The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and work in Wales. Together, we have shared responsibility to support the measures put in place to protect the NHS and save lives.
The effect on business, workplaces and workers has been unprecedented, but our established social partnership structures – working together as government, employers and unions – will help to mitigate the economic impact while also supporting business and workers.
Social Partnership and Fair Work values
These exceptional times bring into sharp relief how mutually dependent we are on each other. Our lives are woven together and each of our needs are met by the skills and endeavours of many others. This places a special relevance on our social partnership values.
Our shared priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of people and communities, ensuring employers and workers play their part in a national effort to slow the spread of the virus.
We recognise the valuable role employers are playing to stand by their workers and keep them safe. It is important their efforts are not undermined by those who may seek to exploit the present crisis to ignore their obligations. We will continue to work with employers, trade unions, UK Government and others to help deter, detect and remedy bad practice wherever it occurs.
Support and advice
The Welsh Government has responded to the outbreak with an extensive package of support for business, individuals and our public services, which complements measures announced by the UK Government. This support will help employers to preserve their businesses, maintain jobs and pay their workers during this crisis.
Information about the support available is at businesswales.gov.wales.
As formal education has been suspended and schools and other childcare centres closed to slow the spread of the virus, we want to make sure essential workers have the childcare support to enable them to carry on working. More information is available at https://gov.wales/education-coronavirus .
We are asking employers, unions and workers to agree appropriate arrangements to ensure workers are treated fairly. This means:
- Ensuring all workers follow health protection advice including to isolate either themselves or as part of their households, if they are symptomatic or at risk
Health protection advice is updated regularly. No one should feel under pressure to breach that advice and workers should not be put at unnecessary risk, nor should they put others at risk of infection.
- Paying workers while they are sick or self-isolating
No worker should be financially penalised by their employer for following medical advice. Any absence from work relating to coronavirus should not affect future sick pay entitlement, result in disciplinary action or count towards any future sickness absence-related action.
- Supporting those with caring responsibilities
Employers should consider temporary arrangements for paid leave for caring responsibilities that are additional to current leave entitlements.
- Facilitating home working
It should be the norm to be able to work from home wherever possible. Employers should be as supportive and flexible as they can, given the exceptional strains that will be placed on some workers. Rules need to flex to allow those with caring responsibilities to carry on working.
- Protecting the health and safety of all workers, but particularly frontline or essential workers who face particular risks, following the guidance set out by the Chief Medical Officer in Wales
Appropriate personal protective equipment should be provided, in line with the relevant guidance for health and social care staff; special health and safety arrangements set up to ensure safe workplaces, and continuing risk assessment of working practices undertaken in this fast-moving situation.
- Ensuring all workers are provided with clear and comprehensive information on work-related risks on an ongoing basis
All workers should be aware of and have access to workplace guidance and procedures relating to coronavirus, including on the management of self-isolation and sickness absence. Workers need to know clearly and simply what their responsibilities are and also their employer’s legitimate expectations of them.
- Protecting the position of contracted workers as well as core staff.
Temporary agency workers and self-employed contractors should be treated as if they were employees during this time.
Fundamentally, employers should look to maintain jobs and pay their workers throughout this crisis, making full use of all available government support.
As an employer, the Welsh Government is modelling this behaviour and commits to working with social partners during this crisis in a constructive way. This sets our expectations for the approach to be taken by employers across Wales.
The national endeavour to get us through this health crisis will require an unprecedented economic response shared collectively, deliberately and with purpose. Above all it will require us to work in social partnership – with employers and trade unions, drawing on our strong Welsh traditions of solidarity, community and collective action.