The majority of our membership comprises full-time employed office workers. Many are junior legal workers, based in London, with large student debts, little-to-no savings and on low incomes. It is unlikely they will be able to afford their rent/bills/living costs in the event of job loss, which COVID-19 threatens on a mass scale.
A large proportion of LSWU membership are legal aid workers. Firms that provide legal aid work often operate on shoe-string budgets as legal aid rates have over successive years been diminished, are particularly susceptible to negative economic activity. There is a major risk legal aid firms (who are already struggling) will be forced to close.
The wider concern is that if legal aid firms are forced to close now the legal aid sector is unlikely to recover (there are already ‘legal aid deserts’ in many parts of the country) and the Conservative government will use this as an opportunity to effectively end publicly-funded work.
We also represent self-employed workers such as barristers and intermediaries who are threatened with no form of income if courts were to close due to COVID-19.
Many of our members do not have the option of working from home. The government does not have the technological capacity to enact a wide scale transition to video links for court hearings and police interviews. Even if this were possible in practice, this would massively undermine our ability to properly represent vulnerable clients. Being required to attend public places, with lots of traffic, is particularly worrying for our older members, who are looking at a choice between their health and their job.
Of our members, criminal lawyers (barristers, solicitors, police station representatives) may be regarded as ‘critical workers’, akin to police, paramedics, nurses, doctors, support workers, and therefore expected to work throughout the entirety of the pandemic, even in the event of a lockdown. Should this happen, they must be provided the same access to medical treatment and protective gear.
You can find LSWU’s demand statement here.