Coronavirus guidance for local government workers

This page provides advice for local government and council staff in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Updated 30 March 12:30

UNISON has negotiated with local government employers and jointly agreed advice can be found below, including information on home working and vulnerable groups.

Local government employers have agreed that staff should work from home as far as possible.

Critical services

Local government staff are likely to be critical to the delivery of the COVID-19 response irrespective of their formal role. In schools this includes teaching assistants and other support staff.

Where critical services need to be maintained, it may be necessary for some staff to move to other duties. This should be agreed beforehand with individuals and local trade unions. 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, initially volunteers should be sought and appropriate training and personal protective equipment provided.

Unless there are urgent, mitigating reasons, employers should not require staff who do not have experience of supervising large groups of children as part of their usual role, to do so now, without the adequate support provided.

Employees who agree to undertake a different role should suffer no financial detriment and continue to be paid at their usual contracted rate. Where they undertake roles that are paid at a higher rate than their usual contracted rate, they should receive the higher rate of pay for the duration of the redeployment.

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.

Staff who cannot work from home

The local government employers and trade unions have agreed that ultimately employers will need to accept that some staff will have to be allowed to stay at home on full pay for the duration of the crisis if homeworking is not an option.

Emerging Issues

New issues are emerging for our members in local government, such as:

  • Issues for school support staff working in holidays
  • Safe distancing and PPE for refuse staff, street cleaners, bereavement and crematorium workers
  • Sick pay, furloughing and zero hours problems for members working in outsourced services

We continue to lobby government and negotiate with your employers. UNISON is determined to protect our members who are on the frontline of this crisis.

Refuse workers

Some local authorities and contractors have failed to change normal practices to reflect social distancing rules. For example, usually there are three in the refuse collection vehicle’s cab, but during this emergency there should be no more than two in a cab. We have made our views clear to local authorities and the Waste Industry Safety and Health forum (WISH) and we are campaigning with other organisations to improve practices.

In the meantime, we are working hard locally and nationally to ensure there is:

  • No more than two to a cab
  • Regular deep cleans of cabs
  • Hand sanitiser always stocked up (access to toilet facilities, and hence soap and water, will be rare)
  • Provision of protective gloves

Further detail in the briefing here

Support staff in schools and early years

UNISON has raised various questions with the government. Current guidance says that staff should be sought on a volunteer basis and we have made clear that staff must be paid for extra work. Staff employed by private catering and cleaning companies also need guidance. We will keep you informed of any news and updates and please use this webpage for more detailed information.

Registered professionals

UNISON’s Professional Services Unit continue to operate as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring we are there for members on a professional register. Due to travel restrictions, some regulators are making changes to usual procedures. This includes some hearings taking place via video conference.

Click here for an update from UNISON’s Professional Services Unit

UNISON is supporting ‘Social Work Together’, the campaign launched by government, the Local Government Association and Social Work England to encourage former social workers to return to help with local efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign covers the adult and children’s workforce and highlights the importance of social work as part of a broader health and social care emergency response. Social Work England has temporarily reinstated the registration of 8,000 former social workers, who have left the profession in the last two years. The Local Government Association has set up a free online platform to connect those offering their expertise to local employers:

Find out more about Social Work Together

Further information and guidance on Social Work Together will follow.

Further detail

If your question has not been answered, there are links below to detailed documents, which may help provide information for your specific situation.

Latest update on social distancing in England, Wales and NI

More information on critical workers, people with health conditions and those who live with them, and undertaking different roles for England, Wales and NI

More information on home working and vulnerable groups for England, Wales and NI

More information on absence from work for England, Wales and NI

More information on home working from the Scottish Joint Council

More information on leave provisions from the Scottish Joint Council