Unions urge Commons Speaker to make sure MPs continue to wear masks

·2-min read
Sir Lindsay Hoyle wearing a mask (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA) (PA Media)
Sir Lindsay Hoyle wearing a mask (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA) (PA Media)

Unions representing staff based in Parliament are stepping up calls for MPs to continue to wear masks after complaining about new guidance which only encourages politicians to have face coverings.

A letter sent to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle says the reaction of staff to the decision has been one of “incredulity, anger and concern.”

New guidelines, set to come into force on July 19, make mask wearing compulsory for staff but only encouraged for MPs.

The letter, from unions including the GMB and Unite urges the Speaker to reconsider.

Workers have been told the absence of an “employment relationship” between Parliament and MPs means there is no ability to mandate MPs to wear a mask.

The unions point out Parliament enforces a dress code that allows the Speaker to prevent access to the Chamber to an MP dressed inappropriately which could be extended, as a temporary public health measure, to MPs who seek to enter the Chamber without a mask.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) processes through the Central Lobby with other party leaders on their way from the House of Lords after listening to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) processes through the Central Lobby with other party leaders on their way from the House of Lords after listening to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The letter says: “This is a stark example of how rules in Parliament apply only to some and not to others.

“It also hints at a failure by the employer to exercise its duty of care to its own employees.

“After more than a year of collective efforts, staff will not feel protected in their workplace if MPs are simply permitted to choose whether or not to take this one simple step to help protect staff from possible infection.

“We would therefore ask you to urgently reconsider the guidance provided to members so that all staff and members are content that the appropriate measures have been taken to protect their health.”

Had the current arrangements been left in place, they could have been reviewed in September in light of the public health situation at that time, the unions added.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman said the party’s MPs will be asked to continue wearing face coverings and uphold social distancing in Parliament after July 19.

Sir Keir’s spokesman told reporters: “It does seem bizarre and wrong where you’ve got a situation where it is one rule for MPs and another for staff.

“If the advice is that staff should be wearing them, then I don’t see why the same should not apply to Members of Parliament, and certainly the Labour Party will be encouraging our Members of Parliament to continue to wear masks and observe sensible measures like social distancing.”

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