Thousands of council cleaners and bin collectors told to reject self-isolation exemption

More than 2,000 local authority street cleaners and bin collectors have been advised to refuse to return to work and instead self-isolate if they have been exposed to coronavirus.

Cleansing staff have been told not to feel pressured to return to work if told to self-isolate.

Staff in four councils’ cleansing and waste services have been told by GMB Scotland to stay off work if they are concerned they could be exposed to the virus, and blamed new government rules for “heaping more pressure" on stretched local authority employees.

The union has said that a major factor in the “ping-demic" was the "chronic understaffing” of council staff after “years of cuts”.

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The move comes as concerns are rising about the impact of self-isolation on health and social care staff with unions warning healthcare staff felt “pressured” into returning to work amid high rates of absences.

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New guidelines were released last month which allow employers of staff in key national infrastructure, including health, transport and food supply, to apply for exemptions to self-isolation requirements for workers who are contacts of a positive Covid case.

If the Government deems a critical role can be exempt, the worker still has to prove they have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine at least two weeks prior to any close contact, have a negative PCR test and agree to carry out lateral flow tests for 10 days after the contact.

But following talks with workplace representatives, the GMB has advised more than 2,300 of its members in cleansing and waste services in Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire and West Lothian councils, to refuse self-isolation exemptions.

GMB Scotland senior organiser for public services, Drew Duffy, said: "A major underlying factor in the so-called pingdemic is the chronic understaffing in our frontline services after years of cuts, and our cleansing and waste is no different.

"But the Scottish Government s new guidance has opened the door for employers across the country to heap more pressure on these key workers if they have been exposed to Covid-19. That's not safe for workers, families, or communities.

"And again, some of the lowest paid are being asked to take the greatest risk in another example of how poorly they are valued by government. You cannot cut and coerce your way out of a crisis, if you want services to function then you must invest in them.

"That lesson needs to be learned, and it's why we are advising our members to exercise their right to refuse and instead follow the general self-isolation rules if they are exposed to Covid-19.”

The GMB joins several unions which have raised concerns over staff being pressured into returning to work after being told to self isolate.

The Royal College of Nursing union has warned staff are under “increasing pressure” as services are in such high demand.

Julie Lamberth, chair of the RCN Scotland Board, has said that although the self-isolation exemption rules are based on voluntary participation by staff, “there remains the potential for increasing pressure on staff to return to work to support hard pressed services.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Self-isolation rules already state that exemption will only be granted in respect of members of staff who voluntarily agree not to self-isolate, and the employers' duty of care to all their employees must be respected."

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