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Worker safety must be key to Covid-19 inquiry

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has urged the government to focus on workplace safety and enforcement as part of the independent public inquiry into Covid-19.

Launched this year, the investigation will look into the government's response to the pandemic, to assess what lessons can be learned for the future. 

As part of a consideration of workplace safety, the TUC has argued that government should address why certain groups, including minoritised populations, women and disabled workers, were disproportionately affected more by the pandemic.

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Diane Lightfoot, CEO of disabled workers non-profit the Business Disability Forum, said her organisation is concerned by the absence of equality impact assessments on decisions made throughout the pandemic.

She told HR magazine: "We would like to know how the government assessed who would be impacted by their decisions and how, and the measures taken to minimise the impact and consequences for disabled people in particular."

The government's communication during the pandemic, she added, had not been clear enough. 

She said: “There was a lot of unhelpful language used by the government during the pandemic, such as how the term ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ was used. This became conflated with the term disability which in turn reinforced negative stereotyping around disability. 

“The inquiry must also consider the effectiveness of the government’s internal and external communications. Communications were only made available in alternative formats, such as easy-read and BSL, at quite a late stage."

Public consultation on what is to be included in the inquiry closed on 7 April and results are expected to be published later this year.

In a statement TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that the level of risk many workers had been put in during the UK's handling of coronavirus was unacceptable.

She said: “The threat of workplace infections was not insurmountable. But many workers were put at unacceptable risk – especially key workers on the frontline.

“The inquiry must take a deep dive into workplace safety – especially into those workplaces and sectors where outbreaks occurred, and where government Covid safety rules fell short."