Coronavirus: updates and advice

Coronavirus: updates and advice

 

We understand that Scottish Artist Union members will be concerned about working patterns, local and international travel and loss of earnings over the coming weeks in the midst of Coronavirus updates.

 
 

Advice for Freelancers
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) At Work

Updated Thursday 26 March 2020

The threat of the coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our lives dramatically in a matter of days. We have compiled this guide from various different sources, STUC, TUC, our fellow unions BECTU, Artists Union England, UVW, and Prospect as well as official guidance from the NHS. We hope it offers advice and support which will provide some clarity to our members during this challenging and confusing time. This is a crisis for freelance workers across the world and, sadly, there are no easy answers on the best way out of it. Many of our members work in public spaces and with members of the public, children and vulnerable adults and as a result much of their work cannot be performed remotely. Their workplaces are also closed for an unknown period. We believe those workers are amongst those most at risk of the health and financial consequences of COVID-19.

Our fair work campaign calls for employees and workers to be treated equally and compassionately whatever the contract – permanent, casual, freelance or zero hour. The goal of gaining this equality for our workforce has never been truly more felt. We are currently considering the options on what we can do to ensure workers gain access to full pay while off work or in isolation. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to resolve inequalities in the workplace but the threat of coronavirus highlights how employers and governments are falling short. With the current measures of social distancing, isolation and school closures – you don’t have to be sick to be forced out of work.

STUC Press Release
For more updates on the work of the STUC, please click here. 

Government steps up urgency but still fails to offer the support and respect for workers being seen in other affected countries

STUC General Secretary Designate Rozanne Foyer said:

“It finally seems to be dawning on the Government that we are in the middle of a crisis. We note the offer to engage with unions to bring forward proposals for additional forms of employment support. Unions will answer that call because we have been pressing for action for weeks. However, the big question is why has it taken so long? Why was the Prime Minister not burning the midnight oil to have a deal for workers ready to go today?  He could and should have linked business support to Fair Work ensuring that workers do not suffer.

Tory inaction is in stark contrast to other European countries. In Sweden laid off workers are guaranteed 90% of their income. In Denmark the Government is picking up the bill from employers for sick pay. In New Zealand there is a wage subsidy package of £290 per week and in Spain Private Hospitals have been nationalised. The Government could have announced meaningful help for folk with their rents and utility bills and immediately moved sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage. As things stands precarious workers will become more precarious and there is little here for the self-employed. £330 billion for big business and just £1 billion for the most vulnerable shows where this Government’s priorities really lie.

As the Communication Workers Union have shown today, workers stand ready to play their full part in tackling this crisis. 

All workers need in return is for government to provide them with the security and the respect they deserve.”

What is COVID-19?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of coronavirus as a pandemic as it is now being spread throughout the world. The UK chief medical officers have raised the risk to the UK to high. We urge our members to follow the guidance issued by the NHS. Advice on the outbreak is constantly under review so it is important to keep yourself up to date as the situation changes daily. The UK government has now advised against all unnecessary travel, including within the UK.

What are the symptoms?

A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)

A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

If you are displaying these symptoms, to protect others and not to overwhelm our health care system, do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Use the 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do. Only call 111 if you cannot get help online. If symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days then people should be advised to phone NHS24 (111). Stay at home advice for people who have symptoms and are self-isolating which can be found on NHS Inform or by calling the helpline on 08000282816.

Self-help guide:
https://www.nhsinform.scot/self-help-guides/self-help-guide-coronavirus-covid-19

How long should I stay at home?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you'll need to stay at home for 7 days.

If you live with someone who has symptoms, you'll need to stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms. 

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days. If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible. This is a new illness and we do not know exactly how this strain of coronavirus spreads from person to person. However, similar viruses tend to spread via cough and sneeze droplets. Spread of COVID-19 is therefore most likely to happen when there is close contact with an infected person. If you are unwell with Covid-19 symptoms, please isolate, give warning to everyone who you came into contact with 2 weeks prior to your symptoms developing and urge them to also isolate for 2 weeks.

Social distancing

Social distancing is reduction the social interaction between people and is crucial to reducing the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). On 23 March, the government updated its advice regarding social distancing. It advised everyone to stay at home and stop all non-essential contact with others immediately including all unnecessary travel. On 23 March, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced in a televised speech the latest guidance and non-optional rules which now applied to slow down the spread of coronavirus:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/first-minister-covid-19-update-1/
https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-business-and-social-distancing-guidance/
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection

If you are concerned that your employer does not have plans in place to support you to stay at home and practice social distancing, please contact us for further advice.

Health Protection Scotland Update on COVID-19:
https://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/a-to-z-of-topics/covid-19/

Government guidance on social distancing:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults

How to protect yourself and others

  • Stay at home.
  • Only leave your house to exercise once a day or to get essential food and medicines. 
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, rather than your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
  • Face masks for the general public are not recommended to protect from infection, as there is no evidence of benefit from their use outside healthcare environments.
  • Work from home, if you can.
  • How to clean your smartphone: 
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/technology-51863924/coronavirus-how-to-clean-your-smartphone-safely
  • How to clean your glasses:
    https://www.specsavers.co.uk/coronavirus-staying-healthy

Sick pay for the self employed

There are five million self-employed people in the UK, around 15% of the workforce, we are working hard alongside our other trade union colleagues to make sure that government listens to our concerns and does not treat this group as an afterthought in its preparations and public communications.

As it currently stands, self-employed workers and those earning less than £118 per week do not currently qualify for Statutory Sick Pay. Many of our members are self-employed and we share their concerns over the increased precarity freelancers will face without access to financial support. We wish there were more options but at the moment, the support currently available is to make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The previous requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19. The government has signalled that it will be made easier for workers not covered by SSP to access ESA or Universal Credit during the coronavirus pandemic (see below for more info on how to apply for these schemes). 

If you are an employee, the Department for Work and Pensions have made temporary changes to support those who have been affected by the virus. Statutory sick pay (SSP) “will now be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice”. The extended SSP will be available for all those who are advised to self-isolate, even if they haven’t yet presented with symptoms including those who are caring for people in the same household. The current government proposal of providing statutory sick pay from day 1 rather than day 4 does not provide adequate financial stability in these uncertain times; £94.25 a week is simply not enough to live on. The government website says that you can get £94.25 per week of statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks, but employers can pay more than this if they wish. SSP is paid by your employer weekly or monthly in line with how your regular wages are paid. To claim SSP, you’ll need to inform your employer that you are sick or that you are in isolation with someone that is sick. You will need to check your symptoms or the other persons symptoms on the NHS 111 website here, which will advise you on whether you need to stay at home or not. You can obtain an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online.

This pandemic has exposed the dire levels of inequality and lack of support for freelancers and precarious workers in Scotland. Whatever your personal circumstances, the best approach is to come together with your union, peers and colleagues to make an action plan to work together in your interests. 

Employment and Support Allowance

ESA is payable to those who are self-employed who have a disability or health condition (including coronavirus). It can now be claimed from day one of sickness, rather than after 8 days and no longer holds the requirement to attend a face-to-face meeting at a Jobcentre. To be eligible you need to have both been self-employed and paid enough in National Insurance contributions over the last 3 years.

For more information visit:
https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/how-to-claim

Universal Credit

The Minimum Income Floor (MIF) has been temporarily suspended for those who are “directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice”. Similar to ESA, you no longer have the requirement to attend a face-to-face meeting at a Jobcentre.
Applicants can receive up to one month’s advance without attending a meeting. You will not be required to produce a doctor’s note and the government’s Universal Credit website says an NHS 111 Online Fit Note service is “currently under development and will be available soon”. ESA and UC can be awarded at the same time in some cases, the government is urging self-employed and freelance workers to apply now, even if they have yet to actually be affected by the virus.

Personal Insurance

If you have taken out income protection insurance we advise checking whether your provider will pay out during self-isolation and if you are unable to carry out your job at home, despite not being ill. Going forward, consider your options on taking out income protection insurance and critical illness cover if you haven’t already done so. Long-term income protection insurance protects you if your earnings drop because of sickness and injury. Depending on the terms and conditions, your pay-outs will continue until you’re able to return to work or the policy ends. Short-term policies are sometimes known as accident, sickness and unemployment products. These usually only last for one or two years and can include payment protection and mortgage payment protection insurance and are designed to cover any outstanding debts you have.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The UK government has pledged support for employers and businesses under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. All UK employers with a PAYE scheme will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary to safeguard those that would otherwise have been made redundant during this crisis. This also applies to employees who have been asked to stop working, but who are being kept on the pay roll, otherwise described as ‘furloughed workers’. HMRC will reimburse 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1 March and is initially open for 3 months, but will be extended if necessary. Unfortunately, we have heard reports that this is not stopping employers from laying off staff and denying them the care and support they deserve. If you find yourself in this position, contact the union and we can help you to organise and demand your rights. 

Your workplace 

***No one should be travelling and spending time in a shared workplace under the new restrictions and everyone should be working from home where possible apart from key workers. Only leave your home to buy food, medicine or to go for a once daily walk or run.***
(Updated Thursday 26 March 2020)

ACAS have compiled a useful guide on working from home:
https://www.acas.org.uk/working-from-home

Call on your employer to deep clean your workplace and to provide regular cleaning of shared utilities – kitchens, toilets, printers, phones, computers etc. This is something which should be done regardless of a global viral pandemic but now it is more important than ever. Public facing workplaces should be risk assessed as should home working set-ups.

If you are asked to do a task that is not in your job description such as cleaning your workplace, you can refuse and have no obligation to carry out cleaning or any other related tasks.

Check your contract and staff handbook and exercise what is relevant. If you are working in a shared space, the more people in the room, the bigger the risk of transmission.

Ask your employer to put measures in place to reduce the number of people in the room and lower the risk. Some workplaces are rotating employees so that there is one person in the office per day and the rest work from home. Assess what is possible within you’re the specifics of your job. Your employer should be providing you with basic information on coronavirus and its approach to the pandemic as well as any measures it wishes you to take or alterations to your work. Remind your employer of their duty of care to you.

The Scottish Artists Union currently doesn’t have a health and safety rep – consider becoming one! If your employer isn’t addressing the situation, approach them and have direct discussions regarding your concerns and potential alternative working arrangements.

Discrimination at work

There have been reports of racism linked to COVID-19 towards those of Chinese heritage reported by our colleagues in other Unions. Employers should not tolerate racism in any form, and we encourage all of our members to log and report any incidents to the Union. Trade unionists can reach out to their colleagues and make sure they know that they are part of a union that doesn’t tolerate racism.  

What are other countries doing to protect their workers?

Sweden: All laid off workers are guaranteed 90% of their income and the government will pay sick pay, rather than employer.

Ireland: All employees and self-employed workers who have lost employment due to coronavirus are entitled to a new Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The payment can currently be accessed for up to six weeks and is a flat rate of €203 per week.

Norway: A crisis package has been agreed which includes provision for self-employed and freelance workers to receive temporary income protection equivalent to 80% of their average pay over the past three years, from day 17 after loss of income. Full pay has also been agreed for those who have been temporarily laid off. Full pay for those laid off for 20 days. Money for carers of Covid-19 patients.

Denmark: The Danish state will pay 75% of the salaries of laid off workers and the Government picks up bill from employers for sick pay.  

Faroe Isles: Package amounting to 2.5% of GDP. People get their wage, even if they work less. Improved sick-leave-pay have been put in place and payment of Value Added Tax postponed. Public security ensures bank loans for operational costs.

France: 300 billion euros to help French economy. Government to pay for hotels and taxis for healthcare workers. Utility bills and rent to be suspended for small businesses.

New Zealand: The self-employed can access a wage subsidy worth up to $585 (£290) a week for up to 12 weeks. Other provisions include financial support payments for those taking time off work to care for others with coronavirus through the covid sick pay scheme.

Some extra things you can do:

  • Become a health & safety rep for the union.
  • Join the executive committee.
  • Set up a facebook/WhatsApp group with your colleagues/fellow freelancers to keep in touch about local developments.
  • Get together with your studio neighbours and call for a studio rent freeze as a result of loss of earnings. 
  • Support a government-issued Pandemic Basic Income.
  • Support the Universal Basic Income campaign.

Remember that the effects go beyond financial - mental health - look after yourself and keep in touch with other freelancers and make sure you know you’re in this together. 

Remember you are not alone - the situation is changing every day so do keep in touch with your union and colleagues. At present the union's staff are working from home and all events, workshops and in-person meetings have been suspended until further notice. You can still contact us in confidence and tell us how the crisis is affecting you.

 

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