monitoring the situation carefully and are working closely with staff reps with a view to making changes as swiftly as recommendations from scientific advisers change. Too many employers though are taking a more Dickensian approach to their work force. Gradgrind and Co don’t trust their staff and want to keep them under close supervision and a tight leash!

I also have a concern about schools. The last thing I want to see is protracted closures of schools. Our young people’s education has suffered enough. Children’s mental health is at a low point and valuable social skills that children will need through life are being missed at a time when they become embedded in the way that people behave thereafter.

But as with employment lockdown we must consider small and proportionate steps now to avoid big and nasty steps later such as the complete closure of schools and workplaces for weeks and months as we have seen before. I think that in the short term that schools should reintroduce mask wearing in corridors and other areas outside the classroom. The re-creation of one-way systems and the use of sterilising gels should be a no-brainer.

This Tory Government would not be tightening measures unless they absolutely had to. Now employers and head teachers must play their part in keeping their staff, pupils and our communities safe.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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