COVID-19

Introduction

We are aware of the challenges that the COVID emergency can cause both in our members’ working and personal lives. The majority of our members continue in full-time, paid employment, providing a vital service to communities across Ireland. We also have a significant number of members working from home to keep various enterprises operational.

During these times, the health and safety of our members is critical. Employers must ensure their safety by providing PPE, safe workspaces and maintaining relevant HSE guidelines and protocols. Members also have a responsibility towards their fellow colleagues by following proper etiquette in relation to social distancing, coughing/sneezing, and hand-washing.

In this section of the website we are providing members with important information about the COVID crises and what support services are available.  We are going to address the following issues:

  • Government Financial Services
  • Working Safely from Home
  • Health and Safety at Work during COVID-19
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • National Return to Work Safety Protocol

For company specific information please visit the circulars section of the website.

Please note while every effort will be made to keep this information up-to-date, the CWU will bear no liability for any errors, inaccuracies or omissions. Should members have queries they can also contact head office through info@cwu.ie

To being with please take a look at the following video for basic information on COVID-19.

PLAY VIDEO

Some employees or their families may have lost their jobs or have had their working hours reduced as a result of COVID. In this section we will outline what financial supports are available through the schemes listed below. This information will be reviewed and updated regularly.

  1. COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
  2. Short Term Work Support
  3. The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme
  4. Childcare Provider Support
  5. Working from Home Tax Relief
  6. Sick pay and Illness Benefit
1. Full Loss of Employment – COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

The COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is a weekly payment of €350 for employees and the self-employed who may have lost their job. This applies to those unemployed after March 13th and is estimated to continue until at least June 8th.

To find out more please click here

2. Partial Loss of Employment – Short Time Work Support

If your employment has been reduced to a shorter working week then you may qualify for Short Time Work Support.  This support is a type of job seekers benefit and is a payment in respect of your normal salary for the days that you are not working. This will be paid for a maximum of 234 days. If you do not qualify you may apply for Job Seeker’s Allowance.

Please click here for further information.

3. The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme

This scheme will run from March 26th for 12 weeks and allows employers to continue to pay employees for that duration. It aims to keep employees registered with their employer so that they can quickly return to work. If the scheme is implemented by the employer it means that employee does not have to apply for unemployment payments.

More information on this scheme is available here

4. Childcare Provider Support

On March 12th, all educational and childcare facilities closed which naturally created challenges for parents with childcare arrangements.

12 weeks’ of support was put in place from March 26th for childcare providers. This means that if your child care provider availed of this support then you retain your childcare place and you do not have to pay child care fees while the facilities are closed during the COVID emergency.

Please click here for further information. You can also find out information here about what happens if your childcare fees are subsidised or if you are availing of the free childcare programme.

On a separate note if you cannot go to work due to care responsibilities for a child or a relative you should ask your employer what types of leave you can apply for.

If you need further advice on this, please contact your Union Representative.

5. Working from Home Tax Relief

These arrangements only apply to e-workers in that the employee works from home on a full-time or part-time basis.  The Home Tax Relief covers costs such as heat and electricity.  An employer may pay employees up to €3.20 daily without deducting PAYE, PRSI and USC.

To find our more please discuss this tax relief directly with your union representative.

Further information on this scheme can be found here

6. Sick Pay and Benefits

Enhanced Illness Benefit is paid at the higher rate of €350 per week and is only available where you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been told to self-isolate by a medical professional.

Should your employer not provide sick pay then you should apply for enhanced Illness Benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.  To apply, you must be self-isolating at home or in a medical facility. In these circumstances, it is advisable to contact your GP who can assess you over the phone.

You may however be entitled to sick pay from your employer in line with your contract of employment. In this case the employer may top up the illness benefit payable.

To find out more please see click here

Many people will now be working from home as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. While some may be used to working from home for others it is a new phenomenon. Working from home can pose many challenges for people. It requires setting up a routine, a proper workspace, looking after children or elderly parents while attempting to separate work life from home life.

In the first section we will take a look at basic health and safety while working from home. This is in relation to physically working safely as per legislation and best practice. It is also equally important to maintain positive mental health which will be dealt with in another section.

Here are some basic tips to working safely from home.

  1. Identify a suitable place for home working
  2. There should be enough physical space so that you don’t have bend or twist to work
  3. Make sure there is adequate heat, ventilation and light in your workspace
  4. Your workspace should be clutter free
  5. The floor space needs to be dry and free of trip hazards
  6. All electrical sockets, cords and plugs must be in good working condition
  7. Laptops, tablets and phones should not be left charging on a couch, pillow or other cloth surface as they can become a fire hazard
  8. Have an emergency evacuation plan in place as well as fully operational fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  9. Follow proper Display Screen Equipment/VDU safety measures (see link below)
  10. Take regular screen breaks at least once an hour

Please see here for a practical workstation checklist.

The HSA has also developed an FAQ on home working during COVID-19. They emphasise that the employer has important duties relating to workspace and work activity. The duty of care that that employer has towards employees under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act also applies in the context of home working. The employer should consult with the employee to ensure that the workspace is suitable, and that the employee has adequate equipment to allow them to work from home. Employers should also consider the cost of WIFI where this is needed for the job.

The employee also has responsibilities to co-operate with the employer’s instructions regarding maintaining safety and to follow company procedures.

Please see here for more information.

Postal Courier and eComms services are vital in our communities and our members are working in challenging and difficult circumstances to keep these services going. Where services remain open, strict precautions must be implemented to protect front-line staff and customers, as well as reducing the spread of the virus.

The Union is aware that circumstances are changing every day and we must ensure that these changes do not impact our members’ health and safety.

Please take note of the following which are guidelines only. For clarity the CWU is not providing any form of medical advice.

For company specific arrangements please refer to the relevant general circulars.

1. Social Distancing

Social Distancing is essential. We know that the required distance (2m) can be difficult to achieve in homes or on some worksite locations. The message is very clear if social distancing cannot be achieved, we ask members to flag this to their line manager immediately who is responsible for health and safety. Members are requested to raise any concerns to their employer and where relevant advise customers that they will be implementing physical distancing during their duties.

2. Personal Protective Equipment

The employer must ensure that all employees are adequately protected and where deemed necessary provide staff with the necessary PPE. The supply of essential equipment, (gloves, wipes, etc) has been discussed at length with our members’ employers. Where there is a shortage, the member must contact their line manager to ensure a supply is delivered promptly.

While correctly using PPE can help prevent some exposure to the virus, it should not take the place of other preventative measures. Introducing gloves and masks will not in itself protect people against picking up the virus, as the virus can also stick to the gloves and masks. In addition, people may feel a false sense of protection/security wearing these and not wash/sanitize their hands as often as they should.

Where PPE is provided it will be without cost to the staff and will be maintained and replaced in line with manufacturers’ instructions. Where provided staff will be expected to use the PPE correctly and observe the guidelines associated with PPE use.

Gloves are generally not required for infection prevention and control purposes. Where gloves are necessary, they must not be considered a substitute for hand hygiene and hands must be cleaned whenever gloves are removed.

3. Hand washing and a Clean Work Environment

To reaffirm, the virus is transmitted by inhaling droplets and by touching the face, mouth and eyes. Therefore hand washing (and hand sanitizing), coughing and sneezing etiquette as well as adhering to social distancing is the best protection for staff and customers and the best preventative method.

Employers should supply soap, access to warm water, hand sanitizer, cleaning agents and gloves. Employers should ensure that work areas are cleaned thoroughly and frequently. Staff should be allowed to take regular breaks to wash hands as required.

The HSE Return to Work Safely Protocol states the following:

Hands should be washed regularly. In particular hands should be washed:

  • After coughing or sneezing
  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after preparing food
  • If you were in contact with someone who has a fever or respiratory symptom (cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing)
  • Before and after being on public transport if using it
  • Before and after being in a crowd (especially an indoor crowd)
  • When you arrive and leave buildings including your home or anyone’s else’s home
  • Before having a cigarette or vaping
  • If your hands are dirty
  • After toilet use

In addition to hand hygiene, good respiratory (coughing and sneezing) hygiene and etiquette is also necessary. You should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze. Always put used tissues into a bin and wash your hands afterwards. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Staff are also advised not to share objects that touch their mouth, for example, bottles or cups.

4. Minimising the risk of spread & Isolation

Employers need to follow HSE guidelines immediately should a member of staff have to self-isolate. It is necessary to follow these protocols so as to minimise the risk to colleagues and customers. Furthermore it will be necessary to inform the relevant authorities to diminish the potential risk of spreading the virus. The employer should designate an area where suspected cases can be isolated. This area should be chosen for the following reasons:

  • It is easily accessible including for those with disabilities
  • The suspected case can be isolated behind closed doors
  • The area is well ventilated with a window and air conditioning

The following will be provided in that area:

  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitiser, disinfectant
  • PPE; gloves and masks
  • Clinical waste bags

According to the HSE protocol, if someone becomes unwell at work with symptoms such as cough, fever, difficulty breathing, be it an employee or visitor to the workplace, then they should immediately contact the designated member of staff who will oversee the isolation procedure. The unwell person will be provided with a mask brought to the isolation room by the designated member of staff who will maintain the required social distance.

Employees are expected to make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID 19 and monitor their own wellbeing. Employees should self-isolate at home and contact their GP promptly for further advice if they display any sign of COVID- 19.

Every customer visiting the workplace should be recorded as per GDPR guidelines to help public authorities track potential spread of cases in the community. They should provide full contact details in an attendance book. This should include their telephone number and the last place they visited to assist with contact tracing if there is subsequently a confirmed case of COVID 19. This will assist early identification, isolation and treatment as necessary.

All visitors are expected to follow inhouse sanitisation procedures and will also be required to indicate if they have symptoms of COVID 19 or have been abroad in the last 14 days. The information provided is solely for the purpose of protection from COVID-19 and will not be utilised for any other reason.

Meetings will be conducted using online remote means where possible. Where face to face meetings are necessary, the length of the meeting and the numbers attending should be kept to a minimum and participants must maintain physical distancing at all times. Meeting rooms should be reconfigured to provide for social distancing

There is an onus on all members to comply with HSE guidelines.

Return to Work Safely Protocol

In anticipation of businesses opening, the National Return to Work Safely Protocol (“the Protocol”) has been put in place by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and was published on Saturday, 9 May 2020. Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, stated that;

This Protocol is a critical component of the Government’s Roadmap for reopening the economy as we gradually lift the COVID-19 restrictions. It very clearly sets out the steps that businesses and workers should take to ensure that they can return to work safely”.

Minister Humphreys added that “this Protocol is mandatory and it applies to all workplaces right across the economy”.

The protocol is a collaboration between the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

The purpose of the protocol is to assist employers and employees put safety measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 as employees return to work once the economy reopens. It will be necessary for all workplaces to adapt the procedures within the protocol so as to comply with the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Union will be closely monitoring the protocol and will keep members advised accordingly. Please see here for further information.

The Union has often emphasised that mental health is just as important as physical and we are aware that the COVID-19 crises for many can be a source of stress and anxiety. We are all in the midst of dealing with challenging times due to COVID-19 which can impact people differently. We must all try to cope with change and adjust to a new way of life. Furthermore COVID-19 has restrictions in place that prevent us from meeting with family and friends or engaging in other social activities that we normally rely on to maintain our mental wellbeing.

The union has worked closely with employers in the area of wellbeing and should members encounter difficulties they are encouraged to contact their EAP services or occupational health as appropriate.

The union has also developed resources to point members in the right direction towards seeking support. Our online learning platform Unionlink has various courses available to members such as stress management, mindfulness, and mental health awareness.

To set up an account and avail of these courses visit www.unionlink.org

If you need any assistance with gaining access to the courses please email carol@cwu.ie

Please take note that the information in this section is guidelines only. For clarity the CWU is not providing any form of medical advice.

In this Together Campaign

The HSE has developed a new campaign called “In this Together”. Everyone’s lives and daily routines are affected by the measures that have been introduced to disrupt the spread of the virus, and keep us all safe. It’s normal to be worried or to feel stressed during this difficult time, but there are many things we can do to help us mind our mental health and wellbeing.

The Union wishes to bring our member’s attention to the HSE “In this Together” campaign as it provides important advice and tips on how we can look after our mental wellbeing, balance work and home life stay active and healthy. In This Together combines a range of resources and activities that you can pursue in your home or your locality, as well as  ideas and activities for people of all ages.

The campaign looks at mental health and wellbeing in 9 categories as listed below. We will introduce each category of the HSE campaign and provide you with the links to the resources that you feel are most relevant to you.

1. Looking after our mental health

COVID-19 is a source of worry for everyone both from a physical as well as mental health viewpoint. If we can accept this there are many resources available to us that will assist us to protect our mental health during this crisis.

Please see here for further information on mental health.

2. Coping at Home

As previously referenced working from home for many will be a new experience and trying to adapt to being at home full-time can be difficult and challenging at best. Some of the challenges range from minding children, helping with homework and cooking more meals while at the same time trying to hold down a day job. It can also be very lonely as we are isolated from work colleagues, friends and extended family. The day can seem very long and difficult however help is at hand.  This section of the campaign looks at issues from school work to managing stress and switching off.

Click here for more information

3. Leaving Cert 2020

There can be no doubt that this has been a very difficult and worrying time for leaving cert students and their parents. Significant changes have been made in order to protect students during COVID-19.  Please click here for the most up to date information on the Leaving Cert Exams 2020.

4. Let’s Play Ireland

Let’s Play Ireland is a government-led initiative aimed at promoting play for children living in Ireland during the COVID-19 emergency. We all recognise that play is an important escape for children and is necessary to promote their physical and mental wellbeing as well as developing social skills.

This section of the In This Together Campaign provides resources for families with children to encourage play and social activities during COVID-19.

Click here for more information

5. Staying Active

We are all aware of the benefits of staying active however maintaining a normal exercise routine is more challenging during the COVID-19 emergency. Trying to include exercise into a hectic schedule may seem like an impossibility. However, while we are encouraged to take regular exercise within a 5km radius, there are also possibilities to staying active at home and bringing the family together to participate. Please see here for more resources.

6. Health Eating During COVID-19

With the changes in our daily routine our eating habits may also be adjusted. Many of us may be eating more, choosing unhealthy snacks or relying on the local take out. While it is easy to lapse into this type of eating we must keep in mind that maintaining a healthy diet is critical to our physical wellbeing.  This section of the campaign provides information on quick and easy meals, healthy snacking and food safety.

Click here for more information

7. Cocooning

Those who are at a very high risk of the Corona Virus are asked to cocoon which may seem unusual or difficult to adjust to. There is plenty of advice for those who need to cocoon on the campaign website as well as information on public services available for those who must remain at home.

Click here for more information

On a separate note the Union acknowledges the role of members in An Post through our community initiative which ranges from checking on the elderly to delivering prescriptions and newspapers. Members can get more information here

8. Helping in the Community

In many situations the country would be in a much poorer situation if it were not for those who willingly volunteer their services to support their communities. Over the last few weeks we have seen Irish innovation at its best with the most vulnerable in the hearts and minds of all. Here you will find information on volunteering and responding to the community call as well as safety advice for those who are getting assistance.

9. Local Resources

There are loads of services available in communities to those who require them and this section of the In This Together Campaign provides useful links to resources on a nationwide basis. Local authorities are offering a range of services and initiatives to assist you and your family look after your mental health and wellbeing.

For more information click here

General Information on Health and Wellbeing
The Right to Disconnect

Working from home can create many advantages for employees such as increased flexibility, reduction in commuting time and better work life balance. That said it can also become more difficult to switch off and draw a line between work and personal life. An employee who is unable to switch off can in effect increase their working hours considerably and increase their stress levels.

The Government report “Remote Work in Ireland, Future Jobs 2019 makes reference to the employee survey conducted and states that “When respondents were asked the biggest challenge of working remotely, “switching off / avoiding overwork” came through as the most common challenge of working remotely, with 46.7% of total responses.”

It is very important for members working remotely to look after their mental health and being able to make the transition between work and personal life is a significant part of this.

As working from home is likely to become part of the future work of work, the right to disconnect has become an important issue for trade unions.

UNI Global Union has developed a campaign on the Right to Disconnect. You can find out more here

Work-Related Stress During COVID-19

Some of our members will be preparing to return to work and it is critical that measures are put in place to protect their health and safety. It is also critical that these measures include preventing the spread of COVID-19 between work colleagues and customers. In this section, we will provide information on the “Return to Work Safely Protocol” which is a mandatory document that outlines the measures that must be implemented for a safe transition to work.

ICTU National Return to Work Safety Protocol