Government urged to set a date for public inquiry into handling of the virus

Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent
·4-min read

Unions are calling for a date to be announced for a public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The TUC said a public consultation should also be held to shape what an inquiry will cover, adding that the voices of workers and the families of those who contracted the virus at work will be central to understanding what went wrong.

The call was made as workers around the world marked International Workers’ Memorial Day on Wednesday, in memory of those who have died or been injured at work.

The TUC, and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), are asking members of the public to observe a minute’s silence at midday.

The union organisation said a public inquiry must look at issues including infection control and workplace safety, the failure to provide adequate financial support to self-isolate, PPE availability for health and care staff throughout the crisis and enforcement of the law on workplace safety.

Unions will lead the minute’s silence, held annually to remember those who have died at or because of, unsafe workplaces, at the National Covid Memorial Wall in London at midday on Wednesday.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We’ll forever be in the debt of the workers who died during this pandemic – nurses, carers, bus drivers and so many more.

“They lost their lives looking after our loved ones and keeping our country running in the hardest of times.

“We owe it to them, and to their families, to get on with the public inquiry. The prime minister must announce a date when it will start.

“Any public inquiry must look at why workers were put at risk – be it through inadequate PPE or being unable to afford to self-isolate.

“This isn’t about settling scores. It’s about getting answers and learning the lessons to save lives in future.”

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “Many of our loved ones lost their life after catching Covid-19 in their workplaces.

“From working in the factories that produced PPE for the NHS to the nurses and doctors who didn’t have enough PPE at the start of the pandemic, they kept the country going and paid the ultimate price.

“An independent, judge-led statutory public inquiry is vital to making sure we learn lessons and save lives during the pandemic and for any future waves.

“The stories of our loved ones hold the answers to preventing more grief for other families.”

Pat Cullen, acting general secretary of the RCN, said: “Today also gives us all a moment to reflect on the health and care workers who have lost their lives in the last year.

“Every life lost to the pandemic is a tragedy and they will all be remembered by family and friends.

“They all dedicated themselves to those in their care and by taking a minute to remember them will greatly honour their memory.”

Dame Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, RCN president, said: “Nurses have borne the brunt of this cruel pandemic, including the toll on their own lives.

“Nurses have put their lives on the line for others and been at the heart of the response to the pandemic in all parts of health and social care.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “We must never forget all those workers who died in the pandemic. They selflessly put the needs of others ahead of their own.

“It’s beyond tragic so many lives were lost providing essential services that many people take for granted. The Government owes answers to their families and the public in general.

“Only an independent judge-led public inquiry is good enough – and as soon as possible. It must have full power to summon any witnesses, compel evidence to be disclosed and hear testimony under oath.”

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) said it fully supported the call for an immediate and comprehensive public inquiry into the Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Annette Mansell-Green of the BDA said: “Our members, as part of the wider NHS team, have seen first hand the devastating human cost of not only this dreadful virus but the consequences of the nature and timing of decision making.

“No worker should ever be placed at risk by their employer, have their safety compromised or fear for their life whilst doing their job.”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “I urge everyone to take a moment today to remember those who have lost their lives to coronavirus and to other workplace hazards.

“We remember in particular our member Belly Mujinga, who died from coronavirus last April, and Network Rail worker Tyler Byrne, who died working on tracks near Surbiton this February.

“All workers should be safe in their workplaces and return to their family, friends and home unharmed at the end of their working day. We will never stop working for safer and more healthy workplaces for all.”