Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights all the latest heroes and zeroes amid coronavirus pandemic

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

NHS workers continuing their fight for a pay rise

Last week, we highlighted NHS workers attending a demonstration in London on July 29 demanding that the government grant them an early pay rise for all the sacrifices they’ve made during the pandemic

Thousands of health staff are now again standing up for a much-deserved pay rise in demos on Saturday (August 8) taking place across the country.

Unite, which has a 100,000 members in the health service, is supporting its members wishing to attend the socially-distanced protests, so that the government can see the depth of discontent and frustration of NHS staff who continue to be in the frontline in the battle against Covid-19.

St Thomas Hospital A&E staff nurse Mark Boothroyd, who also serves as Unite branch secretary for Guys and St Thomas Hospital branch in London, explained why he was attending Saturday’s demos.

“This is a chance for us to stand up collectively and get redress for all the hard work and sacrifices we’ve made during this pandemic and also for the last ten years,” he said.

“It’s our good will that’s kept the NHS going. And we’ve put up with a constant refrain that there’s no money but now it’s our turn to force the money out of the government’s hands. We can only do that through mass collective action so we need to see everyone out on the street on Saturday.”

Stay tuned on UniteLIVE for an exclusive story where we speak to Mark and other members in the health service.

Unite’s health and safety team

Amid the confused messaging concerning vulnerable workers returning to work as the Covid-19 lockdown eases, Unite has produced detailed guidance to help ensure these workers return safely to the workplace.

An estimated 627,000 workers are deemed to be in the extremely vulnerable category. Recently, the government changed its advice to say that this group of workers no longer has to shield but should aim to return to the workplace.

However, with lockdown going on for longer than anticipated and local lockdowns emerging as a growing feature of the continued response to the virus, and with many workplaces without the necessary health and safety specialists, Unite has acted to provide clear information designed to reassure an uncertain workforce.

Unite’s new checklist is for use by its workplace reps as they assist members who have been shielding to safely return to work provided it is “Covid-secure”.

Commenting, Unite national health and safety advisor Rob Miguel said, “The checklist is an essential tool. Every workplace is different and each worker has different circumstances and vulnerabilities, a one size fits all approach, is not at all acceptable in these circumstances.

“This is another example of trade unions showing to their members and employers that, just as we have demonstrated throughout this crisis,that we are here to assist with the safe return to working and the re-opening and recovery of the economy.”

You can read the full checklist here.

Heathrow workers standing up for their jobs

As Heathrow Airport is poised to make mass redundancies, workers at one of the world’s busiest airports are not giving up without a fight.

Most recently, the airport made the decision to sack all 459 of its passenger ambassadors. This week these workers, Unite members and their supporters, staged an action at the AGM of a major Heathrow Airport shareholder the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

More actions are now planned. Find out more in the video below.


Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s meal deal

As redundancies in the hospitality sector skyrocket, many workers in the industry were hopeful that chancellor Rishi Sunak would have thrown them a lifeline last month in his summer statement. Instead of real action that could save the more than a million jobs that stand to be lost in the industry, Sunak offered only a glorified meal deal – call the Eat Out to Help Out scheme – which went into effect this week.

As part of the discount scheme, meals eaten out at any participating businesses Monday through Wednesday in August will be 50 per cent off up to a maximum discount of £10 per head including children.

But both hospitality businesses and their staff are doubtful that the discount scheme will boost the industry in any significant way.

Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said,“The Eat out to Help Scheme is a short-term measure that will only be in place for the month of August – for only 13 days in total,” he told UniteLIVE.

“It certainly won’t prevent any redundancies that so many hospitality business continue to plough on with, and it won’t stop these employers from forcing workers in the industry to accept cuts to pay, zero-hours contracts and the decimation of their terms and conditions. If anything, the scheme will only contribute to the profit margins of large restaurant chains such as Pizza Express and the Casual Dining Group. It is an insult to our members if the chancellor truly believes that his scheme will benefit workers who desperately need real action from the government.”  

Find out more in our full story here.

Passengers abusing bus drivers

This week, UniteLIVE has highlighted incidents of bus driver abuse, which have increased as more people start using public transport again and are required to wear face coverings.

One bus driver speaking to BBC Radio Manchester explained the reaction he often gets when he reminds passengers to wear masks.

“A lot of people, when asked, will pull one out of their pockets and be quite civil,” he said. “And then there’s a percentage of people who instantly become aggressive, as if you’ve said something rude or insensitive to them, they instantly just become aggressive and confrontational.

“I had a guy wish death upon my children because he didn’t have a face mask and I explained to him he couldn’t use public transport without one.”

Unite has called for bus companies to take swift action against aggressive passengers. You can read more in our full story here.

Co-op Insurance

Unite this week slammed Co-op Insurance for its decision to sell the business to a known union-busting firm Markerstudy, which will entail the loss of 200 jobs, with the remaining 800 staff left without trade union recognition.

Markerstudy has already stated that it will not engage with trade union representatives, leaving hundreds of workers who come from a heavily unionised workforce with no union voice in their workplace at a time when they need representation more than ever.

“The sale of Co-op Insurance to an organisation which intends to de-recognise Unite the union is outrageous and beyond belief,” said Unite regional secretary Ritchie James.

“Trade unions and the Co-operative movement have a long and rich history which has ensured positive industrial relations for many years. The suggestion that employee voices in Manchester can be silenced through a sale to Markerstudy is inconceivable,” he added.

“The Co-op cannot hide away from the consequences of their decision to sell to such an organisation. Ahead of the sale Unite has made it clear to both parties that trade union recognition is not on the table. The union will not stand aside and will continue to fight to make sure our members within Co-op Insurance are protected and treated fairly.”

You can read more in our full story here, and hear from our Unite North West finance and legal sector officer Helen Camp in the video below.

By Hajera Blagg

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