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

19 May 2020

Bitter blow as SSE Energy Services axe 2,600 jobs

The decision by SSE Energy Services to axe 2,600 jobs, accelerated by the coronavirus emergency, is a ‘bitter blow’ for the workforce.

Unite, which has 1,300 members from meter services to contact centre staff, called for urgent talks with the company and will be strongly pressing management as to why they are not continuing with the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which runs until October.

Post-lockdown blueprint needed for drinks logistics industry

Unite has called for a post-lockdown blueprint, with health and safety at its heart, for drivers, draymen, warehouse staff and hospitality workers across the drinks logistics industry.

Unite, which represents thousands of workers in this sector, is calling for a summit of delivery companies, such as KNDL, Matthew Clark and Tradeteam Ltd, trade unions and other key stakeholders to formulate a strategy for when pubs, restaurants and the hospitality industry generally reopen.

Unite wants to broaden out the summit to include the industry umbrella body, UKHospitality, and the British Pub Confederation, so that workers in pubs and restaurants can have a voice.

20 May 2020

Unite hits out at Rolls Royce's over job cuts

Following the announcement that Rolls Royce is to cut 9,000 jobs globally, 3,375 of them in the UK, by the end of 2020 with more to come in 2021, Steve Turner, Unite’s Assistant General Secretary for Manufacturing, said: "The news that Rolls Royce is preparing to throw thousands of skilled, loyal, world class workers, their families and communities under the bus during the worst public health crisis since 1918 is shameful opportunism.  

"This company has accepted public money to furlough thousands of workers. Unite and Britain’s taxpayers deserve a more responsible approach to a national emergency. We call upon Rolls Royce to step back from the brink and work with us on a better way through this crisis."

Unite is concerned that Rolls Royce will do as it has done in the past and have the majority of its planned job cuts fall upon the UK.

Government intervention urgently needed to save aviation sector

Unite has called on the government to bring forward a ‘coherent strategy’ for the aviation sector, as potential job losses mount and hard-earned pay, terms and conditions are threatened.

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Diana Holland, said: “If there isn’t revenue coming into the industry it’s not just the airlines (affected), it’s the airports, it’s everything down the line and of course all the people that work there. 

“We are extremely worried about the future, and that’s why we need to come together now to look at what plans we have to restart, to rebuild confidence.”

Government accused of being at ‘sixes and sevens’ over its London transport policy and plans to get commuters back to work

Unite has accused the government of being at ‘sixes and sevens’ over its London transport policy and plans to get commuters back to work.

Unite said that the £1.6bn government bailout for Transport for London (TfL), after the dramatic slump in passenger numbers, had too onerous conditions attached to it, such as the reintroduction of congestion charges from 18 May - and that the funding was only for four months.

Unite London Regional Secretary, Pete Kavanagh, said: “There are two key issues here – the short term and, often contradictory, government advice to get people back to work in London and the long-term financing of the London transport system, once the pandemic is over.

“In terms of the £1.6bn bailout, it is due to run for four months only, with very significant questions remaining about the future. 

“We need a financial template as to how we go forward then to provide a sustainable, financially viable and joined-up transport system post-lockdown.”

21 May 2020

Johnson’s refusal to waive £400 charge for NHS migrant workers ‘mean-spirited’

Boris Johnson’s hard-line stance not to waive the £400 NHS surcharge for overseas health and social care workers combating coronavirus was described as ‘mean-spirited and shabby’ by Unite.

Unite National Officer for Health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “Of all people, Boris Johnson should appreciate the wonderful and dedicated work of NHS health and social care professions, including the two non-UK nurses he singled out for particular praise in his fight for survival against coronavirus.

“Therefore, the fact he won’t waive this £400 fee for overseas health and social care workers is mean-spirited and shabby.

“With this prime minister, warm words of praise come cheap, but a small financial gesture for NHS migrant workers, many of them low-paid, is beyond his compass. His stance is hypocritical.”

22 May 2020

Unite warns that thousands of care workers could be ineligible for £60,000 COVID-19 payment

Unite expressed serious concern that thousands of social care staff in England could be falling through the net when it comes to the provision of the £60,000 payment in the event of death due to COVID-19.

According to the government document, Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme - Death in Service (England only): ‘Any employee who works for a private social care organisation which receives no public funding’ is not eligible for the payment.

Unite called on Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, to clarify and rectify the situation as a matter of urgency, given that more than 300 NHS and social care workers have now died as a result of COVID-19.

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “We can’t have this two-tier situation where one care worker’s contribution, fighting coronavirus, is regarded of less value than another in a different setting. If you are risking your life in the battle against COVID-19, your workplace and how it is funded are irrelevant.

“We don’t know the true scale of the problem across England – it could be that thousands of care workers are being denied this cover – but if it is only one, it is one too many.”

Unite launches major campaign to oppose British Airways' betrayal of Britain

Unite launched a major UK wide campaign against British Airways’ opportunistic plans to use the COVID-19 pandemic to betray thousands of staff and the public.

The company has served BA workers with a Section 188 notice which effectively sacks 42,000 workers to bring themback on considerably worse terms and conditions. The measure will also cut up to 12,000 staff.

23 May 2020

Furlough changes must not lead to job tsunami

Responding to speculation that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will use a statement next week to detail changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Unite urged the government to proceed with maximum care in order to avert a tsunami of lay-offs this summer.

Among the mooted changes, expected to be rolled out from 1 August, is that employers will be responsible for a contribution of up to 25 per cent of the scheme's guaranteed pay. Unite is concerned that this could trigger some employers to sack workers, which is why the union is calling for flexible working patterns and a jobs creation programme to be introduced alongside furlough changes.  

25 May 2020

Urgent government action needed to allow safety inspections of key COVID-19 workplaces

Unite is calling on the government to rescind measures preventing the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities undertaking proactive, spot check safety inspections in many of the sectors most at risk of COVID-19 transmission occurring.

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “It is absolutely critical that proactive inspections are re-introduced in all sectors immediately but with emphasis where workers are most in danger of being exposed to COVID-19.

“It is chilling that both social care and healthcare are excluded from proactive inspections because they were deemed to be low risk, yet nearly 200 workers have died from COVID-19 in those sectors since the pandemic began.

“The pandemic has exposed how in so many ways the current regulation and enforcement culture in the UK is lacking. There needs to be root and branch reform to better protect workers in the future.”

Project Birch: Lose no more time to prevent job loss 'tsunami' 

Commenting on reports that the Chancellor is soon to unveil Project Birch, the government's plan to support and invest in strategically vital industries, Unite said that there is no more time to lose to prevent mass job losses.

Unite Assistant General Secretary for Manufacturing, Steve Turner, said: "It's very welcome news that a rescue plan for UK PLC is finally taking shape. We have to see the details, of course, but as a trade union we have been working hard with our industrial partners to persuade government of the need for long-term support for core industries and to build our way out of this crisis, saving jobs and skills.”  

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.