Retail trade union Usdaw has renewed the call for key workers to be prioritised for vaccination, after the Government indicated they are looking at priority for the second phase and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) accepted that occupation is a factor. The union has made similar calls on the Scottish and Welsh Governments, along with the Northern Ireland Executive.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that: “We’ll be looking very carefully at those professions that will need to be prioritised in phase two of the prioritisation programme. We’ll look at, of course, teachers and police and others, but also we will look at shopworkers and we will make those decisions based on the data.”
The JCVI has stated that it is, “clear that societal factors, such as occupation, household size, deprivation and access to healthcare can increase susceptibility to Covid-19, and worsen outcomes following infection.” and “vaccination of those at increased risk of exposure due to their occupation could also be a priority in the next phase”.
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“It is understandable to prioritise those at highest risk of serious illness or death during the first phase of rollout, along with frontline health workers including our members in the funeral industry. There is an urgent need to prioritise other occupations at greatest risk of infection during the second phase of the rollout. According to the Government’s own research, retail is an occupation with an elevated Covid-19 related death rate. Close proximity to the public as well as the indoor working environment are factors.
“Retail workers, including grocery delivery drivers, have played a key role in ensuring the country is able to get through the current crisis. These critical workers have played a vital role in our communities ensuring that food remains on the shelves. From our conversations with employers, we are aware that the sector is currently suffering from incredibly high sickness absence rates as a result of Covid-19.
“So the second phase of the vaccine rollout must reflect the risks linked to occupation. Given the risks involved in their public-facing roles, retail workers should be one of the groups prioritised, so they are able to continue to support their communities throughout the rest of the pandemic.
“We also want other key workers in essential industries like food manufacturing and pharmaceutical distribution to be on the list of prioritisation. They cannot work from home and are at higher risk of infection because of the essential work they do, which should be acknowledged as part of the rollout programme.
“We welcome the early indications that high risk occupations may be prioritised and look forward to entering into discussions with the Government on this issue of great concern to our members.”
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.