First Minister’s Covid update

Happy new year!

Firstly, we hope you all managed to avoid Covid and get a bit of rest over the festive period.  Here’s hoping the year ahead sees all our members getting the reward and recognition they deserve.

First Minister’s Covid update

We learned a number of things from the First Minister’s Covid update on Wednesday including:

  • 1 in 20 of us now have the virus
  • The number of people in hospital with COVID increased from 679 to 1,223 in the last week. That’s a rise of 80% and is putting significant additional pressure on the NHS.
  • No new protective measures were announced but there were a number of changes the requirements relating to self-isolation and testing (detailed below).
  • For those who have symptoms of COVID, the advice remains to book a PCR test, even if you have a positive lateral flow test.
  • The advice for everyone remains to test regularly with lateral flow devices, especially before meeting up with others.
  • Existing restrictions on large gatherings, the requirement for distancing between groups of people in public indoor places and for table service in hospitality venues serving alcohol on the premises will remain in force for now and, anticipated, until 17th January.
  • While it is not a legal requirement, the general public are strongly advised to limit contact with people in other households as far as possible, and to limit the number of households in any indoor gathering that does take place to a maximum of three.

Further information can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-update-first-ministers-statement-5-january-2022 

Self Isolation and Testing Changes

  • The first change to self isolation applies to those who test positive for COVID.  While the initial advice when someone tests positive will still be to self-isolate for 10 days, there will now be an option to end isolation after seven days as long as you, firstly, have no fever and, secondly, you record two negative lateral flow tests, one no earlier than day six after testing positive and another at least 24 hours after that.
  • The second change applies to close contacts of positive cases – and this includes household contacts – who are either under the age of 18 years, four months, or who are older than that and fully vaccinated.  [Fully vaccinated = those who have had first, second and booster/third doses].  For close contacts in these categories the requirement to self-isolate will end and be replaced by a requirement to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days. Obviously, if one of these tests is positive, self-isolation will then be required.  Anyone identified as a close contact who is over 18 years and four months and not fully vaccinated will still be asked to self-isolate for 10 days and to take a PCR test.
  • From today, if your lateral flow test is positive, and you do not have symptoms, you will no longer be required to take a PCR test to confirm the result.
  • Instead, you must immediately isolate and also report your result online so that Test & Protect can commence the contact tracing process and give you advice as quickly as possible. You will also receive an online form that you must fill in, as would happen with a PCR positive in to ensure your contacts are notified.

Updated Schools Guidance 

The school’s guidance has been updated and can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-reducing-the-risks-in-schools/pages/overview/  

The key changes are:

  • Updates to the self-isolation sections, to reflect the updated policy that will apply across wider society from today. There is also a Q&A attached which has been prepared by Test and Protect to answer any questions that may understandably arise given the changes being introduced. Please note that these changes mean the critical workers exemption policy that was recently introduced no longer applies; and
  • Updates to the vaccination section, to reflect the latest JCVI advice.
  • There is also a minor update to the section on outbreak management, to reflect the ongoing practice by local HPTs of prioritising engagement with higher risk settings where cases are very high (this can in practice sometimes mean, for example, that IMTs are not held for every school outbreak, with alternative handling arrangements agreed between HPTs, LAs and schools).

Note that all secondary school children are being asked to take a lateral flow test on the night before or morning of their first day back, and thereafter to test twice a week and also in advance of mixing socially with people from other households.  And the staff in all educational and early years settings should take a lateral flow test just before starting back at work, and in line with broader advice after that.

Further information on the changes and links to where you can get LFT tests can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/news/self-isolation-and-testing-changes/

Specific Guidance for Social Care Staff

See the updated Policy Framework to the self-isolation guidance for Health and Social Care Staff which apply from today.

We have been advised that the revised policy document sets out the conditions which will enable Health and Social Care staff who are COVID-19 index cases (confirmed as positive cases), or contacts of a positive COVID-19 case to exit isolation early in line with updated guidance for the general population. As their roles provide care and support to individuals who are often more vulnerable and at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, there will continue to be additional safeguards in place for health and social care workers including testing regimes, Infection Prevention and Control and personal protective equipment.

An additional information document for frequently asked questions for health and social care staff will be published next week and updating relevant web pages will ensure information is up to date in response to the Omicron variant. 

Funding allocation for local authorities

Details have now been published of how the Scottish Government funding for 2022/23 will be distributed to local authorities – you can see your local authority’s allocation here: https://www.gov.scot/news/funding-of-gbp-12-5-billion-for-local-councils 

Temporary change to fit note UK requirements

The Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 2021 (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/1453/made) came into force on 17 December 2021 and modified the existing regulations. The UK Government guidance about this change explains that “these changes are to give GP’s more time to work on the Coronavirus (Covid-19) booster programme”.

As a result of this modification, employees are not required to provide a fit note for the first 28 days of any spell of incapacity for work. This means self-certification for illness-related time off work (sick leave) has been extended from 7 days to 28 days.

As UK law takes precedence over a requirement in a collective agreement, employment contract or employer policy the effect of this is that the relevant provisions in our national agreements cannot be applied for the duration these regulations remain in force.

• In the SJC agreement the relevant paragraph is: 10.1.2 (iii).

• The Chief Officials agreement simply states that statutory notification requirements must be met and so does not contradict the new regulations.

Where terms and conditions, contracts, or policies state that a fit note is required after 7 days of absence the temporary requirement is now after 28 days.

The regulations are due to expire on 26 January 2022. The SJC will continue to monitor this and update national agreements as required.

More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-fit-note-a-guide-for-patients-and-employees

Where’s the righteous anger?

In case you missed it over the holidays you might be interested in this article by Brian Wilson on the state of local government funding:

https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/nicola-sturgeons-cuts-to-councils-are-like-margaret-thatchers-in-the-1980s-where-is-the-righteous-anger-brian-wilson-3511785

First Minister Statement today

The First Minister made a statement on the impact of the Omicron variant today. Key points were:

  • Omicron is significantly more transmissible than other variants of Covid-19.
  • We still do not yet know for certain whether it is any milder than other variants.
  • We are now in a race between the virus and the vaccine – additional resources will be put into vaccine and booster roll-out in the coming weeks.
  • Those between 18-29yrs will be able to book their booster from tomorrow.  Those above that age should either have already their booster or already be able to book.
  • Further protective measures to slow the spread of the virus will be brought in incl extending the workplace testing scheme, measures to avoid crowding, emphasis on social distancing, collection of data by businesses for the purpose of tract and trace, ensuring all who can work from home do so, reinforcing the rules around the use of face coverings and additional guidance on minimising contact with others.
  • There is an additional £100 million to ensure the Self Isolation Support Grant is available for those who need it, given the expected increase in the number of eligible people who will be asked to isolate.
  • New guidance for Schools for the return after the Christmas break is being looked at now and they expect to be able to issue by the end of this week.
  • They will limit the number of people who can visit those in care homes and advise the use of testing prior to visits being undertaken.

For full details of the First Minister’s announcement see here:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-update-first-ministers-statement-14-december-2021

Omicron Evidence Paper

For more information on the rise and implications of the Omicron variant please see the Scottish Government Evidence Paper.

New Guidance on Isolation for those working in Social Care

The Scottish Government has updated the above guidance, through correspondence sent to Health Boards, HSCPs and Councils.  

We have attached the relevant letter sent by Donna Bell.  The change relates to the Covid booster status of workers that would allow them to be exempted from self-isolation requirements.

We also attach a similar letter that has been issued today to local authorities re school staff.

Coverage of UNISON notices of action on LG pay

You can view those articles here:

The Relaxation of COVID19 Protections

There is a STUC  webinar on ‘The Relaxation of COVID19 Protections: The impact for workers and unions’, this takes place on 08th September at 4pm, further information including registration details can be found here.

This webinar is FREE and will be very interesting, if you are interested please book.

Pay claim – Industrial action

UNISON, Scotland’s largest local government union, has started to issue formal industrial action ballot papers in a dispute over pay.

COSLA, the umbrella body representing council employers, had previously offered staff earning less than £25,000 a flat rate rise of £800. Last week COSLA came back with a revised offer of £850 – working out at approximately 97p per week for the lowest paid staff.

The union says council staff who have kept services and schools running throughout the pandemic deserve a proper pay rise. They say the latest pay offer falls far short of their pay claim and does little to address low pay which has become endemic following a decade of austerity.

The trade union says that councils have suffered a decade of cuts and jobs losses, and that staff have received year-on-year pay cuts. It has meant delivering services has become increasingly stressful for the workforce.

Pressure is mounting on both COSLA leaders and the Scottish Government to find an urgent resolution to this issue. COSLA leaders met again on Friday (August 27).

UNISON intends to take targeted strike action, which means select groups of workers will be balloted. These include members working in school cleaning, school catering, school janitorial as well as those working in waste and recycling services.

Lorraine Thomson, UNISON Stirling Branch Secretary said: “The last 18 months have taken an enormous toll on council staff who have been working flat out for no reward. Their courage and sacrifices need to be rewarded, yet the employers are failing to recognise their efforts. “These workers, mostly women, are amongst the lowest paid in the country and have seen their pay drop substantially in recent years. The pay offer falls far short of their colleagues in the NHS and local government workers are left feeling exhausted and undervalued. Scotland’s council workers deserve fair pay.”

Johanna Baxter, UNISON Scotland head of local government, said: “We’ve all relied on council staff to keep our communities clean and safe, protect the most vulnerable and to work in our schools throughout successive lockdowns to allow others to work. “Without these workers going above and beyond to keep services running over the past year their colleagues in the NHS would have been left without childcare, our mortuaries would have been overwhelmed, our children would have been left without an education and our elderly would have been left without care. Yet to date they have received no reward or recognition of their efforts at all. It’s simply not good enough – our council staff are worth more.”

LG Pay Update – Revised Offer

You will see that the only change is to add £50 to the flat rate proposed for those earning below £25k per annum.  The rest of the offer remains unchanged. 

COSLA tabled a revised offer at last week’s meeting of the SJC Steering Group – this is at the bottom of the page for your information.  You will see that the only change is to add £50 to the flat rate proposed for those earning below £25k per annum.  The rest of the offer remains unchanged. 

Local Government Committee decision 

Your Local Government Committee met last Thursday to consider the revised offer and considered that this was not a significant improvement to the offer that would necessitate a further member consultation. On this basis the Committee took the unanimous decision to proceed with industrial action plans. 

Letter to COSLA 

UNISON have written to COSLA outlining the LG Committee’s decision.