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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 29 June 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.

22 June 2020

Unite’s #WorthMore campaign for council workers steps up with call on councillors

Councillors from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are being urged to sign up and support a fair and proper pay rise for council workers in an online letter launched by Unite as part of its #WorthMore campaign.

The campaign was launched in response to the National Employers pay offer of just 2.75 per cent and comes just 11 days after Unite announced plans to hold a consultative ballot of its 100,000 members over the offer, which works out at just £1.83 a day for the lowest paid.

A new video has been launched as part of the campaign, featuring Unite’s council worker members, and the public is being urged to show their support by emailing their councillors through Unite’s online tool.

Downgrading of two-metre social distancing rule risks ‘more outbreaks’ for meat industry

An expected downgrading to the two-metre social distancing rule risks causing ‘more outbreaks’ of coronavirus within the meat processing sector.

Unite called for ‘significant intervention’ by both the government and employers to prevent COVID-19 spreading at meat processing factories to accompany any downgrading of the social distancing measures, including better health and safety regimes and improvements to testing and tracing. 

The prevalence of coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories also makes it incumbent on ministers and employers to ensure that workers who need to self-isolate can be either paid under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or have their rates of company sick pay increased. 

Government urged to accept union safety support ahead of social distancing reduction

As the government prepares to report on the conclusions of its review into the two-metre social distancing rules, Unite has repeated its offer to deploy its ‘army' of health and safety reps to help keep the country's workplaces safe.

Unite has also written to the government to raise concerns that trade unions were not asked to contribute to the government's review of the social distancing advice.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, said that he was baffled by the government's reluctance to put the tens of thousands of highly skilled experts to best use in re-opening the economy safely, especially as the devolved governments have been working with trades unions for some weeks now to ensure that workplaces there do everything possible to eliminate coronavirus risk.

23 June 2020

Government must invest in UK space programme or lose skills and risk security

Unite is urging the government to commit to invest in the UK’s space programme in the interests of national security and to ensure that thousands of highly skilled jobs are not put at further risk.

The government has yet to commit to invest in its own version of the European Union’s Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS). The UK lost access to the project when it left the EU.

It is essential that the UK has access to such a system to allow satellites to securely transmit information to other platforms which can have military, critical national infrastructure, civilian and scientific purposes. 

Unite urges government to act on 'stark warning' or see mass car job losses

Commenting on the 'stark warning' today from the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) that a third of automotive jobs are at risk without government support, Unite has called for a comprehensive support package to protect the ‘jewel in the crown of UK manufacturing’, tens of thousands of skilled jobs and the creation of a clear path for the transition to electric vehicles.

Unite warns hospitality bosses to stop the sackings after industry bosses secure two metre to one metre rule change

Unite has urged hospitality bosses to ‘stop the sackings’ in light of today’s decision to cut the UK’s social distancing rule from two meters to one meter following intense industry lobbying for the change.

Responding to fears that up to a million hospitality workers could be out of work by August, Unite has issued warning litigation letters to IHG, Marriott, Millennium and Radisson Edwardian, some of the world’s biggest hotel chains, to warn that making mass redundancies, when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is still available, could be unlawful.

The union has warned that it will not shy away from issuing more legal challenges.

24 June 2020

‘Devastating news ‘as 4,556 jobs to go at largest ground handling company Swissport

Unite and the GMB, the two unions representing Swissport workers, described the company’s decision to cut at least 4,556 jobs as ‘devastating news’.

Swissport is the country's largest ground handler; handling flights coming into nearly every regional airport across the UK. It provides ground handling services to many major airlines, including ticketing and baggage handling. 

In light of the announcement, the unions have renewed calls for a bespoke financial package from the UK government to support the aviation industry and save thousands of jobs as the economy continues to reopen.  

Breakdown of Unite talks with Rowan Foods puts workers & general public at risk

Talks between Unite and Rowan foods, regarding health and safety issues and the payment of staff self-isolating due to the COVID-19 outbreak on site, have broken down. Unite has been seeking assurances around improved health and safety measures on site to prevent further outbreaks of coronavirus amongst the workforce. It has also been seeking full pay for staff who are being required to self-isolate.

25 June 2020

West Midlands in aerospace jobs blow as Collins Aerospace announces 'premature' major redundancies

Unite has warned that the West Midlands faces the loss of several hundred highly skilled, well paid jobs as a result of Collins Aerospace announcing redundancies.

The union says that with the government's furlough programme continuing in some form until October, and with the union fighting for a sector support package, the move to lay-offs is premature.

The company, which is part of Raytheon Technologies, produces high tech aerospace systems, has announced 300 potential redundancies at its sites in Wolverhampton, Birmingham Marston Green and Banbury in Oxfordshire.

London City airport facing legal action over furlough pay grab

Unite has warned London City airport that it will take legal action on behalf of its members unless the company keeps its promises regarding workers’ pay.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, London City Airport temporarily closed its doors and much of its workforce was furloughed.

Workers were informed in writing that while they were on furlough they would receive 100 per cent of their pay but when they began to be paid it became apparent that they were only receiving 100 per cent of basic pay.

This has meant that part-time workers are losing between £600-£900 a month while full-time workers are losing up to £2,000 a month.

The workers have attempted to raise the matter directly with London City Airport, but have been rebuffed.

Unite calls Royal Mail’s axing of 2,000 managerial job ‘devastating’

Unite commented that poor decision-making in the past by the Royal Mail’s top bosses has led to the announcement of 2,000 managerial job losses.

Royal Mail had failed to recognise the pace of change in the industry, exacerbated by the pandemic, and was now axing the very managers tasked with creating a viable business future.

Unite, which represents more than 6,000 managers at the Royal Mail, privatised under the coalition government, said it would fight any compulsory redundancies among its members.

26 June 2020

Danger of ‘second spike’ if no action on public transport to enforce face coverings and social distancing

Unite is warning that a ‘second spike’ in COVID-19 infections is becoming ever more likely due to increasing non-compliance with face covering and social distancing rules on public transport.

Unite issued its warning today after transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that bus and rail timetables will return to 85 per cent of normal services in early July. 

However, Unite is increasingly concerned that the rules on wearing masks/face coverings and maintaining social distancing on public transport are frequently being ignored, which dramatically increases the risk of infection. 

Only the police have the power to fine someone for flouting the rules on face coverings. It is responsibility of bus operators, not bus drivers, to prevent overcrowding and to order passengers not following the rules to leave a vehicle.

ONS report on COVID-19 worker deaths increases concerns about inequality and working practices

Unite is calling for an urgent ‘warts and all’ public inquiry into the death rates of workers from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The union made its call following the publication of the Office of National Statistics latest report into deaths by occupation up to 25 May 2020.

Although the ONS found that nearly two thirds of Covid-19 deaths were of male workers, Unite has urged that due attention must also be paid to the high level of deaths among women workers in sectors including retail, health and social care, where there has been a total of 377 women worker deaths compared to 270 men.

The ONS found that 17 occupations were found to have significantly increased death rates due to COVID-19 including taxi drivers and chauffeurs (135 deaths), security guards (107 deaths), and bus and coach drivers (54 deaths).

In further disturbing findings, the report notes that of the 17 specific occupations that had increased death rates, 11 had a high proportion of black and ethnic minority workers working in them. However, the ONS report does not record deaths by ethnicity and occupation.

28 June 2020

Leicester virus spike needs everyone to play their part to protect public health and prevent job losses

Unite has called for targeted lockdowns across the city in a concerted effort to tackle to surge in COVID-19 cases locally.

The union is also urging central government to assist with additional resources for the health and public services across the region, and for the furlough programme to continue at the full rate to prevent employers in the area laying workers off as they face an inevitable further delay in re-opening the economy.

Unite's Regional Secretary for the East Midlands, Paresh Patel, said: "This spike in coronavirus cases across the city is extremely worrying. Everyone needs to now play their part in getting this under control as rapidly as possible with localised lockdowns as necessary.”

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.

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.