Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Pandemic influenza - TUC revised guidance


Please see below a link to the revised TUC guidance on pandemic flu. It is at the same web address as the previous guidance so those unions that have links to it need not change that. www.tuc.org.uk/pandemicflu

The guidance is intended to be both relevant to the current situation as well as dealing with the broader issues. This is because, regardless of what develops over the next few weeks, employers should be developing plans to deal with a possible outbreak in the future. The new guidance also gives more detail on issues such as masks and anti-viral medicines as that seems to be what people are asking about, and links to government/HSE advice where appropriate.

The current signs are that the outbreak of H1N1 may spread quickly but initial indications seem to be that the strain that has been carried to Europe is milder than was feared at first. That could however change as the virus mutates. Meanwhile however there is no reason for any panic measures and simple good hygiene and people who are sick staying at home is the best immediate response.


In April 2009 a new strain of influenza broke out in Mexico and by the end of the month the World Health Organisation had assessed the risk of a pandemic as level five - indicating human-to-human transmission in at least two countries. This is the highest rating below an actual pandemic (level six). The Mexican outbreak appears to be a new version of the H1N1 strain of influenza type A. H1N1 is the same strain which causes seasonal outbreaks of flu in humans on a regular basis. But this latest version of H1N1 is different: it contains genetic material that is typically found in strains of the virus that affect humans, birds and swine

It is estimated that from the initial outbreak of a new influenza virus strain, once it is in the UK, it could spread to all major cities within two weeks with a peak around 50 days from initial entry in the country. Influenza pandemics occur either in a single wave or several waves that can be weeks, or even months, apart.

Why pandemic influenza is an issue for trade unions

The TUC believes that trade unions and employers, working together, can make a significant difference in ensuring that the effects of a pandemic are minimised, that the workforce are educated and informed on transmission issues, and in helping ensure there is no panic. Unions will also have a major part to play in ensuring that those workers who are ill as a result of infection stay at home and do not come in to work either through misplaced loyalty or employer pressure.

It is important that employers do not wait until the outbreak of pandemic flu before considering what measures they need to take. At the same time, it is also important that people do not take panic measures. Although the government response is based on the “worst case scenario”, with the closure of schools, major problems with transport and distribution, and very high levels of sickness, it will be impossible to predict the actual full effect of a pandemic until the beginnings of an outbreak. That is why forward planning must be flexible, practical, and based on realistic assessments of likely risk.

What unions can do

Trade unions should ensure that their employer has in place either a separate policy for dealing with pandemic influenza, or a general policy covering major disasters or incidents that also covers major public health incidents such as pandemic influenza. It should not be left to employers alone to decide on what is an appropriate response. Unions must also be involved, as any effective policy must have the confidence of the whole workforce.

Dealing with sickness absence

Some employers are planning for absenteeism rates of up to 50%. This is on the basis that it will not only be those who are ill that are unable to come into work, but also those looking after family members who are ill or those with children in the event of schools being closed. In addition, in the event of a severe pandemic, some staff will be afraid to come into work for fear of contracting the virus. There may also be difficulties with public transport.

While it is impossible to predict the likely rate of absenteeism during a pandemic, trade unions should ensure that employers are committed to equal treatment of all those who are absent. Those who are unable to travel because there is no public transport, or those who have got dependents who they cannot leave, should be treated no differently from those who are themselves ill. It is important that they are not disadvantaged in terms of issues such as pay, compared to those staff who are able to work from home.

Trades unionists will have to ensure that employers do not encourage staff to come in when they are ill and may themselves have to try to ensure that staff do not attempt to come to work through misguided loyalty to their employer or their client or their work colleagues. It is important that all staff who are ill remain at home until fully recovered. The HSE and government advice is clear. “Advise your staff to stay at home if they are sick with flu-like symptoms and send home any employees who are displaying flu-like signs/symptoms.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It wont effect the port much at all due to the fact that all the professional sick notes have come back to work and are to frightenend to take " their quota " of sick for obvious reasons.