Parliamentary unions condemn cavalier attitude of MPs who refuse to wear masks

3 September 2021

Two unions representing staff in Parliament have told the House of Commons Commission that any staff who opt to remove themselves from situations where MPs are refusing to wear a mask and they feel unsafe should be backed by the authorities and will be supported by their union.

Houses of Parliament

Mask wearing is mandatory for staff (where social distancing cannot be guaranteed) but is deemed as optional for MPs. Prospect has described these double standards when it comes to looking after the health and safety of staff members and colleagues as “bizarre”.

The move from Prospect and the FDA comes after many MPs refused to wear masks in the Chamber when the House was recalled over Afghanistan. Mask-wearing and social distancing were also noticeable by their absence at the recent sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rules regarding masks and distancing are mandatory for staff but only advisory for MPs.

The unions want the House of Commons to do more to protect staff including:

  • Assuring staff that if they feel unsafe they may remove themselves from the situation and will be supported
  • Whips, the Commission and the Speaker making clear to MPs that they should wear masks
  • For staff to be provided with higher quality protective face-masks if MPs continue to flout the guidance on masks

The unions point out that MPs failing to observe the rules that the Govt still recommend for other workplaces – particularly wearing face coverings in enclosed areas – could have the unintended consequence of putting the operation of the House at risk. Staff shortages caused by COVID in the Chamber and in Committees could lead to postponed or curtailed sittings, and clusters of infections among crucial maintenance and security services could result in serious disruption to Parliament.

Public opinion is on the side of staff with 59% in a recent poll saying they backed the idea of MPs wearing masks. In addition, the Government’s own guidance recommends that people continue to wear face coverings in crowded, enclosed spaces.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said:

“A year and a half into this pandemic and elements of the government and MPs still haven’t learned the lesson that masks and social distancing help to prevent the spread of COVID. We now have the ludicrous situation where staff are mandated to abide by rules that MPs can choose to ignore. Sadly, many MPs seem to think that it is beholden on them to pretend that the pandemic is over and everything is well when infection numbers are telling a different story.

“The bottom line is that if we don’t protect Commons staff then not only is their health at risk but so is the continued normal functioning of parliament. The Commons Commission must make clear to staff that if they find themselves in close proximity to an MP without a mask then they are at full liberty to remove themselves.”

FDA General Secretary Dave Penman said:

“Members of Parliament not only have a duty of care to staff working in the House of Commons, they also have an important leadership role, both in Parliament and the country. We urge them to set an example by continuing to wear masks in order to protect the staff on whom they rely.

“House staff have gone to extraordinary lengths over the last eighteen months to keep Parliament functioning through the pandemic. The very least they deserve is to be able to work in an environment that is as safe as possible, and we will fully support any members of staff who remove themselves from situations where their health and safety is put at risk.”

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