One of the UK’s biggest union leaders has launched a blistering attack on the government for it coronavirus response as he gets set to leave office.
Dave Prentis, the outgoing head of the country’s biggest trade union Unison says here has to be a “day of reckoning” into the Conservative government’s response to the pandemic.
Mr Prentis criticised the Government’s handling of the crisis and their treatment of public sector workers and called for a public enquiry.
The general secretary of Unison for 20 years said ministers had been behind the curve on procuring enough safety equipment at the start of the pandemic and had made promises they hadn’t kept.
He said that they are now denying a pay rise to workers who had heroically served their communities.
Mr Prentis accused the Government of not being geared up to deal with the start of the pandemic, claiming people had died as a result of issues such as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Every promise made by the Government has not been delivered.
“You expect the Government to be proactive but they have only reacted to events.
“PPE could have been in place to protect workers.”
Mr Prentis said a helpline opened by Unison on PPE was flooded with thousands of messages about shortages which “brought tears to your eyes”.
He said: “We sent details to the Government but we didn’t even get a reply.”
Unison has helped pay for school uniforms, funerals and other financial support to its members, said Mr Prentis, adding: “We can see at first hand what is happening – and it’s at complete variance to the platitudes from the centre of politics.”
Mr Prentis said valuing public sector workers wasn’t just about clapping every Thursday – they deserved decent pay.
“This crisis is not just about doctors and nurses, it’s about cleaners, porters, care home staff, mortuary workers, many on the minimum wage.
“My worry is that all too easily people will forget what public sector workers have done for their communities.
“They have done so much throughout the pandemic. They are exhausted and live in fear of catching the virus but they are being told by the Government they will not have a pay rise. It’s disgusting.”
Mr Prentis said he had held a few conversations with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Public Health England officials – but not the Prime Minister.
“We are telling them things that are beyond their comprehension. I don’t think there’s any point in meeting Boris Johnson. He wanted to be a good time Mayor of London and his ambition was to be a good time Prime Minister.”
In contrast there were senior officials of Unison who had jobs on the front line working nights in care homes, he said.
Unison has recruited an extra 25,000 members since the start of the virus crisis, including thousands of school support staff in recent weeks since the union joined campaigns to close schools because of the rapid spread of coronavirus.
Mr Prentis’ successor will be announced on Monday following a ballot of members.
He will formally retire on January 22, and says he will spend the next few months trying to persuade as many people as possible to have the vaccine.