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Author: Ian MacArthur, Head of Good Employment Charter Unit

Coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, appears to be closing in. Each day, and from every news outlet, we learn more and more about its spread towards becoming the latest pandemic. And whilst the numbers of confirmed cases in the UK remain low, good employers across Greater Manchester will be making plans to respond to the threat, supporting their employees’ health and safety through good hygiene disciplines and work design to limit potential spread, particularly for those returning from travel overseas. Click here for the latest ACAS guidance on COVID-19.

For someone who spent the first twenty plus years of their career working in environmental and public health services and policy, the threat that COVID-19 now presents brings my working worlds together like never before.

The technicalities of viral mutation, the adoption of good hygiene practice and the fascinating epidemiology of contagion in our ever more connected world, are all areas I could revisit from the first half of my working life. However, it’s in the context of good employment practice and some of the objectives that the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter is aiming to address that I want to raise here.

A core characteristic of the Charter is the provision of secure work. Charter Members will be expected to provide evidence that their employees have security over their income and can manage their work and non-work commitments more easily through a range of conditions that seek to provide a degree of certainty around work patterns and income. This a fundamental foundation for human and social development. Yet the perception grows that through the rise of the ‘gig-economy’, zero-hours contacts and agency working, employment experience is becoming less and less secure. Whilst a recent CIPD Megatrends report suggests that the ‘casualisation’ of work in the UK has been overstated, sectors such as hospitality, retail and social care are recognised as primary areas where zero hours contracts and insecure working arrangements have become the norm for many. They are also the sectors where the nature of the work requires high levels of close, personal human interaction. This is the type of work where illness and infection can spread easily and quickly.

Secure work doesn’t just mean knowing where and when you are going to work, it also requires a knowledge that you have certain rights and employment conditions. Many of us who enjoy employment secured by a contract will have struggled in to work under the duress of a heavy cold because it feels like the right thing to do. But what if you have to work through ill-health, because if you don’t, you won’t get paid? This is the situation for thousands of workers across the Greater Manchester City Region, where the right to sick pay doesn’t always exist.

This not only routinely compromises individual health and wellbeing, but it also impacts an employer’s productivity. Moreover, in the context of COVID-19 it places basic good employment standards at the heart of public health protection and calls for all employers who utilise zero hours contracts and other forms of casual labour to ensure they review their approach to prevent the unnecessary exposure and spread of the virus.

For further advice on supporting your employees through the COVID-19 outbreak see CIPD guidance here.