Caregivers across the world have the duty to shield some of the most vulnerable members of society from COVID-19. But as the World Health Organization has already warned, the severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) – caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse – is putting them and the elderly in danger. As governments struggle to properly equip care and healthcare workers, unions are stepping up the pressure to keep workers safe and save lives.
In Spain, where nursing homes have been hit hard by COVID-19, the Spanish union confederations CCOO and UGT are pushing national and local governments to prioritize frontline personnel in the distribution of PPE and rationalize it’s use before an imminent massive contagion.
In New Zealand, where shortage of protective gear for healthcare workers is also a problem, unions like E tū are stepping up the pressure to ensure the government speeds up distribution of lifesaving equipment. Kirsty McCully home support coordinator for E tū says: “If we are serious about preventing community spread and protecting our health workforce we need to provide them with the protective equipment they need to keep them safe. If we don’t have what we need, we need to make it.” PSA national secretary Kerry Davies said home care and support workers were “on the front lines and should be commended for their dedication and bravery in this moment.”
In Ireland, SIPTU Health is expressing concerns over the increase in the number of health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 virus. The numbers confirmed by the Department of Health indicate that health care workers make up 26% of all cases identified in the State. SIPTU Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The official figures show that health care workers make up 26% of all COVID-19 cases so far identified by public health officials. 63% of these cases were not travel related and the median age is 45 years old for those infected. SIPTU members have said that the numbers are related to the availability of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Our members are reporting that PPE is not readily available to all health workers in the quantities required. This issue must be given high priority as some hospital departments are now telling SIPTU representatives that stock rooms have no PPE left and health workers are resorting to re-using equipment normally only fit for single use. This situation is entirely unacceptable.”
In the UK, vital care workers are being left with no protection against coronavirus, no childcare and poverty sick pay if they become infected.
UNI’s affiliate GMB has five key demands to keep the UK’s care system from collapse:
- Full pay for all social care workers in self-isolation or sick due COVID-19 and for the Government to underwrite any employers who can’t afford it
- Paid time off to care for children when there is no other option available
- Priority PPE, gloves, masks, and sanitiser making sure that our members are protected while they protect our loved ones.
- Priority testing for all social care workers
- Safe staffing levels to allow for all staff to provide safe care and to have adequate breaks to avoid burnout
Japan´s UA Zensen care sector affiliates are thoroughly implementing preventive measures in their facilities. In addition, the NCCU (Nippon Care Services Craft Union) conducted a countrywide survey with 4,000 providers on COVID-19 and found that around 20% of care operators responded that they have no stock of protective masks (as of 2 March). They petitioned the government to secure masks and other PPE products and to distribute them to all care providers public institutions and private ones.
In the United States, frontline healthcare workers are calling on the Trump administration to drive a coordinated, transparent response that will protect all healthcare workers and patients. “This administration needs to take coordinated, comprehensive action now, said Mary Kay Henry President of SEIU, the largest union representing care workers in the US. “It’s outrageous that states should be forced to “outbid” one another to get supplies to healthcare workers. It’s outrageous that healthcare workers are being asked to make their own masks. Or even worse, reuse them. If we wait, more healthcare workers will be in danger and more lives will be lost.”
“In this crisis, care workers are true heros: they feed, bathe, dress and comfort some of the most at risk members of our society,” said UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman. “Their safety and the safety of the elderly must be a priority for both governments and employers.”