At Unite Legal Services, we’ve collated the latest news and information regarding employment matters and workers’ rights in relation to coronavirus COVID-19 developments.
20 March 2020
The closure of pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants
The days leading up to 20 March saw the government request that, where possible, people should work from home to curb the spread of the disease. It was also announced that schools would be closing from 20 March until further notice.
Although the public had been advised to avoid pubs, bars, and restaurants, the Prime Minister announced on 20 March that the government would be “collectively telling cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can, and not to open tomorrow.”
Nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres were also asked to close as soon as was reasonably possible.
Government to direct state money to millions of UK workers
Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, addressed the nation to announce measures being put in place to direct state money to UK workers.
He said: “The economic intervention that I’m announcing today is unprecedented in the history of the British state.
“Combined with our previous announcements on public services and business support, our planned economic response will be one of the most comprehensive in the world.
“Our Plan for People’s Jobs and Incomes, will:
- Protect people’s jobs;
- Offer more generous support to those who are without employment;
- Strengthen the safety net for those who work for themselves;
- And help people who stay in their homes.”
A message from Len McCluskey
Len McCluskey, General Secretary, also shared a personal message, addressing all Unite members and providing further information on what Unite is doing to provide support during this crisis and how it is working with employers and ministers to protect jobs and wages.
22 March 2020:
Unite urged the government to extend its wage support scheme to include UK construction workers.
23 March 2020:
UK on lockdown
On 23 March, it was announced that the UK would be going into lockdown.
Addressing the nation, Boris Johnson said:
“People will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household;
- Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.”
In response to the UK lockdown, Unite called on the government to stand behind workers in order to support the national emergency.
Support for businesses
In an effort to keep people in employment and businesses in operation, the government announced a series of support measures.
Increase in Working Tax Credits
In order to support the country, the government announced an increase in Working Tax Credits: “Working Tax Credits payments will be increased by £1,045 to £3,040 per year from 6 April 2020 until 5 April 2021.”
24 March 2020:
Clearing up confusion and supporting insecure workers
Monday’s UK lockdown announcement caused confusion among workers, leaving many unsure whether or not they were supposed to be working. Unite called on the government to provide more clarity on the issue and to provide financial support for insecure and self-employed workers.
Unite calls for immediate action for construction industry
Unite urged the government to act as construction workers and their families continued to face a public health emergency following failure to ensure their safety at work.
Unite Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “There is an immediate public health emergency on construction sites, due to a lack of social distancing.”
26 March 2020:
Reclassification of insecure workers needed
On 26 March, Len McCluskey called on the government to re-classify many of the UK’s five million insecure and self-employed workers as employees to ensure their protection under the job retention scheme.
McCluskey also addressed employers directly: “If you dismiss Unite members that you could have retained or you send them home on poverty sick pay when there are provisions for them to be paid at 80 per cent of their salary at no cost to you, Unite will pursue you using every legal channel available to us.
"It is not just the government who says it will do whatever it takes. Unite will pull every lever we can to defend jobs, keep people safe and protect incomes."
Support announced for the self-employed
Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that the government will be paying a taxable grant to those who are self-employed and adversely affected by coronavirus. The grant will be worth 80% of the average monthly profits over the last three years, covering up to £2,500 per month.
The Chancellor said: “This scheme will be open for at least three months – and I will extend it for longer if necessary.
“You’ll be able to claim these grants and continue to do business.
“And we’re covering the same amount of income for a self-employed person as we are for furloughed employees, who also receive a grant worth 80%.”
Visit the government website to learn how to apply for a grant.
It was also announced that the government would be covering employer National Insurance and pension contributions for furloughed workers – on top of 80% of salary previously agreed.
27 March 2020:
Unite urges employers to reinstate staff
The Chancellor’s guidance on who would be eligible to claim 80 per cent of their wages under the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme included those who have been sacked since 28 February, who would be eligible for support if rehired.
Following this announcement, Unite urged employers to reinstate staff who had been fired due to the coronavirus downturn.
Howard Beckett, Unite’s Assistant General Secretary, said: “Those employers who have fired staff because of the impact of coronavirus must immediately reinstate them.
“The official guidance is clear that anyone made redundant since 28 February is entitled to 80 per cent of their wages under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.
“Not doing so will result in unnecessary suffering and hardship for thousands of working families across Britain.
“It would be morally repugnant of any employer to simply abandon people who work for them day in day out simply to downsize, or to avoid added paperwork, at a moment of acute national crisis.”
Get more support
For more information on how we are fighting to protect the health and safety, and economic stability of our members during the coronavirus COVID-19) crisis, please visit the Unite the Union advice hub.
If you are in need of further advice on a COVID-19 related employment law query, call Unite’s dedicated COVID-19 Legal Advice Line on 0333 202 6557.
For more information on COVID-19 related benefits queries, Unite has set up a dedicated benefits advice line which members can access by calling 0333 202 6563.