Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus pandemic

Reading time: 9 min

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

Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU) international secretary Lizaveta Merliak

UniteLIVE this week investigated what’s happening to trade unionists in Belarus and how one woman union leader’s fight shows that only solidarity can defeat oppression.

Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU) international secretary, Lizaveta Merliak told UniteLIVE her harrowing story of being arrested by secret police and how she and others like her continue to fight the good fight for working people everywhere.

You can read more in Part 1 and Part 2 of our story, and you can read an update on Lizaveta’s court case here.

Show Racism the Red Card

Show Racism the Red Card, a charity Unite has long supported, has delivered anti-racism education to schools and workplaces for more than a decade.

Formed in 1996, the charity goes out into communities, classrooms and football clubs and educates roughly 50,000 schoolchildren each year in England, Wales and Scotland about racism, using football and other sport to inspire.

This year, Show Racism the Red Card’s work is more important than ever before, especially in light of the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.

You can read more in our interview with Show Racism the Red Card’s founder and chief executive Ged Grebby here. And if you missed the charity’s special online Wear Red Day launch on Thursday, which featured contributions from some of the UK’s all-time football greats, you can re-watch it here.

Keep Britain Afloat campaign

Unite and shipbuilding unions celebrated victory after the government made a major U-turn this week, suggesting they have reclassified Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships as warships – and so must be built in the UK.

In a long-running campaign, both Unite and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), of which Unite is a part, have called for the three FSS ships, which will help keep the Navy’s new aircraft carriers at sea and provide them with munitions and food, to be built in the UK and so support thousands of local jobs and economies and keep the UK’s shipbuilding tradition alive.

Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy welcomed the move.

“The government has finally bowed to pressure after our union and reps’ steadfast involvement in the CSEU campaign to ‘Keep Britain Afloat’ — to ensure the £1.5bn contract for the three FSS ships are built in the UK after now being reclassified as warships,” he said.

Unite’s SOS for Jobs campaign

Thanks in part to Unite’s concerted campaigning, chancellor Rishi Sunak this week announced a short-time working scheme to replace current furlough arrangements – a key demand of Unite’s SOS for Jobs campaign.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “The package of measures announced today by the chancellor will allow many workers and employers to breathe more easily. For some industries this will steady the very rocky floor beneath them, something that we have been pressing for all summer in an effort to stop the redundancy floodgates from pouring open. 

“The chancellor has heard the incessant calls from unions, economists and business leaders and listened, and that is to be undoubtedly welcomed.”

Still, McCluskey warned that much more action is needed and will continue campaigning for more government support for the UK’s vital industries.


Bernard Matthews

Turkey producers Bernard Matthews have made it on our zeroes list this week after the company’s decision to more than double the price of its employee bus service and scrap a key route, leaving its workers in the lurch.

Due to poor transport networks, Bernard Matthews provided subsidised bus services which are crucial for workers travelling to and from its sites in Great Witchingham in Norfolk and Holton in Suffolk.

Unite has accused Bernard Matthews’ owner Ranjit Singh of reneging on a key pledge that workers say he personally made, after the multi-millionaire added the turkey supplier to his food empire.

Unite regional officer, Mark Jaina said, “Hundreds of essential food workers, earning the minimum wage are being forced to accept a huge hike in bus fares or leave their jobs. This is astonishingly irresponsible.”


The redundancy process at the RSPCA has descended into such ‘chaos and confusion’ that chief executive Chris Sherwood needs to reflect on the lack of staff confidence in him, Unite said this week.

Nearly 300 workers at the 196-year-old Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals face the sack ‘in the most challenging labour market conditions for a generation’, despite the charity having £60m in reserves to tide it over the funding gap caused by Covid-19. Four animal centres are also earmarked to close.

Unite claims that the RSPCA’s own HR department has admitted that the situation is ‘catastrophic’ due to unreasonable timescales and demands – and the union warns that the jobs’ axe will have a major impact on frontline animal welfare in England and Wales.

 In a letter to Chris Sherwood, Unite national officer for the not for profit sector Siobhan Endean said, “The redundancy consultation process is leading to chaos and confusion. The individual consultation process has been rushed, poorly coordinated and poorly resourced.”

Read more in our full story here.

You can also support our RSPCA members by signing the petition below:

Fat cat firms – and the government feeding them billions in Covid-19 contracts

The Labour party this week published a damning ‘file of failure’ outlining the billions of pounds wasted and mismanaged by the Tory government amid the pandemic.

The file revealed that more than £130m was handed to Randox Laboratories – a firm that has donated to the Tory party – for testing kits. In the end, three-quarters of a million of these tests had to be recalled because they were deemed unsafe by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Meanwhile, at least £150m of a £252m contract for Ayanda Capital was wasted on face masks, as a huge proportion of these masks were deemed unsuitable for frontline NHS staff.

The government has so far handed outsourcing giant Serco and call centre firm Sitel £108m and £83m respectively to run a contact tracing service which has so far failed spectacularly.

A Unite spokesperson said, “The cronyism and chaos sickens voters.

“The funnelling of masses of public cash the way of their mates while at the same time talking of cuts to benefits to ‘pay’ for this crisis is just the same old Tories. Not acting in the public interest and certainly not up to the job.”

You can read more in our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

Related Articles