The TUC and Covid Bereaved Families for Justice are calling for the public inquiry into coronavirus to focus on what could have been done to prevent workers’ deaths.
The call comes as workers around the world prepare to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day in memory of those who have died from a work-related illness or injury.
Campaigners say “as Parliament grapples with the partygate scandal it is now more crucial than ever that the government shows integrity and transparency over the inquiry process".
The TUC and Covid Bereaved Families for Justice welcomed Baroness Hallett’s public consultation on the draft terms of reference. In response, they said that alongside scrutinising the quality of decision-making across the pandemic response in government, the public inquiry must specifically look at:
- The management, inspection and enforcement of safety in workplaces, including the role of government guidance, regulatory and enforcement bodies, employers and unions
- The impact of the pandemic in different sectors, including health and social care but also education, transport, and manufacturing including food and textiles and retail.
- The reasons for the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BME and disabled people.
- A comparison of the different approaches across all nations of the UK.
The organisations now fear that the prime minister could use his powers to try to limit the scope of the inquiry. They are therefore calling for the government not to reject any recommendations from Lady Hallett that widen the scope of the inquiry to include the points above.
The TUC and Covid Bereaved Families for Justice say that the voices of key workers and the families of those who contracted the virus at work will be central to understanding what went wrong and learning lessons for the future.
More than 15,000 people of working age died in the pandemic. Many of those were key workers in high-risk workplaces in sectors such as health, social care, transport, food processing and textiles. BME workers were particularly hard-hit, with BME men 57% more likely to be working in jobs with a higher mortality rate, and BME women 48% more likely.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: "We’ll forever be in the debt of the workers who kept the country going during the pandemic – nurses, carers, bus drivers, factory workers and so many more.
“Far too many were exposed to the virus at work – and lost their lives as a consequence. Now the government owes it to them, and to their families, to make sure the public inquiry investigates what should have been done to keep everyone safe at work. As partygate dominates the headlines it is crucial that the government shows transparency and integrity in its approach to the inquiry. Bereaved families deserve answers.
“On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember those who have died due to work, and pledge to fight for safe workplaces for everyone.”
Facilitate has approached the government for a response.