Disabled union activists have backed TUC calls for the government to take action to help disabled workers disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis.
The TUC warned this week that disabled people were set to face some of the highest rates of job losses, with many unlawfully targeted for redundancy by their employers.
In a statement issued at the annual TUC Congress, which was held online for the first time, the TUC general council said that disabled people who had been asked to shield during the crisis had been “particularly badly let down by government”.
Many were now at risk of losing their jobs because they could not travel safely to work or carry out their job roles safely, the general council said, but were being denied continued access to the government’s job retention scheme, which is due to close this autumn.
It said that by insisting that the scheme would remain closed to new applicants and would close completely this autumn, the government was “leaving too many people at unnecessary risk of redundancy”.
The statement, which also looked at the impact of the pandemic on wider structural inequalities, said that many disabled people were among those who do not earn enough to qualify for sick pay.
Graeme Ellis, co-chair of UNISON’s national disabled members’ committee, said the pandemic [watch his speech from one hour 55 minutes] had shown that inequality and unfairness were “hard-wired into working lives”.
He said: “Black workers and disabled workers are both twice as likely to die of coronavirus.
“That’s not an accident of birth, it’s because we are more likely to be in lower paid frontline jobs. And that’s because of discrimination.”
Ellis (pictured) said his employer had supported him to work from home as a benefits adviser during the pandemic, while the government’s Access to Work scheme had provided him with equipment such as a plasma screen and the software he needed.
But he said that many disabled workers were “forced to continue to go into the workplace even though they could have done their jobs from home, putting them at greater risk.
“Home working must be a reasonable adjustment for disabled people who want it and that must carry on into the future.”
Ellis called on the government to give disabled people a new right to work from home.
Steven McGurk, Community’s national executive council member representing the union’s disabled members, told congress [watch from two hours nine minutes] that many disabled people still felt unsafe and had not been able to return to the workplace.
He also said that disabled people were twice as likely to experience domestic violence, and that victims of abuse will have been spending extended periods of time with an abuser during the pandemic.
McGurk said the trade union movement must demand from the government that its plans for recovery from the pandemic tackle structural inequality.
He said: “The status quo is just not good enough. This means building inclusive institutions that are powerfully inclusive, a zero-tolerance attitude to discrimination, and taking action to protect victims of domestic violence.
“It means a decent wage and decent work for everyone, and opening access to all kinds of work to everyone.”
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