Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid coronavirus pandemic

Reading time: 10 min

Every Friday here on UniteLIVE, we bring you all the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus crisis. Here are this week’s latest.


NHS staff – fighting for a pay rise

NHS staff – from doctors to nurses, cleaners to porters, paramedics to caterers and many more in between – are the unequivocal heroes amid the pandemic, working hard to tackle the virus at great risk to their lives.

But for all their hard work, the vast majority of them have yet to receive a pay rise after being left out of a public sector pay rise announcement last week.

Justifiably angry, Unite members and others working in the health service joined together in solidarity to demand they be rewarded for all their hard work. On Wednesday (July 29), Unite’s Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital branch led the way in a march on Downing Street.

Find out more in our picture gallery here.

Everyone campaigning to extend and expand free school meals

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the chain restaurant Leon, was commissioned to carry out a review on behalf of the government and formulate a National Food Strategy – the first of its kind since the time of war rationing 75 years ago.

His review was published this week and called on the government to expand free school meal eligibility so that 1.5m more children are eligible, to cover every school-aged child whose family is in receipt of Universal Credit.

The review comes after last month, footballer Marcus Rashford pressed the government to extend free school meal vouchers throughout the summer school holidays, forcing the government to U-turn on the issue and agree.

The victory inspired the Unite Community Norfolk branch to team up with others to launch a Norfolk Against Holiday Hunger campaign to make free school meals over the holidays permanent.

Unite Community Norfolk branch education officer Charlotte Godden, who is also chair of the Norfolk Against Holiday Hunger campaign, explained why free school meals over the holidays were so important.

“For so many children, the meal they get at school is the only hot meal that they get a day,” she said. “So when they don’t get that, it’s a huge pressure on parents who are struggling and obviously really difficult for the children who are used to getting that hot meal and then all of a sudden that stops over the holidays.

“We’re doing everything we can to help our local community but our resources are limited – it’s a national issue and the government needs to step up. While the work we’re doing is vital and we will continue doing it as long as it takes, we’re just putting a plaster on the issue. Today’s National Food Strategy is a good start – but that’s just it, it’s only a start.”

Find out more in full story here.

Harland and Wolff workers

It’s been a year since Harland and Wolff workers, many of them Unite members, took a brave stand to defend their jobs when they occupied the iconic shipyard.

A year on, and their fight was stunningly successful. The workers, who garnered international attention for taking over the yard to prevent it being asset stripped after it went into administration last year, are now employed by new owners energy firm InfraStrata.

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald said these brave workers can be an inspiration to all workers in these dark times when so many face redundancy.

“One year ago workers at Harland & Wolff faced the immediate prospect of redundancy,” she said. “The shipyard in which they worked faced closure and sell off as an industrial relic. They were told by politicians of all hues that there was no alternative but to accept their fate.

“Harland & Wolff workers rewrote the story book; they were no longer content to be the victims of the market – they sought to show that when you fight you can win,” she added. “It is more vital than ever that workers take courage from their example and turn to their trade unions to build the fightback and defend themselves and secure a future for their industries and the generations of workers to come.”

Stay tuned on UniteLIVE for more on this story later.


The government – for withdrawing support for those shielding

Unite has serious concerns over the government pausing its shielding programme from August 1 — leaving those most vulnerable to the virus exposed.

UniteLIVE editor Amanda Campbell, who herself was among those shielding, describes her experiences amid lockdown — and the fears she and many others like her now face.

“At first being outside was terrifying,” she writes, when first allowed to venture outside for exercise only, months after she and others shielding were ordered to stay indoors 24/7.

“Masked and gloved up what would happen if I encountered another human being? Passers-by must have seen the fear in my eyes and gave me a wide berth. Others though took no notice and encroached well into my two – even one metre of safe space.

“Now in the dog days of shielding, the end – August 1 – fast approaches and many of the extremely vulnerable – who until now may not even have ventured into a supermarket, are now expected to return to work, to get there by public transport and be hurled, masked but otherwise defenceless, into the alien hullabaloo that is the outside world.”

Read more in Amanda’s full investigation here.

Outsourcing firm Elior

This week, outsourced caterer Elior told about 100 staff working at Barts Health NHS Trust that they will be sacked, despite their hard work during the pandemic.

Unite said today that 30 of its members at the trust employed by Elior are devastated, after nearly half of them were told they would lose their jobs and those remaining will have their hours cut by 10 per cent.

Unite is calling on the Trust to step in and the union wants its members redeployed within the trust that covers four major hospital sites in London, serving 2.5 million people.

“It is a disgrace that the trust is allowing profit-hungry Elior to throw our members on the scrapheap after all they have done,” said Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon. “Some of our members have worked at the Barts trust for nearly 30 years – and this is very shabby reward for their loyalty.

“Unite is demanding that the trust takes responsibility to ensure all of our members are redeployed to other roles at the trust which we think is very feasible as it covers a number of major sites across east London,” she added.

“The trust was paying the wages of Elior staff during the pandemic, but that stopped abruptly when meals for NHS staff were no longer ‘free’. Now that meals are again being charged for, Elior wasted no time in asking our members to bear the brunt of this dip in its profits.”

Find out more in our full story here.

Employers discriminating against mums without childcare – and the government for failing to bail out the childcare sector

Nearly half of working mothers recently made redundant say lack of childcare provision played a role in their sacking, a shocking new survey has revealed.

The massive economic toll the coronavirus crisis has taken on working mums was laid bare in the new poll, which also found that a huge majority – 72 per cent – were forced to reduce their hours because of childcare issues.

Commenting, Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean said, “It is shocking that a majority of working mums recently made redundant believe lack of childcare or being pregnant fueled the decision. This is unlawful discrimination and we urge women to join a union to protect themselves. The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to break the law.”

She added that the government must give urgent support to the childcare sector to ensure an economic recovery.

“Childcare provision will be a key component of any post-pandemic economic recovery,” she said. “But with so many nurseries and child care settings closing permanently and the vast majority operating at a loss, we run the very real risk of stopping a recovery dead in its tracks if the government doesn’t provide the vital support necessary for the sector to survive and for parents, particularly mums who often take on the majority of childcare duties, to get back to work.

“The government needs to act urgently and also provide job security and paid parental leave for parents,” Endean added. “We’re calling for the furlough scheme to be extended to protect mums who cannot return to work because of lack of childcare provision. Employers must also carry out equality impact assessments as they return to operations and provide a minimum of 10 days paid carers’ leave to ensure they are not unfairly discriminating against women.”

Read our full story here.

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