Our ref: HSR/1/3
Head Office Circular: NP/155/22
21st July 2022
To: The Secretary
CORONAVIRUS – COVID-19 – NETWORK RAIL
FOR THE ATTENTION OF ALL NETWORK RAIL EMPLOYEES
Further to Head Office Circular NP/125/22, dated 19th May 2022, I can report that, following a request from RMT to meet with Network Rail to discuss Managing for Attendance with regard to COVID and high-risk staff, I received a response from the company providing an initial response prior ro such a meeting.
The company has informed me that the decision to recommence normal MFA/MFH procedures for Covid was taken after the RICF ‘Living with Covid’ letter of 14th April 2022 where it deemed it appropriate that Covid-related absences are treated the same way as other common respiratory diseases going forwards. Network Rail considered this position, and adopted the same caveats as stated by RICF, with a commencement date of 1st May 2022, with no retrospective application, and a clear communication to managers that discretion on a case by case basis may be applied.
In response to some of RMT’s concerns, the company has stated that that:
• It specifies at least 5 days sickness absence. This is applying a minimum length of absence not a maximum
• It will then qualify at least 5 days by saying do not come to work if you still have a temperature or feel unwell (a temperature being an indication of infection)
• Where it is advised that an employee is still testing positive, it does say do not come back until testing negative or the above criteria applies. This is up to a period of 10 days where they can return, if they no longer have a temperature
• The wording on high risk is in line with government guidance. It is the case that it can only deal with what it knows, but where it knows it, this extra precaution can be applied. The remaining risks are then mitigated by the controls set out in the WARA
• Its numbers are now very low with no-one in hospital, 46 infections, 31 with longer effects from Covid and 12 special leave. It believes that at least some of these cases have not been closed by line managers following a return to work
• It has an agreed WARA in place for infectious disease management. This offers workplace mitigation steps for controlling infectious respiratory diseases. The WARA was communicated and deployed before the change in position on MFA/MFH. These mitigations are:
o Staff should not attend work if they show signs of infectious illness or are infected
o Continuation of handwashing and good hygiene. Hand sanitisers to be readily available
o Sufficient cleaning measure remain in place and temperature checking where available
o Mask wearing by visitors in operationally sensitive areas or in crowded or enclosed spaces where you come in to contact with people you do not normally meet is strongly advised
o Focus on good ventilation in indoor workplaces and vehicles.
Finally, the company believes that the WARA provides a new service for employees to discuss any anxieties for themselves or their family situation now that legal restrictions for covid have been removed. This is provided by Optima; it encourages RMT members to access this service should you have any concerns.
At its meeting on 19th July 2022, your National Executive Committee noted and adopted the following report from its Health and Safety sub-committee:
We note the response from Network Rail.
The General Secretary is instructed to write to the company disagreeing with its assertion that normal MFA procedures be recommenced and that Covid related absences are treated the same way as other common respiratory diseases going forwards. The fact is that the company want it both ways- for an employee still testing positive not to come back until testing negative, but on the other hand the employee’s absence to be taken into account for MFA purposes even though he/she may deem themselves fit enough to return to work.
RMT’s position remains that absence through Covid should not be taken into account for MFA purposes and if the company continues to treat it as such this could result in a dispute situation.
Relevant Branches and Regional Councils to be advised.
I am acting in line with these instructions. Please bring the contents of this circular and the attached document to the attention of relevant members.