THE priority of the Engagement Forum on Covid 19 is to protect the safety of all workers in the workplace, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said tonight.
The Minister was speaking after the first meeting of the forum – set up to advise and support the Executive in its commitment to protect the safety of workers and safeguard the economy – took place by teleconference.
The meeting was chaired by Marie Mallon of the Labour Relations Agency and was attended by representatives from business organisations, trade unions, local councils, government, the Public Health Agency and the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland.
The Minister said: “I want pay tribute to the businesses and workers across Northern Ireland who continue to deliver vital services during this difficult time. I know that they have the gratitude of the whole community.
“However, it is important to remember that all employers have a legal obligation to put the safety of their staff first and all workers must prioritise their own safety and that of their co-workers. This is non-negotiable.
“By working better together we can keep the workplace safe. I welcome the collective commitment and determination from all the organisation represented today to reinforce these messages.
“I share the concerns of employers and employees. Many are worried about their safety and their future during this crisis. The forum is the pragmatic approach to ensuring that all employers and workers alike focus on the health, safety and well-being of everyone in the workplace. It is essential that we work together for the protection of our workforce.”
The forum has agreed to provide collective advice on the measures required to protect the safety of key workers and essential businesses as well on the list of key workers and essential/non-essential businesses referred to in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.
The forum, which agreed to meet again on Wednesday, also emphasised the need for all businesses and workers to comply with contemporary PHA guidance within the workplace.
The Minister intends to update the Executive on the Forum’s progress.
The following organisations were represented at today’s meeting:
· The Chamber of Commerce
· The Federation of Small Businesses
· Manufacturing NI
· NI Retail Consortium
· The Irish Congress of Trade Unions
· Institute of Directors
· Public Health Agency
· Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland
Junior Ministers Gordon Lyons and Declan Kearney attended as observers.