THREE unions are calling on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to step in and protect frontline council workers during the coronavirus pandemic and stop lives being put at risk.

Unison, Unite and the GMB are concerned by a “lack of movement” from local government body COSLA and “inconsistent” approaches by local authorities across Scotland.

The urgent need for council staff to be tested for the virus and for more protective equipment to be handed out are among the issues raised in their letter to the First Minister.

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Concerns over workers, particularly in waste and home care services, being able to maintain social distancing while carrying out their roles have also been included as well as the need for clarity over who is classed as a key worker.

The three unions say they represent over 120,000 people employed in local authorities across Scotland “many of whom are on the frontline delivering essential services and providing care to vulnerable groups”.

They have requested an “emergency” conference call with Scottish Government officials to “provide impetus” and agree a national response.

“We have sought, at all times, to work with COSLA on their response to this crisis but we are now so concerned that their lack of movement is now putting service users and our members at risk that we feel we have to ask you to intervene,” the letter states.

It asks why Scotland is still ignoring calls from the World Health Organisation to “test, test, test”. “There is an urgent need for testing of frontline workers to be rolled out across Scotland.”

The unions also suggest, until the virus is under control, local authorities move to general waste collection only. In Glasgow, general waste and blue recycling bin collections are currently continuing.

COSLA president Alison Evison said: “Councils take the health and well-being of staff and individuals across our communities very seriously and are continuing to do so at this unprecedented time.

“The national response to COVID-19 is public health led and informed by the science.

“Services across Scotland are being provided in line with public health guidance and Local Government is working closely with the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland to ensure support across the system.

“We have pressed for further guidance on social distancing for workers and expect this, as well as guidance on protective equipment, to be issued imminently by the Scottish Government.

“Councils will use this national guidance to inform their own local measures.”

She said support services were in place for staff and thanked the workforce for the “incredible jobs” they are doing, adding they will work “in partnership with the trade unions to protect, support and safeguard these vital workers”.

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise that the spread of the coronavirus has raised concerns for a wide range of workers over issues like social distancing and the availability of protective equipment.

“It is to protect the NHS and save lives that we have put in place restrictions on all individuals and organisations in Scotland requiring them by law to follow necessary social distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Where concerns remain, we are discussing with councils and trade unions the right way forward that protects workers and maintains essential public services.”


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