In our latest coronavirus news round-up on Monday (April 6) we begin the week with tragic reports of bus workers who have lost their lives after contracting coronavirus.
At least five bus workers in London have died, with more reported deaths outside the capital, including one confirmed death of a bus worker in Bristol.
Unite has called for urgent strengthening of health and safety measures across bus companies throughout the UK, and has reiterated the call to the public to not use public transport unless absolutely necessary.
Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said that health and safety for bus drivers must be at the very top of the agenda.
“The tragic and sad death of bus workers in London and Bristol reinforces the message for the need for the most stringent hygiene regime throughout the UK bus sector,” he said.
“Bus workers are in the key worker category helping keep the UK’s transport arteries open at this time of national emergency. Our officers are working ceaselessly to ensure that their working environments are the safest humanly possible.”
You can read our full story here.
Highway maintenance worker safety
Unite has also issued a safety clarion call for another group of forgotten key workers – highway maintenance workers.
The union warned that highways maintenance workers who are undertaking a crucial role keeping the UK’s road network open are being prevented from following social distancing guidelines.
The workers, who are classified as key workers and are on outsourced contracts have been told that the client Highway England, has said that it should be business as usual.
While in some depots, canteens and mess areas have been closed, workers are still operating in two and three person crews, travel together in cabs and also cannot social distance while on site.
Unite understands that its essential that emergency work such as repairing barrier damage, filling potholes, clearing up spillages and fixing boundary fences where there is nearby livestock needs to continue.
However, work such as cyclical maintenance and litter picking should be suspended until after the coronavirus crisis has ended. When concerns about this was raised on some contracts in northern England, workers were informed that Highways England had confirmed that “litter picking was a safety critical activity”.
Unite believes that if work was reduced to emergency work only workers could single crew and would be able to successfully socially distance, which would preserve their health and the health of their families.
On some contracts Unite has secured agreement that there will only be two workers on sites and there will be no rotation in work gangs. Access to canteens and locker rooms will be on a coordinated basis and that if workers raise health and safety issues they will not be sent home without pay.
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said, “Highways maintenance workers are essential workers who play a vital role keeping roads open and motorists safe.That does not mean that social distancing rules do not apply to them.
“Highways maintenance employers need to make far greater efforts to ensure that social distancing is applied at work,” he added. “Highways England is clearly at fault, this is not business as normal,” he added. “Emergency work of course needs to be undertaken but workers should not be placed at risk undertaking non-essential maintenance work.
“To suggest that collecting litter by the side of motorways and major roads is a safety critical activity demonstrates they have lost all perspective.
“The Department of Transport needs to intervene and ensure that its agency puts the safety of its workforce first.”
Treat Jersey gas workers equally
Jersey’s private sector gas workers should be treated the same as those employed by the state-owned utilities during the coronavirus emergency, Unite said today (April 6).
Unite has lent its weight to the campaign for workers at Jersey Gas and Kosangas Jersey to be eligible for the Phase 2 payroll co-funding scheme – the Channel Island’s equivalent of the UK ‘s coronavirus job retention scheme which guarantees furloughed workers 80 per cent of income.
Jersey Electricity and Jersey Water are owned by the States of Jersey Government, so these workers already receive state support, while privately-owned utilities, currently, don’t have access to the scheme.
Unite regional coordinating officer Terry Keefe said, “Unite is lending its support to the gas companies in their bid to qualify for the Phase 2 payroll. They provide services to about half Jersey’s businesses, including hotels and restaurants now closed, and are really under the financial cosh.
“The States government quickly needs to embrace private utility companies in Phase 2 for cash flow reasons to keep them afloat, otherwise our members could find themselves in desperate financial hardship,” he added. “The future provision of gas by a highly skilled workforce will also be under threat.
“This is not the time for the States of Jersey Government to engage in short-termism – we need to retain the gas workers as they will be a vital cog in rebuilding the post-pandemic economy.”
Unite fighting – and winning – members
In the latest win for Unite members, Unite has reached an agreement to furlough up to 250 workers on full pay alongside a commitment to no redundancies at Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA).
The union, which represents directly employed workers in security, car parking, cleaning and passenger assistance, reached the agreement after the workforce challenged the original deal being proposed by management at LBA.
After constructive negotiations, an agreement was reached to modify the government’s job retention scheme. Workers will bank 20 per cent of their wages to top up the scheme to 100 per cent of pay. On return to work, the airport staff will work back the banked hours at overtime rates, with a cap of 84 hours.
The deal also commits to no redundancies.
Unite regional officer Karl Stephenson said, “Workers are being furloughed on 100 per cent of their pay and Unite has achieved assurances of no redundancies at Leeds Bradford Airport.
“Unite achieved this deal because the members collectively challenged the original scheme and credit must also go to management for working constructively to reach an agreement with Unite,” he added.
“The deal underlines the importance of trade union membership at this time. Workers are stepping up to the challenge posed by the current health crisis and Unite is securing collective agreements to support workers in these uncertain times.”
Unite is a union that campaigns for and delivers better pay and conditions for its members. Unite is winning at work based on three core values: Secure Work – fighting for jobs and job security; Strong Voice – a union which is a respected voice at work; and Decent Pay – a union focused on pay and conditions.
Jobs saved at Halewood on Merseyside
In another key victory for Unite, Over a 100 workers, employed on the DHL logistics contract at Jaguar Land Rovers’ plant at Halewood in Merseyside have had their jobs saved thanks to the intervention of the union.
The workers who are employed by the employment agency Staffline were informed they were to be ‘let go’ after the JLR site announced that it was temporarily ceasing production during the coronavirus crisis.
However following the intervention of Unite and the support of local MP Maria Eagle, Staffline has reversed its decision and the workers will instead be furloughed on 80 per cent of their pay.
Unite regional officer Alison Spencer Scragg said, “Following Unite’s intervention and the support of Maria Eagle, I am pleased that Staffline and DHL have reversed their decision and that these workers have been furloughed rather than be made redundant.
“During these unprecedented times it is imperative that employers act responsibly and utilise the government job retention scheme wherever possible,” she added.
“If this group of workers had been made redundant then given the present economic circumstances it would have been very difficult for them to find alternative work and those affected would have been forced onto universal credit.”
Stay tuned on UniteLive for the latest updates on the coronavirus epidemic