Two main parliamentary unions write to Speaker demanding action to keep staff safe

19 July 2021

The general secretaries of the two main unions for staff employed by parliament, Prospect and the FDA, have today written to the Speaker insisting he takes appropriate action over masks to protect staff members, and issue guidance empowering parliamentary staff to protect their own health where MPs refuse follow the Speaker’s advice to wear a mask.

House of Parliament

This follows the introduction of controversial rules in parliament under which MPs are allowed to not wear a mask while staff are required to, despite escalating cases in London and numbers of unvaccinated staff members.

The letter from Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, and Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, warns that some MPs are already bragging about not wearing masks and so the Speaker should take further action to protect staff:

If, as you make clear, Members cannot be instructed to comply with a critical health and safety measure, then the Commission must take all reasonable steps to protect staff in these very particular circumstances. Employment and health and safety legislation is very clear on the obligations of employers to provide a safe working environment and – despite its unique position in law – Parliament is not immune from those obligations.

Previously the unions had requested that the Speaker and Commission make clear to staff that where they are faced with an MP who is not wearing a mask, if they feel that their health is threatened, they must withdraw from the vicinity of said MP. This guidance has not been forthcoming.

The letter says:

Workplace legislation provides rights to employees who perceive that their working environment is unsafe. It would be extremely unwise for Parliament to prevent their own employees from exercising rights that are available to all employees in the UK, and we as unions will not hesitate to provide support to any member who deems their working environment to be unsafe. 

Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Prospect, said:

“The events of the last three days with the Health Secretary announcing he had Covid and the debacle that followed with the Prime Minister and Chancellor has really highlighted the risks that people face in Westminster. Cases are rising, many people have not been fully vaccinated, and yet there is nothing to stop MPs from entering crowded spaces without a mask, putting the health of others at risk. The Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg’s decision to return to full in-person operations in these circumstances looks more short-sighted with every passing hour.

“The Speaker and Commission cannot simply wish away the fears and anxieties of the significant numbers of parliamentary staff who are not fully vaccinated. They will be far from reassured by the weekend’s events and by the failure by their employer to take suitable steps to protect them. The virus does not discriminate between MPs and other staff, and neither should the parliamentary rules.

“It is not too late for rules to be put in place explicitly allowing staff to remove themselves from situations that may be detrimental to their health. It is the unions’ view that even without that explicit guidance our members are entitled under the law to do so, and we will back them to the full extent of our powers should that be the action they choose to take.”