Thursday 22 July 2021 / 2:28 PM Business

Government in tailspin on ‘critical worker’ self-isolation exemptions as Labour calls for urgent clarity for employers

The Government has contradicted itself multiple times in the space of a few days on its self-isolation exemption policy for ‘critical workers’, sparking widespread confusion amongst employers and the public.


Labour is urging the Government to today publish a clear, unambiguous list of critical workers and a process by which exemptions will be applied – to keep the country running, increase business confidence, and tackle the virus transmission.


The timeline: 


On Monday 19 July, the Government announced that some double vaccinated ‘critical workers’ would be exempt from self-isolating ahead of the rule change in August. The Government’s press release gave ‘railway signallers and air traffic controllers’ as examples of critical workers.


On Tuesday 20 July, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said the Government would not define the critical workers to whom the exemption would apply and said this would be decided on a ‘case by case basis’:


“It’s not a blanket exemption and my understanding is we’re not going to be producing a list covering individual sectors, these business-critical areas will be able to apply for exemptions to their host departments.” 


Asked about supermarket workers, he said: “We’re not seeking to draw lines specifically around who or who is not exempt. 


Also on Tuesday, it was revealed that Ministers had written to major manufacturers emphasizing that staff are not legally obliged to isolate if pinged by the app. Business Minister Paul Scully then said it would be a decision for individuals and employers whether they should self-isolate after being contacted by the NHS Covid-19 app. No 10 contradicted this.


Today, Thursday 22 July, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that a list of ‘affected sectors’ would in fact be published, in a complete reversal.


“We’re looking at different sectors and we will be publishing today the sectors that will be affected.”  


“The list, I think, will be quite narrow, it will be very narrow, simply because we don’t want to get into a huge debate about who is exempt.” 


Kwarteng also said employers would not have to apply, contradicting No 10’s earlier plan, but provided no further clarity.


Labour is today asking for the following points to be clarified as a matter of urgency:


  1. Who will be defined as a ‘critical worker’ and how will this assessment be made?
  2. When will the clear list of critical workers be published?
  3. Will there be blanket exemptions for sectors/professions, or will employers have to apply for individual exemptions?
  4. What is the process for applying for exemptions?


Seema Malhotra MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Business and Consumers, said:

“Businesses and the public have a right to be furious at the Government’s chaotic decision making which is causing confusion and uncertainty. Ministers have done so many U-turns this week they must be dizzy. The country needs leadership, not a government in a tailspin.

“It makes sense to exempt certain fully vaccinated professionals, such as those working in emergency services, from self-isolation rules through a targeted test to release scheme to keep our country running. But the Government has made a mess of its own policy and is undermining the effectiveness of the rule change.

“If Ministers don’t know or can’t decide what the plan is, how can employers possibly be expected to understand what’s required of them?

“The Government must today come forward with a clear, unambiguous list of critical workers and a workable plan for how exemptions will be applied.

“This chaotic decision-making and make it up as you go along approach starts right at the top with Boris Johnson. It’s bad for public health and it’s bad for our economy too.”