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My neighbour contacted me the other night. She is a care worker at a home for the elderly. She had seen the Socialist Party posters on my fence.
She showed me a communication that had been sent to all staff from her boss. It talks about the difficulty in obtaining PPE, hand sanitisers, and so on.
Currently, the home has had no glove supplies for three weeks. The message to staff asks that all staff "bear this in mind and use PPE appropriately and try to be cautious when using any sundries or PPE. Where appropriate, you should always use what is required, but please avoid any inappropriate use or wastage."
My neighbour asks: "What am I supposed to do, use my gloves on more than one person?" The employer's message is both insulting and worrying for staff. The home has already had several deaths from suspected Covid-19. Two residents tested positive and then no further tests were done.
My neighbour is in a union but she is the only one. Most of the other workers are from south east Asia and have accommodation at the home.
I have advised her of her rights under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which gives workers a legal entitlement to leave their workplace if they feel that it is unsafe. She is worried she will lose her job.
What is happening at this home illustrates government ineptitude, and the inability of capitalism to protect lives. Indeed, both have caused thousands of unnecessary and untimely deaths. The government failed to plan for and obtain sufficient PPE for a pandemic, and was too slow to act at the beginning.
Private companies that supply the NHS and the care sector have profited from bidding wars as countries and organisations compete with each other for apparently scarce supplies. The smaller organisations will lose out to governments and larger companies. A socialist government would nationalise the supply industry and democratically plan the distribution of PPE and other supplies.
Care of the elderly should not be left to private companies to profit from their needs in later life. All care homes should be brought into public ownership and democratically run.
All workers in the care sector should receive an immediate pay rise of 10% and be offered permanent contracts. Migrant workers, and all workers, should be able to join a trade union without fear or prejudice.
We urgently need an alternative, political voice for workers. Our lives depend on it.
Article dated 25 May 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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