Coronavirus news round-up

Read the latest coronavirus news for April 9

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‘Much more needs to be done’ on charity sector bail out
The £750m package to support Britain’s charities and voluntary organisations facing financial ruin because of the coronavirus emergency is welcome, but much more needs to be done, Unite said yesterday (April 8).

Unite said that the sector needed a £4bn comprehensive set of measures to see charities through the coronavirus emergency – much more than the £750m unveiled by chancellor Rishi Sunak .


Earlier this week, the Sue Ryder charity warned it was on the brink of closure and the country will lose its hospices as it faces a £12m funding gap in the next three months – and Unite said on April 7 that this could be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as charities faced an unprecedented threat to their existence.


Unite national officer for the community, youth and not for profit sector Siobhan Endean said,  “The chancellor’s £750m is a welcome first step and a recognition that the sector is reeling financially.


But, in our view, much more needs to be done and a figure closer to £4bn  is what is needed to see the sector through the short-term crisis and to stave off charities closing and also, in the longer term, to nurse charities back to financial health.


“Charities are already announcing they’re going insolvent and most charities have reserves that will tide them over for less than three months. We will be strongly lobbying government in the weeks ahead.”


No time for trials to ensure bus driver safety

Unite has warned that there is “no time for trials” of the new safety measures introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and said that bus operators, regulators and the government must take immediate action to ensure bus worker safety.


Unite made its call following the announcement by Transport for London (TfL) that it was trialling closing the front door on buses on a limited number of routes.


Unite believes that the front doors on London buses should be locked immediately and alternative arrangements should be made for payment during this time.


For buses outside of London, Unite is demanding that all buses are fitted with a fully enclosed screen separating the driver from passengers, and that cash payments are no longer accepted to significantly reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.


Unite further believes that the maximum number of passengers on a bus must be reduced to ensure that social distancing occurs in order to further protect drivers and the travelling public.


Unite is additionally calling for all transport workers, who are considered to be key workers, to be provided with adequate personal protective equipment and for the government to ensure that there is sufficient production and delivery of such products to those who need them.


Nine bus workers have died in London and a number of bus workers in other parts of the UK have also have also fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic.


Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said, “This is no time for trials.  The coronavirus is a clear and imminent threat and tragically too many bus workers have already lost their lives. Bus workers are key workers they must be treated as such and not as second class citizens.”


Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton added, “Bus drivers across the UK are becoming incredibly fearful for their safety. Most bus companies have introduced safety measures but clearly more needs to be done. The government must also step in to reduce the number of passengers on each bus to further improve social distancing and increase the safety of passengers and drivers alike.


“Our message to members is that if you have safety concerns, please contact the union and we will get them resolved.”


Umbrella company workers now eligible for furlough payments

 Workers who are being paid via an umbrella company are now covered by the government’s job retention scheme (JRS) and can be furloughed during the coronavirus crisis, thanks to Unite intervention.  


Although umbrella company workers pay both employers’ and employee national insurance contributions and a normal rate of tax, they are often not considered to be standard employees and there were concerns that they did not fall under the scope of the JRS.


But given the fact that umbrella companies are simply intermediaries that pay the worker, pressure may need to be applied for them to honour their responsibilities and ensure that workers receive the furlough pay to which they are entitled.


Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, “It is now absolutely imperative that umbrella companies do the right thing and furlough their affected workers. If any Unite member working via an umbrella company is not furloughed, Unite will be using all its influence to ensure that workers are not mistreated and receive the money they are entitled to receive.


“Umbrella companies that don’t do the right thing and try to cut workers adrift without pay, alongside the employment agencies which require workers to be paid in this way and the clients who allow workers to be hired in this way, will be named and shamed.”


Balfour Beatty don’t furlough Teesside workers, says Unite

Construction unions Unite and the GMB have demanded that Balfour Beatty reverse its decision not to furlough workers at the TeesREP renewable energy site in Teesport, as well as at other sites across the country


Balfour Beatty is insisting that redundancy consultations for more than 60 workers at the site will continue during the lockdown and that the staff are not eligible to receive 80 per cent of their wages under the government’s job retention scheme. 


The building giant’s stated reason for this is that the redundancy consultations were planned before Covid19 shut down the country and that registering the workers would go against government eligibility guidance for the scheme.  


The unions said Balfour Beatty’s excuse was ‘paper-thin’ and pointed to the actions of other major construction contractors, including Bilfinger and Altrad, that have furloughed workers whose redundancy consultations were scheduled to take place during the lockdown. 


Unite national officer for construction Ian Woodland said, “Balfour Beatty’s excuse for casting these workers out onto the penury of the benefits system during a national crisis is paper-thin and is contradicted by the actions of other building firms such as Bilfinger and Altrad. 


“At best Balfour Beatty’s actions are misdirected and heartless, at worst they point to a cynical financial calculation that the firm will not have to pay out advance wages for these workers while the government’s financial support comes through,” he added.


Compiled by Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite



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