The jobs of nearly 800 workers at a “cornerstone” coronavirus testing facility in Glasgow are at risk as it faces an uncertain future.
The Glasgow Lighthouse Lab has analysed millions of Covid-19 tests, playing a role that the UK health secretary Sajid Javid called “vital”.
But the jobs of 745 “experienced and highly skilled” employees could be lost as the Government plans to abolish testing at the site.
Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said: “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.”
The number of people admitted to hospital with a positive Covid-19 test remains high and prevalence of the virus among the general public is still higher in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.
The Lighthouse Lab is operated by the University of Glasgow on behalf of the UK Government and has now entered into a formal 45-day consultation period on redundancies with Unite due to the lack of funding and pending contracts.
Unite warns that 745 staff, including sample handlers and lab technicians, could have their contracts terminated as early as May 14.
The union said an eleventh-hour agreement by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to extend the contract with Glasgow University until September 2022 was agreed with the workforce being advised that their roles would be safe until then.
But, representatives said it appears this commitment is being reneged upon.
Alison Maclean, Unite industrial officer, said: “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.
“There has been no commitment from the Scottish Government to extend the funding or redeploy this critically important workforce.”
Unite said there is an ongoing tender process to keep a small number of staff, around 120 roles, for “resilience/surge” testing work.
The Scottish Government said it was disappointed that UKHSA had not given “further clarity on future activity” at the lab.
A spokesperson told STV News the Scottish Government is working with Glasgow University to help find all staff involved alternative jobs.
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.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government 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 UKHSA has not been able to provide further clarity on future activity.
“We are actively engaging with trade unions to ensure whatever approach is taken in future has the workforce at the heart of those discussions.”
STV News has contacted the UK Government for comment.