Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus pandemic

Reading time: 10 min

Every week here on UniteLIVE, we highlight the heroes and zeroes of the coronavirus crisis. Here are this week’s latest:


Healthcare scientists

When we think of NHS workers — all of whom are incredible heroes in the coronavirus crisis — we often think of doctors, nurses, and paramedics. But there are hundreds of thousands of other NHS staff who are keeping our health system going at this time of crisis. This week we highlight healthcare scientists working in pathology who will play a critical role in clearing up the massive backlog of life-saving diagnostic tests and screenings that have built up over the pandemic.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe explains, and highlighted the concerns they now face.

“Unite as the leading union for healthcare scientists strongly believes that staff in NHS laboratories have a critical role to play in reducing waiting lists for vital diagnostic tests. After all, 70 per cent of all diagnoses are carried out by pathology labs,” he said.

“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, our members have said they want to do more in helping with the national effort to tackle the virus. Now, they are saying they stand ready, willing and able to get to work in bringing these waiting lists down. But this will take a coordinated approach with leadership and direction to bring our labs to full capacity.”

You can read our full story here.

Windrush-era migrants and their families

Unite this week celebrated Windrush Day on Monday (June 22), when the union paid tribute to the the vital contributions of Windrush generation migrants who just over seven decades ago sailed to the UK to help rebuild this country after the war.

Huge swathes of migrants from the Caribbean worked in the NHS and in other public service from the late 1940s onwards. And even as they helped rebuild post-war Britain, they faced vicious racism at every turn. But they persevered and in doing so they have left a proud legacy — the UK’s post-war institutions would not be what they are today if it weren’t for the contributions of these migrants and those that came after them.

But while Unite embraced celebrations of this legacy, the union said Windrush Day must also be a day of action. You can read more in our story here.

You can also read more about Windrush-era migrants’ descendants, many of whom, like Unite’s own Obi Amadi, followed in the footsteps of their predecessors to work in NHS and other public service roles.

Unite Community Norfolk branch

As ever, the Unite Community Norfolk branch is tirelessly working to tackle holiday hunger, and now they are pushing a new message — make free school meals permanent. Their campaign comes after the government last week U-turned on a decision to end free school meal vouchers for children over the summer after pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford.

Unite Community Norfolk branch secretary Brian Green explains in his letter to the Eastern Daily Press, which we have reprinted in full on UniteLIVE here.

Ex-services colleagues now part of the Unite family

Ahead of Armed Forces Day tomorrow (June 27), UniteLIVE caught up with two of our Unite colleagues who previously served in the forces – Unite national officer Matt Draper and Unite activist Kev Terry.

You can read more about their inspiring stories and why they are ‘Proud to have served, Proud to be Unite’, in our special feature here.


Royal Mail

At the top of our zeroes list this week is Royal Mail, which announced on Thursday (June 25) an astonishing 2,000 job cuts of managerial roles. Unite has highlighted that Royal Mail managers, which the union represents, are being forced to pay for the poor decisions of Royal Mail bosses.

You can read our full story here.

London City Airport

London City Airport is under the spotlight this week for what Unite called a ‘furlough pay grab outrage’.

When the lockdown first happened, London City Airport temporarily closed its doors as flights were all but ground to a halt and furloughed the majority of its staff.

Workers were informed in writing that while they were on furlough they would receive 100 per cent of their pay – but when they began to be paid it became apparent that they were only receiving 100 per cent of their basic pay.

This has meant that part-time workers are losing between £600–£900 a month, and full-time workers up to £2,000 a month.

Unite regional officer Mercedes Sanchez said the airport was “guilty of trying to move the goalposts and using sleight of hand to reduce employees’ earnings”.

“Suggestions that overtime pay cannot be included under the government’s job retention scheme are simply untrue. Workers are thousands of pounds out of pocket and being pushed into debt and despair while their employer pockets a big chunk of their earnings.”

Unite has warned London City Airport that it should try to meet with the union, or else face the prospect of an employment tribunal.

You can read our full story here.

Cadbury owners Mondelez

Unite members working for Cadbury are angry that they are missing out on bonus payments for working throughout the pandemic – payments that were afforded to other workers in the EU and US employed by the chocolate maker’s owners Mondelez.

Unite is consulting with more than 1,200 members at Cadbury sites in Bourneville near Birmingham, Chirk in Wales and Marlbrook in Hereford, over how to respond to the issue.

The union called on Mondelez to follow the example of other major international food manufacturers, including Kraft Heinz, Nestle and Coca Cola, that have provided extra payments for UK staff who have worked during the lockdown.

Multinational food giant Mondelez’s revenues have increased during the pandemic, with net global revenue rising by 6.4 per cent in the first five months of 2020, while UK revenues have risen by 5.9 per cent during the same period.

Mondelez’s share of the UK chocolate market has also increased by 2.2 per cent, following a strong Easter performance.

“Throughout the crisis, Cadbury’s workers have put themselves at risk and shown great flexibility, working longer hours to compensate when the workforce was reduced by as much as 30 per cent because of the lockdown,” commented Unite national officer Joe Clarke.

“There is growing resentment amongst Cadbury staff that Mondelez workers in the US, France, Belgium and Spain have been given bonuses while their hard work is yet to be recognised. This is particularly galling given Cadbury’s strong performance during the crisis, which has been achieved through the hard work of our members.”

Read our full story here.

Hospitality bosses

Employers in hospitality make it on our zeroes list again this week – this time for continuing to make redundancies or threatening further sackings even though the government’s furlough scheme is still up and running.

Responding to fears that up to a million hospitality workers could be out of work by August, Unite, which represents 60,000 workers in the sector, has issued warning litigation letters to IHG, Marriott, Millennium and Radisson Edwardian, some of the world’s biggest hotel chains, to warn that making mass redundancies, when the job retention scheme is still available could be unlawful.

The union has warned that it will not shy away from issuing more legal challenges.

Unite has strongly condemned hospitality employers for using the pandemic as an excuse to strip workers of their terms and conditions and to introduce worse contractual terms including unpaid lay off clauses, pay cuts, and zero hours contracts, in what is effectively a mass casualisation of the workforce.

Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said, “It is appalling that as soon as the government announces that employers will need to start contributing to the job retention scheme (JRS) from August, we start seeing mass redundancy notices roll in.

“One million hospitality workers could be thrown onto the scrapheap by August because of the industry’s knee-jerk and reckless reaction to the crisis, when what is needed is cool heads,” he added.

“The industry has been saying for weeks now that reducing the social distancing rule from 2 to 1 metres would save a million workers from redundancy.

“Now that the government has afforded this concession the redundancies must stop so that our members can continue to contribute to the revival of the country’s tourism and hospitality sector,” Turnbull went on to say.

You can read our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

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