On the 21st January 2022 the Government announced the easing of public health measures while at the same time emphasising a continued strong focus on personal protective behaviours, based on individual and sectoral risk assessment. They subsequently published a Transitional Protocol which is a collaborative effort between the Government, the Health and Safety Authority, Trade Unions and Employer representatives. This protocol is applicable to all Sectors which employers and employees are expected to review and update through consultation.
The Transitional Protocol stresses the importance of everyone continuing to play their part in limiting transmission of the virus. The pandemic is not over and the emergence of new variants with increased levels of transmissibility or with immunity to vaccines remains a risk. Within An Post there remains high instances of the disease, with over 200 unable to attend work each week since the beginning of the year.
While the Government has removed the requirement for some of the restrictions the Transitional Protocol advises a safety-first approach with Employers agreeing, in consultation with their employees, to maintain some of the practices or arrangements that were in place based on the Work Safety Protocol, for a further period of time. In agreeing how the restrictions are to be lifted the Union’s priorities are to continue to protect the health and safety of our members and ensure that they can attend work in a safe environment. Following discussions, the Union and the Company agreed the following changes to the Infection Prevention and Control Measures currently in place across the Company.
The Protocol has removed the requirement for physical distancing across most work activities. However, physical and social distancing is still considered a good practice. We have agreed a phased removal of the arrangements associated with physical / social distancing throughout February.
At DSU’s, the measures associated with physical distancing will be discontinued over a two-week period, commencing 21st February 2022. This will include the removal of the requirement for staggered attendance, some additional staffing resources and home garaging (where it was introduced as a COVID-19 measure). Implementation of the changes will be subject to consultation at local level.
The deployment of Brand Ambassadors in Retail will resume from mid-February. The Company will advance plans for discussion with the Union from mid-February onwards for the introduction of front of house activity in Retail Branch Offices.
In all other instances employees will be encouraged to maintain Social Distancing in the workplace (i.e., in workspaces and shared welfare facility areas).
The Company will continue to supply face masks and the wearing of a face covering in the workplace will continue in line with existing guidance until the end of February, at which stage the matter will be further reviewed. Wearing of Visors will only be permitted as a face covering where the employee has presented a doctor’s note confirming the medical reasons, the employee cannot wear a face mask.
Other Infection Prevention and Control Measures
- The Company will continue to supply hand sanitiser to employees for use in the workplace and continue to promote good hygiene practices.
- Existing enhanced cleaning regimes, introduced in response to COVID-19, will continue and reviewed at the end of February.
- Antigen testing will continue to apply to staff in audit and engineering support who are required to attend contractor offices, which will also be reviewed at the end of February.
- The requirement to complete COVID-19 declaration forms for entry to An Post premises is ceased. However, access approval to return to the office continues to apply.
COVID-19 Special Leave
In GS Circular 24/21 we outlined the arrangements for paid special leave, which following a review will apply as follows:
- From 28th February 2022 special leave for COVID-19 related reasons, will cease and all absence, whether due to a positive test result or isolation requirements associated with being symptomatic or a close contact, will be recorded as Sick Leave and dealt in accordance with normal sick pay regulations.
- Medical evidence by means of a doctor’s certificate or HSE confirmation of a positive test or a need to isolate is required for absences of more than two days, as per the normal requirements for the reporting of sick leave.
- In ASMP reviews, a period of sick absence identified as being COVID-19 related, will not determine the review outcome or result in a decision to escalate under the process.
- Decisions to reduced sick pay arrangements due to COVID-19 related absence resulting in exceptional hardship may be appealed by Union HQ to the relevant HR Director.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Employees currently absent for an extended period on medical advice due to an underlying health condition, placing them at significant risk were they to acquire COVID-19, will be reviewed by Occupational Health Service in the context of the improved situation and the Transitional Protocol.
The Transitional Protocol advises that a phased return to the workplace should commence. We have agreed those working remotely, should return on a phased and gradual basis. We have further agreed individuals working remotely can return to the various Company buildings for ad hoc attendances and meetings. This is all subject to prior approval for inclusion on the relevant access list. In tandem with the return to work arrangements we intend to finalise details on when the recently agreed remote working policy will be applicable from. This should enable roll out for all staff in conjunction with the wider return to the office. As advised in GS Circular 03/22 priority will be given to members that have expressed concern, they are finding remote working difficult.
While some of the key measures have been removed it is important individuals self-isolate if they have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have a positive test. Vaccination, including getting a booster, remains a recommendation from public health as it will protect the individual from serious illness.
We will continue to jointly review arrangements and update members further.
Please bring this circular to the attention of all members.