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

12 May 2020

Safe work and safe travel must go hand-in-hand to beat COVID-19 as we re-awaken the economy

In response to the government’s guidance on safer working, Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, said: “Safe workplaces and safe travel to work must go hand-in-hand in the strategy to beating this disease. Together, they are absolutely crucial to building wider public confidence that it is right and safe to re-awaken the economy, which we all want to happen in order to keep people at work and earning.

“However, the government is in danger yet again of sending mixed signals. In a matter of hours, construction and manufacturing workers will be expected to return to work using a transport system that cannot yet observe social distancing obligations.  

“Crucially, employers must not pressurise workers to imperil themselves and others by crowding on to buses, trains or tubes.” 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme extension must mean no rush to redundancies

Unite welcomed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended in its present form until July, then tapered from August until October – again urging employers to stand behind their workforce and not rush to make redundancies.

13 May 2020

Prime Minister urged to ‘step away’ from public sector pay freeze

Following revelations that the government is considering a pay freeze for public sector workers, Unite urged the Prime Minister to rethink the plans.

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “This is a huge own goal by the government. Public sector workers are on the frontline saving lives, keeping people safe and maintaining the economy.

“To suggest that their hard work, endeavour and sacrifice should be rewarded with a freeze in their pay is simply insulting.

“A public sector pay freeze is totally at odds with what the general public wants.”

Unite reiterates need for financial support for aviation industry

Unite represents over 65,000 workers in civil aviation and, following the announcement that TUI is set to cut 8,000 jobs worldwide, has reiterated its call for the government to develop specific financial support for the aviation industry.

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Diana Holland, said: “The announcement from TUI underlines that globally all aviation and travel operators are under severe pressure.

“The announcement of the extension of the job retention scheme was a vital lifeline for the aviation sector and we urge employers like TUI to use this as a time to support jobs.”  

"The government must also now bring forward a plan for specific support for aviation in the UK if the sector is going to survive in any meaningful form.”

Statement on safe reopening of schools issued by unions

Unions with members in the education sector published a joint statement on the safe reopening of schools.

This statement followed a longer statement to the Secretary of State on Friday (8 May), which set out in full detail the principles and tests necessary for the safe reopening of schools. It was signed by AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

Unions set out five tests government and colleges must meet before staff and students can return

Trade unions stated that staff and student safety must be guaranteed before colleges can reopen as they set out five tests that must be met by government and colleges.

Unions representing staff working in further education colleges called for stringent hygiene measures, protection for vulnerable people and isolation for all suspected cases to avoid colleges becoming COVID-19 hotspots.

The unions said that social distancing plans had to extend beyond the classroom to cover things like travelling to and from college and socialising. To help deal with those challenges, they said that staff and students who can work from home should continue to do so. 

15 May 2020

Unions’ blueprint on NHS reopening is a ‘rocket booster’ for ministers to tackle PPE and testing crises

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, is one of the 16 unions that has contributed to the blueprint designed to make the NHS the safest possible environment for patients, staff and visitors as the lockdown is eased by the government, and out-patient clinics and operations resume.

Unite National Officer for Health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “This blueprint by the health unions should act as a rocket booster for ministers to really get to grips with key elements of the pandemic.

“A continuing shortage of PPE is a dark stain on the government’s response to the coronavirus emergency. We have ambulance, biomedical scientist, nursing and speech and language therapist (SALT) members telling us that there are still shortages and, in some cases, when it does arrive it is out-of-date, ill-fitting or not up to standard.

“The testing regime totters between the shambolic and the messy. There is little openness and transparency about how the government will hit its increased 200,000 daily test target.

“We have thousands of healthcare science members who could be used to better effect and engaged more substantively, so we can avoid the situation where samples are sent to America for analysis.

“Finally, our members are furious at the leaked Treasury assessment that a public sector pay freeze could be on the cards to pay for the cost of the pandemic.”

Tory donor JCB axing up to 1,450 jobs is ‘a slap in the face’ for working people and Boris Johnson, says Unite

The decision to axe up to 950 direct jobs and another 500 agency workers is ‘a slap in the face’ to working people by digger manufacturer JCB.

Unite said that the company is walking away from the government’s job retention scheme (JRS), just as the time comes for it to pay its fair share towards supporting its workforce.

Unite Assistant General Secretary for Manufacturing, Steve Turner, said: JCB is preparing to throw 1,500 workers under the bus just as the government asks employers to pay their fair share towards protecting jobs and keeping the heads of loyal workers above water.”

“We are in desperate need of a clear plan and post-Covid-19 strategy from government to support UK Plc.  Building resilience in our lost supply chains, re-shoring jobs and protecting skills alongside regional economies.

“This is exactly what JCB should be doing to save these jobs. It’s a major exporter as well as domestic supplier and needs to play its part during this national emergency to safeguard manufacturing jobs, bring home its supply chains and spearhead a post-pandemic recovery.”

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.