Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Warehouse Representative Group Joins Calls for Clarity on Self Isolation for Vital Logistics Workers

Government Criticised by Many in the Industry for Vague Plans
Shipping News Feature

UK – The newly appointed Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA), Clare Bottle, has wasted no time in getting into her stride joining the groundswell of opinions demanding the government allow logistics workers exemption from self-isolation as the 'pingdemic' sweeps the country causing shortages of supplies.

Ms Bottle has written to Rachel Maclean, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, making the strong case to give industry workers preferential treatment saying:

“During the earlier phases of the Covid-19 pandemic logistics workers, including warehouse workforces, benefitted from ‘essential worker’ status, which helped our members and the wider logistics community to maintain critical supply chains, including food and pharmaceutical supplies.

”We believe that exemption from self-isolation should now apply to this sector by default, which would be in line with the earlier position of the government and straight forward to implement.”

The Prime Minister stated initially that critical workers who are fully vaccinated would be able to avoid self-isolating when recommended to do so by the Track & Trace app. However, it was later explained that this would only apply to a ‘very low number of people’ and employers would be obliged to make individual applications for the exemption.

Subsequently the impact of millions of workers having to self-isolate has brought increasing pressure on the government to reconsider its position causing Clare Bottle to conclude:

“While we welcome the news that supermarket workers and food manufacturers will be now exempt from quarantine, warehouse workers form a critical part of supply chains not only for food, but for pharmaceuticals and other essential supplies too.

”Although members have been affected to different degrees, some have reported up to 40% of staff self-isolating. Therefore we’re also seeking urgent clarification from the government on the process for individuals and businesses to apply for exemption.”

The Prime Minister stated at the outset that essential workers who were fully vaccinated could avoid the self-isolation period if ‘pinged’ by the app but it remains that few people actually know that the regulation is seemingly not legally binding and it is actually the person’s own decision as to the action they take, as, allegedly, no action can be taken in law against them if they choose not to isolate.

One would not know this from the NHS site which ‘tells’ people that they have to self-isolate immediately if advised to do so by the app, get an immediate PCR test and continue the 10 day isolation period, even if the test is negative. Yet according to an investigation by YouGov whereas self-isolation is a legal requirement under the Test and Trace scheme, this is not the case when advised by the NHS Covid-19 app.

Mandatory or not Ms Bottle’s appeal mirrors that of others in the industry including Logistics UK, whose Policy Director, Elizabeth de Jong, commented:

”Logistics as a sector is flexible and adaptable and has maintained supplies of everything UK plc needs throughout the pandemic. Many of our workers operate in isolation and the risk of infection passing between them is very low, however, for those in warehouses and distribution centres, the risk is higher. Having deemed logistics a ‘key’ industry at the start of the pandemic, the government should be maintaining this designation and providing a blanket exemption for the industry.

”Those with two vaccinations and recording negative test results should be allowed to continue to work. This will provide resilience for the UK’s supply chain and prevent unnecessary administration time being wasted. The proposed process to apply for exemption from isolation, following notifications from the NHS app, appears time consuming, and will not help logistics businesses which are already working at full stretch to keep the country supplied with all that it needs. We are talking to government about streamlining this process right now to protect the integrity of the supply chain.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) had predicted that the new policy surrounding the so called ‘pingdemic’ would be disastrous, particularly in view of the already chronic driver shortage. When speaking to the Financial Times Rod McKenzie, MD of Policy and Public Affairs, commented:

“Government needs to wake up to this. I cannot underplay how serious this situation is. As with the proposals being considered for NHS staff, we ask that instead of isolating fully-vaccinated logistics employees’ they have daily lateral flow testing. As long as tests remain negative, they should be allowed to work. In the case of a positive test, normal protocols would of course be observed.”

Last Saturday the Transport Union RMT took an even stronger line when it heard reports of the expansion of isolation exemptions for some transport workers, with General Secretary Mick Lynch saying:

"It is ludicrous that this announcement has been made without any discussion with the unions or detailed briefing on who this scheme is supposed to cover and how it will be implemented. This cavalier approach seems to be aimed at hitting headlines rather than mapping a serious way out of the current crisis. ‎It leaves our members facing yet more uncertainty. I am seeking urgent clarification from both the employers and the government before more damage is done. "