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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 23 November 2020

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.

16 November 2020

Heathrow airport set to grind to halt as strikes announced

Workers at Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) are set to take targeted strike action in the dispute over plans to fire and rehire its 4,000 workers on vastly reduced pay.

The first 24-hour strike will take place on Tuesday 1 December, with a further one day stoppage on Monday 14 December. A 48-hour stoppage will take place on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 December.

The strike action by members of Unite will involve firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, operational and airside workers and will effectively close the airport. The workforce at HAL recorded an 85 per cent vote in favour of industrial action.

Unite regional coordinating officer, Wayne King, said: “The airport is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to permanently cut workers’ pay.

“These decisions will turn Heathrow from one of the most successful airports in the world into a workplace run on bullying and intimidation, it’s disgraceful. In the midst of a global pandemic, no key worker should be forced to take such deep pay cuts by an employer that claims to have billions in reserves.

“This strike action will undoubtedly cause a great deal of disruption to passengers and cargo deliveries using the airport, but this is purely a result of the company’s appalling treatment of workers.”

Call for West Yorkshire bus company to restore drivers’ terms and conditions, as passenger numbers rise to ‘near normal’ levels

The travelling public in West Yorkshire would greatly benefit from the restoration of a full pre-COVID-19 bus schedules agreement and normal timetables.

Nearly 400 bus drivers in Bradford, employed by First West Yorkshire, will be balloted for strike action from Monday 23 November in a dispute over the company’s refusal to restore the bus schedule to pre-pandemic levels as traffic and passenger movements have returned to ‘near normal’-  but members are still working on ‘lockdown’ conditions.

Unite said that its 389 members at the Bowling Back Lane site were under a great deal of stress as they are made to work long shifts, covering for absent colleagues. Retention and recruitment problems, the restoration of the normal terms and conditions, and timetable would require a new look at workforce requirements.

Unite deputy regional secretary, Tas Sangha, said: “Our members are reluctant to take strike action during the continuing national emergency, but feel they have been pushed to the limit over a long period of time and that First management has failed to grasp the big picture.”

17 November 2020

Airbus Filton first responders strike over £6,000 Securitas pay downgrade

Emergency first responders working at Airbus’ Filton site will go on strike over an ultimatum by their employer, Securitas, to either be made redundant or to accept new contracts that will see their pay reduced by up to £6,000.

10 Unite members, who voted unanimously in favour of December strike action, have been told that if they do not accept the changes, which also include reductions to holidays and sick pay, they will lose their jobs.

Securitas has blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the decision and says Airbus supports the plans to dissolve Filton’s first responder unit, which provides emergency cover on site, and incorporate it into the security team.

In response, Unite pointed to the company’s failed attempts to disband the unit four years ago and said that Securitas is using the pandemic as an ‘excuse’.

18 November 2020

Lloyds announces 56 bank branch closures

Unite has described the decision by the bank to resume its bank branch closure as “unjustified and damaging”.

LBG has announced 56 branch closures across Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland and the decision will impact 160 jobs.

Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer, said: “The pandemic has highlighted the vital role our local bank branches play in providing an essential service to the community. These closures don’t just cut a vital service from communities but also force customers to travel further to stand in larger crowds of customers queuing outside busier branches.

“Unite is opposed to these latest cuts and will continue to resist job losses and branch closures. The union has urged the bank to halt the branch closure programme and instead assess the impacts of any proposed closures on members, customers, and the local economic activity.”

UK drivers denied access to toilets with COVID-19 lockdown worsening situation

A survey of thousands of professional drivers in the UK, who are members of Unite, has revealed that many are routinely denied access to toilets during working hours and that the initial lockdown earlier this year made the situation even worse.

During the lockdown, less than one in five drivers (20 per cent) reported that they continued to have adequate access to toilet and washing facilities at all times.

Despite it being a legal requirement to provide access to toilets and washing facilities to drivers making deliveries or collections, companies are risking prosecution for failing to comply. The number of employers refusing access, and therefore aiding the spread of COVID-19, increased dramatically during the initial lockdown and similar problems are emerging during the second lockdown in England.

Unite assistant general secretary, Diana Holland, said: “It is completely unacceptable that tens of thousands of workers are being routinely denied the basic right to have access to toilets in the 21st century.

“This is making workers ill and during the pandemic the lack of handwashing facilities will undoubtedly have increased the spread of COVID-19.”

Nearly 700 job losses at energy giant E.ON ‘grim news’

The news that energy giant E.ON is to axe about 700 jobs over the next two years is ‘more grim news’ for the UK economy already battered by COVID-19.

Unite has been involved in talks with the management in recent months in the aftermath of E.ON acquiring Npower last year and the impact of COVID-19 on the business.

Unite understands that 675 retail jobs will be lost as a result of the introduction of a new customer service IT platform. An additional 20 roles are under threat with the merger of the industrial and commercial businesses.

Engineers and technicians ‘in the field’ carrying out maintenance and visiting consumers’ homes are less likely to be affected by the job losses.

20 November 2020

Think tank report touting public sector pay freeze ‘an insult’

Public sector employees, many of whom are essential COVID-19 workers, should not be subject to a continuing pay freeze from a government that has not learnt the lessons of austerity.

Unite was responding to the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) which said a freeze on public sector pay for the next three years could save £23 billion.

It is feared that the think tank is acting as an outrider for chancellor Rishi Sunak as he prepares to unveil the public spending review next week.

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “For the last nine months of the pandemic, public sector workers have kept the NHS running, the schools open and refuse being collected – these are the very same workers who have had their pay held down in real terms during a decade of Tory austerity.

“It should not be forgotten that more than an estimated 600 NHS and social care workers, often on low pay, have died from causes linked to COVID-19.

“In the spring, the prime minister was praising NHS staff for saving his life, now, in the autumn, he needs to ensure that his chancellor turns those warm words into hard cash for those that ensure the efficient running of the NHS, schools and colleges, and the myriad of services provided on a daily basis by local councils.”

Newham mayor and councillors raise serious concerns about London City Airport’s employment practices

Unite recently raised a host of concerns about the way that the workforce at City Airport, which is located in the London borough of Newham, is treated.

In their letter to Robert Sinclair, chief executive of London City Airport, mayor of Newham, Rokshana Fiaz, and her fellow Labour councillors amplify Unite’s concerns and demand urgent answers, with regards to the refusal to have a transparent redundancy process and the refusal to provide this information on the process to Unite. The letter says. “This is an extraordinary practice by you and your management team.”

In a further shot across the bows of City Airport, they then add: “Please provide urgent clarification on these matters, and we trust that you will positively respond to the remedies proposed by the Unite union by enacting them swiftly. This would be a clear demonstration that you have a proper regard for the rights of workers.”

New London bus air conditioning system a major victory in driver COVID-19 safety campaign

The announcement that all London buses have been fitted with a much safer air conditioning system is a major victory for Unite, which represents over 20,000 London bus workers and has been calling for the measure to be introduced since the beginning of the year.

All London buses have had changes made to their air conditioning systems so that the air entering the driver’s sealed cab comes directly from the outside and does not pass through the passenger area of the bus. The change will greatly reduce the risk of drivers being exposed to COVID-19 while driving.

Unite first raised concerns about the air conditioning system on buses in February to Transport for London (TfL) and bus operators before the initial national lockdown. Following continued lobbying from Unite the air conditioning was turned off in cabs. The publication of the University College of London report on the exposure of bus drivers to COVID-19, also recommended changes to the air conditioning.

The installation of the new air conditioning system was initially due to be completed on all buses in January but has been completed ahead of schedule.

22 November 2020

Stricter rules urgently needed to combat construction COVID-19 transmissions

Unite has called on the government and construction employers to take urgent action to tackle rising COVID-19 transmission rates in the industry.

Unite made its call after Professor Calum Semple told Sky’s Sophie Ridge programme that: “You would have thought working outside wouldn’t be a risk but many people in construction are actually working inside before buildings are made COVID-safe.”

The union is also highly concerned that many construction workers remain unable to self-isolate due to financial reasons as they do not qualify for the Job Retention Scheme, self-employment grants or extra payments for self-isolating. Unite believes this is an additional factor in the increasing construction transmission rates.

Jerry Swain, Unite national officer for construction, added: “Unless the government and construction employers ensure that there are strict rules on mask wearing, that social distancing and cleaning regimes are being followed, and workers can afford to self-isolate, transmission rates will continue to climb.”

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.