Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 18 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.

12 January 2021

Councils urged to take back of control of gyms and pools, as leisure centre giant ‘sheds 2,000 jobs’

An estimated 2,000 staff on zero hours contracts have been shed during the pandemic by controversial leisure services giant, Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), reinforcing the case for the gyms, swimming pools and sports halls it operates to be taken back under local authority control.

The call has come from Unite which claims that the more than 500 jobs that GLL has cut since last March are just the permanent posts and does not take into account the 2,000 workers on zero hours contracts who have been told there is no longer work for them.

Unite said that, instead of authorities bailing out GLL with council taxpayers’ cash, according to media reports, the money could be better used by councils ‘taking back control’ of GLL’s 230 leisure facilities across the UK.

London bus drivers ‘once again in eye of coronavirus storm’ need vaccine and protection priority

Commenting on Transport for London (TfL) figures that 57 staff, including 42 bus drivers, have died from coronavirus, and that around 10 per cent of TfL staff are currently either on sick leave or self-isolating, Unite lead officer for buses in London, John Murphy, said:

“London’s bus drivers, who are truly essential frontline workers, paid a tragically high price during the beginning of the pandemic. These disturbing figures show that once again, bus drivers and other transport workers are in the eye of the storm as they keep London moving.

“More needs to be done by both government and employers, however, to protect drivers and other transport workers. This includes the provision of higher quality PPE, increased testing and the appropriate prioritisation of frontline workers, such as bus drivers, in receiving the vaccine.

“Members of the public have their part to play to keep communities and transport workers safe as well, by wearing masks on buses and trains at all times and keeping journeys down to an absolute minimum.”

13 January 2021

A probe called for into the boss of Preston firm where workers are owed up to £170,000 in unpaid wages

An urgent investigation into allegations that the owner of Lunar Automotive in Preston has not paid his workforce to the tune of about £170,000 while they have been furloughed has been called for by Unite.

Unite wants HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to probe the business affairs of the company’s owner Nicholas Marks into allegations that he claimed money from the taxpayer-funded Job Retention Scheme (JRS) but did not pass onto the 45-strong workforce who have not been paid since August last year.

The activities of Nicholas Marks were raised in the Commons by Iain Duncan Smith over a social enterprise called Clarity Products employing those with disabilities which was taken over by Mr Marks a year ago.

The former Tory leader said that many of the ‘decent, but very vulnerable people’ at Clarity had not received their wages nor support for childcare and national insurance contributions have not been paid. The sum totalled £200,000, MPs were told.

Unite said that the company, previously known as Lunar Caravans, was taken over by Mr Marks in August 2019, but no caravans have been produced since then. The workforce was furloughed in March last year, and the equipment and machinery have been moved to a site in Blackpool.

Unite Wales welcomes Arriva Wrexham depot closure due to coronavirus

Unite the union has welcomed the decision by Arriva to close its Wrexham depot in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus amongst its employees and the wider community.

Unite has managed to negotiate 100 per cent pay for drivers during the period of closure which will be very welcome news for our members during this extremely challenging period.

14 January 2021

Banking union calls for face coverings to be mandatory in bank branches

Unite has called for urgent action to make face coverings mandatory in all bank branches.

Despite staff working tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to keep bank branches open, the workforce continues to often find themselves unprotected on the frontline. Each day workers in banks have their health put in danger because some customers refuse to comply with the legal requirement to wear a face covering before entering an indoor setting.

Dominic Hook, Unite national officer, said: “Unite is increasingly alarmed at the number of customers visiting bank branches without any face covering. Such blatant disregard for bank staff, who as key workers have continued to work in branches throughout the pandemic, is completely disgraceful.

“Unite is calling on the financial services industry to work with government to make sure that the legal requirement for face coverings is enforced in all bank branches as a matter of urgency. The sector should follow the lead of HSBC and crack down on those customers who refuse to comply with the law.”

Norwegian Air job losses ‘another devastating blow’ for Gatwick

More than 1,000 redundancies of Norwegian Air staff based at Gatwick is ‘another devastating blow’ for the airport’s workers, the local community and the aviation industry.

Unite said Norwegian Air workers, who were not consulted about the job losses and are owed outstanding wages and redundancy pay, must be ‘the first priority’ during the insolvency process of Norwegian Air’s UK arm.

The union, which represents around 700 Gatwick-based Norwegian Air staff, said it was putting ‘emergency measures’ in place to support staff and assist them to lodge claims with the redundancy payment service as well as launch potential legal proceedings.

Unite regional officer Jamie Major said: “While coronavirus travel restrictions are certainly the reason for Norwegian Air’s difficulties, poor business decisions in the years preceding the pandemic have not helped. The airline’s staff should not be made to shoulder the burden of Norwegian Air’s UK insolvency and must be the first priority during the administration process.

“For nearly a year, as thousands upon thousands of aviation jobs have been decimated by COVID-19, Unite has warned ministers that the kind of support for the industry seen in competitor nations is desperately needed here. It is now absolutely imperative that government steps in with a stabilisation and recovery plan to prevent even more aviation jobs and businesses going to the wall.” 

Unite Scotland throws full support behind Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council

Unite Scotland has given its full support to plans for a new advice and research council to modernise industrial injuries benefits in Scotland, as the nation continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unite Scotland is supporting ‘The Proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill’ lodged by Mark Griffin MSP which aims to support the devolved industrial injuries benefits system so that it reflects modern workplaces. The council could also consider new and emerging diseases including COVID-19. The consultation is open until 1 February 2021.

Unite has repeatedly called for key workers who have faced unprecedented levels of workplace hazards during the pandemic to be given more government support including the need to recognise COVID-19 as a workplace disease.

Unite Scotland demands vaccination jabs for Ambulance Control Room and NHS 24 workers as fears grow over COVID outbreaks

Unite Scotland has today demanded that Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) control room and NHS24 staff be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccination programme as fears grow over potential outbreaks which could bring the nation’s emergency response units to a shutdown.

Around 500 workers are employed by SAS as control room handlers and around 1,650 workers are employed at NHS24. The plea comes as the Scottish government published an evidence paper, which informed the latest restrictions, stating that Scotland's R number showed the virus was "likely in another growth phase".

The Scottish government has argued that both workforces are not ‘patient facing’ and do not qualify for the immediate prioritisation of the vaccination programme. However, the nation’s leading trade union is highlighting that if a COVID-19 outbreak where to happen, as has happened in multiple call centres, then the nation's emergency response capabilities could be significantly compromised.

15 January 2021

Teaching support staff at two London primary schools gear up for strike action over jobs’ threat

Strike action looms over plans to axe more than half the teaching support staff at two east London primary schools as ministers stress the importance of education.

The federation claims that the reason for the restructuring is that there are falling numbers of pupils attending the school, but Unite disputes this, saying its members now have more time to spend with often disadvantaged children.

Unite regional officer, Onay Kasab, said: “One of the major areas of concern during the pandemic has been the impact on children and their education.

“Ministers from Boris Johnson downwards have repeatedly stressed the importance of education during the pandemic as the key to enhanced life chances.

“However, the bosses at Soaring Skies Federation don’t appear to have got the prime ministerial ‘memo’. Cutting school staff will only exacerbate the impact on the education of our children

“Our members have sent a very clear message, with their 100 per cent vote for strike action, that they are prepared to strike to defend jobs, pay and employment conditions.”

Unite Scotland construction members furious as Scottish government maintains green light to non-essential construction

Unite Scotland has reacted with disbelief that non-essential construction works are set to continue following a review by the Scottish government. This is despite the latest variant of the virus being up to 70 per cent more transmissible and a Scottish government published paper stating that Scotland's R number showed the virus was now "likely in another growth phase".  Hundreds of construction workers continue to travel across Scotland potentially leading to cross-country infections.

In April 2020, after repeated concerns raised by Unite Scotland, the Scottish government instructed companies not linked to essential services to close with immediate effect, and that in the event of construction sites ceasing work that workers’ pay must be protected.

Unite Scotland has been inundated by construction members in a state of fear for themselves and their families, fearful of catching the virus and equally fearful of losing their job and being plunged into poverty if they refuse to work. Unite Scotland is calling for the Scottish government to re-adopt its previous position based on the April 2020 criteria which permitted the following essential construction works:

  • those to create or repurpose facilities that will be used directly in COVID-19 related activities
  • projects to create or repurpose facilities that will be used to accommodate key workers, or free up space in facilities to be used directly in COVID-19 related activities
  • projects which are considered essential public services, the repair and maintenance of critical infrastructure.

Airbus Broughton workers to ballot on shorter working week

Unite members employed at the Airbus plant in Broughton are to be balloted on a plan to move to a shorter working week to save jobs. The plan which has been negotiated between Unite and Airbus will see a reduction in the working week of 5%-10% for a short period of time. If agreed, the proposal will remove the possibility of compulsory redundancies and provide a roadmap to a resumption of full time working and a way out of this COVID-19 crisis.

Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Regional Secretary, commented: “Coronavirus has been devastating for the Aerospace sector and specifically for Airbus in the UK. If agreed by the workforce at Broughton these proposals for a shorter working week will protect jobs and remove the possibility of compulsory redundancies. We have already lost close to 1,000 high quality jobs at Broughton during the coronavirus crisis, we can’t afford to lose any more.

"This plan to reduce hours will come with a reduction in pay for our members but crucially it offers a route out of the current crisis which will not involve any further job losses. Unite and our senior reps on site believe this is the best option available and we will be strongly urging our members to accept the proposal.”

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.

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