South Lanarkshire branch threw a spotlight on Post COVID syndrome, calling for its formal recognition as a disability and a recognised health condition.
Special Delegate Conference agreed and the NEC will press for research into the condition and will develop guidance to branches on best practice for supporting employees who develop Post COVID Syndrome.
Moving the motion, South Lanarkshire’s Ian Doig told delegates that current figures show there have been 4.57 million COVID cases in the UK, and approximately 128,000 deaths. People in the UK are three times as likely to contract COVID, and four times as likely to die from it, than those elsewhere.
“COVID is a major health issue, and the problems associated with the after effects of Covid are likely to be a significant feature in fitness to work,” said Ian
The Office of National Statistics reported that one million people in private households across the UK are experiencing self-reported COVID symptoms of over four weeks, and one in 10 who contract COVID experience symptoms lasting more than 12 weeks.
“One year into the COVID pandemic that translated as 1,181 new cases of Post COVID-19 Syndrome in the UK each day; compared to 1,000 new cancer cases each day,” said Ian.
He reminded delegates that public services have been at the forefront of the response to COVID. 15% of all key workers were at heightened risk from COVID-19 due to a current health condition rising to 19% among workers in national and local government roles.
“There is already evidence that employers are pushing workers into accepting redundancy rather than provide reasonable adjustments; and that employers are pursuing capability,” warned Ian.
“People are being left unable to live the quality of life they once experienced, concerned about the impact of this on their employment, and facing financial hardship and destitution if employers push them out the door.”
He added that science still has to play catchup. A short illness similar to flu was anticipated and the focus was on those hospitalised with no particular attention focused on those suffering after effects.
“There is still a focus on deaths as being the only significant outcome that needs to be taken in to account.”
Ian pointed out that while devolved governments provide a level of financial protection to some key workers to pay a full salary when off sick, the provisions vary across the UK. He also warned that it’s subject to change, with less favourable provisions likely as financial assistance offered centrally diminishes.
“Not knowing how long it will be before they can function enough to resume work, no reasonable prospect of knowing, and the ‘cost’ to the employer being deemed too great to sustain, the fear is that they will face incapability and be out the door once sick pay entitlements run out.”
Tracey Murray, also from South Lanarkshire branch moved the amendment. She called on the NEC to press for COVID to be regarded as a health condition in its own right from the point of diagnosis, where future scientific and clinical evidence supports this.
She pointed out that the 2010 Equality Act regards people with certain medical conditions including, HIV infection, Multiple Sclerosis, or Cancer to be deemed disabled from the point of diagnosis. The rationale behind this being that those affected can be stigmatised from the point of diagnosis, as well as having a huge personal effect on them.
“This however, relies on COVID being recognised as more than collection of symptoms that fall short of a recognised condition.
“COVID is far more than a respiratory disease as it’s commonly regarded. Once embedded COVID causes more severe disease, affecting major organs, including for example, the lungs, heart, kidneys, blood vessels, liver, and potentially affecting the brain and chord, and nerve cells,” warned Tracey.
“Where a disability disadvantages a person employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to remove the disadvantage, through the implementation of reasonable adjustments.
“However, this doesn’t go far enough. Where evidence supports, UNISON should be calling for COVID to be regarded as a disability from the point of diagnosis, notwithstanding that this is a legal decision.”
(Story: Kate Ramsden)