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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 15 June 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.

9 June 2020

More than 430 jobs under threat at Spalding food producer is “a bitter pill”

Unite called the announcement that more than 430 jobs are under threat at the Bakkavor food manufacturing plant at Spalding, Lincolnshire a “bitter pill”.

Unite is meeting management to ask for the business rationale for the 433 job cuts at one of the four sites at the Spalding plant, which produces ready-made food, such as wraps and soups – the international company is claiming a downturn in business over the last year, which was then exacerbated by COVID-19.

Welsh government face covering recommendation the wrong decision

Unite has expressed disappointment at the Welsh government for not making face coverings on public transport in Wales mandatory. Vaughan Gething, Health Minister, announced that the Welsh government was instead 'recommending' the use of three-layer face coverings on public transport.

Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Regional Secretary, commented: "The Welsh government’s announcement today that it only recommends the use of face coverings on public transport is very disappointing. As a union representing tens of thousands of frontline workers in Wales, including bus drivers, this falls well short of our members call for their use to be compulsory.”

UK government must follow French lead on aerospace and aviation or business will move overseas

Unite is calling on the UK government to follow the lead of France and provide specific support to the aerospace and aviation sectors, both of which have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steve Turner, Unite Assistant General Secretary for Manufacturing, said: “The French government is absolutely right to act to protect French aerospace and aviation skills and jobs while also delivering on climate change commitments. 

“This is precisely the sort of intervention we quickly need to see from the UK government to preserve jobs. 

“There are 1.2 million UK workers depending on the aerospace and aviation sectors for their jobs, from engineers to airline and airport staff. 

“Unless a specific support package is brought forward soon, including measures such as an aircraft scrappage scheme, then thousands of jobs will be lost and the UK will lose its standing as a world leader in aerospace.”

10 June 2020

“Let our carers keep every penny” – Unite the union call to UK government

In May, the Welsh government announced a special one-off £500 payment for those who provide direct care, in care homes and domiciliary care in the community. The payment also includes ancillary staff such as cooks and cleaners, as well as personal assistants in the community, and nursing staff employed by care homes.

The UK Tory government has said it won’t make this payment tax-free. This means our hardworking social care workforce won’t be able to keep every penny of this special £500 payment.

Unite Wales Lead Officer for Local Government, Paddy McNaught, said: "It’s a real shame that the Tories are refusing to waive charges on this special one-off payment. We all know that our social care workers have been absolute heroes. They don’t take home the big pay packets, but have given their all in caring for our loved ones.

"This is a way of showing our thanks, the UK government should see sense and support our care workers.”

11 June 2020

Unite takes case against IAG takeover of Air Europa to the European Commission

Unite has informed the EU Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, that it intends to act as a third party opposing the acquisition of Air Europa by BA's parent company IAG.

The union has strongly criticised IAG’s decision to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a new acquisition, while pleading poverty as an excuse to execute its brutal “fire and rehire” strategy on its BA workforce - stripping workers of their terms and conditions while cutting thousands of jobs.

Unite reaction to Heathrow jobs announcement

Following the announcement by Heathrow Airport that existing employment levels are not sustainable, Unite’s Regional Co-ordinating Officer, Wayne King, said:“Regrettably Unite, as the principal union at Heathrow, accepts that due to the drop in airport usage there will be a reduction in frontline roles.

“Unite has rejected strongly the prospect of any enforced redundancy programme and has instead negotiated a generous voluntary severance scheme.

“The union recognises that there are workers currently employed at the airport who are prepared to leave in order to pursue fresh opportunities elsewhere.

“Unite will assist our members throughout this process and will ensure that no worker is pressurised or coerced to apply for severance.”

Clarity call by Unite as to how Centrica job losses will affect frontline workers

Unite has demanded greater clarification on the impact on frontline workers at Centrica, owner of British Gas, following the announcement that 5,000 jobs would be culled, primarily at management level.

Unite Regional Officer, Mark Pettifer, said: “These job losses are another blow to the already fragile British economy and have created worrying uncertainty amongst the entire workforce.

“There was no clarity as to how these job losses at the various management levels would affect those delivering frontline services, such as our members who provide an essential service to British gas customers’ homes across the country.

“It was all a bit vague and unsatisfactory - and we will be pressing the company in the days and weeks ahead ‘to put flesh on the bones’ as to how these job losses will affect – or not, as the case may be – those in customer-facing roles.”

Council workers to hold ballot over ‘insulting £1.83 a day pay’ offer

About 100,000 council workers will take part in a consultative ballot to see if they wish to reject or accept a pay and conditions offer for 2020/1 which amounts to just £1.83 a day.

The Local Government Employers (LGE) offer, made in the midst of the coronavirus crisis in April, has been met with astonishment and disbelief at the lack of respect and regard shown to essential workers who have been supporting our communities throughout the crisis.

Unite’s National Local Government Committee has agreed to ballot its members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from Friday 3 July over the 2.75 percent pay offer made by the LGE. The ballot closes on Friday 14 August.

12 June 2020

Arriva face coverings decision should set the standard for Wales

Unite Wales has warmly welcomed the decision by Arriva to make the use of face coverings compulsory, aside from a small number of exceptions, on their bus services across Wales. 

The decision by Arriva is in line with Unite's call for the Welsh government to ensure face coverings are mandatory on public transport.

Unite demands re-opening of NHS Scotland pay deal

Unite Scotland has demanded that the Scottish government re-open NHS pay talks as the country’s health workers put their lives on the line during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The NHS pay order of August 2018 allowed for pay talks to be re-opened through a trigger clause, which Unite says must now be used due to the ongoing pandemic and the pay disparity which exists among public sector workers. Over 60% of NHS Scotland staff who are at the top of their pay band have been paid less than our other public sector workers over the three-year period. 

13 June 2020

It’s time to act: Transport committee aviation report must be a wake-up call to government

Unite has strongly welcomed the publication of the transport select committee’s report into the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation sector and made a strong call to the government to “act now” to implement its recommendations “without further delay”.

McCluskey: MPs absolutely correct to denounce “national disgrace” British Airways

Len McCluskey has stated that a group of MPs from all sides of the Commons is absolutely correct in its denunciation of British Airways' treatment of its staff.

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, was responding to the publication of the Transport Select Committee's inquiry into the aviation sector's reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, in which it singles out BA for fierce and unique criticism.

The damning report concludes that the airline's current consultation on staffing changes “is a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs and weaken the terms and conditions of its remaining employees”. 

In a further reflection of the committee's fury, it condemns BA's behaviour, and that of its parent company IAG, towards its employees as “a national disgrace” adding that “it falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.”

Commenting, Len McCluskey said: "The transport committee's report pulls no punches and is absolutely correct to denounce British Airway's conduct in such unique and unequivocal terms. 

"Outside of the BA boardroom bunker, it is hard to find one, single defender of the actions and supporter of the airline's plans.  Once again, BA has shown that if there is a wrong way to go about things, then that is the reckless path that it will choose.

"The case the company makes for sacking 12,000 and trashing the wages of those who stay on the workforce is full of holes because it is a transparent effort to generate profits out of a crisis.  BA is fooling nobody.  The parent company easily has the cash and assets to weather this storm, and if it did not then it would not contemplate for one moment the one billion pound purchase of another airline.”

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.