Unions urge government to rethink the end of mask mandate

13 Jul 2021 By Jessica Brown

As Boris Johnson confirms restrictions in England will end next week, experts call for ‘slow and cautious’ return to workplaces

Unions have urged the government to rethink plans to end the mask mandate in England as the prime minister confirmed previously outlined plans to lift the last of the lockdown restrictions on Monday.

In a statement yesterday (12 July), Boris Johnson warned that while the pandemic was “not over”, now was the “right time to proceed” with further relaxation of the rules in England.

This means that from 19 July, as well as ending rules on mask wearing, the government will also drop its advice to work from home where possible and lift the remaining restrictions on how businesses operate. (The rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be changing).

However, unions have warned this was not the right time to end mandatory mask-wearing. Frances O’Grady, union TUC’s general secretary, said the change showed “no consideration to the public-facing workers who have kept the country running.”

Similarly, Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, said the rising number of infections “have more than made the case” for keeping the rules of face coverings in shops, schools, public transport and other enclosed spaces.

She added that the government’s new emphasis on personal responsibility could put employees in sectors still required to wear masks – including hospitals and care homes – in “impossible, potentially abusive, situations” by forcing them to ensure people continue to cover up.

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“A plethora of mixed messages is sowing confusion where clarity is needed,” said McAnea.

However, masks aside, business groups have generally welcomed the relaxation of the rules.

While acknowledging the widespread anxiety that still existed among employees, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said now was the right time for the government to suggest a gradual return to work for those who’ve been working remotely.

But, Cheese added: “The majority of people who have been working from home have been able to do so successfully for the last 16 months, so a slow, cautious return to workplaces is the right approach at this time.”

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