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

22 March 2021

‘Rogue Manchester bus service’ under investigation for serial safety breaches

The ‘rogue bus service’, being be operated by Go North West in the Greater Manchester area, is under investigation for serial COVID-19 safety failures and breaches of other vital safety regulations.

Over 400 bus drivers have been on all-out continuous strike action since 28 February and they have been compiling a detailed dossier on all the safety failings of the ‘rogue bus service’.

The dossier details problems with the sub-contracted buses being operated by B and N Coaches, Connexions Buses, Edwards Coaches, Orion Travel, Red Rose, Selwyns, Swans, The Big Coach Company, The Travellers Choice and Tyrers Coaches.

The list of illegal activity was extensive and included: overcrowding and ignoring reduced capacity rules to prevent COVID-19 transmissions, allowing passengers to stand (often close to the driver), a failure to tape off seats around drivers, a complete absence of screens to protect drivers from COVID transmission and a failure to properly seal screens if they were in place.

Other non-COVID failures included: Many of the coaches were not accessible to disabled people and pose a danger for those with limited mobility, no ability to issue tickets, bicycles in aisleways and a lack of information that the services are being operated on behalf of Go North West.

Exclusive MPs and industry leaders’ poll shows wide support for post-pandemic planning, workers' rights, business support and better sick pay

Ahead of the first anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, pollster Survation carried out comprehensive research of MP’s and industry leaders on their post-pandemic priorities and attitudes for businesses and workers.

With business leaders indicating that they would back an improvement of workers' rights, Unite said the findings should see the government 'seize the initiative' and move to outlaw the horrific practice of fire and rehire. Fire and rehire sees employers attack wages and conditions and is at the centre of industrial disputes presently raging across the country.

The polling, which took place over three different waves during the latest lockdown in January and February, found that:

  • A majority of MPs and industry leaders favour an improvement to workers’ rights
  • A majority of business and industry leaders would like to see more generous terms and conditions for sick pay.
  • Post-pandemic planning is the top priority for MPs and business leaders. As a net overall score, post-pandemic planning (83 per cent) and extending the JRS (76 per cent) remain the top two priorities for the government to address.
  • 73 per cent of businesses have been harmed by the pandemic.

Unite welcomes the Scottish government's investment in green bus manufacturing

Unite Scotland has welcomed the announcement of 172 green buses to be built at Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) in Falkirk.

The Scottish government has awarded £40.5 million through a second round of the Scottish Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme (SULEBS), which Unite has stated will improve the outlook for the plant following significant job losses in 2020. The announcement will help to fill orders at a time when bus operators are reluctant to invest into their fleets due to the continuing impact of COVID on the bus industry.

Unite has spearheaded efforts to retain jobs at ADL in Falkirk and Larbert following the loss of around 200 jobs through voluntary redundancy. Unite had repeatedly criticised the Secretary of State of Scotland, Alistair Jack MP, for delays in the lack of support from the UK government as in a normal year about 25 per cent of ADL’s order book is made up of orders from within Scotland and much of the rest is from the UK. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, recently announced a £3 billion bus strategy – Bus Back Better - which will deliver 4,000 new UK built electric or hydrogen buses.

24 March 2021

NHS workers need sensitive support to cope with COVID mental health challenges

Unite has called for maximum sensitivity and full consultation with unions to deal with the mental health challenges health workers face as a result of the pandemic.

Unite made its comments following a report produced by the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, that called for ‘local leaders’ to ensure staff have ‘decompression time’ to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

25 March 2021

Billionaire Warren Buffett linked to Leicester SPS workers striking over 'brutal' fire and rehire cuts

Warren Buffett, whose net worth surpassed £73 billion this month, is linked to Leicester SPS Technologies' workers on strike over ‘brutal’ fire and rehire cuts.

Around 200 Unite members at SPS’s Barkby Road site are on strike over fire and rehire proposals that would result in reductions to overtime pay, sick pay, paid breaks and shift premiums amounting to annual wage losses of up to £3,000.

The company is owned by American billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway – a multinational conglomerate – and produces aerospace parts for companies such as Airbus, Boeing, GE and Rolls-Royce.

The Barkby Road workers began discontinuous strike action on 12 March, but will now strike daily from the 29 March until 3 June, effectively bringing the factory’s operations to a halt.

26 March 2021

Unite reacts to 4 per cent pay offer for NHS workers

Unite responded to the Scottish government’s pay offer of 4 per cent across the board for all NHS workers.

The offer includes an opportunity to revisit any settlement including an intention by the Scottish government to allocate additional funding through Barnett Consequentials. Unite will demand that any additional payment made to the Scottish government by Westminster through this formula, is passed on to our members.

Reacting to the offer, Unite regional officer James O’Connell, said: “Workers across the NHS have been described as ‘heroic’ in what has been an exceptionally challenging year. Now is the time to reward those workers with the pay uplift they deserve, not just for their work during the COVID pandemic, but also for the pay cuts they have endured through years of austerity.”

27 March 2021

Unite statement on Liberty Steel

Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Steve Turner, said: “Steel is a foundation industry and is essential for the recovery of the UK economy as we rebuild from COVID-19.

 “Unite is urging the government to do everything that is necessary in order to preserve Liberty Steel and secure its long-term future.  This is key to protecting the jobs of its workforce and the communities where it is based, to safeguard its supply chain and ensure its customers receive the products they require.

“The loss of Liberty Steel and the specialist products it manufacturers for the aerospace, automotive and oil and gas sectors would have damaging consequences beyond the steel sector itself.

 “While the loss of the thousands of skilled, well paid, unionised, jobs it provides is unthinkable, deskilling whole communities, ripping hope of a secure, job from future generations and damaging regional economies in areas of the country where unemployment is already high and wage rates are below average.”

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.