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Updated: May 15, 2020

In the first month of the coronavirus lockdown my constituency team dealt with more than four times as many queries than in the same period last year. Most of the queries were from employees who thought their employers’ businesses should have been closed or who needed advice on workers’ the rights if they can’t work because of the restrictions. Others were about financial support for businesses, employees and self-employed people.

I’ve usually found that there were valid reasons for businesses staying at least partly open, although sometimes the level of communication from management to employees was woeful. I’ve made representations to companies about employees’ rights, but it is bitterly disappointing that some businesses have taken the uncaring way out and dismissed their workers or forced them to take unpaid leave. While the UK Government’s financial support packages are by no means perfect, they are deliberately designed to allow businesses to retain their workforce.

Right now, we can’t say when it will be safe to start relaxing the COVID-19 “lockdown” restrictions and it’s vitally important that everyone sticks to these rules for as long as humanly possible. Nobody thinks this is easy, and it only gets more difficult the longer it continues, but it’s literally a matter of life or death for many people. We also need to remember that different parts of the UK are in different stages of the pandemic and it would be unacceptable if Scotland was forced to relax its lockdown prematurely just to keep lobbyists in London happy.

There are no words that can adequately express all our thanks to the thousands of workers in the NHS and in other care services, and in lots of less obviously essential jobs – the people who keep our utilities such as gas, water and electricity functioning, shop workers and everyone who works in our food and drinks industries, posties, public transport workers and a great many more. I just hope that when the crisis is over the UK Government will remember how valuable these workers are, and that they won’t go back to describing them in insulting terms such as “unskilled”.

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