Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 25 January 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.

18 January 2021

Prime minister urged to speed up NHS pay rise as public backs the move

Health unions representing more than 1.3m workers across the UK have written to the prime minister urging him to speed up the pay process so NHS staff can receive a promised wage rise as soon as possible.   

The letter to Boris Johnson – signed by the heads of UNISON, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives – says ‘hospitals are stretched to the limit’, with many ‘demoralised and traumatised’ staff facing burnout, due to the pressure they’re under. 

The letter coincides with the results of a poll published by the UK’s 14 health unions showing a majority of the public (53 per cent) think the government should bring forward a wage increase for all NHS staff.

The unions’ plea to the prime minister urges him to personally intervene to speed up the pay review process given the scale of the challenge facing the NHS. 

The letter reminds Boris Johnson that it’s within his power to speed up this process and grant a wage increase now.  

Manchester bus drivers facing brutal “fire and rehire” attack on pay and conditions

Nearly 500 Manchester bus drivers employed by Go North West are facing the threat of being fired and rehired, which will see a 10 per cent reduction in the number of drivers employed, an increase in unpaid working hours and drivers’ conditions slashed.

Unite has been in negotiations with management at Go North West, part of the Go Ahead Group, about the possibility of cost savings at the company’s Queens Road Depot and to develop a turnaround plan and maintain job security.

Last year, Go North West issued a section 188 notice, which would have resulted in the workforce being fired and then rehired. However, the process was halted to allow negotiations to take place.

Unite has made proposals for cost reductions of around £1 million and a pay freeze worth around £200,000. However, the company has deemed these savings insufficient.

The company is also proposing to tear up the existing sick pay agreement, a move that Unite believes is entirely unacceptable in a pandemic, as it will result in workers being forced to attend work when they are sick or should be self-isolating.

Unite is accusing Go North West of using the pandemic to force through changes that they had started to develop in 2019, long before the COVID-19 virus began to affect workers.

19 January 2021

Housing association presses ahead with routine repairs, despite COVID-19 fears

Clarion Housing Group, one of the UK’s largest social landlords, has been pushing ahead with routine repairs at its properties, despite some residents being COVID-19 positive.

Unite said that a petition of more than 200 maintenance staff has been presented to management calling for ‘essential repairs only’ as the pandemic continues to be widespread.

Unite is also angry that the housing association, which boasts it is ‘proud’ not to have taken up the government’s furlough scheme, has told workers, who may be vulnerable or have childcare responsibilities that they have to use annual or unpaid leave or reduce their hours.

Unite Scotland welcomes Scottish government U-turn over vaccination jabs for Ambulance Service control room workers

Unite Scotland has welcomed a Scottish government U-turn over the initial refusal to prioritise Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) control room workers for the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Last week, Unite raised concerns over potential outbreaks which could bring the nation’s emergency response units to a shutdown including SAS and NHS24. Around 500 workers are employed by SAS as control room handlers.

The Scottish government had argued that both workforces are not ‘patient facing’ and do not qualify for the immediate prioritisation of the vaccination programme. However, following pressure from Unite, the Scottish government agreed to defer the decision to SAS management who are now planning to vaccinate control room workers nationwide.

G7 summit should be ‘a springboard’ for Cornwall’s economic revival

The G7 summit, due to be held in Cornwall in June, should be a springboard for an economic blueprint to revive the county, after years of neglect by central government.

Unite said that Cornwall, with 17 of the most deprived wards in the country, had been badly hit by the lack of government support for the coronavirus-hit tourist economy and the shortfall in funding for local government.

Unite added that the G7 summit of the leaders of the world’s top economies at the scenic Carbis Bay was ‘a unique opportunity’ to develop an economic template for the country’s development.

Since the pandemic started, Unite has highlighted a roll-call of job losses that have included those at Cornwall Council, Cornwall Airport, St Austell Brewery, the Eden Project and PALL Aerospace.

UPS accused of recklessly endangering drivers due to cash on delivery demands

Unite has advised workers at the parcel and courier company UPS to refuse to accept cash on delivery (CoD) in order to protect their safety.

Unite gave the instruction to its members after UPS failed to respond to the union’s longstanding concerns that drivers were being placed at risk when they are required to demand CoD when delivering goods to customers.

The requirement for CoD has dramatically increased since the new year as, due to the UK having left the European Union, many deliveries now attract duties and levies, and the UPS drivers are expected to collect these.

The requirement for CoD is a major health and safety issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many delivery organisations have gone cashless the failure of UPS to follow suit places drivers at risk of exposure to the virus, both through being unable to socially distance from the customer and because it is transmissible on notes and coins.

Unite calls on 2 Sisters food group to provide full pay for self-isolating workers at Coupar Angus site following new COVID outbreak

Unite Scotland has called for the 2 Sisters food group to provide full pay for any workers having to self-isolate and who have been told not to return to the workplace due to a new COVID outbreak.

Following on from a major outbreak at the 2 Sisters site in Coupar Angus in August 2020, which led to the factory closing for two weeks, another outbreak occurred over New Year. Back in August 2020, 200 workers tested positive for the virus and as of Friday 15 January, 23 workers have tested positive and 66 were self-isolating.

Public Health Scotland have decided that the factory is safe to remain open but have advised that some workers who were working in the affected areas of the factory should self-isolate as a precautionary measure to stop the virus spreading. Unite is also calling for the immediate introduction of testing using lateral flow devices to address ongoing concerns over the site’s susceptibility to COVID outbreaks.

Unite Scotland welcomes decision by Scottish government to change taxi driver grant eligibility following union pressure

Unite Scotland has welcomed the decision by the Scottish government to address the major issues surrounding the £1,500 taxi drivers grant. Taxi and private hire drivers who have received state benefits at any time since March last year will now be eligible for a £1,500 business support grant as long as they meet the remaining criteria.

Councils will start contacting eligible drivers to brief them on their potential entitlement and ask them to provide supporting information and bank account details. However, the trade union has urged the Scottish government to ensure that any taxi driver in receipt of state benefits would not be penalised for receiving the grant through the use of top-up welfare powers, while assurances are sought with the Department for Work and Pensions.

BA Heathrow cargo services face ‘continued significant disruption’ as more fire and rehire strikes announced

British Airways’ (BA) freight services at Heathrow airport are set for ‘continued significant disruption’ following the announcement of further strikes over the airline’s decision to fire and rehire its cargo division’s workforce on inferior pay and conditions. 

The initial round of strikes, which took place over the Christmas holidays, brought the company’s cargo operations at Heathrow airport to a ‘grinding halt’. It is estimated that around 95 per cent of BA cargo loads coming through the airport were disrupted over the festive period. 

BA’s cargo division has remained operational and profitable throughout the pandemic thanks to dedicated staff ensuring that vital goods continued to be brought into the UK. 

The union has reached agreement with BA in all the other sections of the company where it represents workers, to mitigate its proposals to slash workers’ wages. 

However, Unite said the airline is refusing to do the same for its cargo division because it is mistakenly ‘counting on these last hard months of the pandemic being enough to force its cargo workers to accept the company’s attacks on their pay and conditions’.

Unite assistant general secretary, Howard Beckett, said: “British Airways is using the pandemic to opportunistically strip its hardworking and loyal cargo staff of between £6,000 and £8,000 a year – cuts that will cause significant financial hardship. 

“Our members’ anger has been heightened by the fact that throughout the coronavirus crisis they have ensured BA’s cargo division remained undisrupted. Thanks to their dedication it is the only part of the company’s operations that has done so. 

“The Christmas strikes brought BA’s Heathrow cargo operations to a grinding halt and these new strikes will cause continued significant disruption. BA is counting on these last hard months of the pandemic being enough to force its cargo workers to accept the company’s attacks on their pay and conditions.

“But the airline is woefully mistaken in its belief that its cargo workers are an easy target. It is a mistake they will continue to learn to the detriment of their bottom line. Our members will fight these changes until BA comes back with an acceptable offer.” 

21 January 2021

Impasse as housing association presses ahead with routine repairs, despite COVID-19 fears

Clarion Housing Group, one of the UK’s largest social landlords, is still continuing to insist on pushing ahead with routine repairs at its properties, despite some residents being COVID-19 positive.

Unite had a meeting with senior management, following a petition of more than 200 maintenance staff being presented calling for ‘essential repairs only’ as the pandemic continues to be widespread.

Unite regional officer Matt Freeman said: “Despite the issues raised, the key takeaway from the meeting was that Clarion is not changing its position. However, the managers did commit to investigate the clear issues that have been raised by Unite.

“Clarion’s position essentially is that jobs are safe under the current regime. It maintains that if any COVID-19 measures are not adhered to, for example, social distancing of all members of a household including children, then the job can be rejected by the individual operative and that no employee will be disciplined or threatened for rejecting a job that they did not feel was safe.

“However, examples were given where disciplinary action has been threatened if jobs are refused. The managers said this was not acceptable and they did not want people to be going into jobs if they felt coerced.

“There was no answer from management specifically on the issue of what happens if a staff member exhausts their entitlements and cannot return to work, although they did highlight that they would be as flexible as possible.”

24 January 2021

Unite calls on First Bus Bannockburn to close depot as COVID outbreak spreads

Unite Scotland has voiced growing concerns for the health and well-being of the Bannockburn First Bus depot workforce. During the week it was revealed that First Bus was reducing services out of the depot after a number of staff members tested positive for coronavirus.

Unite has been informed that there are presently 28 positive cases of COVID-19 which represents over half the workforce at the depot, which follows a significant rise of positive cases in the Forth Valley region. Unite has now called on First Bus to consider immediately closing the depot, and to provide full-pay for all those workers where it would be unfeasible to work from another depot or who are having to self-isolate due to the outbreak.

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