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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 26 April 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.

19 April 2021

Independent inquiry into NHS lobbying urgently needed

There should be a rapid independent inquiry into the growing lobbying scandal that is engulfing the NHS.

Unite said the need for the inquiry was made more urgent by media reports regarding Greensill Capital’s extensive lobbying for the Earnd app which would have enabled NHS staff to be paid daily.

Unite said that any recommendations by such an independent inquiry should be cemented in legislation.

Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “It is abundantly clear that the current rules around lobbying and access to ministers do not work – and have been shown to be a shoddy farce.

“A rapid independent inquiry into these disturbing incidences and abuses must be established without delay, and the findings and recommendations implemented in law, without procrastination.

“NHS staff, who have toiled heroically through this pandemic and who now must deal with an enormous backlog of patients’ demands, will be horrified to discover that while they battled to save lives those connected by political links to this government were focusing on how they could line their pockets.”

20 April 2021

Unite to fight to save jobs as Argos announces closure of Somerset distribution centre

Unite is committed to fight to save as many jobs as possible following the announcement that Argos intends to close its distribution centre in Bridgwater, Somerset.

Unite understands that around 230 jobs are at risk at the site, which is now earmarked for closure in 2022.

Unite regional officer, Tim Morris, said: “Our members at the Argos Bridgwater distribution centre have continued to work throughout the pandemic and their reward for this dedication is to face losing their jobs.

“Unite will be holding an urgent meeting with the company to better understand why this announcement has been made.

“The union will fully engage in the consultation process and will explore all options to preserve as many jobs as possible in Bridgwater or at alternative locations.”

21 April 2021

‘Summer holidays ban’ for Banbury coffee workers to thwart industrial action in ‘fire and rehire’ row

Reports that bosses at JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) in Banbury will stop workers from taking summer holidays to thwart an overtime ban, starting on 1 May, in the ‘fire and rehire’ dispute has sparked outrage.

Unite understands that management have sent a letter to staff setting out conditions for applications for leave, which may not be accepted if production is at risk at the Oxfordshire plant.

Unite national officer for the food industry, Joe Clarke, said: “During the 14 months of the pandemic, our members have worked flat-out to meet the estimated 40 per cent increase in coffee drinking by UK consumers – and Unite is not prepared to see this loyalty and hard work being repaid by pay cuts, and inferior terms and conditions.”

Security guards at Reading hospital to be balloted again for strike action in ‘David and Goliath’ pay battle

Security staff at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, locked in the long-running ‘David and Goliath’ pay and conditions battle with their employer, are to be balloted again for strike action.

The ballot of the 20 members, who are employed by Kingdom Services Group Ltd to provide security for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, will open on 27 April. It closes on Thursday 13 May.

Unite said that the easiest way to settle this dispute, which has seen a wave of strikes from December 2020 to early March, is for the security guards to be brought back ‘in house’ under NHS management.

Unite also reminded Kingdom Services’ bosses of their obligations, under new guidance issued by NHS Improvement this month, regarding COVID-19, risk assessment and testing, as well as full-pay for those who have to self-isolate.

Unite: PM’s Dyson tax texts encapsulates ‘lobbying and sleaze' that failed UK manufacturing workers

Commenting on reports of texts between Boris Johnson and James Dyson in March 2020, Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: “It encapsulates everything that is wrong with this government’s response to the coronavirus and approach to industry in general. Instead of an open process which chooses the right people and organisations for the job, decisions are based on a closed network of personal contacts whose overriding interest is profit.

“In the end, it was the skills and efforts of UK manufacturing workers, many of them Unite members, and world class businesses that came together, organised themselves and ‘got to work’ providing the emergency medical equipment our health service depended on, from ventilators to PPE. 

“And after having stepped up in a national effort to save the lives of thousands, workers were then disgracefully denied access to the job retention scheme as they hadn’t been placed on furlough earlier.

“The fact that life-saving efforts were delayed in getting off the starting blocks because Boris Johnson and his government were too busy giving Dyson a sweetheart deal in the middle of the biggest national crisis since the Second World War is a disgrace.

“There must be a public inquiry into the rot of lobbying and sleaze that sits at the heart of this government.”

23 April 2021

Unite victory for workers on zero hours at Sheffield University Students Union

Members of Unite employed by the Students Union at Sheffield University have won a significant victory on zero hours and sick pay following a year-long campaign.

Hundreds of student workers, on precarious contracts, employed by Sheffield Students' Union have been calling on management to address its sick pay policy and the use of zero hours.

COVID-19 prompted Unite to step up its call to management to introduce sick pay entitlements for casual staff in line with full time staff, and to end poor employment practices.

The board of trustees have now voted to support the union’s proposals which include minimum hours for current and future staff and full sick pay after 12 weeks service.

Engineers at Melrose-owned Brush Electrical in strike ballot over fire and rehire cuts of up to £15,000

Global field service engineers employed by Loughborough-based Brush Electrical Machines, owned by venture capitalists Melrose, are being balloted for strike action in response to ‘fire and rehire’ pay cuts of up to £15,000.

Unite said around 30 field service engineers, who service transformers around the world, are being balloted, with the ballot closing on 10 May.

The proposed contracts include reductions to overtime rates, allowances, holidays and other terms and conditions that would result in a pay cut of between £10,000 and £15,000 a year.

The engineers have been threatened with redundancy if they do not sign the new contracts, which will leave them on pay rates ‘well below industry standard’.

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.