Coronavirus news round-up

Read all the latest UniteLive news on the coronavirus epidemic

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In our latest coronavirus news round-up on Wednesday (April 1), personal protection equipment (PPE) for NHS and other critical staff is at the top of the news agenda today.


UniteLive highlighted the unsung heroes in community nursing who, just like hospital staff, desperately need PPE as they navigate their workplaces amid a deadly epidemic.


These highly skilled nurses are a lifeline to many families yet it would appear that they have been completely forgotten by ministers and they urgently require personal protective equipment (PPE).


“Health visitors and community nurses are out there every day visiting parents in their homes offering excellent advice on new born babies and young children,” said Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary.


“While it is generally accepted that children are relatively immune from Covid-19, they or their parents may unwittingly have picked up the virus,” she added.


The Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), which is part of Unite, has vocalised frustration at the slow roll-out of PPE to NHS staff.


“Making home visits during these times when we are all on lockdown and socially distancing can be worrying for our members,” said Obi Amadi, Unite’s CPHVA director.


“Not only are members concerned about contracting Covid-19 but also of cross contamination.”


You can read our full story here.


Reverse cost-cutting now

More on PPE for health staff, Unite called for cost-cutting measures imposed by government on NHS procurement to be reversed because they are causing delays in the supply of PPE to hospitals due to understaffing.


Unite said warehouses run by Unipart – which is contracted on behalf of NHS supply company Supply Chain Coordination Limited (SCCL) to provide general health service equipment – are ‘struggling to keep up with demand’ and that staff are ‘exhausted’.


SCCL, which is wholly owned by the secretary of state for health and social care, supplies a range of non-specialised equipment and supplies, including PPE items such as hand sanitiser, face masks and gloves, to NHS trusts nationwide.


The union said army personnel are now working in warehouses run by Unipart for SCCL, which has been mandated to save the NHS £2.4 billion by 2022/23 through the unification of health service procurement, so that orders can be fulfilled more quickly.


Unipart are contracted to run warehouses in Alfreton, Bridgewater, Maidstone, Normanton, Rugby, Runcorn and Bury, as well as the delivery network, on behalf of SCCL. Unite represents around 150 drivers at Unipart, as well as a number of warehouse staff at all of SCCL’s warehouses.


Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said, “SCCL warehouses contracted out to Unipart are struggling to keep up with demand.


“Because of a shortage of workers, our members are working flat out to ensure supplies to hospitals across the country are being replenished and the British Army has been brought onboard to assist.


“The situation needs to be resolved as soon as possible so that vital supplies get where they need to be on time and exhausted warehouse staff can return to working sustainable hours.


“Though SCCL, Unipart has been tasked with helping to save the NHS £2.4 billion by 2022/23. These government imposed cuts must now be reserved, and spending directed to making sure that staffing levels are adequate enough to ensure staff are rested and can work safely and so that deliveries are provided on time.”


Read more here.


Small businesses need urgent support

Small businesses face an existential threat as they struggle to secure cash support, it was reported today (April 1), with the Corporate Finance Network estimating that a fifth of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) may be forced to close within the next month amid the epidemic.


Unite has called on the banks to take action to support SMEs which are the lifeblood of the UK economy.


Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “The evidence suggests that banks are still holding out on interest free, guaranteed loans backed by government in favour of commercial loans for otherwise viable businesses. It’s a disgrace and will push good businesses across the economy over the edge.


“UK manufacturing depends on a network of small and medium sized companies to supply components and expertise, employing tens of thousands of workers and supporting families across the country.  We will still need them when we turn this corner and re-start the economy,” he added.


“In fact, we will need them more than ever.  It may not be on people’s minds at the moment but when we are fully exited from the EU and struggling to meet our climate change commitments, it will be our local supply chains that will need to step up, expand operations and employ thousands to keep UK industry functioning.


“The banks have a duty to invest in the national economy.  The people of this country bailed out the banks when they needed it.  It is now time that they repaid the nation.”


Lorry driver shortage warning

Unite has warned that 10 to 20 per cent of drivers could be forced off the road unless the government relaxes the requirement for HGV drivers to have a medical during the coronavirus crisis.


There is already a shortage of HGV drivers, and they are currently playing a crucial role in maintaining the supply of food and medicines.


As part of the conditions of holding an HGV licence, drivers are required to undergo regular medicals to ensure they are fit to drive. Drivers are required to undergo an initial medical and after the age 45 to have one every five years until the age of 65 when they are renewed annually without an upper age limit. Shorter licences may be issued for medical reasons.


The government is rightly insisting that doctors do not undertake private medicals during the crisis.


Unite has raised the matter directly with the government but the Department for Transport has not responded positively. Unite is now directly appealing to the secretary of state Grant Shapps to intervene, to prevent hundreds if not thousands of drivers being unable to battle the coronavirus and keep supplies moving.


For very valid safety reasons Unite has long championed the absolute requirement that drivers have regular medicals but due to the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus crisis, it believes that a short relaxation is required as a temporary and short-term measure.


Some drivers have already been forced off the road due to not being able to obtain a medical and are potentially facing months without pay. With many drivers in the older age groups the need to resolve this matter is especially urgent.


Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said, “The government needs to take a sensible decision that will allow drivers to continue to work without a current medical certificate.


“Grant Shapps needs to directly intervene to ensure that potentially thousands of lorry drivers are not marooned at home without pay, when they could be helping the fight against coronavirus.


“At a time when we urgently need qualified drivers it would be wrong and deeply unfair to force experienced drivers off the road because the doctors who would normally perform the medicals are full focussed on fighting coronavirus.


“Any relaxation in the medical rules for drivers must be temporary and for a clearly specified limited time.”


Trouble at Moy Park

After more than a thousand workers at a Moy Park site spontaneously walked out over safety concerns involving social distancing, management at Moy Park are again in the spotlight.


The Moy Park workforce has been left incensed as company bosses refuse to provide fully-paid leave to workers self-isolating with Covid-19 symptoms. The company has failed to reply in a week to Unite request for 100 percent paid leave for those unable to work.


Sean McKeever, Unite Regional Officer blasted the management of Moy Park for their callous refusal to extend financial protections to vulnerable and self-isolating employees.


“Moy Park bosses have once again confirmed their callous disregard for the well-being of their workers,” he said. “Unite approached the company to request that those having to shield themselves due to underlying health issues, those self-isolating with Covid-19 symptoms and other vulnerable workers should receive full pay for the duration of their absence. We gave management a week to respond but at the end of that period we have received absolutely no response to our request whatsoever.


“The UK government has provided 80 percent compensation for the costs of leave to employers, while sales revenues for foodstuffs are very sharply up – it is surely not too much to ask that workers who are self-isolating and those shielding due to their vulnerable status would not also have to face a financial crisis in this worrying time.”


Siemens workers in Hull should ‘not pick up the tab’ for production pause

Workers at wind turbine blade manufacturer Siemens Gamesa in Hull should not be made ‘to pick up the tab’ for the pause in production to introduce a coronavirus safety regime, Unite warned today.


Unite, which represents about 380 production staff, is angry that members will, in effect, pay for the week’s pause in production. (Workers returned to the site today).


Unite said that the management wanted the workforce either to take holiday; work the hours back in the future; or go unpaid for the week.


Unite is also questioning whether the production of the blades for wind turbines is essential at this time of national emergency and, if it is not, the workforce should be furloughed on full-pay until the pandemic passes.


Unite regional coordinating officer Simon Coop said, “At this time of national emergency we want to work constructively with management, but we are not prepared to see our members pick up the tab for the week’s pause in production.


“We are urging the management to rescind that edict about the week’s pause and pay our members in full.”


Unite win for refuse workers at Norse Medway

After Unite has continuously highlighted the dangers faced by refuse workers, the union is winning for its members in several workplaces up and down the country.


In the latest win, Council outsourcer Norse Medway has been forced to implement coronavirus safety measures for refuse workers and other staff following action by Unite.


The company, which operates refuse collection, street cleaning and other services for Medway council in Kent, was forced to introduce social distancing and hygiene measures after Unite exposed the firm’s disregard for the health of key workers, who also walked out in protest over serious health and safety concerns.


Norse Medway’s decision came after Unite action secured the introduction of social distancing measures for waste collection workers at Thurrock Council, in Essex.


After the company was named and shamed on Monday (March 30) for making refuse staff sit four to a cab with insufficient personal protection equipment (PPE), a number of safety measures were agreed.


These include not insisting on workers sitting more than two to a vehicle cab, full PPE, such as hand sanitiser, gloves, masks and wipes, and changes to toilet access and other measures to ensure a safer workplace.


Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said, “These measures should have been introduced immediately but it was only because our members, with help from the union’s organising department, stood firm on these issues that they have been resolved.


“Norse Medway’s employees will no doubt be relieved that the company have taken steps to ensure their safety, as well as that of their families and the wider community.”


Unite reaches furlough agreement with Perkins Engines

In another win for its members, Unite on Tuesday (March 31) reached an agreement with Perkins Engines in Peterborough to furlough employees for a minimum of three weeks commencing on April 2.


The agreement provides employees with 90 per cent of their pay for the period of furlough, despite the government scheme only allowing for 80 per cent of pay.



Unite regional co-ordinating officer Ian Maidlow commented, “In these very difficult times I would like to congratulate Andy Carling, Unite convenor, and Mark Plumb, Unite regional officer, and our excellent team of Unite stewards at Perkins for their hard work and resolve in reaching this agreement. Perkins management are also to be commended for the positive outcome to the negotiations.”


Maidlow added, “Shamefully, the Peterborough Conservative MP Paul Bristow has already sought to claim credit for this agreement and make political capital out of the work of the Unite representatives. I really do think that, at a time of national emergency, our MPs should be dealing with that rather than claiming false credit for the achievements of others.”



Stay tuned on UniteLive for the latest news on coronavirus epidemic.

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