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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 8 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.

01 March 2021

Probe called for into the ‘elusive’ boss of Lancashire firm where workers are still owed up to £170,000 in unpaid wages

Serious questions continue to be asked into allegations that the owner of Lunar Automotive, previously based in Preston, has not paid his workforce to the tune of about £170,000 while they have been furloughed.

The company has now relocated to The Squires in Blackpool with the remaining workers threatened with the possibility of redundancy and, if they keep their jobs, it will be on inferior ‘fire and rehire’ terms.

Unite the union wants HM Revenue & Customs to probe the business affairs of the company’s owner, Nicholas Marks, into allegations that he claimed money from the taxpayer-funded job retention scheme, but did not pass onto the 45-strong workforce (since reduced to about 20) who have not been paid since August last year.

Unite reaction to Bank of Ireland decision to close 103 branches

Rob MacGregor, national officer from Unite, said: “The news that the Bank of Ireland has today chosen to decimate its bank branch network by closing 103 branches is utterly shocking. This decision will change the face of banking across Ireland and will leave the workforce and customers reeling.

“Unite is clear that being within a global pandemic is no time for any financial institution to make such long-term and potentially disastrous decisions. There is no rationale for judging customer behaviour on recent activity, we are living in unprecedented times. The Bank of Ireland must suspend these planned closures to avoid permanent damage to the communities which depend on them for access to banking.”

02 March 2021

Living Wage Foundation urged to end Goodlord accreditation over ‘brutal’ London pay cuts as indefinite strikes begin

The Living Wage Foundation has been urged to end its accreditation of London-based lettings software provider Goodlord over ‘brutal’ £6,000 pay cuts that have forced staff to begin indefinite strike action.

Around 20 Unite members employed at Goodlord’s London-based referencing department, which provides tenant checks for estate agents, had been on discontinuous strike since 22 February.

On March 1, however, the workers escalated their industrial action to an indefinite strike, meaning they will not return to work until the dispute is resolved.

The dispute centres on fire and rehire plans that would see the pay of Goodlord's referencing staff plummet from £24,000 to £18,000.

Goodlord is accredited as a Living Wage Foundation employer. However, the cuts would see Goodlord’s referencing staff earn less than the foundation’s London living wage of £21,157.

Referencing staff are the only workers employed by the company to have been singled out for fire and rehire attacks.

McCluskey: We'll keep looking for furlough extension to 2022

Responding to confirmation that the coronavirus job retention scheme is to be extended by six months, Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, said: “Although still short of the support provided by competitor nations, these extra months of furlough support offer some stability in the rocky months ahead.

“We’ll keep looking for an extension to 2022 because there is still tremendous uncertainty out there.

“We also urge the chancellor to do more to repair the economic conditions further by stabilising household incomes.

“Furloughed workers have been living with a twenty per cent cut in their wages for the best part of a year now, amassing hefty debts. This will need to be addressed by government because depressed incomes will hold back the recovery, further cementing inequality.

“But I also direct this call to employers: work with us now to avert a jobs crisis between now and September. Let’s use these months to do all we can to build back demand because the huge task before us now is to keep people in work and off the dole.”

03 March 2021

Freeports risk employment `sinkholes' when country needs jobs creation to avoid autumn cliff edge for workers

Reacting to the Budget statement delivered by chancellor Rishi Sunak, the leader of Unite warned that the government's flagship freeports policy could cause wage `sinkholes' and demanded more action on jobs creation.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, said:  "In this time of crisis, workers and communities are desperate for action on a scale that meets this enormous moment and takes us to a fairer future.

"Instead, the chancellor plundered his back catalogue to pull out a sketchy policy, a return of freeports, a failed experiment of the last decades where the only winners are tax avoiders and bad bosses.

"We need a coherent industrial strategy and real action to underpin jobs creation, not spin, gimmicks and dangerous wheezes.

"Furlough support will fall away and Universal Credit will be cut by £20 a week at precisely the time when unemployment could well be rising. 

"The comfortably off will be pleased by the extension of the stamp duty relaxation for those with expensive properties, but where is the proper assistance for those at the sharpest end of the economy in desperate need of help on sick pay, wages and rent debt?

"Frontline workers kept this country safe and supported during this crisis, putting their own health on the line.  Where this Budget should have recognised their heroic contribution with an end to a decade of wage cuts and the justified pay rise that the public wants to see, it failed them.”

04 March 2021

'Rogue Manchester bus service’ exposing passengers to COVID-19 risk

Passengers on Go North West’s ‘rogue bus service’ are being forced onto dangerously overcrowded buses, risking their health and all residents in Greater Manchester.

Over 400 members of Unite are currently on all-out strikes after Go North West brutally fired and rehired the workers and forced them onto inferior pay and conditions. The workers who currently earn on average £24,000 a year, will be £2,500 a year worse off. The strike action began on Sunday 28 February.

Rather than return to the negotiating table and seek an agreement to avoid strike action, the company decided to instead operate a ‘rogue bus service’.

It has moved many of its buses out of its Queens Road depot and is also using buses supplied by non-union companies including Selwyns and Belle Vue coaches. The company is also bringing in drivers from many other parts of the country, including Cumbria, to drive its ‘rogue service’.

Under the rules established in Greater Manchester to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, single-decker buses are restricted to 18 passengers, with no one allowed to stand. The photo and video evidence obtained by Unite, reveals that there were up to 44 people on just one bus being operated by ‘the rogue bus service’ many of whom were standing.

‘Fire and rehire’ plans for Banbury coffee workers branded as ‘immoral’ by Unite

Plans to ‘fire and rehire’ nearly 300 workers at the JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) site in Banbury, Oxfordshire could lead to industrial action at the coffee factory.

Unite has branded the action of the Dutch-owned company in issuing notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees as ‘immoral’, especially given the dedication of the workforce as coffee drinking has soared in the UK during the year-long pandemic.

Unite is also angry at proposed changes to the company's pension scheme, which will mean the ending of the final salary system and introducing an 'inferior' defined contribution scheme that will be subject to the fluctuations in global stock markets.

Unite said that the management had been seeking to erode employment conditions at Ruscote Avenue for some time, but talks had been abandoned at the onset of coronavirus last year.

London bus drivers to stop driving overcrowded buses to prevent the spread of COVID-19

London bus drivers, who are members of Unite, have been advised to stop driving if their bus becomes overcrowded, in order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

Following the high number of bus drivers who died of COVID-19, and to prevent transmission among passengers, Transport for London, the transport regulator in the capital, set strict limits on how many passengers a bus should carry to ensure that social distancing was maintained.

A maximum of 30 passengers can ride on a double decker bus and the maximum capacity for a single decker is 11 or 14, depending on its size. In addition, standing is not allowed on buses. All maximum loads are clearly marked on buses.

With schools due to begin to return on March 8, drivers are highly concerned that overcrowding will dramatically increase, risking their health and that of all the passengers on the bus - especially as it appears that new variants of COVID-19 spread more easily among children.

Under the advice issued to Unite’s 20,000 plus bus drivers, when the bus reaches capacity, the driver will remain in their cab and contact their controller and the bus will remain stationary until the matter is resolved.

No compulsory redundancies “great news” for Airbus Broughton

Unite Wales has welcomed the announcement by Airbus that there will be no compulsory redundancies across its UK operations, including at Broughton in North Wales. The news will come as a relief to the thousands of Unite members at Broughton, who recently overwhelmingly agreed to an innovative shorter working week in order to save jobs.

Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Regional Secretary, commented: “For our members at Airbus Broughton this is great news following a turbulent year that has seen the plant rocked by the effects of COVID-19. The Welsh aerospace sector has been under immense pressure due to the decline in aircraft orders resulting from the pandemic. The workforce has remained strong and united and today’s news is hopefully the first sign that the plant is on the road to recovery.”

Government proposal of one per cent pay rise for NHS staff ‘an enormous slap in the face’

The government’s desire to see NHS pay capped at one per cent has been branded as ‘callous and an enormous slap in the face’ for the NHS workforce that has, literally, given their lives during the pandemic.

Unite was responding to the news that the government’s evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body was recommending a one per cent rise for 2021-22.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail, said: “During the pandemic, NHS staff were on the frontline 24/7 saving patients’ lives and caring for the dying. More than 620 NHS and social care staff lost their lives to COVID-19.

“Boris Johnson and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock were keen that we all clapped every week, but when it comes to them reflecting a nation’s deep appreciation in the form of a decent pay rise, they have been shown to be sadly lacking.

“Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, will continue to make the case strongly that NHS staff deserve an immediate pay rise of £3,000-a-year or 15 per cent, whichever is greater.”

05 March 2021

Delivery of top car brands in UK and for export could be disrupted by ‘fire and rehire’ row

The delivery of top UK car brands for export could be hit by industrial action, following a unilateral decision to ‘fire and rehire’ 23 drivers by a French-owned logistics company.

Unite said that the drivers’ employer STVA, part of the Groupe CAT, had given notice that its current contracts would terminate on 21 April and it could then apply for a new one which would mean it losing about £3,200 a year in wages.

Unite said that it was planning to hold an industrial action ballot of the drivers who deliver Bentley, Ford and Honda cars across the UK and unload the vehicles for export at the ports.

The drivers are based at Belshill (Glasgow), Crewe, Doncaster, Portbury (Port of Bristol), Southampton, Sunderland, Swindon and Widnes.

Unite considers industrial action after government’s ‘indecent proposal’ of one per cent pay rise for NHS staff

An industrial action ballot is one of the options that Unite will be considering as it steps up its campaign for a fair and decent pay rise for NHS staff.

Unite will be liaising with other health unions as to the next steps in the pay justice campaign, as the row continues over the government’s evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) which recommends a one per cent rise for 2021-22. The PRB is due to report in May.

'Army of 30,000 union reps’ ready to promote vaccine take-up in UK’s workplaces

Unite’s ‘standing army’ of 30,000 workplace reps is being mobilised to play its part in promoting the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to workmates across the UK.

Unite launched a major initiative with its general secretary, Len McCluskey, saying the UK’s accelerating vaccination programme is ‘a bridge to a safer world, and the chance to live, work and travel as we did before.’

Unite is especially keen to assist those hard-to-reach groups, which have been hit hardest by the virus but where some are yet to be convinced of the merits or safety of the two major vaccines currently deployed in the UK – Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

The union also repeated its call for an urgent uplift in statutory sick pay stating that the country needs 'more than one club in its bag' to beat this disease, including much more support for low waged workers who have to isolate.

Cammell Laird job losses ‘totally unacceptable’

Unite has branded the announcement that the Cammell Laird shipbuilding yard in Birkenhead is intending to make 178 workers redundant, as ‘totally unacceptable’.

The yard currently has a workforce of approximately 700 workers.

Despite there being a job retention scheme in place at the yard, Unite was not consulted about the redundancies and has not been informed about the business case behind the decision.

The workforce was briefed by management that the redundancies are part of a restructure of the business, which will target permanent employment, and that in future the yard will operate with a high degree of casualised agency labour.

If the decision to make the redundancies is due to a temporary downturn in work as a result of the pandemic, Unite will be arguing that Cammell Laird should be furloughing workers, while orders are sought, to avoid job losses.

07 March 2021

Lack of decent NHS pay rise will lead to staff exodus and waiting list crisis

The lack of a decent pay rise for NHS staff will lead to a staff exodus, resulting in a waiting list crisis within five years because of a shortage of health professionals to carry out vital operations and procedures.

This warning came from Unite as controversy continues to swirl over the government’s recommendation of a one per cent pay rise to the independent NHS Pay Review Body.

Unite, with 100,000 members in the health service, said the anger felt by NHS staff at the ‘insulting’ government proposal would exacerbate the already existing serious ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis in the NHS.

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.