Fears for public health as over 700 staff at Glasgow Covid lab face redundancy

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More than 700 members of staff at a Glasgow Covid lab could be made redundant.

Union Unite has called on the First Minister and Scottish Government ministers to intervene over the future of the Lighthouse Lab.

The lab opened in the University of Glasgow’s campus at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital during the pandemic, dedicated to the mass testing of samples for Covid-19.

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However, Unite, which represents the workforce including sample handlers and lab technicians, has expressed concerns about the public health impact of the decision by both the Scottish and UK governments to abolish testing at the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab.

The union claims that the university was left with no alternative other than to enter into a formal 45-day consultation period on redundancies with Unite due to the lack of funding and pending contracts.

The Covid-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow is one of only four in the UK testing for the S-gene, a marker of OmicronThe Covid-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow is one of only four in the UK testing for the S-gene, a marker of Omicron
The Covid-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow is one of only four in the UK testing for the S-gene, a marker of Omicron | Getty Images

If no resolution can be found it is anticipated that contractual notice will be served on around 745 experienced and highly skilled employees with contracts terminating as early as May 14. Unite is taking legal advice on the contractual position of its members.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “The Glasgow Lighthouse Lab workforce is at the heart of protecting public health in Scotland and at a time when Covid rates continue to run high, it is a disgrace that hundreds of highly skilled jobs, knowledge and experience is potentially going to be lost.

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“Unite is determined to protect our members and will explore every option, including legal ones, to fully defend their jobs, pay and conditions.”

Alison Maclean, Unite industrial officer, added: “There has been no commitment from the Scottish Government to extend the funding or redeploy this critically important workforce. Covid numbers, hospitalisation and deaths have increased in Scotland, and notwithstanding the future impact of Covid variants, this grave uncertainty for 745 workers is bewildering and dangerous.

“Unite is demanding that the Scottish Government urgently review the decision to wind down testing in the interests of public health, and immediately move to ensure that the skilled workforce at the Lighthouse Lab are supported.”

Unite understands that there is currently a tender process ongoing for a small amount of residual “resilience/surge” testing work, as well as work for the Office of National Statistics.

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It is estimated that this work would only retain around 120 roles. The trade union is demanding that any tenders are expedited to allow as many at risk workers the opportunity to be retained.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Glasgow Lighthouse Lab has been a high performing lab throughout the Covid-19 response and we are grateful to staff for their dedication and hard work.

“We are in close contact with the University and are aware of its consultation with staff and trade unions on potential job losses relating to the cessation of UK Government-held testing contracts and are disappointed that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has not been able to provide further clarity on future activity.

“The Scottish Government is working with the University to enable it to support all staff involved to find where necessary, alternative employment opportunities either with their existing employer or with another employer or sector.

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“We are actively engaging with trade unions to ensure whatever approach is taken in future has the workforce at the heart of those discussions.”

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said: “As part of the UK’s Covid-19 testing network, we are proud of the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab workforce, who have processed over 26 million PCR tests since April 2020.

“Following UKHSA’s decision to end the Lighthouse Lab’s contract, we are in active discussions with the UK Health Security Agency, Scottish Government and Trade Unions to discuss the future requirements of the lab.”

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