Contradictory advice

Gove and Sturgeon differ on building site workers


Building work continues at many sites

Westminster and Holyrood are at loggerheads over who should be allowed to work during the coronavirus lockdown.

The UK government declared that work on building sites can continue even though the Scottish government earlier ordered all but critical construction work to stop.

Crossrail, Transport for London and some major housebuilders have followed the Scottish example.

But the UK government tonight gave building projects the green light. Cabinet minister Michael Gove said: “There are circumstances in which construction workers can work safely and we would encourage construction workers who can work safely to go to work.”

His message came as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was telling MSPs that construction sites should close, unless it involves an essential building such as a hospital.

Ms Sturgeon said this may be reviewed in future if safe rules can be put in place but in the meantime construction sites should shut as a precaution.

Companies, including sub-contractors, are taking matters into their own hands, saying they are caught between protecting their employees and being sued by clients for breach of contract. Some workers are self-employed and say an absence of support in the government’s rescue package forces them to stay at work.

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon: advised on who should be at work

The conflicting messages are likely to stoke anger among companies and their employees who are becoming frustrated by a lack of clarity over who should and should not be allowed to work.

Some companies continued as normal, with one Glasgow plumbing firm claiming it was undertaking “essential” work. Joiners and scrap metal merchants were among businesses that carried on in spite of orders from government for a shutdown of industry.

In the Holyrood Chamber, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attempted to provide some clarity.

“I do not doubt the difficult decisions businesses have to take but the messages are in place to save lives,” she said. “What we do now will determine how many people will die.”

Unions were angry at the decision by the Scottish Government to allow 32 Scottish local authorities to determine who should work as this has created conflicting messages.

The First Minister, who announced that the applications process for the business grant scheme is now live, outlined the Scottish government’s position.


The Scottish government continues to argue for support to be put in place for them and she said she is hopeful that something will emerge on this quite soon.

Employers, not employees, should make the decisions

“It should not be up to employees to anguish over whether they should be going into work,” Ms Sturgeon said.

She said it was not possible to give bespoke guidance for every business.

If it is possible for a staff member to work from home, they should do so.

But if staff cannot work from home, employers should ask themselves whether their business is “essential” to the fight against coronavirus.

That could include firms making medical supplies or essential items, or something essential to the wellbeing of the nation such as food supplies.

Such businesses are asked to keep going “if possible”.

Ms Sturgeon said key strategic sites that cannot easily be shut down such as steel works can continue to work if they can maintain safe distancing between staff, and safe operating numbers.

Non-essential shops should close

They are required to shut along with cafes, bars, restaurants cinemas and gyms.

A list of retailers allowed to stay open is here. They include supermarkets and pharmacies.

People working alone are okay

People working alone, providing community services such as gardeners or window cleaners can continue to work.

“If they can go about their business safely this can be good for the community and we would encourage them to do so,” said Ms Sturgeon.

‘Key worker’ childcare

Category 1

  • Health and care workers directly supporting Covid response, and associated staff
  • Health and care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision
  • Energy suppliers and staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff.

Category 2

  • All other health and care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (e.g Fire, Police, Prisons, Social Workers, etc),
  • Those supporting our critical national infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused.

Category 3

  • All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to Covid-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised)

Some councils have published more detailed lists of “key workers” for childcare purposes.

Union calls for clarity as plumbing firm stays open

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