One of the UK’s largest trade union leaders launched a violent attack on the government over coronavirus response when he tried to step down.
Dave Prentis, the outgoing chief of the country’s largest union, Unison, says this must be a “reckoning day” for the Conservative government’s response to the pandemic.
Mr Prentis criticized the government’s handling of the crisis and its treatment of public sector workers and called for a public inquiry.
Unison’s general secretary said for 20 years ministers were behind the curve at the start of the pandemic to get enough safety gear and made promises they didn’t keep.
He said they are now refusing to raise wages for workers who have heroically served their communities.
Mr Prentis accused the government of being unprepared for the start of the pandemic, claiming people died as a result of problems such as the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Every promise made by the government has not been fulfilled.
“They expect the government to be proactive, but it has only responded to events.
“PPE could have been in place to protect workers.”
Mr Prentis said a hotline Unison opened for PSA had been flooded with thousands of messages of shortages that “brought tears to our eyes”.
He said, “We sent details to the government but didn’t even get a response.”
Unison has helped pay for school uniforms, funerals and other financial aid for its members, Prentis said, adding, “We can see what is happening firsthand – and it’s at a complete departure from the platitudes from the center of politics. “
Mr Prentis said evaluating public sector workers isn’t just about clapping every Thursday – they deserve decent pay.
“This crisis is not just about doctors and nurses, but also about cleaners, porters, nursing home staff, undertakers, many with minimum wages.
“I worry that it’s all too easy for people to forget what public sector workers have done for their communities.
“You did so much during the pandemic. They are exhausted and afraid of contracting the virus, but the government tells them that they will not receive a raise. It’s disgusting.”
Mr Prentis said he had some conversations with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and officials from Public Health England – but not with the Prime Minister.
“We tell them things that they cannot understand. I don’t think it makes sense to meet Boris Johnson. He wanted to be Mayor of London for a good time and his goal was to be Prime Minister for a good time. “
In contrast, there were senior Unison officials working on the front lines in nursing homes, he said.
Unison has recruited an additional 25,000 members since the virus crisis began, including thousands of school support workers in recent weeks since the union joined campaigns to close schools because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
The successor of Mr. Prentis will be announced on Monday after a vote by the members.
He will officially retire on January 22nd and spend the next few months convincing as many people as possible to get the vaccine.