Non-essential retail workplaces will begin to be opened from today in Wales. Here is some quick advice for people who are going back to work. If you need specific advice and guidance, email: cymruwales [at] iww [dot] org [dot] uk. (If you are not in Wales you can find your branch contact details on our home page.)

What your boss needs to do.

Your employer has a duty of care and is responsible for ensuring the workplace is safe. If you are due to return to work, your employer should contact you or a “representative” to discuss what measures will be taken to ensure safety and to present them in a Risk Assessment.

If your return to work is imminent and your employer has not contacted you or provided a Risk Assessment, contact us as soon as you can!

Things you need to do now!

Your boss has a bottom line to maintain, and will be looking to bend the rules so they can increase profits. The risks enhanced by the return to work can only be countered by you and your workmates together.

1) Talk to your colleagues

  • What are your main concerns? What needs to change?
  • Have you read a Risk Assessment? If not, demand your boss provide one! If yes, what do you think of it? Does it answer your all concerns or does it seem unrealistic?
  • Can anyone’s work be done from home instead of the workplace?
  • How are you all going to travel to work? Are there potential problems there?
  • Remember that even if you personally are not too worried about coronavirus, other workers and their families may be more vulnerable and have specific needs.

2) Come up with a list of demands.

What were the problems you identified in your discussion? Are there specific measures that can be taken to make your workplace safe? These could include:

  • Better quality personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures.
  • Keeping workers in vulnerable households on furlough.
  • Social distancing measures.
  • Changes to the rota so you can avoid peak-time travel.

3) Strategy of escalation. Reach out to the IWW!

Now you need to plan how you are going to force your boss to concede. The IWW recommends an escalating strategy; start off with something small and direct, such as a letter with your demands and a date for when you want them to be met, and have it signed by as many workers as possible. If your boss takes no notice, you need to gradually escalate your tactics so they begin to impact the boss’ wallet!

This is the IWW’s bread and butter. We are made up of experienced organisers and representatives who can guide you with specific advice. So get in touch – especially if you do not have a workplace union.

We can also support you if you have a different workplace union, but you should also hold their feet to the fire and make sure they are proactively fighting for your best interests.

What if your workplace cannot be made safe?

You may have read the Risk Assessment and discussed the problems with your colleagues, and found that there is no way to keep the workplace safe.

1) Stay on furlough.

You should try to convince your boss to keep you all furloughed for as long as possible. This will not be easy. Although your boss will not have to contribute anything to the Job Retention Scheme until August, they have an incentive not to lose out to the competing businesses who will be forcing their workers to go back to work. To overcome this, you and your colleagues need to get organised – sound like a broken record, but get in touch!

2) Refuse to work (last resort!)

If furlough is a dead-end, you could refuse to go back to work, invoking legislation set out in section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, we have deep reservations about this and it should be considered as the absolute last resort, to take only if necessary and if all else fails. We do not recommend workers going down this route without discussing it with a union. You can read our thoughts on the limits of the work refusal law here.