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'Essential' work confusion

Union calls for clarity as plumbing firm stays open

McAlpine Plumbing requested its 700 employees turn up for ‘essential’ work

A union is demanding the Scottish and UK Governments give ‘crystal clear’ advice to employers and workers after 700 workers at a plumbing business were asked to turn up for work as normal.

The workers are spread across a number of McAlpine Plumbing facilities in Coatbridge, Hillington, Johnstone, North Cardonald and Thornliebank.

They remain open despite the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating yesterday that workplaces including construction linked operations should close with immediate effect.

Unite has been informed that many of the workers are having to use public transport in order to comply with the employer’s request as it is categorising its workers as “essential”.

Unite has also repeatedly warned Government over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that workers are often only inches away from each other during a time when individuals are meant to be maintaining social distancing and strict hygiene measures. 

David McGurk, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “Unite was informed this morning that McAlpine Plumbing which has multiple operations across Greater Glasgow is categorising its workforce as essential.”

He said the workers were worried that if they went home they would not receive their wages.

“So, we are demanding that the Scottish and UK Governments give crystal clear advice to employers that if workers are not deemed essential then they should be sent home with immediate effect and that there should be no detrimental impact on their pay.”

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 and 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.

Gove and Sturgeon differ on building site workers

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