Lack of engagement with private providers put staff at risk during Covid, says union

A lack of engagement between private care providers and unions put care staff at risk during the pandemic, according to GMB Scotland.

During evidence to the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry today, Paul Arkison, GMB Scotland senior organiser, is expected to say many care homes were reluctant to listen to staff concerns about PPE and a lack of testing due to suspicion of unions.

In a statement ahead of his evidence, Arkison said: “We found it difficult dealing with the private care sector, possibly because of the relationship we had with those employers before lockdown.

“As we entered the pandemic, we needed real assistance and input from these companies, which, in my opinion, was not there.”

The GMB leader said contradictory health and safety guidance issued by the government caused “confusion and mistrust of ministers that still lingers today”.

Scottish Care, which represents the independent care sector in Scotland, said: “Scottish Care does not recognise the description of private care homes expressed by GMB. It flies in the face of the reality that throughout the pandemic Scottish Care staff and members worked closely with many trade unionists to ensure that all staff were kept both safe and well.”

Scottish Care said there were a “few instances” where unions had requested a level of PPE which was not being prescribed by the PHS and Scottish government, which was “unhelpful”.

The body said it shared the concern of the union in relation to the “disproportionate prioritising of the NHS and on staff testing”.

Scottish Care added: “Scottish Care and members are working with unions and the Scottish government to create the conditions for ‘Effective Voice’ for care workers as a priority in achieving fair work terms and conditions. Whilst it is still a minority of care staff who choose to join a trade union, this is not the only way of achieving effective voice. It was and is true to say that employers sought to work positively with local officials even in situations which were stressful and challenging.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to all those who lost a loved one during the pandemic.

“The Scottish government is committed to responding to both the Scottish Covid-19 and UK Covid-19 inquiries, as learning lessons from the pandemic is vital to prepare for the future. It would be inappropriate to comment on the detail of evidence being considered by either Inquiry while hearings are ongoing.”

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