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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 5 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.

28 September 2020

Uber court decision ‘a sad day for the travelling public in London’

The news that Uber has won its appeal against Transport for London's (TfL) decision not to renew its licence is ‘a sad day for the travelling public in London’.

Chair of the Unite London Taxi Section, Jim Kelly, said: “This is a sad day for the travelling public in London and another blow to the taxi drivers in the capital.

“It is our view that Uber has a ruthless business model that undermines safety and long-established regulations and now they have got the green light to continue operating in London which is very disappointing.

“Our members have high standards of training and knowledge. They are trusted by the travelling public – but all that apparently counts for nothing in the pursuit of corporate profit.

“This is devastating news for our nearly 1,000 taxi drivers in London and further threatens their income which has already been badly hit by COVID-19 which has seen tourists shy away from the UK and many office staff continuing to work from home.”

29 September 2020

Unite victory: Major London bus operator rules out remote sign on

Unite has secured a major victory in its campaign against the introduction of highly controversial remote sign-on operating procedures.

Bus operator HCT (Hackney Community Transport) has confirmed to Unite that it has withdrawn proposals to introduce remote sign on at its Walthamstow garage in North East London.

The decision by HCT to not progress with remote sign on, where a bus driver does not begin work at a depot but meets their bus at an outside location, further isolates bus operator Metroline which is trying to force through the introduction of remote sign on for its routes in North and West London.

Unite is opposed to remote sign on for the following reasons:

  • Safety: There will be no checks to ensure the driver is fit and well to drive a bus
  • Lack of access to toilet facilities, rest and canteen facilities
  • Drivers will be forced to wait for their bus to arrive in all weathers, potentially harming their health and ability to drive a bus over a long shift
  • Greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 in travelling to a location which has not been subject to the risk assessment and health measures in place in a depot
  • Increase the dangers and problems of fatigue as drivers will be subjected to far higher travelling time
  • The lack of a back-up: If a driver is delayed or a bus is not operational, then at a depot there is always alternative options to provide passenger transport.

Legal case against Lancashire electronic firm `wake up call' to employers abusing furlough

A legal case launched by Unite could prove to be a wake up call for rogue employers.

An employment tribunal will be asked to consider the case of a member who was furloughed in April 2020 only to be forced to work - and then dismissed for raising concerns about the abuse of the law.

The union is pursuing a claim for unfair dismissal, unlawful deduction of wages and breach of contract against Littleborough based electronic firm, Falconex Ltd.

Unite Regional Legal Manager, Michael Tighe, added: “While the vast majority of employers complied with the rules of furlough this demonstrates that some rogue bosses chose to ignore the rules.

"Our member did the honourable thing and called out this profiteering.  

“The support that we have been able to offer our member when he faced tremendous pressure demonstrates the importance of being in Unite: you will not be left to push back on your own. 

"Our legal team is now bringing a claim to ensure that our member is fully compensated, and this employer is taken to task over its actions”.

30 September 2020

A dark day as TSB announces closure of third of its bank branches

TSB has informed its staff that they will be making significant employee reductions next year. The overall reduction in numbers announced will result in 848 less people working for the Bank. The TSB will also permanently close 164 bank branches by the end of June 2021.

Dominic Hook, Unite National Officer, said: “Unite has urged the bank to rethink these plans and protect these much-needed jobs during the current health pandemic. Not only do these staff deserve more from their employer after showing the utmost loyalty to TSB, customers will be deeply hit by these branch closures.”

Rich Cambridge colleges urged to rethink COVID-19 jobs’ axe on low-paid staff

A number of Cambridge University colleges, which are targeting some of their lowest paid employees for the jobs’ axe as they juggle their COVID-19 finances, have been urged to have an urgent rethink.

Unite said that Cambridge colleges – some of the richest institutions in the country – should go ‘the extra mile’ to safeguard the jobs of the lowest paid employees. Already 21 of the 31 colleges have pledged ‘no compulsory job cuts’.

A coalition of Cambridge groups has launched the Cambridge Against Job Cuts campaign, following revelations in the university student newspaper, Varsity, that Downing, Queens’ and Trinity colleges are planning to sack more than 100 non-academic staff.

It is understood that Downing would seek to restore as many of the threatened posts as possible, as soon as finances allow. However, Unite firmly believes that there is no need for the jobs to be lost in the first place.

CITB cuts and sell-offs put PM's construction training plans at risk

Less than a day after the prime minister called for more vocational training, the UK's main construction training body is planning to ditch staff.

The union also fears the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) is planning to sell its training centres, putting at risk the sector's capacity to train the new construction workers the government seeks.

Unite has little faith the CITB’s board will change its proposals after its chair refused to meet the union to discuss the organisation's strategy including plans to hit workers with a triple whammy of cuts to pay, conditions and jobs.

The CITB has reneged on an agreement to increase staff pay by 2.54 per cent, announced that it wishes to slash redundancy terms from three weeks for every year worked to just one week and it also intent on making 110 staff (one in eight of its workforce) redundant.

Bernard Matthews risking Suffolk workers and public’s health with sick pay and bus fare ‘penny pinching’

‘Inadequate’ sick pay and worker bus fare rises at the coronavirus-hit Bernard Matthews’ turkey processing factory in Suffolk increase the risk of further COVID-19 transmissions.

The company, which was taken over by the owner of poultry giant 2 Sisters, Ranjit Boparan, in 2016, has informed Unite that minimum wage workers at the Holton plant who need to self-isolate will only receive statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 a week.

Bernard Matthews has also stated that the outbreak may be linked to workers car sharing. In response, Unite said that since August the company had ‘actively encouraged’ car sharing by nearly doubling the fares of its company-run buses to the site from £3.50 to £6 a day.

The union said that ‘Bernard Matthews is part of Ranjit Boparan’s billion-pound business empire, but its penny pinching is putting the health of its workers and the public at risk’.

Unite has consistently warned Mr Boparan’s 2 Sisters, which has suffered a number of outbreaks at sites across the country, and other food manufacturers, that only paying SSP leaves low paid staff facing the ‘stark choice of working while potentially infected or being unable to pay for food, rent or other bills’.

1 October 2020

Unions demand colleges deliver on promise to increase staff pay

Colleges must deliver on their promise to increase staff pay now the government has provided further education an extra £400 million funding.

The Association of Colleges, which represents English colleges, had previously said any staff pay increase was contingent on increased government funding.

The unions said it was time for colleges to finally agree a significant pay rise for further education staff and bring contracted staff back in-house. The pay claim - submitted by UCU, UNISON, NEU, GMB and Unite - calls for:

  • A significant move towards the full restoration of college pay levels to where they would be had college pay kept pace with inflation since 2009
  • The Living Wage, calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, to be the minimum wage in the sector
  • All further education colleges in England becoming accredited Living Wage employers with the Foundation
  • All contracted-out services to be brought back in-house with improvements in terms and conditions equal to those already directly employed by the college.

Unite National Officer, Siobhan Endean, said: “Support staff in further education colleges have suffered a decade of relentless pay cuts. College staff deserve a generous pay rise and the government must fund further education if it's going to meet its aspirations for a highly skilled UK labour force and put flesh on its "levelling up" rhetoric.

“Already there are skill shortages reported across the economy and they must be tackled as a matter of urgency if Britain is to flourish in a post-Brexit, post-pandemic global economy.”

Unite statement on Unipres Sunderland coronavirus outbreak

Commenting on the outbreak of coronavirus at the Sunderland factory of automotive parts manufacturer Unipres, which supplies a number of major car firms including Honda, Nissan and Renault, Unite Regional Officer, Nick Halton, said: “Around 15 Unipres workers have tested positive for coronavirus and a number of staff are self-isolating.

“The health and safety of our members is Unite’s top priority and the union is working with Unipres to ensure everything possible is done to contain the outbreak and keep staff safe.

“The company has been diligent in implementing a number of measures to prevent transmission occurring, including installing sanitising stations, requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing and staggering shift start and finish times. However, Unite has identified areas for improvement.

“We have raised formal concerns with the company over the continued use of a biometric system used for clocking in and the fact staff can only use one entrance to enter the site, both of which we believe present unnecessary risks.  

“Unite will continue to closely monitor the site’s safety regime and impress the importance of it being strictly followed. We will not hesitate to hold Unipres to account if staff safety is being compromised."

2 October 2020

Last call to super-salaried Heathrow bosses to avoid autumn strikes over poverty plunging fire and rehire

Heathrow, one of the world’s largest airports, is facing a complete shutdown this autumn as members of Unite prepare to ballot for strike action over the company’s attempts to slash the pay of 4,000 workers by up to £8,000.

Members of Unite employed directly by Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) including security officers, engineers, airside operatives and firefighters will begin balloting for industrial action on Thursday 8 October with the ballot closing on Thursday 5 November and with strikes following soon after.

The dispute is a direct result of Heathrow Airport Limited’s (HAL) decision to issue controversial section 188 notices to “fire and rehire” staff on vastly inferior pay and conditions. Workers face losing up to £8,000 per annum, around 25 per cent of their pay.

Fearful of being pushed into certain poverty if HAL's proposals are implemented, workers are already preparing to sell their homes, move to cheaper location, into smaller accommodation or give up their cars.

Heathrow has claimed the pay cuts are a necessary consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic but Unite rejects this as a fabrication, claiming that HAL's true intention is to use the `cover of COVID' to implement long-held plans to cut staff pay to boost profits.

Unite secures free Bernard Matthews bus travel to boost workers' COVID-19 safety

Bernard Matthews has suspended fares on company-subsidised buses to all of its sites to help prevent the spread of coronavirus through car sharing, following pressure from Unite.

The move came after the company said the COVID-19 outbreak at its site in Holton, Suffolk, could be linked to low paid workers car sharing.  

While welcoming the move, Unite said more clarity was needed from Bernard Matthews on how long the fares will be cancelled for, after the company said the decision will be ‘continually reviewed’. 

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.