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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 10 August 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.

3 August 2020

BA crew and staff will accept the same deal as pilots - so offer it to them

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, has said that the deal offered to British Airways' pilots would be acceptable to tens of thousands of crew and staff members currently threatened with drastic ‘fire and rehire’ proposals.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Len McCluskey accused the airline of ‘industrial thuggery' and said that on behalf of the tens of thousands of Unite members threatened with either signing far inferior contracts or dismissal altogether 'I will accept the pilots' deal, but we are not being offered it.'

BA struck a deal with its pilots, which would preserve the wages of a significant number of the pilot corp. Unite claims that BA has adopted a more constructive and transparent approach with its pilots, which it refuses to bring to discussions concerning crew and other airline staff.

C P Pharmaceuticals world class workforce in line to produce COVID-19 vaccines

C P Pharmaceuticals, through its parent company Wockhardt, has entered into a contract with the UK government to produce millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The agreement - which reserves capacity at the C P Pharmaceutical site in Wrexham - will kick in once a viable vaccine is identified. Unite represents hundreds of workers at the world-class pharmaceutical site.

Dave Griffiths, Unite Regional Officer, commented: “Unite is extremely proud of our members at C P Pharmaceuticals, which will hopefully in the near future be at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. It is testament to the world-class workforce at Wrexham that they have been chosen to mass produce vaccines once a viable one is identified. We, of course, hope that this production will start in the near future, as it is only through a process of mass vaccination that our lives can return to normal. Once again, it is union members that are at the forefront of the fight against this terrible disease."

4 August 2020

Unite pays victory for Ford contract cleaners at Dagenham and Dunton

Cleaners at Ford Dagenham and Ford Dunton Technical Centre have accepted an inflation-busting pay rise of three per cent for 2020.

The 150 cleaners are employed by Hamton Environmental cleaning contractors and Unite hailed this inflation-busting increase, backdated to 1 January this year, as ‘a significant victory’.

There are also additional financial improvements to terms and conditions, including £25 a week extra for first aiders, long-service awards and a new attendance bonus scheme.

Unite Regional Officer, Matt Smith, said: “We welcome this inflation-busting pay rise offer for some of the lowest paid workers in the automotive sector.

“We are especially pleased as it included additional money for volunteer first aiders and a new attendance bonus for employees, which could see an employee with 100 per cent annual attendance rewarded with £500 extra pay.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, many of these cleaners have stepped up to the plate working tirelessly so that the much-needed ventilators for the NHS could be produced at Dagenham during the lockdown.”

‘Unpaid career break’ plan renews call for council leisure services to be taken back ‘in-house’

Plans by social enterprise leisure giant Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) for its permanent staff to take an unpaid career break until at least April 2021 has led to renewed calls that its council services are taken back ‘in-house’.

The ‘back in-house’ demand has come from Unite as it campaigns for the ‘top five’ local government outsourcers, including GLL, to ‘open the books’ to verify their claims of financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Unite estimates that GLL has over 50 local authority contracts and employs 14,000 staff nationally – and that about 70 per cent of these workers are on casual and zero hour contracts.

Unite fears that not enough permanent staff will volunteer for the so-called ‘unpaid career break’ and that will mean drastic cutbacks in the work offered to those on casual and zero hour contracts.

5 August 2020

easyJet base closures `a kick in the teeth' for employees, passengers and vital regional airports

Major airline easyJet's confirmation that it intends to close its bases at Newcastle, Southend and Stansted has been described by Unite as “a kick in the teeth to employees, passengers and three vital regional airports."

The airline's decision will threaten the viability of the affected airports and is likely to lead to further job losses. The long-term future of Southend is particularly unclear as the airport has already seen the closure of the Aer Lingus base, which was operated by Stobart Air.

Unite National Officer for Civil Aviation, Oliver Richardson, said: “This is a kick in the teeth for easyJet employees, workers at the affected airports, their passengers and the communities these bases support.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, easyJet’s priorities have been wrong; they have sought to pay shareholders dividends, secure a multi-million-pound government loan to buy new aircraft, but not to use its cash reserves to defend its own employees’ jobs.”

6 August 2020

Unite's unique support set to reassure extremely vulnerable workers as they return to work

Amid the confused messaging concerning vulnerable workers returning to work as the COVID-19 lockdown eases, Unite has produced detailed guidance to help ensure these workers return safely to the workplace.

An estimated 627,000 workers are deemed to be in the extremely vulnerable category. Recently, the government changed its advice to say that this group of workers no longer has to shield but should aim to return to the workplace.

However, with lockdown going on for longer than anticipated and local lockdowns emerging as a growing feature of the continued response to the virus, and with many workplaces without the necessary health and safety specialists, Unite has acted to provide clear information designed to reassure an uncertain workforce.

Unite's new checklist is for use by its workplace reps as they assist members who have been shielding to safely return to work provided it is “COVID-secure”.

Thousands of NHS workers take part in socially-distanced demos for pay justice

Thousands of NHS workers across the UK took to the streets on Saturday in the growing campaign for pay justice for health service workers.

Anger is mounting as NHS workers were overlooked in the latest round of public sector pay rises – despite more than 500 NHS and social care staff dying from COVID-19.

Unite, which has a 100,000 members in the health service, is supporting its members wishing to attend the socially-distanced protests, so that the government can see the depth of discontent and frustration of NHS staff who continue to be in the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.

Unite has made its position clear on pay – that it is seeking a substantial pay increase for its members.

RSPCA using COVID-19 as a ‘woeful’ excuse to sack 279 workers

RSPCA bosses have been accused of using COVID-19 as an excuse to sack 279 workers as part of a jobs’ cull strategy that predates the pandemic.

Talks between Unite and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Chief Executive, Chris Sherwood, saw the union repeat its call for the consultation period to be extended so that counter-proposals can be fully considered.

Unite said that the RSPCA should be using its £60 million in reserves to cushion the charity, founded in 1824, through the pandemic and safeguard jobs.

Welsh aerospace sector must get UK government support before “it is too late”

Unite Wales has welcomed Sir Keir Starmer’s call for the UK government to extend its furlough scheme for the aerospace sector. The leader of Labour party made the call following a visit to the Airbus site at Broughton where, alongside Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, he met senior Unite representatives to discuss the crisis that is engulfing the aerospace sector.

Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Secretary, commented: “Unite very much welcomes Sir Keir Starmer’s call for an extension of the furlough scheme for the aerospace sector. The aerospace sector is an exceptional case which is taking an enormous hit due to the effect of COVID-19 on air travel. The aerospace sector is extremely important to Wales and supplies thousands of the most highly skilled and best paid manufacturing jobs that we have. The extension of furlough, alongside a comprehensive financial support package for the aerospace sector is essential if Airbus is to thrive and produce the wings of tomorrow."

7 August 2020

UK-wide protests urge chancellor to keep aviation promise and prevent industry being ‘devastated’

UK-wide protests were held between Saturday 8 August and Monday 10 August to demand that chancellor Rishi Sunak prevents the UK’s aviation industry from being ‘devastated’ by fulfilling his promise to provide support for the sector.

In contrast to the crisis hit airports currently seen around the country, August 9 marked the busiest day of 2019 for global air travel. 

Around 60,000 redundancies – equivalent to the population of Tunbridge Wells – at airlines, airports and other aviation-related businesses have already been announced, however the government is yet to implement a plan to secure the sector’s recovery.

Members from Unite demonstrated outside airports and other locations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as campaigned on social media, to demand ‘immediate government support’ for the sector.  

Bleak day for staff 'forced out by company greed' will scar spiteful BA indefinitely

On the day that more than 6,000 staff are being forced to leave British Airways and the remaining workforce will discover their intended fate, Unite has warned the airline that this ‘gross injustice’ will destroy precious relationships with passengers and employees for many years to come.

Unite has written to its members to reassure them that it will provide advice and support to all those receiving letters from the company, which will indicate who has been selected for redundancy above and beyond the 6,000 employees who leave the airline today.

In one particularly spiteful act, BA is requiring those who leave the company after years of loyal service to sign away their legal rights to challenge their selection or face losing the rights to staff travel, long regarded as an established right for those leaving BA.  

Unite is continuing to resist compulsory redundancies and has pledged to fight to the end to fend off attacks on pay that could see some staff lose £20,000 from their annual earnings.

Commenting for Unite, Howard Beckett, the union's Assistant General Secretary, said: "These workers have given years of dedicated service to this company, some as many as 40 years, and indeed to our country as many were involved in the repatriation of British citizens at the outset of this pandemic. Today they will be dismissed by email by an employer whose spiteful mistreatment of them is nothing other than despicable.

"We say to the workforce today, do not sign or accept anything that this company puts to you without first consulting your union. BA want you to waive away your legal rights to fair treatment, but we say to the airline, do not underestimate either this union or this workforce.”  

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.