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

09 March 2021

Leicester SPS staff strike over proposed ‘penury-inducing’ fire and rehire cuts of up to £3,000

Leicester workers at aerospace parts firm, SPS Technologies, will strike over ‘penury-inducing’ fire and rehire cuts that will cost staff up to £3,000 a year.

Around 200 Unite members at SPS’s Barkby Road site will strike over fire and rehire proposals that would result in reductions to overtime pay, sick pay, paid breaks, shift premiums and other terms and conditions.

The termination of the current contracts and rehiring onto new ones would see staff lose between £2,500 and £3,000 from their annual salaries and force many into financial difficulties.

Unite said the discontinuous 24-hour strikes, which will take place on 12, 19, 22 and 26 March, as well as a separate overtime ban, will result in 'serious disruption' to SPS’s operations.

The workers will be holding socially distanced picket lines outside the Barkby Road site during the strikes.

10 March 2021

Unite statement on Public Accounts Committee Test and Trace report

Commenting on the Public Accounts Committee report on Test and Trace, Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “This report is scathing about the government’s disastrous handling of test and trace. Over two years, £37 billion has been dished out to government contacts in the private sector for a system that completely failed to do what it was supposed to.

“Time and again, ministers were told that local authorities and health services were best placed to run test and trace in their own areas. Time and again, the government ignored the evidence and continued ploughing money into outsourced services that were overly centralised and ineffective.

“The Tories justified starving the NHS of funds for years in the name of fiscal responsibility. Yet they are more than happy to blow billions upon billions on a privatised system that was a horrible failure when it was most needed and cost countless lives as a result.

“Members of the public will be rightly asking why billions are available for Tory mates to fail miserably, while NHS staff are denied a fair pay rise after months of selfless public service.”

London braced for fresh bus strikes as talks fail to progress

Bus passengers across London should be aware that they face fresh disruption throughout March, due to a series of strikes over pay and conditions.

The ongoing industrial action, which involves French bus company RATP and its three subsidiaries in the capital; London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line, began last month.

RATP's attempts to divide and rule each workforce, mean each of the three strikes involve different issues.

With schools having returned last week, and with the economy slowly beginning to open up following the lockdown, the strikes will cause increasing disruption for London’s commuters.

Workers at London Sovereign, who operate bus services in North West London went on strike on Wednesday (10 March). The pay dispute is a result of the workers being offered a pay deal of just 0.75 per cent, well below what other bus operators have offered staff.

Following Wednesday’s strike, future industrial action across the three subsidiaries will be coordinated, with strikes scheduled for successive Wednesdays on 17, 24 and 31 March.

Johnson’s aviation plans not a long-term solution warns Unite the Union

Unite has warned that proposals by the prime minister Boris Johnson to reduce aviation passenger duty (APD) will not create long-term improvements in the UK’s connectivity.

Mr Johnson said that his government will launch a consultation to consider cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights, in order to improve regional connectivity across the UK.

Unite is concerned that, while a reduction in APD will in the short-term provide a kick start to the industry (which has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic) by offering cheap flights, the policy is deeply flawed and is repeating previous mistakes of relying on the free market to improve connectivity in the UK.

Unite believes that a more successful long-term strategy should involve the greater use of public service obligation (PSO) routes, where the government provides a financial incentive for airlines to operate key routes, which would ensure that connectivity can be better achieved.

As an added benefit the creation of PSO routes could be made conditional on airlines meeting environmental requirements which will provide a financial incentive to airlines to green their operations.

11 March 2021

Greedy Go-Ahead: Paying shareholders dividends while cutting bus drivers’ wages

The multi-million pound Go-Ahead transport group has been accused of sheer greed following the publication of its half yearly results.

The results show that the company made £12.3 million profit on its local bus service, while its London and international bus service recorded a profit of £37.3 million.

The company has also revealed that it is intending “paying a dividend at an appropriate level in the 2021 calendar year”. The announcement of the dividend payment is controversial for two reasons:

Firstly, while the number of bus passengers has been severely reduced during the pandemic and especially during lockdowns, the company has received £218. 4 million of funding from the government to continue to run bus services and this money will now be used to pay a dividend to shareholders.

Secondly, Go-Ahead’s subsidiary Go North West, which operates bus services in Manchester, is locked in a vicious fire and rehire dispute with the Unite. The company is attempting to force drivers onto vastly inferior contracts, which will result in workers having to work longer for no extra pay, an effective pay cut of £2,500 per annum.

As a result of Go North West’s fire and rehire tactics, over 400 bus drivers in Manchester have been on all-out continuous strike action from Sunday 28 February. In an attempt to break the strike the company has established a ‘rogue bus service’, which is risking passengers’ health by operating overcrowded buses and dramatically increasing the danger of transmitting COVID-19.

12 March 2021

Go North West using taxpayers’ money to wrongly furlough workers and undermine Manchester bus strike

Go North West, which is part of the multi-billion pound Go Ahead Group, has been accused of using taxpayers’ money to furlough workers caught up in the current strike.

Rather than seek a settlement to the dispute, Go North West has launched a ‘rogue bus service’ and has moved its operations from its Queens Road depot to a separate location in the city.

As a consequence of the decision to relocate its depot, the company has decided to furlough several workers usually based at the Queens Road depot rather than require them to work at the separate depot. The affected workers include shunters, re-fuellers and cleaners.

By using the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS), the company is effectively using government money to undermine legal strike action. Unite has contacted HMRC to raise its concerns about Go North West’s actions and question their legality.

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.