Northern Ireland news

Trade unions attack maskless MPs' 'cavalier' attitude

Maskless DUP MPs during last month's emergency debate on Afghanistan

UNIONS representing staff working at Westminster have attacked the "cavalier" attitude of MPs who refuse to wear masks.

They said staff who remove themselves from situations where MPs are refusing to wear a mask and feel unsafe should be backed by the authorities and will be supported by their union.

Mask wearing is mandatory for Westminster staff but is optional for MPs, a rule described as "double standards" by unions.

Last month, health expert Professor Peter Openshaw warned that a failure by many MPs, including DUP members, to wear masks during a Westminster debate was a sign of "increasing political polarisation".

Speaking after an emergency debate on the crisis in Afghanistan, he said maskless Conservative MPs, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Sajid Javid, sitting across from a majority of opposition politicians wearing face coverings in a packed House of Commons "illustrates very starkly" how the issue of masks has become politicised.

At the debate, DUP MPs Ian Paisley Jr, Sammy Wilson and party leader Jeffrey Donaldson also wore no face coverings, despite the chamber being its busiest since March 2020.

Now trade unions the FDA and Prospect are calling on the Westminster authorities to do more to protect staff, including making clear to MPs that they should wear masks.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said: "Members of Parliament not only have a duty of care to staff working in the House of Commons, they also have an important leadership role, both in parliament and the country.

"We urge them to set an example by continuing to wear masks in order to protect the staff on whom they rely."

H said staff had "gone to extraordinary lengths" over the past 18 months to keep Westminster functioning through the pandemic.

"The very least they deserve is to be able to work in an environment that is as safe as possible, and we will fully support any members of staff who remove themselves from situations where their health and safety is put at risk," he said

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: "A year-and-a-half into this pandemic and elements of the government and MPs still haven't learned the lesson that masks and social distancing help to prevent the spread of Covid."

The unions said they condemned the "cavalier attitude" of MPs who refuse to wear masks.

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