Ending free Covid tests could threaten public services

Provision of tests needed to contain infection spread

Vital services in education, utilities, refuse collection and local government could face huge challenges if workers don’t continue to receive free Covid tests, says UNISON.

The union is warning that staff sickness will rise as untested but infected workers unwittingly spreading the virus.

Free lateral flow tests are being scrapped from Friday (1 April), with all workers – other than health and care staff – expected to fork out upwards of £3 for each one.

In workplaces where testing is vital to the delivery of frontline services, UNISON says it’s unfair and risky to make staff pay, especially as infection rates are going through the roof. With household budgets already under huge pressure, workers cannot afford further expenses.

As more staff become infected and staff shortages bite, services will suffer. Police support staff, teaching assistants, social workers and cleaners are among the many jobs that would be hit, the union adds.

Ministers must commit to providing Covid tests free for staff in many essential services, says UNISON. Passing the bill on to employers will just force managers to raid other budgets to meet the cost, creating more pressures on already struggling frontline services

UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “It’s ridiculous to expect poorly paid staff who are already coping with a devastating cost-of-living crisis to pay for tests that will keep us all safe.

“If staff must continue to test and report their results to manage Covid spread, they cannot be expected to also bear the cost. The government must put the health of the nation first and ensure Covid-19 tests remain free for all essential workers.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.