- Charlie Mullins caused a stir when he suggested his company wouldn’t hire anyone not vaccinated.
- The Pimlico Plumbers CEO’s comments were dismissed by the UK vaccines minister as “discriminatory.”
- In this op-ed, Mullins denies his view is controversial and predicts vaccine passports will be a “fact of life.”
When the pandemic hit us, it felt like some far away disaster that you always read about had jumped out of the pages of a newspaper and into our westernized lives.
War, plague, and natural calamities were supposed to be happening in far away places, not London, England.
COVID-19 brought with it the kind of death and challenges the UK hadn’t faced domestically since the end of the second world war. If any business people thought the pandemic sweeping across Europe was going to be the government’s problem alone, we realised that we’d too be in a fight to survive.
On March 23, 2020 UK prime minister Boris Johnson shut the country down, closing all but essential shops and businesses and confining the population to virtual house arrest except for those essential workers, emergency services, medics, supermarket workers, and pharmacists.
My company, Pimlico Plumbers, employs more than 300 tradesmen and women who were classified as “essential workers.”
As an industry, we already use a lot of PPE to keep workers and customers safe, so initially it was a case of beefing up the usage of masks and disposable gloves, issuing guidance on hand washing, and equipping our vans with gallons of hand sanitizer.
It was a strange time to keep working in formerly congested central city streets that suddenly looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic horror movie. From the way the death-toll was rising daily, we knew the world wasn’t going back to normal soon. One thing was obvious; more safety measures were going to be needed for us to preserve our company’s safety record.
We brought in thermal scanners (portable guns and fixed units) to detect the early signs of infection in our staff, both those working in administration and the engineers going into customers’ homes. At times it’s felt like we were in an arms race with the virus, using anything we can find to keep it at bay while the a vaccine was created, tested, and made available.
I did everything possible to keep the wheels turning, determined to keep my operation running safely and harmoniously.
I’m very proud to say that since the beginning of the UK’s first lockdown, we’ve completed more than 100,000 jobs without incident. I was also publicly vocal in trying to encourage the government whenever possible to allow businesses to reopen if they could prove they could do so safely.
As a businessman I’m acutely aware that shutting down the economy is risky, even though the UK government has been paying workers 80% of their salary to stay at home. Getting things jumpstarted on the other side was always going to be difficult, and the longer the shutdown the harder it would be to bring some parts of the economy back to life.
We’re now into our third lockdown and the economy hasn’t been fully operational for almost 11 months.
There have been more than 800,000 redundancies, and with millions still being paid to stay off work there will inevitably be many more to come.
Vaccines are here, but with more than 1,000 people dying on average from COVID each day in the UK in the last few weeks, it hardly feels like the cavalry has arrived, even though the numbers are falling and the government is making a good fist of its vaccination program.
I think the vaccine is the only road out of this hell we’ve been in for almost a year. It needs to be used in every possible area of life, especially business. I recently made public my views on how I would make being vaccinated a condition of employment for new staff, while strongly encouraging existing staff to take it up when it’s available to them.
In response, the UK’s vaccines minister called this “discriminatory” and said vaccines should be done “by persuasion”. But I don’t think what I said was very controversial â€” and, judging by my staff’s reaction to the free COVID testing program we have put in place, it seems they’re with me on that.
Outside of the business there have been many who disagree, citing concerns over human rights issues. And then there’s the insanity of the anti-vaxx lobby, who are vicious in their opposition to any business proposing to use vaccines to increase safety.
I think vaccine passports will become a fact of life in the next 12 months. They will be essential to access all sorts of services, especially to gain entrance to hospitality businesses, bars, restaurants, travel services, and pretty much any pursuit that puts large numbers of people in close proximity with each other.
Some airlines, basically flying restaurants with cinemas, will already not carry passengers without a recent negative COVID test as required by the countries they’re travelling to.
In the shorter term, I think it isn’t enough to just prioritise the vulnerable and elderly when it comes to vaccinating entire societies.
They definitely need to be immunized first, but so do essential occupations that come into contact with a lot of people, moving in and out of homes and workplaces.
Emergency services and teachers, who are currently not on any UK priority list, are a good example. And yes, I think somewhere near the top are plumbers, carpenters, and electricians.
There’s been a lot of rubbish spoken about how COVID will change the way the business world operates in the years to come. I think that sentiment with its video conferencing and soulless isolation is possibly the worst thing about COVID, next to the horrific death toll of course.
The thought that homeworking will be the “new normal” seems ridiculous to me. I suspect we’ve already bottled up a lot of mental illness in our societies without making solitude the norm. Humans are social creatures and thrive in cooperation.
The word most often used to describe a commercial operation is “company” for a very good reason.
Charlie Mullins is a British businessman, and the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, London’s largest independent plumbing company.