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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 22 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.

15 March 2021

Banbury coffee workers vote for strike ballot over ‘fire and rehire’ plans

Workers at the JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) site in Banbury, Oxfordshire have voted to proceed to an industrial action ballot over plans to ‘fire and rehire’ nearly 300 workers at the coffee factory.

Unite said that its members had voted by 96 per cent in a consultative ballot to hold a full-scale industrial action ballot, with the option to strike, in response to the Dutch-owned company issuing notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees.

The workers’ anger has been fuelled by the financial results from the multi-national last week, which reported ‘a record in-home organic growth of 9.1% in 2020’. This increase has been augmented by the boom in coffee drinking in the UK during the year-long pandemic.

Unite’s members are also furious at the proposed changes to the company's pension scheme, which will mean the ending of the final salary system and introducing an 'inferior' defined contribution scheme that will be subject to the vagaries of global stock markets.

16 March 2021

Royal and SunAlliance staff ballot for possible strike action

Unite the union has started a ballot of the workforce at Royal and SunAlliance (RSA) over a threatened pay freeze in 2021.

The union has called on RSA to reverse its deplorable decision to impose a pay freeze for its outstanding workforce, who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, to ensure the maintenance and survival of the business. Any industrial action will impact customers of MORE THAN insurance.

Unite national officer, Rob MacGregor, said: “Unite is calling for RSA to give all staff a fair pay increase and acknowledge the commitment employees have shown since the health pandemic. Over the last 12 months, thousands of RSA employees opened their homes to their employer to ensure the needs of customers have been met, others have continued to risk their health by travelling into their offices.”

17 March 2021

‘Final call' for aviation support: 5,164 aviation jobs lost every month as industry ‘forgotten’ by government

The UK has suffered twice the jobs losses in aviation and related industries than France and Germany in the past year, according to Unite.

Furthermore, on a job-by-job basis, the French and German governments have given more than twice the financial support for every aviation and aerospace job than the UK. 

An estimated 5,164 UK aviation and related jobs have gone every month since February 2020, which is detailed in new research produced by independent experts Acuity Analysis for Unite. 

The research was published 17 March - the anniversary of the promise made to the sector by the chancellor Rishi Sunak that a support package would be forthcoming.

Unite says that the year of delay and limited delivery means that it is now ‘final call' for a package of support and urges the chancellor -- who made no mention of the sector in his recent Budget - to make good on his commitment in order to assist the sector to build its way out of this crisis.

17 March 2021

Unite plans spring offensive in Heathrow fire and rehire battle

Unite has announced 41 strikes at Heathrow Airport this spring, in a bitter dispute following the company’s decision to fire and rehire its entire workforce, slashing their pay and reducing their conditions.

Targeted strike action will begin on Friday 2 April and there will be 41 strikes over a 23-day period, with the final strike scheduled for Sunday 25 April. The targeted strike action will involve engineering, airside operations, landside operations, fire service, campus security and central terminal operations.

The dispute is a result of Heathrow Airport Limited’s decision to fire and rehire its 4,000-strong workforce. Workers have experienced pay cuts of up to £8,000 (25 per cent of earnings) and report being forced to downsize, move to cheaper areas or give up their car, as a result.

Unite has described the decision to fire and rehire the workers as being all about greed and not about need. If this was about making savings due to the COVID-19 pandemic than pay cuts would have been temporary rather than permanent.

17 March 2021

Unite Wales welcomes payment to Welsh NHS and social care workers

Unite has welcomed the announcement by the Welsh government that all Welsh NHS and social care staff will receive a one-off taxable payment of £735 in May. The one-off payment is separate to the annual pay award, which is still to be decided.

Richard Munn, Unite Wales lead officer for health, commented:

“Unite warmly welcomes the one-off payment to NHS and social care staff in Wales and we thank Wales’ Labour government for recognising the incredible work NHS and social care staff have carried out during the pandemic. Our members have worked tirelessly, providing care and support to the Welsh public during Covid. Considering all the additional financial pressures that Covid has created for the Welsh government, this additional payment is a really positive gesture.”

17 March 2021

Unite demands review of picketing restrictions following Police Scotland intervention at SAICA dispute

On March 17, Unite Scotland demanded a review of picketing restrictions in Scotland following the dispersal of workers involved in industrial action at SAICA Packaging UK in Edinburgh.

Workers involved in a peaceful picket at the company’s Edinburgh site were dispersed this morning by Police Scotland after threats of fines and further ‘punishment’ for anyone orchestrating the dispute.

Unite Scotland has criticised the actions after conforming to all the statutory requirements with regard to the pandemic and informing Police Scotland in advance as to the commencement of the strike and no objections were raised at that time.

The trade union has also written to the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, demanding that the Scottish Government and Police Scotland adopt the same approach being applied to workers in England who have been afforded picketing rights. 

Unite members at SAICA Packaging UK - based at Edinburgh and Milngavie - began an official overtime ban on 14 March with 24-hour stoppages to follow each Wednesday starting from 17 March 2021. The industrial action follows a decision by the company to detrimentally vary the contracts of Unite members as they relocate to the new Livingston site in 2022.

17 March 2021

Portsmouth council support for ‘Right To Food’ campaign applauded by Unite

Unite has warmly welcomed Portsmouth city council’s endorsement of the ‘Right To Food’ campaign as food bank use soars across the city.

On 16 March, the council agreed to ‘Right To Food’ be incorporated into the National Food Strategy (NFS) and will write to the NFS’ independent lead Henry Dimbleby to further this request.

The NFS is an independent review commissioned by the government to plan for a better food system at a time when an estimated 11 million people in the UK are living in ‘food poverty’, made worse by the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic.

19 March 2021

‘Damning verdict’ on government failure to prevent bus driver deaths

Unite has described a new report from the University College of London, which found that an earlier lockdown last year would have saved bus drivers’ lives, as a “damning verdict on the failure to protect vulnerable key workers”.

Unite represents over 20,000 bus drivers in London.

The key finding from the report, published on 19 March, was that 80 per cent of the bus workers who died of COVID-19 in the first wave had ceased work by 3 April 2020.

The report says: "An earlier lockdown would likely have saved lives, with many of the drivers who died having underlying health conditions, putting them at greater risk."

19 March 2021

Law needs to change so skilled care workers have a decent pay rise, says Unite, following ‘deeply disappointing’ Supreme Court ruling

The government needs to step in and change the law following the Supreme Court ruling (on 19 March) that carers, who have to sleep at their workplace in case they are needed overnight, are not entitled to the national minimum wage (NMW) for their whole shift.

The call came from Unite, which said the Supreme Court had failed to recognise the ‘immense contribution’ that highly skilled care workers make during the night delivering essential adult social care, especially during the year-long pandemic.

Unite said that the ruling would do nothing to tackle the ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis with thousands of vacancies in the care sector and the wider funding ‘gap’ in social care that the government has repeatedly said it was going to address.

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.