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

ICTS Security at Aberdeen Airport to cut workforce by up to a third as Unite repeats demand for government support

Unite has reacted to the proposal by ICTS Security at Aberdeen Airport to cut its workforce by up to 34 jobs out of 95 by pledging to do ‘everything possible’ to stave off compulsory redundancies.

Unite has an ongoing campaign to "Save Scotland’s Airports" following a Fraser of Allander report conducted on behalf of Unite, which estimated 2,330 direct and indirect job losses in civil aviation, with an overall economic loss of around £140m to the Scottish economy after accounting for knock-on effects. Companies and airlines operating in and from Aberdeen Airport have various redundancy consultations underway, which Unite is directly involved in, threatening more than 100 jobs.

Liverpool region lockdown must include full furlough and improved test and trace

In response to a Liverpool lockdown, Unite Regional Secretary for the North West, Ritchie James, said: “The spread of coronavirus throughout the Liverpool region can only be brought under control through an efficient and well-functioning test and trace system.

“If the people of Merseyside and the surrounding areas are to be asked to put themselves through another lockdown, they must do so with the knowledge that there is a rock-solid tracking system that will allow the economy to open up again without major disruptions. For all Boris Johnson’s boasts of ‘a world beating’ test and trace system, the country is yet to see even an adequate one materialise.

“The localised lockdown support for workers forced to stay at home is also inadequate, especially for those on low wages. People can barely afford to live on the minimum wage as it is, so how does the government expect them to live on just two thirds of that? Rishi Sunak needs to rethink his approach and provide at least the level of support provided when the Job Retention Scheme was announced in March."

13 October 2020

ESS labelled UK’s most heartless employer over sign or be sacked policy, as Parliament prepares to debate cruel practices

ESS, part of the multi-million pound Compass Group, has been branded the UK’s most “heartless employer”, due to the manner in which it is treating staff working on Ministry of Defence bases, who are being forced to sign contracts making them hundreds of pounds worse off or immediately lose their jobs.

The affected workers, employed on outsourced MoD contracts, primarily undertake cooking and cleaning roles; the majority are paid the minimum wage and are facing cuts in hours as well as a reduction in their working weeks.

The workers are facing a cut in their working weeks from the normal 52 weeks to 50, 49 or even 48. Some of the workers face losing up to £1,600 a year.

ESS’ approach is even more controversial than that of BA and HAL as it is telling workers to ‘sign or be made redundant’. Unite does not believe this is a genuine redundancy situation as the company has not issued either a HR1 or section 188 notice or undertaken a genuine consultation process on redundancies.

ESS are blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the changes but its MoD contracts have been unaffected, and the workers were required to keep working throughout lockdown.

14 October 2020

Cornwall’s Tory MPs ‘failing to open the batting’ for cash-strapped public sector and economy

Cornwall has been ‘hung out to dry big-time’ by the lack of government support for the coronavirus-hit tourist economy and the shortfall in funding for local government.

Unite said the latest blow is as a result of plans by Cornwall Council to axe 400 directly employed jobs out of a total workforce of 5,600 by March 2021 as a result of Whitehall’s failure to pay for the costs incurred by COVID-19, leaving the council with a £40 million deficit to fund statutory services.

Unite accused Cornwall’s six Conservative MPs, including environment secretary, George Eustice, of ‘failing to go in to bat’ for the county, which has some of the most serious pockets of deprivation in the UK.

Cornwall’s economy has been buffeted by the curtailed holiday season due to the lockdown, and local firms are closing or shedding jobs.

Low paid defence workers in Somerset and Devon being forced into poverty by “heartless” multinational in sign or be sacked scandal

Workers being paid the minimum wage on outsourced Ministry of Defence contracts across Somerset and Devon face being plunged into poverty by their employer.

The workers who undertake cleaning and catering roles are employed by ESS, part of the multi-billion-pound Compass Group, on outsourced ministry of defence contracts.

Workers are set to lose up to £1,600 a year, if they agree to the cut in their working weeks.

Unite is representing workers at several armed forces bases including Norton Manor Camp in Taunton, RNAS Yeovilton in Yeovil and RM Chivenor near Barnstaple in Devon.

15 October 2020

Threat to 2,000 Marston’s jobs renews Unite’s call for hospitality support package

The announcement that the pub chain Marston’s is to axe more than 2,000 jobs has led Unite to renew its call for the government to give concrete support for the struggling hospitality sector.

Unite, which has about 580 members at Marston’s, mainly working in the breweries at Wolverhampton and Burton upon Trent, is seeking clarification on the impact on its members.

Marston’s said new measures, such as the 10pm curfew and restrictions in Liverpool, meant 2,150 roles are going to be impacted.

Unite Regional Officer, Rick Coyle, said: “This grim news from Marston’s is another nail in the coffin of the struggling hospitality industry and today Unite renews its call for the government to produce a concrete and coherent package of measures to support the sector which is now on life support. 

“Thousands of jobs across the UK are depending on such a package being delivered urgently by chancellor Rishi Sunak, otherwise the UK’s hospitality sector will become a wasteland.”

Heathrow rejects workers’ offer to payback bonuses to help avert industrial action

Management at Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) have rejected out of hand proposals made by Unite, which could have averted the possibility of industrial action.

Using a controversial fire and rehire scheme, HAL is currently in the process of trying to force over 4,000 workers to accept pay cuts of up to £8,000 per annum (25 per cent of their pay), which would plunge them into poverty.

Under the proposals put forward by Unite, all workers would have returned their airport profit bonus of £700 each and all directors, including the chief executive John Holland Kaye, would also have returned their bonuses. Mr Holland Kaye was contractually entitled to a £565,965 bonus and a share in success payment of £1.043 million due to be paid in August.

Shareholders would also have been expected to return the £100 million of dividends paid to them earlier this year.

In addition to staff returning their bonuses, Unite proposed that the majority of staff (aside from new starters on lower rates of pay) have their pay rates revert back to December 2019 levels.

As a consequence of Heathrow’s fire and rehire pay cuts policy, Unite has begun balloting members for industrial action. The ballot closes on Thursday 5 November.

Unite has argued that HAL is guilty of using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for forcing through long-held ambitions to cut staff wages and, as a consequence, the dispute is all about ‘greed and not need’.

This is further emphasised by the pay cuts being permanent and not temporary in nature.

Unite Regional Co-ordinating Officer, Wayne King, said: “Unite presented clear alternatives to Heathrow’s management which would have offset the need to make such draconian pay cuts.

“Our proposals were rejected out of hand, with the company even lacking the good grace to fully cost what had been proposed.

“Unite has consistently said since this dispute began that the pay cuts are all about greed and not need, management’s refusal to even engage in considering alternatives proposals bears this out.”

Urgent support needed for hospitality workers as capital moves into tier two lockdown

In response to the tier two lockdown in London, Unite National Officer for Hospitality, Dave Turnbull, said: “The imposition of further lockdown measures in London will have a devastating impact on the thousands of workers whose jobs depend on the capital’s already stricken hospitality industry. 

“While it is essential that the public and the NHS are protected from the worst effects of this terrible virus, these restrictions must be accompanied by immediate support for hospitality jobs. 

“Not to do so risks a tidal wave of job losses, as businesses struggle to survive under even harsher constraints and a further downturn in trade. Thousands of hospitality workers, who earn an average wage of just £8.84 per hour and often do not have guaranteed hours, will be plunged below the poverty line if urgent help is not forthcoming.

“Within the next few days, ministers must extend the support provided for workers in tier three areas to those in tier two. This is especially crucial for London, where hospitality is a hugely important part of the economy.” 

16 October 2020

Rolls-Royce workforce give resounding yes vote for strike action in battle to save historic Lancashire factory

Rolls-Royce workers at Barnoldswick in Lancashire have overwhelmingly voted for industrial action in a battle to preserve the factory, the cradle of the jet engine.

In August, Rolls-Royce announced that it was intent on offshoring the production of its Trent Engine blades, which are made at the site, to a plant in Singapore, with the loss of 350 local jobs.

The workers, who are members of Unite, recorded a 94 per cent yes vote in favour of industrial action.

As a consequence, Unite has set Rolls-Royce a 96 hour deadline to withdraw its plans to off-shore blade production to Singapore or confirm that comparable alternative work requiring a similar number of workers will be transferred to the plant. Both options would require long-term cast iron guarantees to be made about the company’s commitment to the site.

If the deadline is not met, Unite will have no alternative other than to provide notice to the company.

Unite Regional Officer, Ross Quinn, said: “The Rolls-Royce workers at Barnoldswick have given a resounding yes vote in favour of industrial action, as they are not prepared to see their jobs offshored.

“The entire town is firmly behind them; Barnoldswick was the birthplace of the jet engine, Rolls-Royce has been the principal employer for nearly 70 years, and they are not prepared to let that disappear without a fight.

“Unite fully understands the challenges the company faces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but it is simply immoral to be asking the government for financial support and then using that money to make workers redundant and offshore their jobs abroad.”

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.