Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid coronavirus crisis

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


Unite’s manufacturing members

This week, Unite’s manufacturing members sent a loud and clear message that the government must step in and extend the furlough scheme or else risk a tsunami of job losses.

Dozens of workers from the UK’s leading firms in aerospace, car manufacturing and other industries, including BAE, Rolls-Royce, Ford and GKN, among others, gathered outside Parliament as part of Unite’s new SOS for Jobs campaign.

Unite Rolls-Royce convenor Mark Porter, who was among those who attended the rally, told UniteLIVE he came to “call on the government to do more to protect UK manufacturing jobs”.

Mark explained why an extension of the furlough scheme was so vital.

 “It will help to retain skills ready for when demand inevitably increases,” he said. “Once we have a vaccine and things can begin to return to normal it is vital that manufacturing jobs are still here to support the increase in demand.

 “We feel abandoned and betrayed by this government and with the double whammy of Brexit our industry has been hit hard,” he added. “Manufacturing is the UK’s crown jewels and it will be left devastated if the government sits back and does nothing.”

Labour MPs standing up for UK workers

It wasn’t only Unite’s manufacturing members who on Wednesday (September 9) took their message to Parliament – they were met at the rally by more than 50 Labour MPs, including shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, Angela Rayner, Chris Matheson, and Andy McDonald among others, who threw their support behind these beleaguered workers working in key industries that face imminent collapse if the government fails to step in.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds addressed the Unite rally noting, “It’s a political choice to withdraw support for our jobs and industries at this stage. Other countries have not withdrawn support, across their economies.”

Signatures from Labour MPs who signed Unite’s pledge in support of UK workers continue to pour in.

Shadow secretary for energy and climate change Ed Miliband, who could not attend the rally but pledged his support, had a special message for Unite members – and a warning for government.

“I fully support Unite’s campaign around manufacturing,” he said.

“This is a moment when the government should be matching its words on industrial policy with deeds to save jobs, communities and livelihoods. But they are failing to do so across aerospace, automotive, steel and many other sectors. These are jobs we cannot afford to lose.

“There are no more excuses. They must act.”

BTW Senior Aerospace workers

Workers at BTW Senior Aerospace near Macclesfield banded together to save jobs and with their union Unite, they struck a short-time working agreement with their employer.

The agreement has saved more than 40 jobs and serves as a model for how the government, by providing additional support, can save a substantial number of jobs if it helps companies with short-time working schemes.

Commenting on the agreement, Unite regional officer Alan Small called it a “bittersweet victory”.

“Our members have shown exceptional selflessness to agree to a substantial cut in wages, in order to preserve jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Unite rep Jamie Butterworth called the agreement ‘excellent’, and noted how the whole workforce really pulled together to save jobs.

“If Unite wasn’t there, our company would have just carried on with the redundancies and would not have been held to account,” he added. “As union reps and members, we’ve worked together to make it a fair and equal process.”

Social care workers

This week we again pay tribute to social care workers and their invaluable contributions not only amid the pandemic but all day, every day, caring for our loved ones.

This week, the TUC called for a total overhaul of the adult social care system. It should be replaced with one where the workforce is truly valued.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail highlighted the enormous sacrifices care workers have made in the last few months.

“Throughout the pandemic our members in social care have contacted us with heart-breaking experiences,” she said. “Many have suffered in silence, fearful of speaking out against their private sector employers.

“Many have put their lives at risk because they lacked the basic PPE. Testing of these key workers was inadequate and many did not have proper sick pay if and when they had to isolate,” she added.

“There can be no justification for continued underfunding and the rampant commercialisation of the sector – how can you factor in profit margins for someone’s health and care?”

You can read our full story here.


The government – for abandoning UK workers

The government has failed in many respects amid the pandemic but chief among their failures is so far refusing to extend the furlough scheme beyond the October 31 deadline.

This week, a Freedom of Information request from the BBC found that employers in the UK planned an astonishing 300,000 job cuts in June and July.

The latest figures point to yet more evidence of a coming wave of job losses as the government plans to end its furlough scheme, where the state covers 80 per cent of wages for people who cannot work.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner pleaded with the government to extend the furlough scheme and agree a short-time working scheme to succeed it.

 “We are appealing to MPs, help us to get the penny to drop with ministers.  Please do not let the good work of recent months go to waste,” he said.

 “Keep people in work producing the goods to recover and rebuild our economy, not sitting on the dole, idle and impoverished when there is a country to rebuild. 

 “UK manufacturing is vital to our economic recovery,” he added. “It will power the jobs of tomorrow and keep communities strong in those parts of the country that the PM has pledged to ‘level up’.  But without urgent action by the PM, these communities will suffer terribly as the gates close on the businesses that sit at their heart.”

You can read more in our full story here.

Go Ahead Group

Unite has launched an international campaign this week to stop the owners of the Manchester bus company Go North West from using Covid-19 as cover for making savage cuts to bus drivers’ pay and conditions, while victimising and gagging a Unite union representative.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey has written to Go Ahead Group’s CEO David Brown to warn him that Unite will be using all available resources to provide “immediate assistance to our members”.

“In addition to industrial action this will mean exposing your company’s behaviour to all of your stakeholders, partners and associates” said McCluskey.

“This will include mobilising all of our allies and contacting our significant political network in the Nordic countries, Germany and Australasia.”

Despite continuing to make millions in profits, Go North West’s parent company, Go-Ahead is trying to use Covid-19 as cover to make savage cuts to bus drivers’ pay, terms and conditions in Manchester.

The company is intending to ‘fire’ the entire workforce to get what they want and then ‘rehire’ those that agree to accept inferior contracts. At the same time management is trying to ‘gag’ and sack Colin, a union rep who refused to agree the company’s demands.

You can read all about it in our full story here.

Banham Poultry

The Banham Poultry factory in Norfolk has been at the epicentre of a recent Covid-19 outbreak – and Unite has previously warned that this has transpired because the company refuses to pay its workers sick pay.

This week, the BBC highlighted what Unite long said – speaking to workers at the plant, they reported that their colleagues turned up to work showing symptoms of coronavirus because they were afraid to take time off with statutory sick pay being so low.

Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard pointed out that the company that owns the factory can well afford to do the right thing and pay their workers full sick pay.

“Banham is owned by Chesterfield Poultry, which as multimillion-pound firm can clearly afford to top up the statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week that its low paid workers are expected to live on if they need to self-isolate,” he said.

“Throughout this crisis, Unite has warned food processing employers that poor pay combined with a lack of company sick pay risks staff having to choose between self-isolating or hoping for the best and going into work because they cannot afford to be ill.

“Refusing to provide adequate sick pay is unjust in any circumstances, but particularly so during a pandemic, as well as increasing the risk to other staff and the wider public.”

By Hajera Blagg

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