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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 26 October 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 October 2020

Axing Union Learning Fund is ‘short-sighted and self-defeating’

Plans to axe the Union Learning Fund, which has helped thousands of people to gain new skills for the workplace, has been branded as ‘short-sighted and self-defeating’.

Unite is strongly supporting the TUC’s Save Union Learning campaign, following the shock announcement by the Department of Education to axe the £12 million-a-year programme in March next year.

Unite said that, at a time when tens of thousands of workers had lost their jobs or under threat of losing them because of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, cutting training schemes were the last thing ministers should be contemplating.

The union also said that the decision by controversial education secretary, Gavin Williamson, flew in the face of prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge last month to boost training for all through a national skills fund.

Industrial discontent looming in construction as out of touch employers impose a pay freeze on workers

Unite is warning that the prospect of industrial discontent on construction sites across the UK in the coming months has greatly increased, as a result of employers blocking a pay increase.

The problem involves the Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC) agreement which affects the wages and conditions of over 500,000 construction workers, primarily those in civil engineering.

A pay increase was due in June but the employers’ side delayed making an offer and it was not until last week that they finally confirmed that they were imposing a pay freeze and refusing to make any improvements to the conditions workers receive through the agreement.

Unite national officer for construction, Jerry Swain, said: “This is a missed opportunity to reward construction workers in civil engineering for their hard work and commitment, the vast majority of whom have continued to work throughout the pandemic in very trying circumstances.

“It appears that the employers’ side care very little for those who work in the industry and do not understand how the agreement works. The CIJC sets minimum pay rates and its refusal to increase these minimum rates will cause real hardship to some very low paid workers in construction.”

Tentative welcome for agreement for Flybe being bought out of administration

Unite has given a tentative welcome to the announcement that regional airline Flybe has been bought out of administration.

Flybe collapsed in March this year, with the loss of hundreds of jobs as a result of longstanding financial issues. Its demise was hastened by the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flybe, subject to conditions, has been bought out of administration by Thyme Opco Ltd.  The company is affiliated with the hedge fund, Cyrus Capital, a shareholder in Flybe before it fell into administration.

Unite has already contacted the administrator Ernst and Young for further details about the sale and is already seeking an urgent meeting with Thyme Opco Ltd.

20 October 2020

Epidemic of ill health revealed at Heathrow as company presses ahead with huge pay cuts

A confidential survey of workers at Heathrow Airport has revealed an epidemic of mental and physical ill health, linked to working at the airport.

The findings of the survey, which was compiled by Unite, have been published to coincide with the news that the employer Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is gearing up in its attempt to permanently strip workers of up to £8,000 per annum (25 per cent) of their pay, through the use of highly controversial ‘fire and rehire’ rules.

The workforce is currently being balloted for industrial action in response to HAL’s pay cuts, with the ballot closing on Thursday 5 November.

The confidential survey found that over half of respondents (55 per cent) did not believe that working at Heathrow Airport was good for their mental health.

21 October 2020

Unite to work constructively to mitigate impact of up to 65 job losses at Ports of Jersey

Unite will work constructively with the Ports of Jersey to mitigate the proposed loss of up to 65 jobs due to the dramatic drop in travel to the Channel Island because of COVID-19.

The Ports of Jersey management announced that up to 65 roles – 15 per cent of the workforce – are under threat as sea passengers and those using the airport have slumped by 86 per cent and 90 per cent respectively compared with 2019.

The management hopes to make the £3 million-a-year in savings by voluntary redundancies and early retirement.

McCluskey: Unite members will be forever grateful to Andy Burham for fighting low-waged corner

Speaking in support of Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, said: “Andy Burnham has been doing a fantastic job in speaking up for and defending the people he has been elected to serve.

“Unite members will be forever grateful to him for fighting the corner of the low-waged and those in insecure employment, the vulnerable and the young, all of whom are paying the heaviest price of this dreadful virus.

“We are also 100 per cent behind Andy Burnham's calls for full furlough support to be provided to those who cannot work their usual hours as a result of the government's Tier 3 shutdown. Why can this government not get it into its head that most people, particularly those on low wages, cannot afford to lose a single pound of their pay? To lose one third of a low wage, as this government insists, is to be forced into certain debt and despair.”  

22 October 2020

Joint call by mayors, MPs, councillors and trade unions for comprehensive financial package from chancellor

Below is the full text of the joint statement by unions and Labour politicians setting out a series of demands for the second phase of the pandemic:

“This government’s handling of the pandemic has been disastrous for people’s lives and their livelihoods. We have the highest death rate in Europe, and it continues to grow. We are sliding into the deepest recession in history with mass unemployment, poverty and the widespread destruction of our communities threatened.

“The government said at the start of the crisis that they would do ‘whatever it takes’. Instead, by failing to provide adequate support for businesses, jobs and incomes, they are denying people the help they desperately need.

“Ministers must urgently provide a comprehensive financial package of support to protect jobs and incomes, in the way France, Germany, Spain and others are doing, including an extension of the Job Retention Scheme with 80% wage support, action to support incomes, helping people to self-isolate by increasing the level for Statutory Sick Pay and enabling all to claim it, and equipping our public services with the resources they need.”

New research finds vast majority of Rolls Royce Inchinnan workers have not found re-employment, as Unite demands government support.

Unite Scotland has called for immediate action to support highly-skilled aerospace engineering workers following more than 700 jobs being lost at Rolls Royce’s Inchinnan plant. The research was conducted in September-October with 100 survey responses giving a statistically significant sample size. 

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed reported their preference was to remain in manufacturing. The research finds that taking voluntary severance was for many a financial decision forced on them by the decision of Rolls Royce to effectively close down the Inchinnan plant. A significant minority reported that they would like to work in the renewable energy sector, specifically wind turbines. However, despite their high level of skill the workers recognised that they may need retraining in new skills, which would require further qualifications and certification to shift into the renewables sector.   

New job support measures will help struggling employers but hardest hit sectors still need urgent support

Responding to the chancellor's new measures to support jobs and businesses, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: "The government has at last done more to support working people through this pandemic. The adjustment to the Job Support Scheme was urgently needed and ought to make it easier for struggling employers to hold onto staff. However, it does nothing to help those sectors hardest hit – aviation, aerospace and hospitality. These sectors are struggling and desperately need help that reflects the true picture nationally.

“It also remains the case that this government is still asking people to make ends meet with huge losses of income. 

“This Job Support Scheme is still asking people to survive on two thirds of their wages and for many this is simply not possible. Banks and landlords will expect full payment and the cost of feeding a family has not been reduced. Unite remains committed to campaigning for an extension of the Job Retention Scheme, specific to sectors in need with a minimum commitment of 80 per cent wage support.

“Without this, there will be certain hardship for a great many people so we would urge the chancellor to again review the levels of support this government will offer. Borrowing costs are at historically low levels so it makes total sense for the chancellor to invest against poverty and despair and in the brighter future the people and the economy of this country deserve.”

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.