Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 28 September 2020

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.

21 September 2020

Unite reaction to the end of rail franchising - private sector will continue to feed off the taxpayer

Responding to the government's announcement that the rail franchise system has been ended, Unite National Officer for Rail, Harish Patel, said:

“Rail franchising has been broken beyond repair for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has finally forced the government to accept the inevitable.

“However, yet again the government is failing to act decisively, allowing private providers to continue to profit by receiving huge amounts of taxpayers' money. This is simply unacceptable.

“Instead of the proposed new model which will allow privateers a renewed opportunity to feed off the taxpayer and passengers, the government should be permanently renationalising rail services to increase services, improve punctuality and reduce tickets prices.”

22 September 2020

Whitbread redundancies underscore need for urgent government support for hospitality sector

Commenting on the 6,000 job losses announced by Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn and Beefeater, Unite Assistant General Secretary, Howard Beckett, said: 

“Unite’s Whitbread members will be absolutely devastated by these job losses, which will most likely impact high levels of women and young people who are disproportionately represented within the hospitality sector. 

“Just three months ago Whitbread’s CEO, Alison Brittain, stated the company was raising a £1bn acquisition war chest and did not need the cash to survive. For many it will be hard not to see this announcement as cynical coronavirus opportunism.

“Whitbread readily took taxpayers' money as part of the Job Retention Scheme. The clue is in the name and Whitbread must now uphold its part of the bargain, put these plans on hold and work with Unite to avoid job losses that will cause misery and hardship across the country.

“Urgent government action is also required. The hospitality sector was the first to suffer during the lockdown and will be the last to emerge from the restrictions – it is in desperate need of support.”

Unite reaction to Bank of England governor’s comments on protecting jobs

Responding to a speech by Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, said:

"When the Bank of England sides with working people in the fight to save jobs, then the government must surely listen.

"The clock is ticking down and with every hour that goes by without a clear message from the chancellor that help is on its way, the redundancy cliff edge draws ever closer.

"Workers in Germany, Spain and France can rest easy in their beds at night knowing that their governments have moved swiftly to put a floor under their jobs. All we ask is for Boris Johnson's government to provide the same security for UK workers, and to do so fast. 

"Don't abandon Britain's workers prime minister because you will never be forgiven if you do."

McCluskey: New restrictions must be met with jobs support or communities face ruin

Responding to the prime minister's statement in the House of Commons announcing further measures in the efforts to tackle coronavirus, the leader of Unite has repeated his call for urgent action to save jobs.

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, said: "It is now veering on the irresponsible for the government to remain silent and stubborn on the prospect of assistance for jobs and the economy.  

"The prime minister was also flat out wrong about the UK government doing more to protect jobs than its opposite numbers in France and Germany. 

“Weeks ago, those governments extended their jobs protection programmes, giving their workers relief from the fear of redundancy. Disgracefully, this government has given no such security to the workers of the UK. 

"Boris Johnson is looking increasingly isolated on this vital issue. Calls for action are raining down on him from all parties and from right across the industry. When the governor of the Bank of England and the Treasury select committee both call for action to protect jobs, it is the duty of the government to act.

"The prime minister has made it clear to the country that new restrictions on our lives are with us until next spring. These measures must surely then be accompanied by the support that sectors of the economy facing ruin are crying out for.”

23 September 2020

Stobart Aviation Services job losses at Manchester, Southend and Stansted latest blow for airport workers

The announcement that Stobart Aviation Services is proposing to make substantial job cuts among its ground crew (principally baggage handlers) at Manchester, Southend and Stansted airports is further evidence that the aviation sector is in desperate need of government support in order to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Manchester airport, Stobart Aviation Services is consulting to make 63 out of 149 workers redundant, 42 per cent of the workforce.

At Southend airport, which has already been very heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with both Aer Lingus’ regional service and easyJet leaving the airport completely, proposed job losses are 94 out of 153, 61 per cent of the current workforce.

At Stansted airport, where Stobart Aviation Services was previously turning around 890 planes a week, it is now only dealing with 157 planes and, as a consequence, it is proposing to make 98 out of 147 workers (67 per cent) redundant.

This latest round of redundancies is almost certainly linked to the proposed end of the government’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS), which will conclude at the end of October. Unite has been warning repeatedly that without targeted support for such sectors as aviation, aerospace and hospitality which have been most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, jobs will be lost needlessly.

Government must do more to keep schools open and safe

Giving all staff priority testing, reducing the size of pupil ‘bubbles’ and making face coverings compulsory on school buses would help ensure schools can continue to stay open in the coming weeks.

In a joint letter to education secretary, Gavin Williamson, several proposals are outlined by UNISON, GMB and Unite to reduce the risk of infection for children and staff​, and reduce the likelihood of ​entire school​s clos​ing.

The ​letter stress​es that all school employees should have priority access to testing – not just teachers – and full pay must be given to lower paid workers who need to isolate. ​It also calls for more information to be shared with staff about suspected COVID-19 cases at their schools.

The three unions – representing school support staff across the UK including teaching assistants, technicians, catering workers, cleaning staff, caretakers, and receptionists – say the government must introduce additional measures to halt rising infections.

McCluskey welcomes "glimmer of hope" for thousands of workers, but there can be no further delay

Responding to media reports that the chancellor is drawing up a new plan to subsidise workers' wages, Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, said: "With the prime minister’s comments in the House of Commons today and reports that the chancellor is considering a wage subsidy scheme, finally we have a glimmer of hope for the many thousands of workers who face losing their jobs over the coming weeks.

"But there cannot be any further delay. Thousands of jobs hang by a thread in sectors such as aviation, aerospace, automotive and hospitality which continue to be hard hit by this pandemic.

"People face the terrible prospect of losing their jobs and their homes because of this government’s stubborn inaction; the chancellor must step in now to prevent a level of human misery and mass unemployment not seen for 40 years.”

24 September 2020

Face covering enforcement failure means passenger fines 'vanishingly rare', as Unite warns new penalties may make little difference

Over three months after the requirement for face coverings to be worn on public transport was first made compulsory, fines for those not complying with the order are 'vanishingly rare'.

Unite is warning that the government’s latest announcement of increased fines for not wearing face coverings may well make little difference unless accompanied by properly resourced and consistent enforcement. 

As part of a series of measures to attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that fines for not wearing in a mask on public transport and in shops would increase from £100 to £200 for a first offence.

However, Unite, which represents over 70,000 bus drivers across the UK, has obtained figures- which reveal that, in total, just 368 fines/fixed penalty notices were issued in London over a three month period. Outside of London, for the period until the end of August for England and Wales, that figure falls to just 38, according to figures obtained from the National Police Chief’s Council.

Under the regulations, only a police officer can enforce a fine or a penalty notice but the union has been pressing bus companies to utilise their own enforcement officers or work with government-appointed COVID marshals to prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding buses.

Government must safeguard thousands of university jobs, say education unions

The Job Retention Scheme should be extended – or another wage support scheme put in its place – to support thousands of university staff, such as catering and security workers who face redundancy, education unions have commented.

In a joint letter to higher education minister, Michelle Donelan, UNISON, GMB, Unite, the University and College Union (UCU), and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) also warn problems with the test and trace system pose real risks to the health of staff, students and local communities. 

Ahead of the chancellor’s expected announcement on further measures to protect jobs, the unions say the government must consider other ways of supporting the higher education sector.  

Other support measures called for by the five unions – representing academics, support staff, catering employees, cleaning staff, caretakers, technicians and receptionists – include full pay for all staff who need to isolate and ready access to testing to keep campuses safe.  

The letter also stresses the need to ensure EU research funding received by UK universities is fully maintained, given the end of the Brexit transition period is only months away.  

McCluskey: Jobs Support Scheme will help anxious workers breathe more easily but more must be done to fend off mass unemployment

Responding to the announcement by the chancellor that the Job Retention Scheme is being replaced with a new Job Support Scheme to provide targeted support and wage assistance to struggling businesses, Len McCluskey, said: “The package of measures announced today by the chancellor will allow many workers and employers to breathe more easily.

“For some industries, this will steady the very rocky floor beneath them, something that we have been pressing for all summer in an effort to stop the redundancy floodgates from pouring open.  

“The chancellor has heard the incessant calls from unions, economists and business leaders and listened, and that is to be undoubtedly welcomed.  

"Our fear though is that today’s assistance may come too late for far too many and leaves gaps that could see millions more facing poverty and joblessness in the coming weeks.

"Today, therefore, cannot be the last word from the government on the defence of people's livelihoods. We have seen a summer of jobs destruction but an absence of jobs creation. We urge the government to work with us as we put our collective shoulders to the wheel in the task of recovering the economy, because the spectre of mass unemployment still stalks our communities.”

25 September 2020

Heathrow urged to halt brutal plans to fire and rehire thousands in light of new jobs scheme

Following the chancellor’s announcement of the creation of the Job Support Scheme, Unite is calling on Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) to halt its ‘brutal’ plans to fire and re-hire thousands of workers.

Earlier this month, HAL issued a section 188 notice beginning a process which could result in over 4,000 workers directly employed by the airport being fired and then rehired on vastly inferior contracts.

The workers, including security officers, engineers and firefighters, face losing over £8,000 per annum and up to 24 per cent of their incomes. Many workers fear that they will be forced to sell their homes and cars or move to cheaper areas.

HAL, which boasted that it had the resources to make it through the pandemic and whose chief executive was paid £2.6 million in pay and pensions last year, says that the cuts to the wages of workers will be of a permanent rather than a temporary nature.

Unite has put forward its own proposals of how money can be saved at the airport without permanent cuts to workers’ pay.

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.

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 0800 709 007.