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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 1 September 2020

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 August 2020

ESS Group accused of using COVID-19 to ‘steal’ working weeks and pay from MoD workers

ESS, which is part of the multi-million-pound Compass Group, has been accused of using the COVID-19 pandemic to ‘steal’ the working weeks and cut the pay of outsourced workers on Ministry of Defence contracts.

Workers employed by ESS from throughout the UK have been contacting Unite about plans to reduce their working weeks from the normal 52 weeks in a year to just 50 or even 49 weeks. In some cases, workers are also having their hours reduced.

Some of the predominantly low paid workers have estimated that they will be around £800 a year worse off from the ‘theft’ of their working weeks alone, while others fear the attack on pay will affect the value of their pension.

Unite's response to Co-operative Bank job losses and branch closures

Unite has expressed disappointment at the announcement by The Co-operative Bank to make job losses, close bank branches and halt all recruitment.

The bank has told its workforce that 350 jobs will be lost across the bank and 18 branches will be closed.

Unite National Officer, Rob MacGregor, said: “Unite is deeply disappointed that The Co-operative Bank has made the decision to cut 350 staff and close 18 bank branches.

“Job losses are always unwelcome, however, given the repeated restructuring exercises that this workforce has been through over the past 10 years, the news today will be particularly painful. 

“During these extremely testing economic times, Unite wants all employers to work with the trade union to avoid job losses and protect the livelihoods of our members.

“Unite will continue to press The Co-operative Bank to put strategies in place to secure as many jobs as possible and avoid compulsory redundancies.”

London warned of bus chaos as angry drivers poised for strike action

Unite has warned that London commuters should be braced for potential major travel disruption this autumn.

Unite is in the process of preparing to formally ballot all of its bus drivers employed by Singapore-owned Metroline in a dispute over ‘remote signing on’, which Unite describes as a huge `experiment with the capital's vital transport system' and designed for profits not passengers.

Unite Regional Officer, Mary Summers, said: “This is a massive slap in the face to drivers who bore the brunt of COVID, losing friends and colleagues, suffering illness themselves, while keeping London moving.

“Remote sign-on is all about boosting profits to the detriment of bus drivers’ health and welfare, as well as the safety of and service to passengers.

“This is just a huge profits-driven experiment with the capital's vital transport system. It is a mean-spirited, penny-pinching measure.  

"There are also huge safety questions as no one will have checked if a driver is fit to drive, potentially putting at risk up to 100 passengers at any time.”

Unite statement on new Birmingham lockdown measures

Unite has issued a statement on the lockdown measures in Birmingham.

Unite Regional Secretary for the West Midlands, Annmarie Kilcline, said: “Hopefully these measures will help prevent the need for a full-scale lockdown in Birmingham, which would have a severe impact on the regional economy, put our public services under further strain and affect the mental well-being of every citizen. 

"These measures should be a reminder to all employers and organisations, if one were needed, that strict social distancing and safety measures must be maintained. 

“Unite has thousands of members across the West Midlands, from manufacturing and the food and drink sector to the NHS and local government, and any further tightening of the lockdown will have a potentially devastating impact on firms, jobs and the wider economy. We must do all we can to avoid that scenario.”

26 August 2020

Arriva in Kent accused of lax response to bus driver testing positive for COVID-19

Bus company Arriva has been accused of a lax response to public and worker safety when one of its bus drivers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Unite raised its concern following the news that a driver based at Arriva’s Southern Counties Northfleet depot in North Kent had tested positive for COVID-19.

On discovering that they were infected, the driver acted responsibly and immediately contacted their employer. The union is concerned that the bus company did not act with sufficient swiftness to draw this news to the attention of workers and passengers.

The driver had been in work the previous day and spent 45 minutes in the staff canteen and also spent time on a ferry bus with other drivers while being taken to their route.

Unite estimates that at least 8-10 people had been in contact with the driver for 15 minutes or more. The union advised the company that, in keeping with health and safety best practice, these workers should self-isolate on full pay at least until they could be tested and undergo a full consultation with a medical professional.

Job losses another bitter blow to Gatwick, highlighting government's chronic failure to support UK aviation

The announcement that Gatwick Airport is to make 600 workers redundant is another bitter blow to the south east and highlights the government’s chronic failure to support the aviation sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The job losses amount to roughly a quarter of the workforce directly employed at Gatwick Airport. 

Unite has been in initial consultation with the airport in a bid to avert sweeping redundancies. 

27 August 2020

UK wide survey: One in two Britons favour extending coronavirus furlough to prevent jobs tailspin

As the German government confirms that it will extend its protection for jobs until the end of next year, a national poll conducted on behalf of Unite has revealed that Britons want the government to extend its Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for an extra year.

The poll is evidence of deep-seated public concern that the UK is to cease the protection for workers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic too early and before the true extent of the economic storm heading for communities has been understood. 

The survey of more than 1,000 working adults ­– conducted as the UK experiences job loss numbers not seen in living memory – revealed that nearly half (49 per cent) want the government to emulate the Germans by extending furlough for another year. Support for extending the JRS was greatest in the South (49 per cent) and London (57 per cent).  

Among 18-54 year olds, 60 per cent want the government to extend the scheme, indicating a serious desire for continued assistance among the majority of the workforce.

The UK's economy has taken the biggest hit of all the G7 major economic nations as a result of the health and economic crisis, and economists agree that the outlook is fragile. 

British Airways BAEM cabin crew disproportionately hit by job cuts at Gatwick

Unite has revealed evidence of potential widespread jobs discrimination among British Airways cabin crew based at London Gatwick.

The airline, which has been labelled a 'national disgrace' by MPs, has pressed ahead with its plans to fire and rehire its workforce, also making thousands of staff redundant.

Unite had raised concerns with BA that the airline's planned redundancy selections could negatively impact the already low representation of BAEM workers among cabin crew at London Gatwick (7 per cent before the redundancies, compared to 13% nationally and 40% in London). Unite called on British Airways to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment before making job cuts but the airline refused to cooperate with the union.

Unite conducted its own Equality Impact survey, which the union described as "truly shocking".

Under half (41%) of workers who identify as white have been made compulsorily redundant or have been demoted. The majority (61%) of BAEM flying staff respondents have been made compulsorily redundant.

Banham Poultry must step up and pay self-isolating Norfolk workers ‘adequate sick pay’

Workers who need to self-isolate at a Banham Poultry factory in Attleborough, Norfolk, where 75 staff have tested positive for coronavirus, must receive ‘adequate sick pay’.

Unite, which has members at the site but is not recognised by the company, said the factory must increase sick pay from the statutory minimum of £95.85 a week that its low paid workers currently receive. 

Unite Regional Officer, Miles Hubbard, said: “Banham is owned by Chesterfield Poultry, which as a multimillion-pound firm can clearly afford to top up the statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week that its low paid workers are expected to live on if they need to self-isolate.  

“Throughout this crisis, Unite has warned food processing employers that poor pay combined with a lack of company sick pay risks staff having to choose between self-isolating or hoping for the best and going into work because they cannot afford to be ill.

“Refusing to provide adequate sick pay is unjust in any circumstances, but particularly so during a pandemic, as well as increasing the risk to other staff and the wider public.”

28 August 2020

Over 100 MPs come together to press for Job Retention Scheme to be extended to devastated aviation industry

Over 100 MPs have joined forces to press the chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) for the aviation sector until March 2021.

The MPs have signed a letter, coordinated by Unite, which urges the chancellor to help stop the crisis engulfing the sector and also to recognise the wider economic benefits of keeping workers active within the sector, not unemployed and collecting benefits.

The aviation industry has been among the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with 60,000 jobs in the sector hanging in the balance.  

31 August 2020

Unite statement on face coverings on flights

Unite has issued a statement on the use of face coverings on flights:
 
“The UK government and the civil aviation authorities must promote and enforce a clear policy on the wearing of face coverings and masks for airline passengers.

“It should not simply be left to ground staff and cabin crew to police the public during this pandemic.

“Passengers must be totally clear on this policy, their responsibilities and the penalties if they fail to abide by the rules before they even arrive at the airport.

“The protection of public health requires us all to act responsibly. 

“Passengers have to be given clear direction. They should be informed that travel through an airport and on an aircraft will requires the wearing of a mask or face covering, unless there are clear medical exemptions for the individual passenger.

“Passengers should be informed of such a policy, and that refusal to abide by this policy will incur denied boarding, removal from a flight, or a financial penalty and even a travel ban.

“We would also urge the industry and the UK government to make it a priority to get a common approach agreed across all common travel areas.”

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 an employment law query during the crisis, you can visit the Unite Legal Services coronavirus COVID-19 page, or call Unite’s dedicated coronavirus COVID-19 Legal Advice Line on 0333 202 6557.

For more information on coronavirus (COVID-19) related benefits, Unite has set up a dedicated benefits advice line which members can access by calling 0333 202 6563.

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 020 8799 4023.