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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 12 July 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.

05 July 2021

Time for Javid to hand the NHS a ‘generous’ 73rd birthday present

New health and social care secretary Sajid Javid should give the NHS a generous birthday present to celebrate its 73rd birthday, as the first step in rejuvenating the health service and rewarding staff for all their hard work during the pandemic, Unite said.

The union said Javid needs to unwrap ‘a golden hello’ by pledging the resources to substantially boost NHS pay and tackle the ‘frightening’ backlog of nearly five million patients in England waiting for procedures and operations, such as cancer treatments and hip replacements.

Unite said that the accelerating pace of the expensive, and often inefficient, privatisation of health services to profit-hungry healthcare companies needed to be reversed by Javid.

Living with COVID without furlough or sick pay `utterly irresponsible' and will cost jobs

Unite has denounced the government's insistence that the country must `live with COVID', while refusing to provide the furlough and sick pay support needed to protect workers' jobs and health.

Steve Turner, Unite's assistant general for manufacturing, who was central to securing the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme - the furlough programme - said he was ‘absolutely staggered’ by the government's moves while the R-rate in England runs at 1.3 and case rates are back at January levels.

He said: "Working people have lost their lives or had their health destroyed by this crippling virus. Our communities' health is not some bone to be chucked to the Tory backbenches. 

"The government wants to turn this into a debate on freedom when the truth is that this is nothing other than a shameless effort to move on from their mishandling of the crisis."

Mask wearing should remain compulsory on public transport

Unite is calling on the government to reverse proposals to end the requirement for masks to be worn on buses and trains.

Unite issued its warning as ministers have indicated that from Monday 19 July the wearing of face masks will no longer be compulsory but a matter of ‘personal responsibility’.

Unite also believes that restrictions on the maximum capacity of passengers on buses should also remain in place.

06 July 2021

Exhausted NHS staff face ‘unbearable’ pressures as COVID infection rates set to soar

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid’s forecast that COVID cases could top 100,000 daily, as restrictions ease, will leave already exhausted NHS staff buckling under the ‘unbearable’ pressure.

Unite said that there were serious questions to be asked over what it described as the ‘gung-ho’ easing of restrictions from 19 July unveiled by the prime minister.

Unite said that the pressures, for example, on the biomedical scientist workforce who test for COVID are intolerable, with holidays being curtailed to meet the expected surge in demand for testing.

Extra funding was needed urgently to meet the increase in cases and hospitalisations as the successful vaccination programme had not completely broken the link with people getting infected.

Unite seeking urgent meetings with London mayor and TfL over maintaining face masks on capital's public transport

Unite is seeking urgent meetings with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and senior figures at Transport for London (TfL), to argue that passengers in the capital should continue to be required to wear masks.

Unite is seeking the meetings as a result of the prime minister’s announcement that when the remaining COVID-19 restrictions end on July 19, passengers will no longer be required to wear face masks and it will instead become a matter of ‘personal responsibility’.

The threat of bus workers being exposed to COVID-19 is especially sensitive in London due to the very high number of workers who have contracted the virus, with over 50 bus workers succumbing to the disease.

07 July 2021

Maintain mandatory face masks in banks to protect staff

Staff working in bank branches face danger and unnecessary risk if the government goes ahead with scrapping face covering rules, according to Unite.

The union, which represents staff working in bank branches across the UK and Ireland, is calling on mandatory face masks to be maintained in order to keep staff safe. Banking staff are classified as key workers and have worked in branches throughout the pandemic.

Fire and rehire turns into ‘sign or be sacked’ for striking East Midland’s Brush Electrical Machines engineers

Engineers employed by Brush Electrical Machines (BEM) striking over fire and rehire cuts of up to £15,000 have now been threatened with a ‘sign or be sacked’ ultimatum.

The ultimatum came after it emerged that BEM, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, had been sold by venture capitalists Melrose to private equity firm One Equity Partners.

The 30 engineers, who live in the East Midlands but service generators around the world, have been on continuous strike since 25 May over attempts to shift them onto vastly inferior contracts.

They have now been told by BEM that if they do not sign the new contracts by 24 July they will be sacked.

08 July 2021

Government changes on amber list travel rules will not return aviation to full health

Unite has warned that the government’s announcement that people who have been double vaccinated will no longer have to quarantine when they return from an amber list country, will not lead to the aviation sector immediately returning to normality.

Unite is also highlighting that while quarantine rules are being lifted for double vaccinated people returning to the UK, the ability of passengers to travel is still restricted depending on the rules in the country of destination.

Unite warns Clarks’ entire Somerset operation could strike over fire and rehire attacks

The entirety of shoemaker Clarks’ operations in Street, Somerset, including headquarters and warehouse staff, could strike over 'dramatic' fire and rehire attacks.

Unite said its members are considering strike action after being told they will be ‘fired’ from their old employment contracts and ‘rehired’ onto new inferior ones.

More than 100 Clarks warehouse staff, who are members of the Community Union, as well as a smaller amount of warehouse staff who are members of Unite, are also considering strike action over similar proposals.

09 July 2021

£3bn council funding blackhole from pandemic will ‘tear communities apart’ unless fixed

A £3 billion council funding blackhole caused by the cost of the pandemic will ‘tear communities apart’ unless it is fixed.

Read what Unite national officer for local authorities, Jim Kennedy, said when responding to a BBC investigation that found 170 councils in the UK are facing a total funding shortfall of £3 billion by 2023-24 here.

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.

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.