Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 14 December 2020

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.

07 December 2020

Sainsbury’s ‘acting like Scrooge’ with Boxing Day work demands on top of extended opening hours

Unite has accused Sainsbury’s of ‘acting like Scrooge’ by insisting that staff come in on Boxing Day after working extended opening hours in the run up to Christmas.

Sainsbury’s has agreed to operate reduced 10am to 5pm opening hours on Boxing Day. However, its supermarkets will be open to customers from 6am until midnight between Monday 21 December and Wednesday 23 December.

Unite accused Sainsbury’s, which expects to bring in, before tax, profits of £270 million in 2020, of putting ‘wealth above the wellbeing of its workforce’.

The union called on Sainsbury’s to give its staff, who have worked in difficult conditions throughout the pandemic, Boxing Day to rest and spend time with their families after working extra hours in the days before Christmas.

Unite also demanded that Sainsbury’s ensure measures are in place for staff to be able to get safely home after midnight when public transport is much more difficult to access.

Victory for Welsh taxi drivers following Unite campaign

Unite Wales members in the taxi trade are breathing a sigh of relief today, as the Welsh government acknowledged their concerns and ensured hardship funding will be available for them through their local authorities. Drivers believed that the application process for discretionary grants left them marginalised and did not take into account the devastating economic impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on their jobs.

Taxi Branch Secretary, Yusef Jama, said: “Drivers across Wales will be relieved to see that Welsh government have listened to their concerns and kept taxis in mind when allocating funding for financial support. I’m extremely proud of the solidarity our branch has shown, being so vocal and making sure their concerns were heard loud and clear.”

09 December 2020

Lack of Scottish government support for the taxi trade is driving workers into poverty

Unite Scotland has released findings from an online survey of over 200 taxi drivers which has revealed the devastating impact on the trade with many harrowing stories from drivers who are struggling to financially survive. Many drivers are regularly working 16-17-hour days with a shift being determined as having been ‘good’ if £50 is cleared.

The Unite Scotland survey shows that 30% of drivers have been unable to access any financial help from government support schemes.

Unite Scotland is demanding the Scottish Government adopt similar targeted schemes such as in Northern Ireland and Wales to support the taxi trade. In Northern Ireland, taxi drivers can get a £1500 grant as part of a £19m support fund. The trade union is also asking that the £30 million discretionary fund announced by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on 17 November for local authorities be released immediately in order to provide support for businesses and taxi drivers.

Unite Scotland has criticised ‘loopholes’ in a number of Scottish and UK Government schemes which have led to drivers being unable to access financial support, which the survey findings substantiate because they do not have rateable premises or operate business bank accounts. If drivers are not in receipt of Universal Credit or legacy benefits, then they are also ineligible for the £500 self-isolation support grant.

Bradford bus drivers vote overwhelmingly for strike action over safety

Bradford bus drivers have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over First West Yorkshire’s continuation of ‘dangerously unsustainable’ scheduling.

Out of the 350 bus drivers at the Bowling Back Lane site entitled to vote, nearly 300 voted in favour of strike action against the company’s refusal to restore schedules to pre-pandemic levels.

Unite said traffic and service levels have returned to near normal but members are still working extended shifts brought in during the initial lockdown.

The working patterns currently in place are causing fatigue and stress for drivers, which is a danger to both themselves and the public.

In the interests of the public, the drivers have decided to wait until after the New Year to announce strike dates.

More than half the country wants the £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit made permanent

More than half the country wants chancellor Rishi Sunak to continue permanently with the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit (UC) due to end in April 2021, according to a survey carried out for Unite, as millions face a descent into poverty.

The survey carried out by Survation revealed that 54 per cent of those polled wanted the £20 boost to Universal Credit, already claimed by six million people in the UK, to be extended beyond next April.

The survey shows that 40 per cent of Conservative supporters back the uplift, with 70 per cent of Labour supporters in favour of the increase. The widespread public mood to hold back ‘poverty’ is further reinforced with 51 per cent of those earning £40,000 and over annually also supportive of the rise being made permanent.

The survey follows hard on the heels of reports by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Fabian Society on the threats of destitution and poverty for millions of people, as the pandemic continues to take its toll on the UK economy and jobs.

Unite said that the UK had long had one of the weakest welfare safety nets in Europe which had been cruelly exposed by the pandemic – and it would be morally and financially repugnant to end the £20 uplift.

10 December 2020

DHL ‘must improve’ COVID safety procedures for drivers on JLR Halewood contract

DHL has been told it ‘must improve’ coronavirus safety procedures for drivers working on its Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) contract in Halewood, Liverpool.

Unite said staff have raised concerns that vehicles used by drivers who had subsequently tested positive for the virus were not being disinfected.

When Unite health and safety reps brought workers’ concerns to the attention of the company, DHL dismissed the issue and accused the stewards of being on a ‘witch hunt’.

Unite slammed DHL for disregarding a ‘potentially serious infection control issue’ flagged by its staff and said the company’s response indicates that Unite stewards risk being unfairly targeted for performing their roles.

Unite national officer, Matt Draper, said: “This incident comes at the same time as DHL drivers on the Burton Biscuits and AB World Foods delivery contract prepare to strike over worker victimisation and poverty pay.

"DHL must improve COVID safety procedures for its Halewood drivers. That starts with taking their concerns seriously and meaningfully engaging with Unite’s well-trained health and safety reps rather than intimating that they will face repercussions if they speak out again."

London facing looming bus strikes as workers reject attacks on pay and conditions

Unite the union, which represents over 20,000 London bus drivers, is warning that the capital could face a period of widespread industrial action in early 2021 as workers are set to be balloted on attacks to their terms and conditions and low pay offers, which are being pursued by different bus operators in the city.

Members employed by French company RATP on West London routes, which are operated as London Sovereign and Quality Line, will shortly begin to be balloted in a dispute about pay and proposed cuts to their terms and conditions.

Meanwhile, Unite is preparing to re-ballot over 3,000 members at Singapore-owned company Metroline, which operates bus routes in North and North West London, early next year over proposals to introduce remote sign on.

Under remote sign on drivers do not report to depots to begin work but meet their bus at an alternative location such as a bus stop. Drivers are only paid for direct driving time and Unite estimates this is an effective eight per cent cut in pay.

In addition to cuts in pay, Unite is also opposed to remote sign on due to concerns including:

  • Safety: There will be no checks to ensure a driver is fit and well to drive
  • No access to toilet facilities, rest and canteen facilities
  • Risk of exposure to COVID-19 when travelling to the bus meeting point
  • Increased concerns about driver fatigue.

Unite officer for London buses, John Murphy, said: “Bus workers are coming under attack on pay and conditions from bus operators throughout London. As well as insulting pay offers (which are real terms cuts) there is the proposal to roll out remote sign on, tear up contracts with guaranteed hours and replace them with zero-hour contracts.

"Unite is strongly opposed to any cuts and remote sign on will be the biggest one yet.

"Unite has been attempting to resolve these matters via negotiation but this has currently been unsuccessful.

"Unite is now beginning the process of balloting members for industrial action and this will ramp up in the new year. If members vote in favour, strike action could begin this winter."

11 December 2020

‘Forgotten’ maintenance staff at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital accept inflation-busting 4.5 per cent pay rise

About 50 maintenance staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital have accepted an inflation-busting 4.5 per cent pay increase for 2020-2021.

Unite the union, which represents the majority of the electricians and plumbers working on the outsourced Serco contract, said that the pay award went ‘some way’ to reducing the pay gap with directly employed NHS estates staff at other Norfolk hospitals.

The basis of Unite’s claim was that its members at the hospital in Norwich had fallen behind, not only industry pay scales, but the rates paid to directly employed staff at other Norfolk NHS trusts covering the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

The pay rise, backdated to 1 April 2020, also applies to maintenance staff at the Cromer and District Hospital.

Unite regional coordinating officer, Mark Robinson, said: “This inflation-busting deal goes some way in reducing the gap between estate workers directly employed in Norfolk by the NHS and those working at the county’s flagship hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“Maintenance workers in Yarmouth and Kings Lynn had their roles upgraded recently which had the knock-on effect of making salaries paid by Serco uncompetitive in a marketplace where our members’ skills are highly prized.

“Our members have campaigned strongly since the beginning of the year for a sizeable increase and are pleased this has been resolved amicably – it is a well-deserved early Christmas present.

“All NHS staff this year have been absolute heroes, including the often-forgotten NHS workers such as those in estates who keep the lights on and the hospital warm.”

BA cargo workers to strike over Christmas and New Year in fire and hire dispute

Cargo workers employed by British Airways at Heathrow airport have announced that they will take nine days of strike action beginning on Christmas Day.

On Monday the 840 plus workforce who are members of Unite recorded a 98 per cent yes vote in favour of strike action, in a dispute over British Airways' attempts to fire and rehire the workforce.

The cargo workers face pay cuts of between 20-25 per cent of their pay as well as substantial cuts to their terms and conditions.

Following the yes vote for strike action, Unite delayed announcing strike dates to allow BA a final opportunity to come forward with a meaningful offer, however, it has failed to do so and therefore strike action has been announced.

Unite assistant general secretary, Howard Beckett, said: “Unite has bent over backwards to give British Airways the opportunity to make a fair offer to its cargo workers and it has failed to do so.

“As a consequence, Unite has no option but to announce strike action.

“Our members are taking this action as a last resort. They are aware that it will cause severe disruption to air freight entering the UK, but they simply can’t afford to lose a quarter of their pay.

“Even at this late-stage, British Airways' new chief executive Sean Doyle can do the right thing and avoid this strike action.

“The company needs to withdraw its plans to fire and rehire its cargo workers and negotiate a fair deal for its cargo workers.”

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