Demand for mandatory face masks in social welfare offices

Customers going to shops, banks, hair salons and bookmakers are compelled by law to wear a face mask, but it’s not obligatory in busy social welfare offices that thousands of often-vulnerable people visit in the course of a week.

Delegates to Fórsa’s civil service conference today (Friday) considered motions calling for face masks to be compulsory in Intreo centres and other civil service public offices.

Speaking from the conference today, the head of Fórsa’s civil service division, Derek Mullen, welcomed the recent re-opening of cultural institutions, libraries and non-essential retail outlets. “We can enjoy these facilities because the law says we must all wear face coverings in shops, libraries, museums, banks, post offices, credit unions, and hair salons and on public transport.

“But this is not the case in public offices across the civil service. These are places that members of the public must visit for essential business, including getting a basic income. They – and the staff who serve them – deserve the same protection and respect as shoppers and shop workers.

“Throughout the pandemic, social welfare staff went in to work and processed two years’ worth of claims in a matter of weeks. Those pandemic unemployment payments made the difference for hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs. Yet the staff who did, and are doing, so much for their fellow citizens are being denied the safety standards common in other public places,” he said.

Mr Mullen wrote to health minister Stephen Donnelly almost two months ago, seeking an amendment to official regulations on mandatory face coverings to include Department of Social Protection public offices.

“Despite strict adherence to official Covid-19 safety requirements, we have seen a number of Covid-19 clusters in Intreo centres. Staff are also concerned that anti-maskers will target social protection offices because face coverings are not compulsory. We have examples of anti-maskers arriving at Intreo centres with legislation in hand and correctly asserting that, under the law, they don’t have to wear a face covering. This, and the recent Covid clusters, are deeply distressing and a real concern to staff who don’t have the same protections as other workers in identical or similar settings,” he said.

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