Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 01 February 2021

red rectangle on cream background with black text  CORONAVIRUS COVID-19

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.

25 January 2021

Public ‘implored’ to follow COVID rules after death of ‘well-loved and respected’ Brighton bus driver and Unite rep Christopher Turnham

Unite has paid tribute to ‘well-loved and respected’ Brighton bus driver Christopher Turnham following his death from COVID-19 and, along with Christopher’s family, ‘implored’ people to stick to social distancing and mask wearing rules.

Unite said that there is no indication of where Christopher came into contact with the virus. The union also made clear that Brighton and Hove buses have been working with Unite throughout the pandemic to ensure that it buses, depots and other workplaces are as COVID secure as possible.

The heightened risk to frontline workers, such as bus drivers and others in public facing roles, of coming into contact with the virus, has prompted both Christopher’s family and Unite to remind people to strictly abide by coronavirus safety guidelines.

Strike ballot in Manchester bus drivers fire and rehire dispute

Unite will begin balloting its members at bus company Go North West in Manchester for strike action in a dispute over the company’s decision to impose new contracts of employment by firing and rehiring its workforce, resulting in cuts to jobs, pay and conditions.

Go North West, which is part of the Go Ahead Group, first threatened to fire and rehire its workforce last summer but Unite was able to get the process halted and entered into negotiations.

The union proposed a million pounds worth of savings and in addition a further saving of £200,000 as a result of accepting a yearlong pay freeze for the workers based at the Queens Road Depot.

The ballot for strike action opened on Tuesday 26 January and will close on Tuesday 9 February. Unite has just under 500 members at the depot.

Supermarket supplies at risk over ‘Fire and Rehire” dispute at Tesco’s Scottish distribution centre

Unite Scotland threatened a potential strike action ballot if Tesco refuse to withdraw their ‘Fire and Re-Hire’ ultimatum to Unite members at its Livingston depot.

Around 290 workers at Tesco’s distribution centre are being threatened with cuts to their pay of between £4000 and £13,000 under ‘Fire and Rehire’, which will force workers to sign a new contract excluding access to a ‘retained’ bonus scheme.

The company’s profits soared by 29% in the first half of last year as pre-tax profit reached £551million. Tesco’s revenue increased by 0.7% to £28.7 billion, and sales in the UK and Ireland were up more than 8%. Last October, Tesco faced widespread criticism following its decision to pay a £315m dividend to shareholders at a time when it was benefiting from business rates relief worth £249m.

26 January 2021

Healthcare students on unpaid placements should be covered by COVID-19 £60,000 life assurance scheme

Thousands of healthcare students carrying out unpaid placements should be covered by the £60,000 lump sum life assurance if they succumb to COVID-19.

Unite has written to the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock asking him to close the loophole in NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme 2020 as a matter of urgency. The scheme allows for a £60,000 lump sum payment to be paid to families if a health or social care worker dies as a result of COVID-19.

Unite, which has been approached by a number of its healthcare students on the issue, said that the current scheme in England only states that students who are undertaking ‘paid frontline roles’ are covered by the scheme.

Two Hackney education disputes come to a head with three days of strikes in February

Two separate industrial disputes affecting schools in east London will lead to three days of strike action in February.

Ten teaching support staff at the Colvestone primary school and the Thomas Fairchild community school, part of the Hackney-based Soaring Skies Federation which educates more than 600 children, will strike over potentially more than 18 jobs being at risk out of about 30-strong teaching support staff.

The 32 drivers and passenger assistants, who take disabled children to and from school in Hackney, voted unanimously to strike over the failure of their employer, the borough council, to make a one-off £500 COVID-19 payment and other health & safety issues.

Quorn ‘pay beef’ at Teesside factory risks meat-free supermarket shortages

A Quorn Foods ‘pay beef’ at its Teesside meat-free paste production factory risks shortages of the company’s products in supermarket aisles.

A series of discontinuous strikes at the Billingham factory of Marlow Foods Limited, which trades under Quorn Foods, will begin on 5 February and conclude on 13 February, with continuous strike action planned from 14 February if the dispute is not resolved. Socially distanced picket lines will be held outside of the factory’s entrance.

More than 60 production workers, including lab, maintenance, electricians and store staff, will take part in the strike action, as well as an overtime ban commencing on 1 February. The dispute is over a ‘paltry’ two per cent pay offer that does not reflect their efforts in ensuring the profitable company’s growth during the pandemic.

McCluskey: Fix furlough and extend it, now

The leader of Unite is demanding that the government extends the Job Retention Scheme to provide our country with the same economic stability as our European competitors.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, said: "The government must not repeat the mistake of the last time round when it delayed on extending the Job Retention Scheme only to do so at the eleventh hour. That dithering sent workers to the dole queue. 

"All we're asking for is the same stability as our competitors. Italy, France and Germany all have superior and lengthier furlough schemes. They will emerge from this crisis in a far better shape than this country as a result.

"The government must state now that the JRS will be extended. Workers and employers can't wait until March for the Budget. Fix furlough and extend it, now."

Aviation sector ‘crying out’ for joined up policies as government plans to introduce quarantine hotels

Unite is calling on the government to end its piecemeal approach to policies for the aviation sector and to finally introduce a joined up plan to ensure the industry is able to both survive the COVID-19 pandemic and sustainably thrive in the future.

Unite made its call after it was announced that the government is expected to introduce rules for quarantine hotels, which would require travellers from many parts of the world to stay in a designated hotel for a set amount of time when they arrive in the UK.

The policy announcement, which is designed to lessen the spread of new variants of COVID-19, is expected to further suppress air travel which has seen a huge decline since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The government has failed to provide sector specific support for aviation despite the chancellor Rishi Sunak first promising such measures last spring. In September the government announced that it was establishing an Aviation Recovery Plan which was due to be published in the ‘autumn’, but this has yet to see the light of day.

27 January 2021

Unite ends BA ‘fire and rehire’ dispute by securing deal to avoid forthcoming cargo strike action

Unite has secured a deal (subject to a members’ ballot) to end the long running dispute over British Airways' plans to fire and rehire the workforce in its cargo division.

Members of Unite employed at BA Cargo, the majority of whom work at Heathrow Airport, undertook nine days of strike action over the Christmas and New Year period which caused overwhelming disruption to the company’s cargo services.

Unite had proposed a total of a further nine days of strike action beginning on Friday 22 January, but the first three days were called off at the last minute, after progress was made at the negotiations. The next round of strikes have also been called off.

The key points of the deal agreed between Unite and British Airways are as follows:

  • End of fire and rehire (the last area of BA where this was a threat)
  • Workers will revert to previous contractual provisions subject to agreed changes
  • No compulsory redundancies
  • Improved pay protection for staff whose pay sits above the new agreed rates
  • An increase in pay for a significant proportion of staff
  • Members who did not sign the new contract and were dismissed will be offered their jobs back on the agreed terms.

28 January 2021

Quarantine hotels must be COVID-secure to ensure workers are not at risk

Unite is warning that the government’s plans to introduce quarantine hotels must not risk the health of the workers in these facilities.

Unite issued its warning after the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed that several groups of hospitality workers have been found to be at greatest risk of dying from COVID-19.

The groups at greatest risk have been:

  • Chefs – 103 deaths, per 100,000
  • Restaurant Workers 119 deaths, per 100,000
  • Pub Managers – 219 deaths per 100,000

This is compared to an average across all occupations of 24 deaths per 100,000.

Unite believes that the high toll of hospitality deaths is a result of a toxic combination of insufficient sick pay, unscrupulous employment practices, a failure to maintain social distancing and a lack of PPE.

Unite will be launching a campaign to ensure that all quarantine hotels are COVID secure and that there is an awareness that staff are equally at risk of contracting COVID from each other as they are from the hotel’s guests.

29 January 2021

Forcing builders onto bikes is dangerous warns Unite, as TfL issues construction worker travel advice

Unite has warned that forcing construction workers in London onto bikes is potentially dangerous.

The majority of TfL’s advice notice is aimed at the major construction contractors who have the power to implement real change, previous advice, though well-intentioned, has been aimed at people who do not have the power to implement the advice.

Unite believes encouraging construction workers to cycle to work is potentially dangerous. Many workers will have round trips of over 15 miles into central London. Expecting workers to cycle long distances during the winter, in the dark and in bad weather is a recipe for serious accidents. Especially as the worker will be expected to cycle home in the dark, often after undertaking a physically demanding 10 plus hour shift, when fatigue will be a major factor.

A further concern that does not appear to have been considered is that London’s roads, even for an experienced cyclist, can be dangerous and to ask someone who very likely has little or no experience of navigating London’s roads in the dark is asking for trouble.

Unite is also concerned that other advice issued to London construction workers advises them to leave crowded stations or services if social distancing can’t be maintained, but unless there is provision at their site to allow a worker to be late, without penalty, such advice is meaningless.

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.

COVID-19 personal injury claims

Unite has set up a specialist legal team to advise and represent members who have suffered injury as a result of COVID-19

If you have suffered injury from developing COVID-19 or have tragically lost a family member to the condition, then please call Unite’s COVID-19 PI team on 0800 709 007.

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