Health experts and employers are preparing for more home working as the new coronavirus takes root while unions are warning about large post-Brexit skills shortages, particularly in social care.
Health officials are advising millions of workers to ask their employers about working from home following the largest increase in coronavirus cases in a single day and the third death of a person with the virus in Britain.
Public Health England is working with major firms on the expansion of home working and is discussing the provision of essentials such as laptops, internet and a quiet room for employees.
BT, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, Santander and Tesco have already begun drawing up plans, and firms including Facebook have begun instructing staff to work from home.
Meanwhile, unions are urging the government to implement immediate reforms that would enable all workers affected by the coronavirus to receive sick pay. The TUC has also called for £94.50-a-week statutory sick pay (SSP) to be increased amid concerns that almost half of workers would be unable to rely on SSP to cover basic living expenses if they were subject to a two-week quarantine. It is estimated that 2m employees are currently ineligible for SSP, and TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has called for a reform to the system so it covers “all workers at a decent rate”.
O’Grady said: “Government needs to stop making excuses and immediately reform sick pay legislation so it covers all workers at a decent rate. It’s the sensible way to give working families the security they need – and to protect public health,” adding “Nothing is stopping employers doing the right thing right now, and pledging that any worker who has to self-isolate on medical advice, or who gets sick, will get full pay while they’re off work.”
Meanwhile, the GMB union has warned that the UK government’s post-Brexit immigration policy will result in a recruitment black hole within the social care sector, with potentially hundreds of thousands of positions left unfilled.
The GMB’s analysis of official figures shows that nearly a fifth of the care sector’s workforce was born outside the UK, and that the sector has an 8% vacancy rate, compared with a 2.8% average across all sectors. New immigration rules will ban most businesses from recruiting overseas workers for jobs that pay less than £25,600 a year; however, the average privately-employed care worker had a salary of £16,200 last year.
The Home Office said: “The Migration Advisory Committee has been clear that immigration is not the solution to addressing staffing levels in the social care sector,” adding that “we are working alongside employers to ensure the workforce has the right number of people to meet increasing demands and have recently launched a national recruitment campaign.”
Meanwhile, Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UKHospitality, warns that British pubs, bars and restaurants will be faced with over 200,000 unfilled vacancies if the policy is enforced in its current form.