Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid coronavirus crisis

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Every Friday here on UniteLIVE we highlight a number of heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus crisis. Here are this week’s latest.


Unite Community Cambridge branch

Across the UK, Unite Community branches are making a big difference by supporting their local communities, especially the most vulnerable at this time of need. This week we highlight the Unite Community Cambridge branch which has set up an on-demand clothes bank for the local community as well as a drop-in Zoom session called Unite Connect to support members and others at a time when loneliness is a major issue.

In an exclusive interview with UniteLIVE, Unite Community Cambridge branch chair May Shafi (pictured below) explains how all their initiatives got started in our feature here.

Aerospace reps

The aerospace industry is now under major threat – and already more than 10,000 people in the sector have lost their jobs. But Unite is fighting back with a new campaign to save UK aerospace and the union pays special tribute to reps working in the sector who are working flat out on behalf of members facing an especially tough time.

Hear from one of our aerospace reps , Unite Airbus convenor Daz Reynolds in Broughton in the video below:

And find out more about our aerospace campaign in our full story here.

Labour Party’s mental health package for NHS and social care workers

Unite this week welcomed the Labour Party’s call for fast-tracked mental health support for all people working in the NHS and social care.

The party has developed a mental health support package for these workers, which would also include contracted workers such porters and cleaners, who alongside clinical staff have been working under extreme pressure amid the pandemic and are more likely to be very low-paid.

The package, which would be staffed by paid professionals, would feature a new national hotline open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. It would provide follow-up support, including specialist referrals and assessments, as well as intervention and treatment, including specialised PTSD support. All NHS and social care workers who need it would also be sign-posted to external services such as alcohol and addiction services.

Announcing the package, Labour’ shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan called on the government to adopt Labour’s plans.

“Even before the pandemic hit, the case for investing in this kind of support was clear,” she said. “Coronavirus has exacerbated the existing crisis in mental health.”

“We need to care for our carers,” she added. “It is time for the Government to give back to those who have sacrificed so much to keep our loved ones safe. Unless our staff are protected, they cannot continue their vital work of keeping us all safe.”

You can read our full story here.

The NHS – as it celebrates its 72nd birthday

On Sunday (July 5) it’s the NHS’ 72nd birthday, and Unite has paid special tribute to all the workers — from doctors and nurses, to porters and cleaners, to pathologists and paramedics and many more — who’ve made our health service what it is today.

Unite also highlighted the fears NHS frontline workers have this weekend as pubs are opened on Saturday (July 4) and warned the public to be safe and sensible.

“It is with deep concern that our members in the ambulance service and in A&E departments are preparing themselves for the fall-out from a badly behaved minority when pubs reopen on Saturday,” said Unite national officer Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.

“If that happens, we will blame the gung-ho mixed messaging from Boris Johnson who has put more emphasis on easing the lockdown and people enjoying themselves this weekend than with telling people to adhere strictly to the social distancing measures,” he added.

“Unite is not trying to restrict people’s enjoyment and we fully support our members in the hospitality sector who have had a really tough time since March.

“But people need to heed the advice of England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who has said social distancing remains vital, otherwise the rates of Covid-19 infection will rise again, as has been seen in Leicester.”

Unite has asked for the public to respect the sacrifices of NHS workers especially at the weekend. You can read our full story here.

And stay tuned on UniteLIVE for a special series of video messages from members celebrating the NHS’ birthday.


Meat processing plants exploiting migrant workers

Food processing companies have been on our zeroes list before, and now Unite this week highlights how they’re exploiting migrant workers.

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite said there is also a direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’and the spread of the disease in such environments.

This is particularly true in meat processing factories that do not provide staff that need to self-isolate with company sick pay or any other form of financial support, as it increases the danger of individuals with Covid-19 going into work because they cannot afford to take time off.

The union also raised concerns about track and trace record keeping for agency workers, such as production line staff and cleaners, who often work at multiple sites and whose contact details may not be available or could be overlooked during infection control procedures.

Industry employment standards are also directly linked to over-crowded housing which are a contributing factor to the risk of outbreaks within factories.

“Exploitation driven by corporate greed is a major factor in the public health emergencies amongst meat processing plants here and in other countries,” commented Unite national officer Bev Clarkson.

“Migrant workers, who often do not speak English and are scared to speak out because they fear losing their jobs, suffer under a relentless system that long predates Covid-19 in which they are treated without dignity or respect. Exploitation is so rife within the sector that Unite is also concerned that some workers are vulnerable to modern slavery.

You can read our full story here.

The government – for confusion over public health guidelines and failure on track and trace

This week the government announced it would reimpose a strict lockdown in Leicester after a local outbreak there. But Unite and others have criticised the government for lack of clarity over the new restrictions and multiple failures that led to the local outbreaks in the first place.

“There is confusion about essential travel and what it means for people who travel to work outside the boundaries,” commented Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth. “There is also no clarity about what extra resources will be put in place to increase testing capacity and what financial support will be available to businesses.”

Amid the Leicester lockdown, Unite has highlighted how the government has failed on inspections in workplaces, where many of the outbreaks are thought to have started in the East Midlands city. It also criticised the government for not having an effective track and trace system in place and poor data management.

You can read our full story here.

The government – for still failing to offer support to troubled industries and protect jobs

The government has really racked up the failures this week. Again UniteLIVE has highlighted how the government has failed to offer the support sectors such as aerospace urgently need.

People who had their hopes up for the much-anticipated ‘New Deal’ speech from prime minister Boris Johnson earlier this week were left sorely disappointed.

Besides not putting forward any new investment plans or any new money – pledging £5bn in infrastructure projects already previously announced – the prime minister failed to offer any guarantees on jobs.

“We appear to have only been promised FDR’s loose change and some second-hand spending plans,” said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.  “While the US got the Hoover Dam, the pandemic-hit UK gets a re-announcement of repairs to some bridges in Sandwell.

“There is no doubt that this country’s frayed infrastructure needs investment so we hope that there is much more to come from the prime minister,” he added. “But this can only be part of the promise to the people of the country. The bald truth is that our country is staring at a jobs abyss which will open up this summer and swallow millions of working people.”

You can read our full story here.

McCluskey this week also reiterated the call for the government to extend the furlough scheme to offer people hope on jobs and to give vital industries time to recover.

Rogue construction companies

Earlier this week UniteLIVE highlighted how many construction companies are struggling to find adequate PPE for workers amid a dust mask shortage. While Unite believes most companies are doing the right thing, the union warned that there are far too many who are forcing their workforce to come into work without adequate protection.

“If PPE is required and the correct masks are not available then work has to be delayed until they can be sourced. Workers must not feel pressurised into taking shortcuts with their safety,” said Unite national officer Jerry Swain.

“If a worker is at all uncertain about whether they require PPE they must request to see an appropriate risk assessment. If they still believe it is unsafe, an employee legally has a right to remove themselves from a dangerous situation.”

You can read our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

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