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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 6 July 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.

29 June 2020

Unite welcomes Labour’s ‘care for carers’ demands in wake of Covid-19 impact

Unite has welcomed Labour’s demands to provide fast-tracked mental health services for three million NHS and care workers.

Unite National Officer, Jacalyn Williams, said: “These plans would create much needed support for the mental health of NHS and care staff who have faced the brunt of the worst impacts of the pandemic day after day.”

30 June 2020

McCluskey’s response to PM’s speech: Workers urgently need a bridge to the new economy to avert a jobs abyss

Responding to the speech given by the prime minister, the leader of Unite called for urgent action to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, said: "We welcome the prime minister's promise to build our way back better than before. That's a fine ambition but it has to be matched with the ambition and the investment which accompanied FDR's new deal.  

"Today, however, we appear to have only been promised FDR's loose change and some second-hand spending plans. While the US got the Hoover dam, the pandemic-hit UK gets a re-announcement of repairs to some bridges in Sandwell.

"There is no doubt that this country's frayed infrastructure needs investment, so we hope that there is much more to come from the prime minister.” 

Link between migrant worker exploitation and COVID-19 meat processing outbreaks ‘must be addressed’

Unite has stated that the link between outbreaks of COVID-19 at meat processing plants and the sector's widespread exploitation of migrant workers on low pay and insecure contracts must be addressed.

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite have commented on the direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’ and the spread of the disease in such environments.

This is particularly true in meat processing factories that do not provide staff that need to self-isolate with company sick pay or any other form of financial support, as it increases the danger of individuals with COVID-19 going into work because they cannot afford to take time off. 

Unite also raised concerns about track and trace record keeping for agency workers, such as production line staff and cleaners, who often work at multiple sites and whose contact details may not be available or could be overlooked during infection control procedures.

easyJet jobs announcement ‘massive blow’ and highlights the need for government action

Unite has described the announcement that easyJet is intending to make 1,290 cabin crew redundant and close its hubs at Newcastle, Stansted and Southend airports in their entirety as yet another ‘massive blow’ for this battered industry.

Unite National Officer for Civil Aviation, Oliver Richardson, said: “There is no need for this announcement at this time, especially since easyJet has taken a multi-million pounds government loan which it ought to be putting to use defending UK jobs.

“This is a company with its priorities all wrong. It has paid a multi-million dividend to its shareholders, borrowed hundreds of millions from the government to buy new aircraft and has fully utilised the Job Retention Scheme. It absolutely should not be allowed to make huge redundancies a few weeks later.

“The latest announcement further demonstrates why it is absolutely essential that the government extends its Job Retention Scheme for the aviation sector, which has been one of the industries worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

1 July 2020

Boris Johnson’s ‘gung-ho’ messaging heightens A&E fears as pubs reopen

Unite warned that NHS ambulance and A&E staff are braced ‘with a great deal of trepidation’ for the fall-out from the mass opening of pubs in England on Saturday.

If that happens, Unite will blame the ‘gung-ho and mixed messaging’ from prime minister, Boris Johnson, for putting too much emphasis on the easing of the lockdown and not sufficient weight on the need to still follow the social distancing rules.

Airbus job cuts ‘vandalism' - but UK government sits on sidelines while a national asset is destroyed

Unite has described the announcement by Airbus that it is to slash 1,727 UK jobs as ‘another act of industrial vandalism' against the country's under-attack aerospace sector.

Calling on the government to stop watching from the sidelines while a national asset is destroyed, Unite said that No 10 must 'step up to the plate', just as leaders in France and Germany have, to protect the sector. In recent weeks, jobs have gone hand over fist in the UK while other competitor governments shore up their businesses and actively protect jobs.

Airbus says that the jobs will go right across its UK operations including at its largest factories at Broughton in North Wales and Filton in Bristol. 1,116 UK manufacturing jobs will be lost alongside 611 office-based jobs as Airbus seeks to shrink its workforce by 15 percent.

2 July 2020

Unite warns: “Don't abandon UK aerospace - or this world-class industry will be lost on your watch”

In a week where over 10,000 UK jobs were lost in a single day - including 1,700 Airbus jobs - Unite has called upon the government to step up now or lose a world-class industry on their watch.

Unite has repeatedly warned that without swift action to support the UK’s aerospace industry more jobs will go on a vast scale and the UK's crown as an industry leader will be stolen by competitor countries.

Unite's argument for aerospace support is strengthened by the publication of new research commissioned by Unite and undertaken by Acuity Analysis.

3 July 2020

COVID-19 reinforces the case for a ‘substantial’ pay rise for NHS staff

Unite has commented that the coronavirus pandemic reinforces – not diminishes – the strong case for the NHS workforce to receive a ‘beyond substantial’ pay rise for 2021-22.

Unite has joined with 13 other health unions and professional organisations to launch a campaign to demand that pay talks start as soon as possible out of respect for the dedicated NHS staff who have battled COVID-19.

Unite National Officer for Health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “Warm words of praise by ministers and the weeks of Thursday evening clapping by a grateful nation are only part the story – and that’s why a generous pay rise is required to repair the damage of the last decade when pay in real terms was eroded by an estimated 20 per cent.”

6 July 2020

There will be no ‘build, build, build' unless government acts to avert construction apprenticeship crisis

Unite has warned that the prime minister's recent promise to ‘build, build, build' the UK back to economic health will not be ‘get very far' unless urgent action is taken to avert a crisis in skills and apprenticeship development.

A lethal combination of employers' long-standing reluctance to invest in apprentices, allied to widespread redundancies because of the pandemic and a reluctance to recruit new entrants due to the ongoing economic uncertainty, is likely to result in there being 20,000 fewer apprentices across the sector this autumn, vastly down from the 47,284 in England last year (2019). 

Industry forecasts have also indicated that there will be a sharp decline in the construction apprenticeship intake this autumn. Without the skills needed to support the sector, Unite fears that some construction contracts will have to be cancelled placing more construction workers on the dole.
Unite also understands that at least 50 per cent of electrical construction apprentices are currently furloughed, with growing concerns that as the Job Retention Scheme winds down they will be made redundant. 

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.