The transition from lockdown: process and confidence – our role in both

Mike Clancy · 4 May 2020

As the UK now contemplates how we transition from lockdown, the lessons of the last few weeks are more important than ever to carry forward.

Unions have been engaged by government and employers in a manner that we have not seen in decades. We have become a gateway to solutions and being able to say there is union ‘approval’ has been at the heart of the civic reassurance strategy.

That approval and contribution to confidence building is only possible where unions and their representatives are properly engaged. Our granular understanding of work spaces and practise will be as invaluable in this next phase, as it has been since the lockdown commenced.

Workplace and safety representatives represent a unique resource for civic society that government must recognise beyond the minimum statutory consultation requirements.

Opinion polling is telling us that there is real apprehension in society about venturing out and particularly to work where that is dependent on use of public transport.

Getting the message right

The success of the national messaging campaign about the threats of the virus has underpinned compliance with the restrictions. Civic society has listened, so now needs reliable reassurance that transition is safe; that enabling measures have been thought through and they are backed by scientific evidence.

Addressing the perception of risk, trust in government information and the engagement of wider civic society will be key to all this.

It is self-evident that there are pressing economic reasons to transition, that have their own health context, but an easing that appears driven by economics ‘over’ health will not succeed – it will cause division and fail to stimulate the economic demand that lockdown has suppressed.

So we have a role to play in enabling transition that is built on evidence that can be trusted. Prospect is well placed in this regard. We represent experts everywhere, but notably in HSE and Public Health England. We have examples of good engagement about transition, such as in film and TV. We have members key to infrastructure in energy and in messaging in the BBC.

Transition must reflect that this is not return to ‘business as usual’. The transition can embed key priorities:

  • the impact on climate, with recovery having just transition principles to the fore
  • the differential impact of lockdown on personal health and income
  • the exposure of more self-employed to the reality of their work being precarious.

A rush to the past, will not build confidence for the future.

Safe working, clarity in the health advice and sensitivity to personal anxiety all exist in the wraparound of workplace culture and employer and engager expectations. This needs a coherent response, not just selective focus on measures to ‘get us back’.

Risk assessment is not just about practise it is about sentiment. The measures implemented should conform to the hierarchy of control and the reasoning should be transparent.


Sector by sector, workspace by workspace, we will need to be consulted and our voice heard. The return to work will also need the ongoing support of the government income support schemes.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will need tapering, most likely sector prioritisation and adjustment such that furlough eligibility is no longer solely dependent on total work cessation. Transition will need maximum flexibility in workforce planning.

The gaps in the Self-employment Income Support Scheme must be plugged and that scheme will need extended availability in the recovery phase.

If HSE is to play a greater role as it should, then its resources must be addressed and its vital role recognised. This is something we will really be pushing, as we move to a lessons learned phase.

We have been incredibly busy in the last few weeks and that is set to continue as we enter transition. We all hope we are defeating the virus but we have as big a battle ahead as we first steady and then renew our economy.

Unions and your voice are crucial to this.