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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 24 August 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.

17 August 2020

Unite council workers reject ‘insulting £1.83 a day poverty pay’ offer

About 100,000 council workers have overwhelmingly rejected, in a consultative ballot, a pay and conditions offer for 2020/1, which amounts to just £1.83 a day.

Unite acknowledges the likely scenario is there will now be a de facto imposition of the 2.75 per cent offer made by the Local Government Employers (LGE) on its local authority members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unite vowed to continue the campaign for an end to poverty pay within local government and will press for local pay deals to address the widespread long hours’ culture endemic across local government.

Unite said its members remain angry that low paid key workers keeping vital local services running – including schools, refuse collection, cemeteries, child protection, and the care of our elderly and vulnerable – during the pandemic are being robbed of a fair pay rise, following a decade of Tory austerity, which has seen their pay packets cut by more than 20 per cent in real terms.

Public Health England is being used as a scapegoat for government’s COVID-19 failings

According to Unite, Public Health England (PHE) and its dedicated staff are being lined up as ‘the fall guy’ for ministers’ bungling over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unite said that instead of merging PHE into a new body charged with preventing future pandemics, the PHE should continue in its present role - and the money cut from its budget by the government should be restored.

Unite also said that there should be proper consultations with the unions about the future of PHE, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care. Unite strongly disputes media reports that the unions were consulted.

Unite National Officer for Health, Jackie Williams, said: “The catalogue of errors ranges from the lateness to lockdown in March to the failure to have a so-called ‘world beating’ test-and-trace system in place by June.

“In their desperation to find anyone or any organisation to blame for their own failings, Boris Johnson and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock are lining up the PHE and its staff to be the fall guy.

“We think that the underlying agenda here is the future privatisation of PHE’s national infection service – the Tory government is obsessed with NHS privatisation which has been shown to be highly flawed and not a good use of taxpayers’ money.

“We are calling for PHE to continue in its present role and allowed to do its vital work, rather than spend huge amounts of time, effort and money reorganising England’s public health structures in the middle of a global pandemic.

“We are also calling for the swinging cuts to its budget over recent years restored. The lack of consultation is both appalling and insulting.

“PHE needs to have the resources to do the job it is designed to do, which is protecting the public health of the people in England, without inappropriate buck-passing political interference.”

19 August 2020

Alexander Dennis must ‘come clean’ over opportunistic job cuts and Turkey outsourcing plans

Alexander Dennis (ADL), the UK's largest bus and coach builder, must 'come clean' over its opportunistic use of COVID-19 to cut 650 jobs and outsource work to Turkey.

Unite discovered that the job cuts were planned before the pandemic and is now calling for government support for ADL to be conditional on keeping jobs in the UK.

Unite National Officer for Automotive, Steve Bush, said: "Unite will not allow COVID-19 to be used as cover to cut jobs. It's time ADL come clean and explain exactly what its new 'NFI Forward' strategy means for the future of all three UK sites. It is utterly unacceptable for the NFI Group to announce restructure plans to investors which impact our members and hope we wouldn't notice.

“ADL is clearly not interested in a serious consultation. Unite shop stewards are demanding an immediate halt on planned job cuts, full disclosure of plans to outsource major contracts to Turkey and a commitment to the long-term future of each UK site.”

NHS Scotland workers at 'breaking point' – mass survey findings

Unite Scotland has released findings from a mass survey of NHS Scotland workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlights that the nation’s health service workforce is at ‘breaking point’

Unite Scotland released the findings from a survey conducted between 24 June to 31 July. The trade union is highlighting that NHS Scotland workers by large majorities face acute staff shortages, regularly work beyond their contracted hours and don’t feel valued in general by their employer. 

The main findings of the survey, which 2,198 Unite Scotland members completed, highlight:

  • 83% - frequently or sometimes experience staff shortages.
  • 79% - regularly or occasionally work beyond their contracted hours.
  • 51% - don’t feel valued as an NHS worker.

The Scottish Parliament’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman MSP, has offered to start negotiations on future pay, however, to-date she has refused to use the trigger clause despite a plea by Unite to reassess NHS Scotland pay immediately. On the back of the survey findings, Unite Scotland is calling for Jeane Freeman to re-open pay negotiations to address concerns over the lack of value placed on the work NHS Scotland workers are performing.

20 August 2020

Unite hails victory as University of Sheffield drops plan ‘to sack and rehire’ 8,000 staff on inferior pay

The decision by the University of Sheffield to drop its plans to sack and reengage over 8,000 of its employees in a bid to cut costs has been hailed as ‘a victory for common sense’ by Unite.

Unite, which represents university employees in key technical and professional roles, spearheaded the campaign, with other higher education unions, to protect jobs when the proposals were unveiled last month.

Unite said that the University’s bosses panicked when they claimed they needed to make £100 million in savings over fears about a shortfall in students in the coming academic year, including the much valued students from China, as a result of the pandemic.

Unite urged the management to work with the trade unions to formulate its medium and long-term plans for the University’s post-pandemic financial health.

BA staff overwhelmingly reaffirm that the fight goes on with call for strike action

British Airways ground staff and cabin crew were among those who have overwhelmingly called for strike action to fight their employer `all the way' in the defence of their jobs, wages and redundancy pay.

At a socially-distanced gathering of over 1,000 BA cabin crew, ground and other staff held on Thursday 20 August near Heathrow airport, furious workers instructed Unite to proceed to widespread industrial and legal action against their employer.

Crew, ground staff and other workers across the airline are furious that, while they are losing their jobs and potentially 43 per cent of their earnings, management is untouched by the attacks on pay and conditions.  

Workers have also been told that should they be offered a place with the company going forward, they will find themselves on zero hours-type contracts that give them no stability or security.

Unite has warned BA that its conduct has left it exposed to strikes and continuous litigation as the airline has forced thousands to accept voluntary redundancies only to change the terms of that offer, leaving workers potentially thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Not content with its aggressive `fire and rehire' and redundancy plans, which will see over 10,000 workers lose their jobs by September with the rest retained on far inferior pay and conditions, BA has now moved to force through zero-hours type contracts and is refusing to honour a long-standing redundancy agreement. 

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.