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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 20 July 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.

13 July 2020

Benefit sanctions ‘particularly cruel’ amidst widespread jobs destruction

The continued use of benefit sanctions, just as the country is entering a period of heavy and sustained job losses, is ‘unnecessary and particularly cruel’ and must be stopped.

The call came as Unite prepared for a #UniversalDisCredit online day of action on Wednesday 15 July, as part of a Unite Community campaign to reform the most punitive elements of Universal Credit (UC) and the wider welfare system. 

In addition to the eradication of sanctions, Unite is calling for an end to the five-week wait for payment for UC claimants.

Unite is also demanding that the temporary £20-a-week additional payment provided to UC and Working Tax Credits claimants to help during the pandemic is made permanent and provided to all benefit claimants.

Unite warmly welcomes Welsh government face coverings decision on public transport

Unite has welcomed the decision by the Welsh government to make the use of face coverings mandatory on public transport (including taxis) in Wales. Unite Wales has argued that the previous decision to make face coverings on public transport discretionary did not go far enough. Some bus companies across Wales, including Arriva, have already made face coverings compulsory on their services.

14 July 2020

Unite backing summit to win support for West Midlands as 8,000 jobs go in under a week

Unite is demanding political support for businesses and workers striving to stem the job loss tsunami that has seen at least 8,000 jobs disappear from the region in the past week.

Unite fears that the real jobs loss total could be much greater as the knock-on effects of rising unemployment and falling spending across the region takes hold.

Workers across the region were left bitterly disappointed that the chancellor's financial statement last week was silent on measures to save the region's jobs.

Council outsourcing firms told ‘to come clean’ on their pandemic finances

Companies with council outsourcing contracts are being urged to open their books so that Unite can check that they won’t be using COVID-19 as a smokescreen to shed jobs, and cut pay and conditions.

Unite is targeting the ‘top five’ local government outsourcers, which are claiming financial hardship, but are refusing to let the union have the financial data to see if their claims stack-up.

So far, the bosses at APCOA Parking; street cleaning outfit Continental Landscapes; leisure management company Fusion Lifestyle; controversial social enterprise giant Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL); and waste management firm Urbaser have all stonewalled Unite’s requests.

Unite estimates that, in total, these five companies hold more than 70 local authority contracts and employ at least 16,500 workers in the UK.

15 July 2020

Post-pandemic ‘Back to work’ training programme launched

Unite is launching its largest-ever training initiative to ensure that its members, whose jobs have been lost or threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, have the necessary skills to return to the workplace.

Unite has teamed up with global edtech company, Olive Group, to provide a portal called MC2 which has more than 100 accredited courses available for the union’s 1.4 million members.

For £4-a-month, a Unite member and up to six additional users can exclusively access courses that dovetail with an individual’s training needs and MC2 will also match a person’s work profile to available jobs.

Unite Director of Education, Jim Mowatt, said: “The UK is facing the biggest economic crisis for three centuries because of COVID-19 – and a serious recession is very much on the cards with unemployment rates possibly rising to nine per cent.

“The jobs of tens of thousands of our members are under threat because of the slump in demand in the economy and as the furlough scheme tapers off in the autumn. There are also non-COVID-19 factors, such as the onward march of automation, that have to be taken into account.

“In a response to the crisis, Unite has created its most comprehensive training programme ever for our members, as well as for their families and friends, in the UK and Ireland who can now access more than 100 courses, tailored to their particular industry and trade, to enhance their skills.

“This educational ‘passport’ will enable them to require the best possible skill-set to return to the world of work - and play their part in kick-starting the post-pandemic UK economy. 

“The MC2 platform will also match an individual’s profile to available jobs – real opportunities that will help our members get back on their feet.”

Latest round of BBC job losses is deplored by Unite

The latest round of job losses announced by the BBC in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been deplored by Unite.

The BBC said that increased financial pressure, as a result of COVID-19, means the number of job losses in BBC News will rise to about 520, which is 70 more than the 450 originally announced in January, and will include senior management posts.

Unite said that consultations with the BBC’s unions will begin shortly and the corporation is seeking voluntary redundancies from the news division.

First major poll post-Sunak summer statement finds a country divided and sceptical on job protection measures

Government measures intended to support workers have failed to boost public confidence as the Job Retention Scheme recedes, according to a major poll.

Instead, they have left the country divided, with workers unsure about their future and with more people sceptical about the measures than supporting them.

The poll - commissioned for Unite by leading pollsters Survation - finds that there are more people opposed to the measures announced by the chancellor last week, with the public believing the Job Retention Bonus (JRB) should be targeted towards those industries most in need.

  • 48 per cent of those surveyed believe the Job Retention Bonus isn’t targeted towards the industries most in need of support.
  • 43 per cent believe that the Job Retention Bonus doesn't go far enough to safeguard jobs hit by the pandemic.
  • 50 per cent believe the £10 meal deal scheme is waste of taxpayers' money.
  • 60 per cent believe the government is wrong to remove free parking for NHS hospital staff as lockdown ends.

16 July 2020

£320m potential loss to Scottish economy following ‘critical blows’ to Scottish aerospace engineering and civil aviation

Unite Scotland has released findings from a report produced by the nation’s leading economic research institute, Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI), which shows a potential £320 million blow to the economy and nearly 5,000 job losses across Scotland.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, said: “The findings in the Fraser of Allander Institute report commissioned by Unite into the critical blows our aerospace engineering and civil aviation sectors are enduring is eye-watering. Over the course of several months there is an estimated loss to the Scottish economy of £320 million and nearly 5,000 direct and indirect jobs are on the brink of being lost forever. This is the gravity of the situation facing both sectors and make no mistake about this both are on the cusp of terminal decline without immediate intervention from both the UK and Scottish governments. It’s essential that government gets all the key stakeholders in these sectors around the table immediately so that we can protect and save as many highly-skilled jobs as possible.”

Centrica’s ‘fire and rehire’ 20,000 workers latest example of COVID-19 ‘smokescreen’ for job cuts

The plan by Centrica, owner of British Gas, ‘to fire and rehire’ its 20,000 employees is the latest example of organisations using the coronavirus emergency as a smokescreen to shed jobs and erode pay and conditions of workers.

Unite said the decision of the energy giant follows on from other high-profile employers, such as British Airways and the University of Sheffield, which have also adopted similar ‘deplorable’ employment practices during the pandemic.

17 July 2020

London’s hospitality workers invite tourism minister to join ‘Save our Jobs’ demo

Tourism minister, Nigel Huddleston MP, is being invited to join London’s hospitality workers at their socially distanced ‘Save our Jobs’ demo outside the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Tuesday 21 July to find out first-hand the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on them and their livelihoods.

The demo comes with Unite warning that the knee-jerk, mass redundancies sweeping the sector are storing up a skills shortage crisis for the future.

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.