Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus crisis

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

Bakkavor workers

This week, Unite highlighted how workers who need to self-isolate at a Bakkavor dessert factory in Newark, Nottinghamshire, where there has been a coronavirus outbreak, were only given statutory sick pay of just £95 pound a week.

But thanks to pressure from the workforce with the support of their union Unite, Bakkavor made a welcome U-turn and committed to paying their workers full sick pay based on their normal wage.

Unite regional officer Mick Orpin said, “Unite welcomes the decision by Bakkavor to ensure self-isolating workers in Newark receive their full wages while they are off. It is the right thing to do both for those who may struggle to get by if they are forced to stop working and for the wider efforts to stop the virus’ spread. It is also an example of the real gains to be had from joining a union.”

Find out more in our full story here, and you can also hear from Mick Orpin speaking after the victory in the video below.

Health visitors

We’ve featured health visitors before as heroes amid the coronavirus crisis and this week we pay tribute to them again, after the CPHVA highlighted their importance and called on health visitors and other community nurses to be be represented on NHS trusts and boards.

“We would like to say an enormous ‘thank you’ to all of you who selflessly stepped up to combat coronavirus at great personal risk to yourselves,” wrote Unite regional officer Su Lowe and Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi, on behalf of the CPHVA this week in a comment piece on UniteLIVE.

“As specialist nurses, your skills have been key in the NHS’ once-in-a-generation response. Many of you have held health visiting and school nursing services together demonstrating flexibility and versatility, as you drew upon all your skills and accumulated reservoirs of specialist knowledge.”

You can read the comment piece in full here, and you can also hear from a Unite health visitor who this week described all the sacrifices she and her colleagues made during the peak of the pandemic in our special feature here.

Shipbuilders – fighting for the future of their industry

This week UniteLIVE highlighted how the government is going back on its word to build Royal Navy fleet support ships in the UK – and has sneakily invited overseas yards into bidding to build three new key ships.

In our investigative piece, we examine why shipbuilding is so vital for the UK’s future, and why the government needs to keep its word and step up to the plate to protect it.

“While the question is asked about who will pay for the pandemic it is bewildering that the government refuses to see the incredible possibilities it could reap from a thriving shipbuilding sector,” says Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner.

“Shipbuilding is not a relic, nor our yesterday as a nation. In fact, it very much ought to be part of our future – and that of all our skilled workers who have given so much and who have had their lives put on hold by the cruelty of Covid-19 – and now by the backtracking of this government.”

You can read the full feature here, and find out more about Unite’s Keep Britain Afloat campaign in the video below:

Bank branch workers

Bank branch workers are among the forgotten heroes of the coronavirus crisis, with many travelling into work even at the height of the pandemic at great risk to their lives to provide a vital service to their communities.

As UniteLIVE highlighted earlier on in the pandemic, after speaking to one branch worker back in May, bank branches had queues out the door even as the majority of businesses were shut and people stayed at home.

This week, we highlighted how many bank branch workers at NatWest, disappointed by how they’ve not received the recognition they deserve, have had enough and have applied for voluntary redundancy.

You find out more in our full feature here.



Topping this week’s zeroes list is outsourcing firm Serco, which was granted a contract by the government for track and trace services. As UniteLIVE highlighted, the firm has failed miserably – only successfully contacting just over half of people who’ve had close contact with someone who has confirmed to have coronavirus.

Unite has now joined the Labour Party and others in calling for the government to scrap the £108m contract when it is up for renewal in about a week, and to instead divert the money to local authorities and public health teams, which have had a much better record on contact tracing.

Unite national officer for local government Jim Kennedy said, “This foolhardy and expensive reliance on private sector companies by the Tory government to deliver a comprehensive ‘test and trace’ programme is just another example of a misguided outsourcing policy that includes the ignominious failure of G4S to provide adequate security for the 2012 Olympics.

“Local government has a proven history going back to the end of the 19th century for delivering public health initiatives to local communities – it is a scandal that it has been by-passed up to now in favour of controversial outscoring companies where shareholders’ profits trump the public good.”

You can read our full feature here.

The government – for presiding over the worst recession since records began, as well as the worst excess death toll rate in all of Europe

The UK has earned the dubious distinction of being ‘world-beating’ in two respects this week – new figures show the UK has suffered the worst recession out of any G7 country amid the coronavirus crisis.

This feat has also come at a time when the UK has also achieved the worst excess death toll out of any country in Europe.

While every major country has suffered a major economic hit – and so many countries have also seen tens of thousands of deaths – the UK is faring particularly badly, because of decisions the government has made.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey called on the government to extend its furlough scheme and not abandon the British people in their hour of need.

You can read our full feature here.

Go North West Ltd.

About 500 Manchester bus drivers will hold a consultative ballot on whether they want to take industrial action after a senior Unite rep at bus company Go North West Limited was suspended for carrying out legitimate trade union activities.

Unite said that the ballot follows the suspension of the rep, who is also a Unite branch chair, as the union highlighted plans to reduce the wages of 500 Manchester bus drivers by an estimated £2,000-a-year.

Unite said that the suspension was sanctioned by Go North West Limited managing director Nigel Featham. The union has called for the senior rep’s immediate reinstatement.

Unite regional officer Steve Davies said, “The suspension of our senior shop steward is a ham-fisted attempt at weakening and undermining the confidence of drivers by trashing industrial relations with Unite.”

You can read more in full story here.

Heathrow Airport

Unite has this week accused Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) of pursuing a ‘greed, not need’ approach to the workforce. In June, HAL announced its intention to make swingeing cuts to pay, cut allowances and close the final salary pension scheme.

Through extensive negotiations with the employer Unite has attempted to reverse many of the proposals but with HAL unwilling to consider fairer measures, Unite, which represents over 4,000 directly employed workers at the airport, will recommend to the workforce that when the proposals are put to them that they are rejected.

Unite’s officials report that HAL has threatened to issue section 188 notices, which would result in staff being fired and re-hired on the inferior contracts, in an effort to `bounce’ the workforce into hasty acceptance of the new contracts.

As part of Unite’s aviation campaign, Heathrow workers and their supporters this week held a protest at the airport, to call on the government to support the aviation sector and to demonstrate against HAL’s actions.

You can find out more in our full story here. And don’t miss our picture gallery from the Heathrow protest here.

By Hajera Blagg

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