Effects of Long Covid in Energy workplaces

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2023 National Energy Service Group Conference
21 February 2023

Conference notes that Long Covid is a condition characterised by long term consequences persisting or appearing following a typical convalescence period after having Covid and has affected too many of our members in the Energy service group.

From the start of the pandemic, members within the energy group were impacted as we continued to work with often limited access to PPE. This may have exposed Energy workers to the Covid-19 virus and in turn to long covid.

Some symptoms of long covid can last a few months before clearing up, but for many of our Energy service group members other symptoms remain ongoing and have already lasted more than a year. The Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as someone with a mental or physical impairment which has a substantial impact on their normal day to day activities and which “has lasted or is likely to last” 12 months or more.

For many of our members in Energy with Long Covid, their symptoms have already lasted more than 12 months and they should be recognised by Energy employers as disabled workers. However in far too many cases Energy employers are refusing to accept that the worker is disabled by Long Covid and will not agree to the reasonable adjustments that could help support our members to retain their employment.

Conference notes that many of our members in Energy have been left with life changing impairments such as heart defects, breathing difficulties, liver and kidney damage that will last a lifetime and the need for lifelong medication which may also have its own additional side effects.

Disabled, Black and women workers who bore the brunt of caring roles during the main pandemic are now living with lifelong illness and life changing conditions and in need of support from Energy employers and workplaces through reasonable adjustments and Access to Work, which has never been needed as much as it is today.

Conference further notes that Black workers, often in lower paid and frontline work in the Energy sector, were twice as likely to get Covid in the first place and by extension are more likely to experience Long Covid. This can exacerbate the often-hidden impairments many Black workers in Energy already have, such as Lupus and Sickle Cell Thalassaemia. For some women with long covid this has meant the early onset of menopause or increased issues around menstruation, and this can be worse for some Black women.

Covid has altered so many of our members’ lives forever.

Conference notes that some Energy employers are still refusing to recognise the seriousness of this situation, especially for workers who were already

disabled and living with lifelong impairments prior to the covid pandemic, who may now need extra support at work. Additionally, many Energy members have experienced a detrimental impact on their mental health due to the pandemic.

Conference believes that it is vital we highlight to Energy employers the provisions of the Equality Act and how they apply to our members with Long Covid and covid-related mental health conditions, and that we seek to agree policies on disability equality with the employers so that our members with Long Covid and covid related mental health conditions are treated fairly within the workplace. We must also support members at risk of being put on capability or disciplinary processes due to disability related absences or because they have been denied reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Conference therefore calls upon the Energy Service Group Executive, working with the National Disabled Members Committee, to:

1. Circulate UNISON’s guide to supporting members with Long Covid to branches and regions, making clear that many of our members will already be entitled to protections under the Equality Act 2010 as a result of their experience of Long Covid.

2. Seek and share good practice where UNISON’s Long Covid guide has been successful in Energy workplaces.

3. Publicise UNISON’s two bargaining guides – on Reasonable Adjustments Policies and Passports and Disability Leave – to branches and regions and encourage branches to open negotiations on these with their employer where appropriate.

4. Promote UNISON’s Members Guide to Access to Work to branches, regions and members in the Energy service group.