This page provides advice for workers in the energy sector and in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.
UNISON has throughout the COVID pandemic been in ongoing negotiations with energy employers and has sought and in many cases secured agreements on measures to protect staff and manage any specific issues. We have also been involved in regular discussions with the Government, the energy regulator OFGEM and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
The main energy employers we negotiate with have all agreed that wherever possible staff who can, should work from home and continue to do so until further advice is given and agreed with us.
If you are being pressured to return to an office when you can continue to work from home it is important you raise your concerns with your employer and your local UNISON energy branch.
We recognise that some workers are unable to work from home. Discussions remain ongoing with key employers on the provision of some limited office working where the appropriate health and safety assessments have been carried out and the right mitigations provided. You should always contact your local UNISON branch if you need to return to an office-based environment to discuss how this might be managed.
Most of you working in the energy sector are likely to be critical to the delivery of the COVID-19 response irrespective of their formal role.
Keeping power supplied in the form of gas and electricity is absolutely essential hence the designation of many energy workers as key workers.
Where critical services need to be maintained it may, at times, be necessary for some staff to move to work flexibly, carry out other duties or work in different locations.
Some contracts will already have some flexibility clauses within them but if not, any proposed changes should always be agreed beforehand with individuals and your UNISON branch. Employees should not suffer any detriment in pay and conditions for the period of any temporary changes that are introduced.
Where staff are being asked to work flexibly, carry out other duties or work in a different location (other than home) initially volunteers should be sought, and appropriate training and personal protective equipment always provided.
Employees who agree to undertake a different role should suffer no financial detriment and continue to be paid at their usual contracted rate, or a higher rate if that was in place for the role performed.
It should always be clear if possible, what duration these temporary arrangements will last for.
If your role involves you working from an office, you should be working from home unless this is not possible.
If this is not possible, it is important your employer has ensured that your office or place of work is suitable and that appropriate COVID-19 workplace risk assessments have been carried out. These measures should ensure that at all times social distancing requirements can be maintained. In addition, other key measures should include:
- Enhanced cleaning regimes
- No hot desking that requires the use of shared equipment
- Hand sanitiser is always stocked up and available from many locations.
- Clarity that staff should self –isolate if they have any symptoms and not come into work (and not suffer consequences) If you are a critical worker you can access the COVID-19 testing facility and guidance on this should be provided by your employer
- Ensuring that staff working indoors with colleagues attempt to adhere to social distancing wherever possible and understand this requirement
- Clarity on requirements for the wearing of and provision on PPE based on the best guidance available and workplace risk assessments. We would see the guidance issued by Public Health England (PHE) as the minimum base level.
If you have any concerns about this, please get in touch with your local UNISON branch
If your role involves you working at one of more operational energy sites including going into a person’s home for essential reasons and it is not possible to perform your duties from home, it is again critical that appropriate COVID-19 risk assessments have been carried by your employer.
Trade unions should have had chance to discuss these arrangements and these risk assessments should have trade union input into them (please the guidance on this available here)
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations employers must undertake an assessment of the risk of COVID-19 transmission in each workplace/location.
It is important that your energy employer understands that they have a responsibility under law to protect staff and that this include COVID-19. Energy employers generally have good health and safety systems in place, and these often involve trade unions so if you have concerns please do speak with your local UNISON branch.
In addition, if working in the field at operational sites it is important that:
- If social distancing cannot be maintained at an operational site, the risk of COVID-19 transmission must be mitigated as far as is possible via the use of appropriate PPE, as well as the usual hygiene measures. This PPE must be provided by the employer. The guidance issued by PHE should be the minimum provided.
- When attending sites if using an employer badged vehicle etc, it is important that you travel alone to maintain social distancing.
- Metering operatives who carry out non-essential work may again be furloughed under the COVID-19 job retention scheme. UNISON has provided specific advice on furlough and the job retention scheme as below. If they are not furloughed and are visiting multiple properties, the employer must give consideration to the risks associated with that activity and how it can be managed and ultimately if it is safe to do so.
It is unclear at this stage how employers will manage meter reading operations which by nature lead to multiple house visits in a single day. UNISON is raising this issue with key national stakeholders and it is crucial that specific advice is given to employees based on risk assessments that include how to deal with going into people’s homes and mitigating the risks to employee and resident. UNISON believes this requires more consideration by employers and further discussions with us.
Staff employed by private facilities maintenance, security, catering and cleaning companies will also need appropriate guidance. The guidance produced here for energy workers is in large parts relevant to them and can be used in a general way.
The impact of COVID19 on Black members
In April, The Chief Medical Officer asked Public Health England to investigate disparities in risk and outcomes if COVID-19, a report on the outcome of the investigation has now been published.
This report confirms that the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities, and in some cases, increased them. General Secretary Dave Prentis wrote to the Prime Minister urging the government to implement all the PHE recommendations such as developing comprehensive risks assessments for Black staff to reduce their chance of coronavirus exposure and infection.
Please see below additional guide for Black members, speak to your UNISON branch if you need support or advice.
Staff with an underlying condition or who are pregnant
Where staff have an underlying health condition or are pregnant they should work from home where possible.
If they cannot work from home they should not be asked to use annual leave to cover the period they need to stay at home due to government advice on self-isolation and social distancing.
For any queries not answered above, please contact your branch
If your employer is asking you to return to work but you have concerns about your safety you should also contact your local branch for help and advice.
And if you are experiencing financial or emotional difficulties please contact our charity, There for You. They can provide confidential advice and support for you and your family. You can find out more here.
Advice for reps