I am very concerned about the widespread confusion over who is expected to continue to go into work, and yesterday wrote to the Prime Minister to seek urgent clarity. On Monday evening the Prime Minister told the country that everyone should only leave their homes for one of four essential reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
- Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person;
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
Like many others, I understood this to mean that only those who work in key services or functions should continue to travel to work. However, subsequent Ministerial comments have suggested otherwise and created confusion, which has led lots of constituents to write to me about the status of their employment.
At a press conference on Tuesday the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said that people whose jobs has not already been shut down by the government measures to date should continue to work but should only be travelling to a workplace “where that work can’t be done at home”. In response to a question about construction sites during Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Boris Johnson said:
“Everybody should work at home unless they must go to work—unless they have no alternative and they cannot do that work from home. If a construction company is continuing with work, clearly it should do so in accordance with the guidance of Public Health England, and it has a duty of care to its employees. But overwhelmingly, what we are saying to the people of this country is that, unless you need to leave the house to take exercise, for medical reasons or to buy essential supplies, you should stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
So the Government appear to be saying that non-essential work in sectors which they haven’t specified for closure should continue, but with employers required to comply with public health advice. We must put public health and protecting the NHS first, but above all we need clarity. I have therefore written to the Prime Minister to seek a clear statement on whether non-essential workplaces should continue to remain open – specifically asking about call centres as well as engineering, construction and maintenance workplaces, on which I have been contacted.
Many people, in a huge range of jobs, have to continue to work and we should be grateful to them all. However, given the serious implications of Monday’s announcement, I believe it would be the best course of action for workplaces involved in non-essential work, and particularly those which are struggling to comply with public health advice, to close. Many constituents have written to me with concerns about their workplace and my letter also presses for clarity on how the Government will ensure employers’ compliance with public health advice.
Read my full letter:
Guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus
I am writing to seek urgent clarity on the position of workers in non-essential sectors. In your announcement on Monday evening you told the nation that they should only leave their homes to go shopping, for one form of exercise every day, for medical or care needs, or to go to and from work if essential. I, like many others, understood that to mean that only those who work in key services should continue to travel to their workplace.
However, it appears that this is not in fact the guidance as the Health Secretary said yesterday that people should travel to their workplace if they could not carry out their work from home and that employers would be responsible for ensuring work continued in compliance with public health guidance. This has caused enormous confusion and I am concerned that you did not provide any further clarity at Prime Minister’s Questions today.
I would therefore be grateful if you could urgently clarify which workplaces should continue operate and in particular if those who work in sectors that have contacted me – non-essential call centres, as well as engineering, construction and maintenance – should be expected to continue going into work. If this is your guidance, would you explain how the Government will ensure that these employers comply with the public health guidance and what the consequences will be if they fail to do so.
Paul Blomfield MP
Member of Parliament for Sheffield Central