Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 11 January 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.

04 January 2021

Get a grip, work with the unions and cease this Russian roulette with health and the economy

The government must stop playing Russian roulette with the public's health and the wider economy with a national lockdown in order to get a grip on the deadly virus that is once again ripping through the country, said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.

He also urged the government to work with the trade unions who know what is happening on the frontline.

Calling for a nationwide lockdown without further delay, he said that schools must be closed to contain the spread of the virus, with laptops and internet access for pupils and furlough support for parents forced to stay at home. He reiterated that the union movement has a 'standing army' of health and safety experts that could be deployed to make workplaces safe but warned that the continued refusal to provide adequate sick pay for workers who have to isolate must end, with sick pay, among the lowest in developed nations, raised to a living wage level.

Len McCluskey said: "This is a disease that attacks the poor and vulnerable and it must be met with a government response that does not supercharge these existing inequalities. Without hesitation, the prime minister and chancellor must step forward with a full programme of income support for working people and their children, including the long-promised but yet to be delivered laptops and internet access for home schooling. 

"It shames our nation, the fifth richest on earth, that many of those who need to isolate are not able to afford to do so. This pandemic will not be defeated until the diabolical choice between their health and their income has been removed.

Unite calls for schools to be closed and staff properly protected

Unite added its voice to the call for all schools to be shut for most pupils, due to the huge rise in COVID-19 infections and in pledging support for school workers who remove themselves from danger.

Workers’ health not compromised

The union recognises that schools will need to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. This will require Unite members to continue to work in schools and the union is demanding that their health is in no way compromised as they continue to provide an essential frontline service.

Minimum safety standards

As a minimum to ensure safety Unite is demanding that:

  • All school staff are regularly tested
  • Staff only operate in a COVID-secure environment
  • Schools thoroughly update risk assessments and staff are fully consulted during this process and are able to easily access a copy.

05 January 2021

Hospitality workers in the eye of the COVID-19 storm need more support

Unite is urging the government to not ignore the plight of workers in the sector following the announcement of a return to a full national lockdown in England and Scotland.

Business support

Unite made its call after the chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that hospitality businesses will be provided with additional support and receive grants of £9,000 each.

Hospitality workers have found themselves in the eye of the storm since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As a result, tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs.

Pay crisis

The remaining workers have spent long periods on furlough and have also experienced attacks on their terms and conditions; for instance, there has been a major increase in zero hours contracts.

Hospitality workers, like many others, are in an increasing precarious position with the ban on evictions for private sector tenants ending January 11 and the opportunity for mortgage holidays and the ban on repossessions ending on January 31.

Minimum wage rate

Unite is calling for an immediate reform to the job retention scheme so that the national minimum wage is introduced as a floor and no one is furloughed at a rate below this.

06 January 2021

Unite statement on the slump in UK car sales and need for an industrial strategy for the sector

Commenting on the slump in UK car sales, Unite national officer for the automotive industries, Des Quinn, said: “Last year was one where the UK automotive sector went into deep freeze because of COVID-19.

“However, as we enter 2021, there are strong signs of hope for the sector, the jewel in the crown of UK manufacturing, with the free trade deal with the EU now agreed and the vaccine programme coming on stream which will, eventually, restore consumer confidence.

“But this ‘thaw’ for the sector desperately needs a joined-up and coherent industrial strategy to ensure that a ‘green industrial revolution’ is in place for the next decade and beyond.

“One of the heartening features has been the best-ever year for electric cars. However, this progress on electrification needs ‘hands on’ government involvement and investment which have been sadly lacking from ministers so far.

“We call on the business secretary Alok Sharma to bring forward a tailored industrial blueprint for the automotive industry to build on what has been so successfully achieved over the last 20 years.”

UK annual new car registrations dropped to 1.63 million in the toughest year for the market since 1992, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). However, it was the best-ever year for electric cars with battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles’ market share up to 10.7 per cent.

07 January 2021

Jenrick urged to follow Scotland’s footsteps and extend ban on evictions for renters

Thousands of renters are only days away from homelessness unless the government extends the ban on evictions due to end on Monday 11 January.

The union is calling on the Westminster government to do ‘the decent thing’ and follow the example of the Scottish Government which has extended the evictions’ ban until 31 March.

Millions of people in the UK rent and many have struggled with payments as a result of income insecurity and unemployment caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

The ban on evictions has been a lifeline during this time, but with this soon to be removed, the union fears that families face being thrown onto the street at the coldest time of the year.

In a letter to housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick, Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, and Easington MP, Grahame Morris, called for ‘immediate steps’ to extend the eviction ban and give renters the necessary security of tenure, while the virus is still rampant.

Ministers should also reinstate the ‘Everyone In’ emergency policy of March 2020 with a nationwide ‘Everyone Back In’ effort for those living on the streets at a time when COVID-19 cases are again so high and temperatures so low.

08 January 2021

Unite statement on Mayor of London declaring ‘major incident’ as COVID-19 sweeps through capital

Commenting on the Mayor of London declaring a ‘major incident’, Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “Unfortunately, London mayor Sadiq Khan’s declaration of ‘a major incident’, as coronavirus rates soar in the capital, has been on the cards for a number of days.

“We are in a race against time to get the vaccination programme fully up to speed – and we urge all members of the public to abide strictly by the social distancing rules.

“We strongly echo the call to stay at home from the mayor and NHS leaders. The biggest thing people can do to help the NHS is ‘stay at home’, with the infection rate now running at 1 in 30 people in the capital.

“Every individual’s actions and personal responsibility can contribute to saving lives – we can’t emphasise this enough.

“A strategy for delivering the vaccine to health service staff and the nation needs to be developed, executed and publicised and should include an almost wartime mobilisation of resources to roll out the vaccination programme as quickly as possible and a massive recruitment campaign to fill some of the estimated 100,000 vacancies in the health service, coupled with an early and significant pay rise for health service staff to boost morale.

“I urge all health service staff with issues of PPE, vaccinations and testing to contact their trade unions and the relevant management within their employer, so we can be part of the process to ensure our health staff are not left high and dry at this moment of 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.

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.

Unite has set up a register for all our members to record their experiences of working during the COVID-19 crisis. The survey should only take a few minutes to complete - but by taking this time, you're helping your union keep Unite members safe. You can complete the survey here