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 all the latest heroes and zeros amid the coronavirus crisis. Here are this week’s latest.

Unite PHE members

This week, UniteLIVE spoke to some of our members at Public Health England (PHE), whose work has been absolutely vital not just amid the pandemic but all year, every year, helping ensure the health of UK’s population as a whole.

This week, these essential workers were met with devastating news, after the government announced plans to scrap and reorganise PHE.

Unite rep and PHE senior data collector Camille Tsang expressed her anger, explaining why the public health body is so vital.

“We’re not just for a pandemic – we’re for life,” she said. “The things that PHE does goes from vaccination for babies all the way through to dementia work. It’s through the whole life cycle. To just say the rest of it isn’t important — it’s a complete misunderstanding of what we do. It’s such a slap in the face.”

You can read our full feature here.

Unite members at University of Sheffield

The decision by the University of Sheffield to drop its plans to sack and reengage over 8,000 of its employees in a bid to cut costs has been hailed as ‘a victory for common sense’ by Unite this week.

Unite, which represents university employees in key technical and professional roles, spearheaded the campaign, with other higher education unions, to protect jobs when the proposals were unveiled last month

Unite said that the University’s bosses panicked when they claimed they needed to make £100 million in savings over fears about a shortfall in students in the coming academic year, including the much valued students from China, as a result of the pandemic.

Unite urged the management to work with the trade unions to formulate its medium and long-term plans for the University’s post-pandemic financial health.

Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner said, “The news that the controversial ‘fire and rehire’ plans by the University of Sheffield have been jettisoned is a victory for common sense, and the strong solidarity shown by our reps and members in the face of the panic-induced plans by the University.

“For the University’s 8,000 employees, there is massive relief that there is no longer a threat to ‘fire and rehire’ on inferior terms and conditions.”

The German government – for their short-time working system to protect jobs

Unite this week hailed the German government for doing right by its citizens and having in place measures to protect employment at a time of national crisis.

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke explained how it works in a comment piece this week.

“In Germany, the ‘Kurzarbeit’ social insurance scheme ensures employers reduce their employees’ working hours instead of laying them off,” he said.

“Under ‘Kurzarbeit’, the government normally provides an income ‘replacement rate’ of 60 per cent (more for workers with children). A worker receives 60 per cent of his or her pay for the hours not worked while receiving full pay for the hours worked.

“So, for example, a worker would only experience a 10 per cent salary loss for a 30 per cent reduction in hours. The programme usually runs for a maximum of six months consecutively. About 5.6m German workers currently benefit from the scheme.”

Meanwhile, the government here in the UK is refusing to extend its furlough scheme despite the prospect of mass unemployment.

“UK workers are asking the question – if they can do it in Germany – why can’t we?” Tony continued. “The answer is the government in Germany listens to the union voice and respects it –  and is prepared to work with unions and employers.”

You can read Tony’s full comment piece here.


Bus maker Alexander Dennis

Alexander Dennis (ADL), the UK’s largest bus and coach builder, was this week blasted for its ‘disgraceful and deceptive’ behaviour by Unite following the shock announcement that it will close production at its site in Guildford, Surrey, with the loss of 200 jobs, as well as making swingeing redundancies at its plants in Falkirk and Scarborough.

Staff were told on Thursday (August 20) that production at Guildford will end during a meeting called to provide more details of the 650 job losses across the firm’s sites at Falkirk, Guildford and Scarborough, which were announced earlier this month. The company has told staff at Falkirk that 160 jobs will go, with more still to be announced, while 90 jobs will go in Scarborough.

ADL has ostensibly blamed a drop in business due to coronavirus for the cuts. While the acknowledging the impact on orders, Unite said ADL is using Covid-19 as an excuse to accelerate restructuring plans developed before the pandemic (see notes below). 

Earlier this week, Unite exposed the plans by ADL’s parent company, the NFI Group, to potentially close a UK site and outsource a large bus building contract for Berlin to a company in Turkey, despite using the decline in orders to try and justify planned cuts.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said,“While the coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly impacted ADL’s short term operations following a collapse in orders from UK bus operators, the firm’s Canadian parent company NFI has exposed the true extent of its betrayal of UK workers, their families and communities.  

“Pre-Covid plans, identified by Unite following disclosure of information requests, are now being accelerated to use the pandemic as an excuse to bring forward the ending of production at Guildford and attack jobs across the group while outsourcing work abroad in order to line shareholder pockets. The fact that all this is being done after the company took full advantage of UK taxpayer’s money through the job retention scheme, and after our help has been sought to secure government funding for advanced manufacture of green buses, is a gross betrayal of a loyal, world class workforce.”

You can read our full story here.


Unite this week has blasted easyJet for going ahead with plans to close regional bases at Southend, Stansted and Newcastle airports. Not only will the decision cause hundreds of needless job losses, it has also impacted passengers.

This week, UniteLIVE heard from one such passenger who was left stranded in Croatia after his flight was cancelled upon the announcement of the closure of an easyJet base at Stansted Airport.

“To send people like me on holiday in the absolute knowledge that they would leave us totally stranded in the midst of the current pandemic situation is completely unscrupulous and playing Russian roulette with people’s lives,” said easyJet passenger Simon Fitzgerald.

Unite members continue to fight the decision and staged a series of demos this week at the three airports.

You can read our full story here.

The Ivy restaurant in Glasgow

One of Glasgow’s most prestigious restaurants has come under fire from staff who have said they’ve been badly treated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Unite is supporting staff members of The Ivy  restaurant in Glasgow by putting forward a collective grievance on a number of issues, including withholding tips, scrapping staff holidays with no option to carry them over and putting their health at risk by forcing them to attend face-to-face meetings in contravention of lockdown measures.

Unite hospitality organiser Bryan Simpson said that staff morale has hit rock-bottom and has urged management to change course.

“The way our members have been treated by Ivy Collections is disgraceful,” he said. “These workers have made the company millions over the years – a safe workplace, their holiday pay and 100 per cent of tips is all they are asking for.”

You can read our full story here.

Baroness Dido Harding

 Unite this week slammed the decision by health secretary Matt Hancock to appoint Dido Harding, a businesswoman and Tory peer whose personal and professional connections have raised eyebrows, as interim chief of the new National Institute for Health Protection, which is to replace the PHE.

UniteLIVE highlighted how Baroness Dido Harding has overseen a catalogue of failures both in the private and public sectors.

Most recently, she now leads the outsourced NHS Test and Trace programme in England, which has been plagued by scandal since its inception in May.

A major concern has been how two outsourcing giants Serco and Sitel were awarded contracts to run the contact tracing service without public competition in late May. It was revealed earlier this month that in recent weeks, the service run by the firms has managed to reach only just over half of the close contacts of those testing positive for coronavirus.

Baroness Harding has served in executives roles in various companies, most infamously as mobile phone provider TalkTalk’s chief executive. She presided over the company when two teenagers cyber attacked the firm in 2015, which resulted in the theft of 157,000 customers’ personal details. About 16,000 people’s bank accounts and sort codes were hacked, as were a further 28,000 customers’ credit and debit card numbers.

“You really couldn’t make this stuff up – a businesswoman and Tory peer with no public health experience, who has connections with Tory NHS privateers, is installed as leader of Public Health England’s successor,” said Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams.

“Not only has Baroness Dido Harding presided over failures with NHS Track and Trace but also as chief executive of TalkTalk, where she showed stunning contempt for her customers, innocent victims of a data theft, who made her company millions,” she added.

“If anyone had even a smidgeon of confidence left in this government to seriously tackle this pandemic instead of indulging in a nakedly corrupt display of ‘jobs for the boys and girls’, all that confidence was lost today with Baroness Harding’s appointment.”

You can read our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

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