UNISON raises COVID-19 concerns for members at army college

Christina McAnea has written to the defence secretary seeking urgent response

UNISON members working for Compass and based at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate have expressed their fears of contracting COVID-19 on the site.

Concerns were first raised on 7 January, when 800 young soldiers returned from leave, with 11 of them subsequently testing positive for coronavirus.

Then on 14 January another 600 returned to the camp, of whom 53 tested positive a week later. A number of platoons were also placed in isolation.

UNISON understands that there are now 100 confirmed cases.

There are 23 UNISON members working for Compass at the college, in a variety of roles – catering, cleaning, admin, running the shop and looking after the electronic shooting range.

General secretary Christina McAnea has written an urgent letter to defence secretary Ben Wallace, who has ultimate responsibility for the safety of workers at the college.

“These outbreaks are of clear concern to the safety of our members employed to work at this site,” she writes.

“What is of immediate concern now is that, in the first two weeks of March, there are potentially 300 young soldiers, fresh from the street, from all around the country, being brought into the camp to start their training.

“These will be replacing 300 trained soldiers who are due to be sent, potentially, to sites all over the world.

“The decision whether this takes place will be made on the 1 February, therefore there is a real urgency for you to intervene to avert any further transmission to others.”

Under the management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has a duty to assess the risks of any work carried out on its premises, and how it will affect employees and contracted staff, she adds.

“As a government agency, directly under control of the secretary of state, this site has a moral, as well as legal duty to set, and be seen to set, the highest standards in COVID safety. Failure to do so puts lives at risk and reflects badly on the site in question and also the government.”

UNISON understands that Compass is doing its best to make its staff safe. However, the company has limited influence, if any, over the MoD. Compass is in regular contact with the branch and has carried out risk assessments.

Wendy Nichols, branch secretary of North Yorkshire UNISON, said today: “Our members support the lockdown measures and are following the rules. They, like me, cannot understand why the MoD thought that moving so many young people across the country was appropriate – especially without any testing before they left their home areas.

“The college and the MoD must protect the young soldiers, our members and the local community.”

Labour has challenged ministers to put on hold all new recruits until the college’s COVID safety measures are guaranteed.