Leading article

Employers must ensure staff are protected from coronavirus

There is no doubting the tremendous effort that has gone on within the business community as it tries to deal with the most challenging conditions ever experienced in a modern economy.

The global financial downturn of 2008/9 was exceptionally difficult and saw many big names wiped out. Some sectors are only now recovering while others, such as high street retailers, are still grappling with the changing marketplace.

However, nothing we have seen since the second world war comes close to what employers are now facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around a quarter of the world's population is now living under some form of lockdown, which is extraordinary.

Some of the most advanced economies are struggling to cope with the volume of cases and the wider impact on society, which is immense.

In Northern Ireland, thousands of people are now working from home following restrictions announced on Monday by Boris Johnson.

Those measures, telling people to stay at home and only to go to work if it is absolutely necessary, are essential to slowing the spread of this deadly virus.

But there has been some confusion over what businesses can stay open, particularly in the construction industry, while employees, particularly in manufacturing and the food sector, have expressed alarm over working in close proximity to others.

First minister Arlene Foster yesterday warned businesses who are still operating to ensure they facilitate social distancing in the workplace and also provide staff with the appropriate protection equipment.

Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill said she had seen many men travelling together to work in a van, adding this was unacceptable.

''It's time to get real because this virus is killing people. These types of actions are putting lives at risk, put health workers at risk and they are adding to the colossal burden on our health service in the weeks and months ahead," she said.

The first and deputy first ministers are clearly deeply concerned and frustrated by the reports of staff having to work in an environment that puts them, their families and the wider community at enormous risk.

All employers have a duty of care to their workers and the safety and protection of employees must come first.

As we can see from Italy, Spain and New York, we are dealing with extremely high stakes right now.

We have to slow the spread of coronavirus. Lives depend on it.

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Leading article