GMB trade union warn about Long Covid and the New Threat to Working People.
Some people say they are fed up hearing about Covid-19 and want to forget about the trauma the pandemic visited on us. However, the news about Partygate fines and the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson and his staff has triggered anger among many families of Covid victims. Far too many were prevented “by government rules” from visiting dying family members for the last time, or attending funerals, while the Prime Minister partied in Downing Street. They are rightly angry and in some areas of the UK will have the chance to use their vote in the council elections soon.
Be that as it may, another by-product of the Pandemic is the long-term impact on those who caught the respiratory virus that killed millions around the world. Not just the grief of loss but those who thought they were over the virus and were keen to get back to work - a real threat facing working people is the spectre of Long Covid.
It is still a relatively new phenomenon, with doctors and scientists trying to work out what causes it in certain people but not others; how long does it last? How do we get rid of it? As a union we are now seeing results coming in of the impact of Long Covid, such as absence or performance management of workers who are struggling with the symptoms.
Viral fatigue, aching muscles and bones, blinding headaches, impaired vision, breathlessness, abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, skin rashes, dizziness pins and needles/numbness; brain fog including lack of concentration, chest tightness and associated symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, apparent organ failure or malfunction.
A nasty list but just some of the symptoms being reported and going some considerable way to overstretching the National Health Service. As a union we are working with sister trade unions through the regional TUC on identifying and tackling this new problem for our members. This week I met with senior officers from UNISON as well as UCU and NEU (both educational unions) to pool information and discuss tactics on how to take on this latest major challenge. A knock-on effect for union reps and officers includes increased demand to handle disciplinaries and absence management meetings as government guidelines sow even more confusion and give some employers the opportunity to get rid of staff who are ill.
Absence levels are high everywhere, presenteeism with workers going to work because they don’t want to lose money or face sickness absence meetings is going to get worse. We need to develop industrial, legal and political strategies to ensure Long Covid is recognised as a disability. Part of the problem is that different people have it for various lengths of time and are not always sure what he problem actually is, predominantly as they can’t get a GP appointment because of the scale of demand.
The GMB union in this region has already started running courses for our officers on this new hidden disability and we need our reps and members to sign up for this education in dealing with a health issue which is fast becoming an industrial relations nightmare. We will keep you posted as to the progress of our campaigning and seek your support in educating employers and politicians in the need to support working people facing continuing challenges brought about by Covid-19 and its variants.