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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 30 November 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.

23 November 2020

Call for ‘czar’ to break PPE logjam in supply chain

The PPE ‘czar’ needs to break the logjam in the supply of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS staff, after media reports that the government is paying £1 million-a-day to store a PPE ‘mountain’.

Unite said that the government’s PPE supremo Lord Deighton, appointed in the spring, urgently needs to intervene to sort out the supply chain problems.

Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “The long-running problems with the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a national scandal that has shocked the public  – and we are now calling for the government’s PPE ‘czar’ Lord Deighton to urgently explain why there are continuing logjams in the supply chain.

“All this is happening against a background of an estimated more than 600 NHS and social care workers dying from causes linked to COVID-19 – this PPE crisis needs to be resolved urgently out of respect to their memory.

“Now more than ever these promises need to be kept as the NHS approaches the most challenging of winters.”

COVID-19 fears spur workers at Noble Foods in the East Midlands to get organized

Hundreds of essential workers at the poultry division of Noble Foods Ltd in Lincolnshire have won their battle to be represented by Unite.

In March of this year, a health and safety issue at the Gainsborough site became a catalyst for the workers to get organised and win trade union recognition. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, factory equipment was blowing cold air along a line of production workers, which staff feared had the potential to spread the virus. As soon as the issue was raised and the union intervened, the management quickly resolved the problem and fortunately, there were no infections.

Unite regional officer, Steve Syson, said: "The safety of essential workers is paramount during these difficult times. The workforce saw just how quickly and effectively Unite resolved their safety concerns about COVID-19 at the factory. Once the workers and the union demanded action the management quickly fixed the equipment. This spurred hundreds of workers to join Unite the union.

"With the support of Unite's organising team and the activists onsite, the workforce has been awarded trade union recognition and the union has opened discussions with management in the spirit of constructive dialogue. If an agreement cannot be reached by 2 December, the government's Central Arbitration Committee will impose terms on the employer. Hopefully, that won't be the case, but whatever the outcome, Unite will represent its members for collective bargaining at this site going forward."

Biomedical scientists at Lancashire NHS trust to ‘work to rule’ in row over being ‘short-changed’ £7,000-a-year

Biomedical scientists on the frontline of COVID-19 testing at a Lancashire NHS trust, who are losing about £7,000-a-year, will be ‘working to rule’ for three months which will delay the analysis of samples.

The biomedical scientists have voted unanimously for industrial action as hardline bosses at the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust refuse to pay ‘the going rate for the job’.

The crux of the dispute is that the biomedical scientists have been held back on Band 5 (AfC), despite qualifying for Band 6 (just under £38,000-a-year) due to working unsupervised for a number of years. The majority of Unite’s 14 members have lost about £7,000 annually as Band 5 pays about £30,000.

Unite regional officer, Keith Hutson, said: “Because of the COVID-19 crisis, they have decided to ‘work to rule’ rather than take strike action to make their point without affecting priority samples being analysed, although delays will occur for more routine ones. The action will affect late and night shifts as well as weekend working.

“It will mean that our members currently on Band 5 of Agenda for Change will strictly adhere to that job description and will not act up to do the responsibilities of those on Band 6.”

Chancellor has power and responsibility to see off mass unemployment and build a fair recovery

Unite is calling upon the chancellor to use the power of his office to fend off mass unemployment and make 2021 a better year for working people.

Writing to Rishi Sunak, the union has outlined a strategy to promote economic recovery and social cohesion in advance of the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s comprehensive spending review (CSR.

It is calling for the chancellor to reject the 'tired' and failed austerity agenda of public sector pay freezes and spending cuts - and instead adopt a programme that invests in manufacturing, values public services and protects the most vulnerable in society by enhancing incomes as the pandemic continues to take its toll.

25 November 2020

Sunak’s ‘divide and rule’ on public sector pay ‘a body blow’

Responding to Sunak’s ‘divide and rule’ on public sector pay, Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “The chancellor Rishi Sunak has delivered a body blow to the public sector workers he has targeted to bear the brunt of the costs of the pandemic with a pay freeze – his so-called ‘pause’.

“It is doubly disappointing that the chancellor has adopted ‘divide and rule’ tactics over public sector pay with an award for NHS staff, but a freeze on pay for millions of others, such as teaching assistants, who are already low paid.

“It is also a blow to local economies and high streets where public sector workers spend a large proportion of their wages.

“The prime minister’s ‘levelling up’ agenda is in tatters as a result of the chancellor’s divisive pay announcement which does nothing to restore the ‘lost’ pay in real terms from a decade of austerity.”

26 November 2020

Failure to boost sick pay with advent of new COVID-19 tier restrictions ‘a dereliction of duty’

Reacting to the failure to boost sick pay, Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, said: “There's not just a health and economic crisis engulfing this country.  Job insecurity and low incomes are endemic, too.

“These tough new tier restrictions across most of England will not be successful unless the government puts a floor underneath workers' incomes so that they can support this fresh effort to defeat the virus.

“The misery of this virus will roll on for workers, industries and communities unless, once and for all, the government sorts out the mess it's made of ‘test and trace’, turning to local authority health professionals who know their communities inside out, not private sector mates using some remote call centre. 

“It is simply not good enough for Boris Johnson and his ministers to hang on for the vaccine to come to the rescue. Our communities and people can’t wait that long. They are taking a hammering right now and need and deserve help right now."

Heineken Hereford staff ‘preparing to battle’ huge ‘sack and sign’ contract cuts

Workers at Heineken’s cider brewery in Hereford, Herefordshire, are ‘preparing to battle’ a ‘sack and sign’ (SAS) ultimatum by the company that will see staff lose thousands of pounds in pay and benefits.

Heineken announced that it intends to fire and rehire staff at the brewery, which makes Strongbow and Bulmers and where Unite has more than 200 members, on contracts that would result in huge pay reductions for many workers.

The staff who stand to lose the most would be those affected by changes to retirement rundown benefits, while the company also plans to cancel Sunday shift premiums, cut holiday pay and change the terms and conditions for flexible working. 

27 November 2020

Airbus Filton first responders strike postponed for talks

Securitas first responders working at Airbus’ Filton site have postponed strikes on Monday 30 November and Tuesday 1 December over contract changes that would result in wage losses of up to £6,000, to allow last minute talks to go ahead.

Negotiations will take place between Unite and Securitas and the first responders will work as normal. If a solution is not found then strikes will resume on Wednesday 2 December.

The 10 first responders and Unite members, who voted unanimously in favour of strike action, have been told that if they do not accept the changes, which also include reductions to holidays and sick pay, they will lose their jobs.

Securitas has blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the decision and says Airbus supports the plans to dissolve Filton’s first responder unit, which provides emergency cover on site, and incorporate it into the security team.

In response, Unite pointed to the company’s failed attempts to disband the unit four years ago and said that Securitas is using the pandemic as an ‘excuse’.

29 November 2020

Unite calls for government high street strategy as Arcadia faces administration

The government needs to set out a post-COVID strategy to revive Britain’s ailing high streets, as retail giant Arcadia faces the prospect of administration, Unite has said.

The union made the call as media reports said that administrators for the company, run by controversial retail tycoon Sir Philip Green, could be appointed on Monday 30 November, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.

Unite regional officer, Debbie McSweeney, said: “This news from Arcadia is another bitter blow for the UK’s non-food retail sector, and is deeply worrying for our members and their families in the run-up to Christmas.

“We call on the government to redouble its efforts to formulate a radical post-COVID-19 blueprint to revive the country’s ailing town centres and high streets. Such a strategy is desperately needed as high streets underpin the social fabric of our communities.”

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.

Unite has set up a register for all our members to record their experiences of working during the COVID-19 crisis. The survey should only take a few minutes to complete - but by taking this time, you're helping your union keep Unite members safe. You can complete the survey here