Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus pandemic

Reading time: 9 min

Every Friday here on UniteLIVE we bring you the latest heroes – those who are keeping the country going through a devastating time – and the zeroes, those who are failing the just when we need them most. Here are this week’s latest:


Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival organisers and attendees

For the first time in decades, the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival, held every July in Dorset, was cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But those organising the Festival – which commemorates one of the first instances of trade unionism in the UK – were not going to let the present challenges stop them from allowing the show to – in at least some form – go on.

This weekened, the Toldpuddle Martyrs’ Festival will be held online and streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Commenting, festival organiser and regional secretary of the TUC South West Nigel Costley said, “Tolpuddle has always been more than simply music and politics. It’s a gathering of like-minded people, a joyous celebration of trade union solidarity – and that’s what we’re hoping to reflect online.

“We have a full programme of topical debates, a full programme of films and a full programme of music ranging from those who would have played this year’s event to those who we welcome back from previous festivals – all performing exclusive sets for us.”

“Keep an eye on the Facebook page for announcements of speakers and artists,” he added. “We have some special surprises in store.”

Find out more about how you can attend this year’s virtual Tolpuddle festival in our full story here, and watch the video below for a special message from Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.

Labour leader Keir Starmer – for standing up for BA staff

British Airways workers and their supporters were delighted to see prime minister Boris Johnson this week grilled by Labour leader Keir Starmer over the airline’s appalling fire and rehire plans, which would mean 30,000 workers will see their pay and conditions torn to shreds, while another 12,000 are to be permanently sacked.

As Unite has ramped up its #BABetrayal campaign, Starmer raised the plight of British Airways’ workers at PMQs, and called on the prime minister to act – by withdrawing valuable landing slots from BA until they agree to reverse their plans.

“I want to press the Prime Minister further on the situation at BA – a huge employer and the national flag carrier,” Starmer said at PMQs. “Alongside the 12,000 redundancies already announced, BA is trying to force through the rehiring of the remaining 30,000 workers on worse terms and conditions. That’s totally unacceptable and it’s a warning shot to millions of other working people.”

You can watch the fiery exchange in the video below and you can read our full story here:

Unite health and safety team

Thanks to diligent work from Unite’s health and safety team, as well as other Unite staff, the union now has Unite-branded face coverings, which comply with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, available for sale on pre-order.

They’ll come in handy especially now that the government has mandated people in England wear face coverings in shops from July 24, following on from making them mandatory on public transport in June.

Highlighting the new Unite-branded face coverings now available on pre-order, Miguel said, “We spent a significant amount of time with the designers of the face coverings to ensure that the materials and construction are compliant with World Health Organisation (WHO) manufacturing guidelines.”

“The Unite face coverings have three layers. The outer layer is hydrophobic, or water resistant, and is made with polyster and lycra. The nonwoven middle outer layer is spunbonded polypropylene while the inner layer is 100 per cent cotton. This allows for good filtration and people who purchase the face coverings can be confident that they’re effective as source control coverings.”


Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has again earned the distinction of being on our zeroes list. Last week, we pulled up the chancellor after he failed in his summer statement to provide the level of support required for the millions of people whose jobs are now at risk, and the major industries in the UK that now face imminent collapse.

This week, Sunak is in the spotlight again after it emerged that his £30bn Covid-19 response package has merely recycled £10bn of spending from other projects already announced.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) highlighted this weekthat up to a third of the £30bn ‘Plan for Jobs’ package, which included job and apprenticeship creation schemes among other measures, is money that was already earmarked for government spending.

The IFS was extremely critical of the government’s lack of transparency over the financial support package, with IFS associate director David Phillips noting, “It makes scrutiny of plans more difficult and is corrosive to trust. While governments of all stripes will, of course, want to follow the adage of ‘repetition, repetition, repetition’ when it comes to highlighting the goodies they are funding, official policy documents should also be clear about when and where spending is expected to be lower than previously planned too.”

It’s not just us here at UniteLIVE who believe Sunak’s summer statement was sorely lacking – Unite has also commissioned a major poll published this week which found overwhelmingly negative public attitudes to his Covid-19 support package.

You can read our full story here.


British Gas-owned Centrica has taken a leaf out of British Airways’ book in its plan to ‘fire and rehire’ 20,000 of its employees on potentially worse terms and conditions.

Unite said it the latest example of organisations using the coronavirus emergency as a smokescreen to shed jobs, and erode pay and conditions of workers.

Unite represents Centrica workers including electrical services’ engineers, as well as those employed at power stations and at Centrica Storage Ltd.

Unite regional officer Mark Pettifer said, “The notice that Centrica has given the trade unions that it is going to ‘fire and rehire’ its 20,000 staff on what, we believe, will be inferior pay and employment conditions is deplorable.

“It is part of a disturbing trend where employers are using the pandemic to shed staff and erode employment conditions,” he added.

“Centrica is adopting the same tactics as BA and is using Covid-19 as a smokescreen to cut jobs of loyal and dedicated staff who have worked through the lockdown providing energy to the nation.

“Centrica has been in consultations with the unions for the last fortnight over its future plans and now in an act of bad faith unveils its ‘fire and rehire’ plans. It smacks of blackmail – ‘If you don’t do what we want, we will issue notice of dismissals’.”

easyJet COO Peter Bellew

Unite has begun a ballot of no confidence in the company’s Chief Operating Officer Peter Bellew.

The ballot of Unite’s membership at easyJet is in direct response to Mr Bellew’s performance during the Covid-19 pandemic. The company is proposing to make around 1,290 cabin crew redundant as well as close its regional bases in Newcastle, Stansted and Southend.

Unite’s members are angry that while their jobs and incomes at the airline are under attack, easyJet paid £174m in dividends to shareholders at the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

The company has also secured a government funded load of £600 million yet is pressing on with a large-scale cuts and closure programme.

In addition to the proposed job losses and base closures, Unite members are angry at how Mr Bellew, who has recently arrived at easyJet from Ryanair has misjudged the start of the Covid-19 crisis by criticising the “hype going on around the virus” and encouraging “business as usual”.

They has also criticised how he has attempted a ‘smash and grab’ of cabin crew pay, terms and conditions and has tried to bypass easyJet’s recognised trade unions Unite and pilots’ union BALPA, by proposing “Coronavirus Co-operation agreements” directly to staff, who categorically rejected them. 

Regional officer for Unite Lindsey Olliver said,“Initiating a vote of no confidence in a company’s chief operating officer is not something Unite undertakes lightly but the strength of feeling among our members is overwhelming.

“Our members are angered by the scope of the company’s proposals and the far-reaching impact this will have, not just on the individuals affected but on local communities whose livelihoods rely on work created by easyJet’s continued operation in and out of the bases earmarked for closure.”

Find out more in our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

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