The GMB union shared an email with the press in which Amey dismissed Covid-19 as less severe than influenza. GMB was negotiating for Amey employees on the bins in the London Borough of Ealing to get full pay if they had to self-isolate or contracted Covid-19. Otherwise, it was argued, workers would have a financial incentive to keep working after showing symptoms.
Amey categorically refused.
Simon Schumann-Davies, head of human resources in Amey’s highways and waste collection business unit, sent an email to GMB’s negotiator, saying: “Ultimately it remains a disease like many others and indeed, when compared with many other diseases such as normal influenza, the impacts on the individual are currently actually less severe; the annual mortality rate for influenza is significantly higher, for example. That is not a reason for complacency or an indication that we are not treating this outbreak with the utmost gravity. However, the fact remains that at the end of this current crisis, we must continue to have a viable business which can continue to employ your members. To this end, we are applying exactly the same rules regarding sickness benefit as we would for any other condition in that we will be paying contractual entitlement.”
Amey’s immediate response when the story broke was to deny that they were heartless but to confirm that it would still only pay the statutory minimum that it had to.
Amey said: "The email referred to does not reflect Amey’s official position on Covid-19. We are resolutely committed to the safety of our employees and the communities we serve, and we can confirm we provide contractual sick pay from day one for any Covid-19 related illness.”
GMB senior organiser Keith Williams said "It is not only about refuse workers exposing themselves to risk, it is about stopping the spread and if people only receive SSP [statutory sick pay] they are unable to afford to self-isolate. There are no other key workers facing an income of £94 per week, if by maintaining critical services they are being exposed.
“There needs to be decency and morality on the part of all employers in the current crisis and Amey are no exception. This is why many other contractors within the public sector have all committed to paying full pay for employees who self-isolate or are suffering Covid-19. Lots of businesses, throughout the country are in crisis and yet they are still managing to give their employees security during this unprecedented situation.”
By the end of the day, however, Amey chief executive Amanda Fisher, who has only been in the job since December, decided that she too would prefer to be decent and moral and performed a volte face on the SSP issue.
In a statement issued at the end of the day, she said: “Covid-19 has created a national crisis and these are unprecedented, fast-changing times through which we are working to support all our employees as best we can.
“We are grateful that the GMB has brought the issue around statutory sick pay for those affected by Covid-19 to our attention. We take pride in our employees being the driving force behind our business and we realise that on this occasion we got it wrong, for which we apologise.
“We have conducted an immediate review of our policy and can announce that any employee who is affected by Covid-19 – because they are sick or are self-isolating - will not be penalised for the effects of coronavirus. They will now receive full pay rather than statutory sick pay with immediate effect. This will also apply retrospectively to those that have taken time off due to the virus in the past few weeks.
“This decision has been made to help protect our employees in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, and ensure we are following government guidelines for keeping employees safe from the unnecessary spread of infection.
“We are immensely proud of all our employees, many of whom are continuing to deliver essential services that are keeping our country going in an extremely difficult time.”