The CWU Officials have, over the last few weeks, dealt with the different employers in order to establish how each business would operate during this unprecedented crisis and the impact on members in the various workplaces. We have approached those negotiations with the employers on the basis that our first priority at all times must be the health and safety of our members. We must also be conscious at the same time of protecting, to the greatest degree possible, the earning potential of our members in order that they may look after themselves and their families. Not all employers have covered themselves in glory, but I believe it is fair to say that at least eventually they are all coming on board and doing what we believe is necessary to protect the workforce. There has been a severe shortage of equipment such as handwash, gloves, wipes and sanitizers but thankfully supplies started to arrive and we will continue to press the employers to do all in their power to ensure supplies continue to be made available over the coming period.
Where possible we have agreed arrangements with the employers to facilitate home working, which is being extended on a daily basis as the necessary technology enables access from company premises into members homes. Staggered attendance times will be introduced in order to allow people, particularly in mail centres, delivery offices, post offices and call centres, to maintain the required social distancing.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions are in daily contact with senior Government officials regarding the provision of assistance for people who have found themselves laid off as a result of this virus or had their working hours reduced. It is estimated that already 140,000 workers have been laid off work with another 100,000 to be expected to be laid off in the coming weeks. Where members have been affected in this manner, we have made arrangements for payments from the employers which will need to be renegotiated by the end of this month. The work of your Officials in the coming week will be to make it absolutely clear to all our members in the various employments how they access payments over the coming months. Members should also keenly follow government advice in relation to mortgages and rent in order to preserve whatever payments that are forthcoming.
The Officials in each sector are presently working to update the CWU website with a view to providing information for each employment while also listing the processes and procedures for claiming welfare benefits under the various headings.
This is a time of high stress and anxiety for workers and their families and in these unprecedented times nobody is quite sure what will happen next or who will be infected next. As a Union, we can only join in with the general societal calls that people behave in a sensible and responsible manner and follow the guidelines issued through the health authorities and the Government. For our part the Officials continue to work in trying to reduce the impact on our members as best as we possibly can. I would ask that all members at least initially forward their queries to their Branch Secretary, who can escalate to Union Headquarters if required. We will next week set up a procedure which will allow conference calls for union reps in order to allow them to be updated as necessary. The facility of queries through the website and through email will also continue. It is vital that we deal with this crisis in a unified manner within each employment and to that end it is expected that all elected officers follow the advice from their official and refrain from issuing any advice outside of that. There are no shortage of medical experts and barrack room lawyers who could tell us all what should or shouldn’t be done but as a union it is important that we deal with the facts and the agreements made with our employers and with the Government through the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. At a critical time like this it cannot be acceptable that people without the expertise attempt to advise members based on hearsay or social media. Individuals’ health and safety is a personal issue. We need to make personal choices during this crisis which best protect each other, our families and communities as individual circumstances will widely differ. Therefore, the onus will be on the right of the individual member to make the right choice rather than on the Union or a Branch to make a collective one.
In conclusion I would urge members to attempt to manage this disease through taking the advice that comes from the scientific community and from the health experts. I also urge individuals to check the CWU website, where information will be updated on a regular basis.
Stay safe and healthy.