In our latest coronavirus news round-up on Tuesday (March 31) Unite has issued a call for two key sectors to urgently be supported amid the epidemic – charities and the bus industry.
The voluntary sector is now on the brink of collapse if it does not secure government support soon, with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) estimating that UK charities are set to lose £4.3bn in the next 12 weeks.
While the government has announced unprecedented levels of financial support for businesses, charities and not-for-profit organisations have fallen through the cracks, especially those dealing with local government, social care, mental health, housing, homelessness, advice, community support, and international aid.
Unite has called for a string of measures to support charities now under threat.
Unite national officer for the community, youth and not for profit sector Siobhan Endean said, “Our members are keen to play their part in combating the coronavirus which will impact on some of the most vulnerable in society. Demand for charities’ services, from housing to mental health, has greatly increased.
“The voluntary sector is facing a crisis in funding, while meeting an unprecedented demand to support our communities,” she added. “Our members are working incredibly long hours, with a lack of personal protective equipment and under immense pressure.”
“We need urgent action from the government to ensure that the voluntary and not for profit sector and those employed in it are protected amidst the current crisis we find ourselves in.”
Unite has likewise called for support for buses, but warned that any bailout, which is soon anticipated, must be for the benefit of workers.
Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said, “The government needs to ensure that any bailout of the bus companies is not squandered on shareholders or paying down debt.
“It is critical that funds are used to secure the jobs, wages and the safety of drivers and other staff,” he added.
“Routes must be kept open in order to support the legions of critical workers, who are treating patients, caring for our vulnerable and working in supermarkets, that still need to get to and from work.”
Delivery drivers at risk
Unite warned that urgent action is needed to prevent delivery drivers placing their health and that of their customers at risk during the coronavirus crisis.
Unite has been inundated with calls from drivers worried about their health as they are still being required to undertake non-essential deliveries to domestic premises.
Unite has seen delivery lists where workers have been required to deliver barbecues, table tennis tables, trampolines musical equipment, flat screen TVs, cross trainers and treadmills.
Due to the size of the items being delivered, cabs are doubled crewed meaning that the workers cannot social distance during travelling and delivery. They are also often required to enter customers’ homes to the deliver the goods.
Unite is calling on the government to immediately introduce strict guidance to ensure that social distancing is maintained at all times during such deliveries.
Unite has raised its concerns directly with the department of transport, which indicated that it was unwilling to act.
Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said, “The government has to get a grip of this situation. Drivers are rightly worried that the health of their customers, their family and themselves is being put at risk if social distancing policies are not adhered to.
“Clear social distancing policies need to be immediately established and adopted for domestic deliveries. Companies then must implement them or consider halting deliveries, until they are able to ensure safety,” he added. “They must think about the increased risk of delivering items like trampolines where social distancing becomes an impossibility, meaning both the company and the public must consider the impact of delivering these and similar non-essential goods.
“Unite is absolutely committed to working with the government and with employers to ensure that social distancing measures are established and adhered to at all times.
“Unite would also ask the public to think very carefully before ordering large items and ask themselves can a driver deliver it to them safely by themselves.”
Stobart Air ‘ditches’ workforce
Unite today (March 31) accused Stobart Air, which operates Aer Lingus’ regional service, of cynically ditching its workforce at Southend airport, during the coronavirus crisis.
Over 30 Unite members employed as cabin crew will be laid off without pay for an initial four week period from tomorrow (April 1).
The flights are to European and regional destinations including Antwerp, Manchester, Edinburgh and Newquay.
Unite sought to follow the procedure, which has become the norm for the aviation industry, that the workers were furloughed under the government’s job retention scheme and therefore would receive 80 per cent of their pay.
Stobart Air has refused to implement the furlough option citing “cashflow issues” and has also declined to seek further financial assistance from the government.
Unite is concerned that Stobart Air is forcing workers onto unpaid leave in the hope that they will find permanent alternative work so that they are not replaced and redundancy costs are minimised.
Unite regional officer Jo Jaques said, “Stobart Air has taken the cynical decision to ditch its workforce without pay.
“It is well known that the aviation sector is facing an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus. However, while most of the sector is doing the right thing in using the government’s scheme and standing by their staff, this is not the case for Stobart Air.
“Stobart Air needs to immediately reverse this decision and immediately furlough our members who otherwise will be left literally penniless with no way of feeding their families and paying their mortgages or rent.
Unite has today also called out the global logistics company CEVA, as the union accused the firm of trying to freeze workers’ pay without consultation.
Unite received an email earlier this week from the company which has also paid lip service to negotiations over how to deal with the coronavirus crisis, informing the union that it was freezing pay for 2020.
CEVA has contracts to deliver for Nike, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Xerox and Finnings.
The company was performing strongly before the coronavirus crisis and certain parts of its business remain very busy during this time. CEVA made a profit of £3 million after tax in 2018.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said, “CEVA is behaving in an entirely unacceptable manner, there is a clear agreement in place which deals with pay negotiations and Unite expects the company to honour it.
“A unilateral decision to impose a pay freeze, demonstrates that CEVA is using the coronavirus to institute a pay freeze and make its workers poorer.
“Unite has been attempting to enter into negotiations and to ensure our members at CEVA are properly consulted at this difficult time, so far without success.”
“If CEVA does not reverse its decision to impose a pay freeze, then when the industry returns to normal, Unite will consider all possible avenues to ensure pay negotiations occur this year, including industrial action.”
Win for refuse workers
Waste disposal workers providing services to Thurrock Council have forced their employer to introduce social distancing after Unite threatened action.
The essential workers raised concerns that their working practices meant they were unable to social distance during the current health crisis whilst providing waste disposal services to the residents of Thurrock.
In correspondence with the council, Unite regional officer Onay Kasab warned that the union would “support any and all members who refuse to begin work.”
Thurrock council has now agreed to Unite’s proposals which include social distancing – now employees can go to the waste collection route in their own cars rather than going to the council depot and travel in waste vehicles. The employer will pay the mileage and ensure parking exemptions.
Also thanks to Unite pressing the council, vehicles and equipment will now be deep cleaned regularly.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said, “After our members raised their serious concerns about social distancing and their union made clear it would support any and all members who refused to work, the council quickly acted. Thurrock Council are to be congratulated for acting speedily to resolve the workers’ genuine concerns.”
Stay tuned on UniteLive for more of the latest news on the coronavirus epidemic and its impact on members.