Unions and employers have criticised the government over its guidance on returning to work, warning that it is a “recipe for chaos.”
Unions are warning of the risk to workers’ safety after the decision to lift Covid restrictions in England from next Monday which will see the end of mandatory mask wearing and working from home.
“Like everybody else, businesses across the country having been awaiting ‘freedom day’ with bated breath,” said Dr Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors.
“But instead we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from government that have dampened that enthusiasm.
“Return to work or continue to stay at home. Throw away your masks or continue to wear them. Today’s long-awaited guidance from Government has done little to dispel that confusion.”
The director insisted that while companies should be allowed to make decisions based on their unique circumstances, is is vital that government provides them with best practice in developing their own rules.
He told how business leaders are “understandably confused” about the legal status of the guidance and concerned about vulnerability under health and safety legislation plus the validity of their insurance.
Calling for the government to inspire confidence among businesses, he added: “Today’s series of rather obvious statements does little or nothing to that end.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady further criticised the government and said wearing face coverings should remain a legal requirement on public transport and in shops.
“We all want the economy to unlock as soon as possible, but these new back-to-work safety guidelines are a recipe for chaos and rising infections,” she said.
“They have been published without proper consultation with unions or employers, just two full working days before restrictions end on Monday.
“Instead of providing clear and consistent guidance on how to keep staff safe at work, the government is abandoning workers and employers.
“As infection rates surge, every employer must by law carry out a thorough risk assessment and take action to keep their workers safe.
“But these inadequate guidelines will leave many employers with more questions than answers and worried about their liability if they get things wrong.”
The Business Department said that, in the latest stage of easing of restrictions, all businesses can open and the government is no longer instructing people to work from home.
“Businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business.
“The way to do this is to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risk of Covid-19, and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks you identify.
“You should use the guidance to consider the risk within your premises and decide which mitigations are appropriate to adopt.
“In the long term, we expect that businesses will need to take fewer precautions to manage the risk of Covid-19.
“We will continue to keep our guidance under review and will remove advice once it’s safe to do so,” it added.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shop union Usdaw, said the situation is “a real mess” and appealed to customers to continue to wear masks to support shop workers at risk.
“We are very disappointed that the government has not consulted broadly with unions and employers on this guidance.
“It is a real mess. Protection for retail workers through wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing in busy public areas like shops should be backed up by the law.
“In the absence of clarity and leadership from the government, we are asking employers to think about their duty of care to staff and promote existing safety measures to the shopping public.
“We also ask customers to show their support for shopworkers by continuing to wear face coverings, observe hand hygiene and maintain social distancing.”