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Unite Legal Services: Weekly coronavirus COVID-19 latest news round-up – 9 November 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.

2 November 2020

Biomedical scientists carrying out COVID-19 tests at Lancashire NHS trust ‘short-changed’ by £7,000-a-year

Biomedical scientists in the frontline of COVID-19 testing at a Lancashire NHS trust are losing about £7,000-a-year because hardline bosses refuse to pay ‘the going rate for the job’.

Unite said that the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is facing a retention crisis as underpaid biomedical scientists are voting with their feet and moving to other trusts in the north west that pay the correct Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rate.

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 13 members have lost about £7,000 annually as Band 5 pays about £30,000.

Unite regional officer, Keith Hutson, said: “Our biomedical scientists have had years of training and are highly skilled, but are not paid a fortune. They are in the frontline of carrying COVID-19 related tests once patients are admitted to hospital.

“Yet, we have a hardline trust management that is not prepared to pay ‘the going rate for the job’ for essential NHS workers at a time of national emergency.”

3 November 2020

School support must be fully protected or action will be taken

While Unite fully understands the importance of all children being able to access education, the safety of members must not be compromised.

If serious safety concerns are identified and immediate action is not taken to remedy them, then Unite will instruct staff to exercise their legal right to withdraw their work until safety measures are fully instigated.

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “School staff are feeling incredibly vulnerable and believe their legitimate concerns are being ignored as the country faces the full impact of the second wave of COVID-19 and England prepares for a second national lockdown.

“It is vitally important that children are able to access education but if schools are to stay open then all workers including support staff and nurses must be fully protected at all times.

“Unite will not tolerate the health of our members being compromised and if there is an immediate threat to their wellbeing we will instruct them to withdraw from work.”

4 November 2020

Major job losses announced at LBG

Despite posting strong Quarter Three profits, Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) has decided to cut 1,070 staff. While the bank has announced the intention to create 329 roles, these will be of no comfort to the 1,000 staff who have today lost their incomes and livelihoods.

Unite has called on LBG to postpone its planned restructuring programmes with immediate effect following the release of better than expected Q3 results and the rising threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer, said: “Unite cannot comprehend why LBG would choose to cut 1,000 staff who have given the bank such commitment and dedication during a global pandemic. These staff have worked tirelessly despite any risks to themselves.”

Heathrow catering company snubs furlough extension and plans to sack more than 1,000 workers

A Heathrow Airport catering company, whose biggest customer is British Airways, has snubbed the government’s extension of furlough until December as it makes more than 1,000 workers redundant.

The company has said that it will be making 1,068 staff redundant, bringing a total of 1,377 job losses, including voluntary redundancies, since the pandemic started. Just 507 staff will be left after the latest job cull.

Unite regional officer, Shereen Higginson, said: “DO & CO is the only catering company at Heathrow that has refused point-blank to enter into constructive talks with the union over furlough arrangements. It is also delaying discussions on the new Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).

“We are ‘naming and shaming’ DO & CO as an example of corporate callousness in the middle of a global pandemic – and pointing out the indirect reputational damage to British Airways being associated with this catering company.

5 November 2020

‘Opportunistic’ sign language service attacks during pandemic will cause ‘long term misery’ for deaf communities

Due to lockdown restrictions, access to face-to-face sign language interpretation services and BSL provisions have been reduced. According to the charity, SignHealth, deaf people’s mental health and ability to access basic healthcare are being seriously and disproportionately impacted by measures taken to combat the pandemic.

An increased use of Video Relay Services (VRS), as a result of government-enforced social distancing restrictions, has led to fees and terms and conditions for interpreters being attacked. The union said many BSL agencies are now planning for VRS to make up at least 50 per cent of their services once the COVID-19 pandemic has been brought under control.

NUBSLI branch secretary, Samantha Riddle, said: “The attacks on the sign language services we are now seeing will cause long term misery for deaf communities already suffering because of the pandemic. While VRS does meet the needs of some deaf people in particular circumstances, it is not suitable for all or useful in every situation and should not be made into the primary form BSL service provision. 

“As well as drastically eroding our members’ living standards, these cynical attempts to phase out face-to-face interpretation services over the long term will have a devasting impact on deaf people all over the country.”

Call for Sainsbury’s to redeploy supermarket counter workers under threat

Unite has called on Sainsbury’s to redeploy its 500 members whose jobs on deli, fish and meat counters are under threat, following today’s announcement by the supermarket giant that it is cutting 3,500 jobs.

Unite said that it was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the news affecting its members working on these counters, which have been closed since the first lockdown in March, and called for urgent talks to explore redeployment opportunities within Sainsbury’s supermarkets.

Unite national officer for the food industry, Bev Clarkson, said: “This is very disappointing news for our 500 members working on the deli, fish and meat counters.

“We are seeking urgent talks with the management to explore deployment opportunities within Sainsbury’s, given the supermarket’s sales have risen since the first lockdown in March.

“Hopefully, the supermarket can reopen some of these counters, closed since March, once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased and a vaccine comes on stream.

“This is very grim news for our members and their families in the run-up to Christmas, and we will be giving them maximum support during this worrying and uncertain time.”

McCluskey: 'We need a plan for jobs and incomes, and we need it yesterday'

Commenting in response to the chancellor's latest announcement of additional financial support for business and workers in lockdown, the leader of Unite, Len McCluskey said:

"Today's extension of the Job Retention Scheme until March 2021 is, of course, welcome but entirely predictable. The government was always going to have to get real because workers simply cannot be forced into further crisis-caused lockdowns without financial support.

"Thousands of UK jobs have been lost in the past 24 hours alone. Who knows how many of these jobs and the many others that have previously been lost could have been saved if the prime minister and chancellor had followed the path of France and Germany and announced financial investment and jobs security packages well ahead of further lockdowns.

"We need a government with a plan to protect health, jobs and incomes, to get us through these frightening times and out the other side, and we need it yesterday."

Rolls Royce urged to use furlough extension until March to safeguard UK jobs under threat

Unite called on Rolls Royce to fully utilise the extension of the furlough scheme until March 2021 as the company announced nearly 1,400 jobs are being cut in the UK and globally.

The job losses announced today are part of the company’s plan to slash its worldwide workforce by 9,000 which was announced in May this year, of which about 3,300 were earmarked for the UK.

Unite understands that the job losses could affect 650 managers, 100 staff and 420 production workers and is seeking urgent clarification on how many jobs are under threat in the UK and how many in the rest of the world.

Unite national officer for aerospace, Rhys McCarthy, said: “We are calling on the Rolls Royce management to halt its job loss programme in the UK, while it fully considers the implications of the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of March 2021 that chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled to MPs earlier today.

“We can’t afford, as a country, to lose skilled manufacturing jobs as they will generate prosperity for the benefit of all in the years to come.”

6 November 2020

Closure of Alexander Dennis plant in Guildford with 200 job losses ‘cynically fast tracked’

The closure of the Alexander Dennis (ADL) plant in Guildford this week after 125 years of vehicle building with the loss of 200 jobs was ‘cynically fast tracked’ using the global pandemic as an excuse.

Unite said the Guildford closure was ‘extra shameful’ as there were already 150 chassis earmarked for the Surrey operation – enough for at least five months of production – which will now be diverted to an outsourced company in the UK.

Unite national officer for automotive industries, Steve Bush, said: “The abrupt closure of the ADL Guildford site yesterday was a brutal act that gave long-standing colleagues hardly any time to say ‘goodbye’.

“As Guildford was producing seven chassis a week, there was at least five months of work in the pipeline that could have ensured employment for the workforce, while we explored how the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s extension of the furlough scheme to the end of March 2021 could have been utilised to safeguard our members’ jobs.

“When the UK emerges from COVID-19, it will need skilled jobs at companies, such as ADL, to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic global economy.”

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.