Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes of the coronavirus crisis

Reading time: 8 min

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


Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail

At this year’s TUC Congress, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail was elected TUC president, a post which she will hold until next year’s Congress.

Unite couldn’t be prouder of Gail, who has spent decades fighting for working people. Congratulating Gail, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “I hugely admire the ability, courage and bravery Gail has shown throughout her trade union career and I speak on behalf of our entire Unite family in saying how very proud I am of her election as TUC president. I know Gail will do a fantastic job, doing what she does best, standing up for equality, justice, fairness and international solidarity between workers.”

Presiding over the Trades Union Congress is probably the greatest honour any active trade unionist can hope to achieve. But, like most from a working class background, it was not an easy path to the top – as our exclusive interview by UniteLIVE editor Amanda Campbell, which also appeared in the Morning Star, reveals.

You can read our full interview with Gail here, and you can read Len’s words of congratulations here.

British Airways reps

This week, British Airways boss Alex Cruz appeared before the transport select committee, and signaled a partial U-turn on the airline’s ‘fire and rehire’ plans.

While Cruz’s comments weren’t entirely correct, and issues still remain, Unite praised the work of BA reps who pressured the airline into the partial climbdown.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, ”It is thanks to the immense work of Unite reps that British Airways has been forced to accept that it cannot indulge in the comprehensive fire and rehire policy that the airline intended.”

Read more in Beckett’s full statement here.

TUC Congress

While this year’s TUC Congress could not be held in the normal way, it was still an unequivocal success as an online-only event, open for the first to anyone for free.

Many from Unite participated, including Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke, and Unite BAEM executive council member rep Susan Matthews.

You can catch our UniteLIVE coverage here in our TUC Congress 2020 archive.


MoD contractor ESS

Hundreds of low-paid workers based at Ministry of Defence sites are being told to sign up to pay cuts or be immediately made redundant, because of outsourcing firm ESS’ “appalling behaviour” towards loyal workers.

Over 500 workers employed by ESS, part of the multi-million pound Compass Group, who undertake key roles in cleaning and catering roles on the MoD site, are being faced with cuts in their working weeks and reductions in working hours.

In many cases the workers, member of Unite, are being told that they have to agree to only being paid for 49 or 50 weeks a year, which full time workers estimate will cost them up to £1,200 a year.

The union says that many of the mainly female staff have been left in tears when they are told by management that they have to sign up to the cuts or be made redundant.

Unite lead officer for defence workers Caren Evans said, “The behaviour of ESS is simply appalling.

“On what planet is it acceptable to tell low paid, long serving workers that they must sign up or be sacked.

“Our members are dedicated to ensure that our armed forces are well fed and well cared for and their only reward is to be treated shabbily by their employer.”

You can read our full story here.

British Airways boss Alex Cruz

This week, Unite blasted British Airways boss Alex Cruz for not being totally honest about the airline’s intentions over ‘fire and rehire’ contracts for its staff.

It is only through the efforts of Unite BA reps – included in this week’s heroes – that BA has partially rowed back on its fire and rehire plans. But as Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett highlighted, many issues still remain.

And both Unite and Labour MPs will continue to hold Cruz’s feet to the fire until all these issues are resolved.

(More) government Brexit chaos

Unite has called for the public release of a government document leaked to the Guardian which details potential queues of up to 7,000 lorries across Kent after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

The union, which warned this that government’s mishandling of Brexit customs preparations will result in ‘chaos and confusion’,said it is ‘beyond a joke’ that the report states that national IT systems to handle new border arrangements will not be ready for public testing until November 1.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said, “Possible queues of 7,000 lorries clogging Kent’s road system will disturb residents, HGV drivers and businesses. The potential level of disruption is scary. End-to-end you’re talking about queues that would stretch from Dover, which accounts for 22 per cent of all trade between the UK and EU, to central London. 

“Due to the government’s complete lack of communication or proper consultation it is not known what level of congestion other UK port areas – which handle the remaining 78 per cent of UK-EU sea freight – could be facing.  

“The lack of preparedness on the part of government is astounding.”

You can read our full story here and you can listen to Unite’s Adrian Jones discuss the issue in the clip below.

The government’s failed privatised testing system

This week, UniteLIVE highlighted how the current community testing system now faces a massive 185,000 Covid-19 test backlog. Unite’s biomedical scientists have pointed out that this is in large part due to a privatised network of labs carrying out the tests called Lighthouse Labs.

A new survey of Unite’s biomedical scientist members, who are accredited and fully qualified to carry out testing, said they feel NHS science facilities and resources have been underutilised in favour of private labs.

Of those surveyed, more than 85 per cent said they were concerned about the service quality from Lighthouse Labs and over 90 per cent said that there were worried about the transparency and contracting arrangements for these laboratories.

Chair of the Unite healthcare science committee Ian Evans said, “Long-established NHS laboratories with a wealth of professional experience built up over decades appear to have been marginalised in the battle against coronavirus – this has been a huge mistake.”

You can read our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

Related Articles