Unions campaign for greater protections for terminally ill workers

Seriously ill workers can legally be dismissed on capability grounds


Union and employer support is growing for the ‘Dying to Work’ campaign for additional employment protection for terminally ill workers.

At a fringe event at the TUC’s annual congress this afternoon, GMB general secretary Tim Roache, CWU general secretary Dave Ward and TUC regional secretary Lee Barron spoke about their union’s efforts to advance the campaign.

Jacci Woodcock, the campaign’s founding activist, was also present. Woodcock was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, which became terminal. When she returned to work after sick leave, she was questioned by her HR department about her capacity to work. At that point, Woodcock says she ‘now understood they were trying to get rid of me’.

She has previously commented:

“I was actually astounded about what HR asked. It was all about capability, capability, capability. No concern for me as their employee and no apparent care that I was dying.”

While there are some legal protections for terminally ill employees, unions report that they can still be legally dismissed is they fail a capability assessment with ‘reasonable adjustments’.

As well as increasing the stress ill employees face, and causing them to lose the stimulation and dignity of work, dismissal while ill often also means the loss of ‘death in service’ and life assurance payments to worker’s families.

The campaign calls for terminal illness to be treated, like pregnancy, as a ‘protected characteristic’, safeguarding workers against being sacked as a result of their condition.

The campaign has already drawn up a charter setting out the appropriate treatment of terminally ill workers, and businesses employing 60,000 workers have voluntarily signed up, including Santander, E.ON and AB Produce.

Last week, Southport and Ormskirk Hospital became the first NHS Trust in the country to sign the charter.

Today’s event demonstrated that there is deep support for the campaign within unions, with audience members from across the movement speaking from the floor to guarantee their commitment.

More information and campaigning materials are available on the Dying to Work website.

This week Trade Unionists from around the country are meeting in Brighton for the annual TUC Congress. Left Foot Forward is reporting from the event.

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