Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus crisis

Reading time: 11 min

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


Black inventors and innovators

This month is Black History Month, and Unite as ever will be celebrating. Despite the usual events not taking place as normal, Unite has organised a series of online Zoom events to honour the historic and present contributions of our Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities.

This year, Black History Month pays special tribute to the many Black inventors and innovators who have not received the recognition they deserve.

Some of these include Charles Drew, who invented the blood plasma bag; Alexander Miles, who invented the modern elevator with automatic doors; Thomas Marshall, who invented the first fire extinguisher sprinkler system; Lyda D. Newman, an activist in the women’s suffrage movement who also invented the first durable hairbrush; and Ronjon Chakraverty, who developed the bone marrow transplant – among many others.

Find out more about how Unite is celebrating Black History Month in our feature here.

Unite’s Retired and Community members

Unite’s Retired and Community members have always been an active bunch, ready to stand up to any injustice. Even though they cannot take to the streets now, that didn’t stop them from organising a digital day of action to protest the government ending free TV licences for over 75s.

You can find out more in our full story here. You can also read a comment piece by Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner on why this issue is so important here.

Unite’s bus drivers

Thanks to the tireless campaigning and negotiating of Unite’s bus driver reps, the union celebrated a victory after bus operator HCT (Hackney Community Transport) confirmed that it has withdrawn proposals to introduce remote sign on at its Walthamstow garage in North East London.

The decision by HCT to not progress with remote sign on, where a bus driver does not begin work at a depot but meets their bus at an outside location, further isolates bus operator Metroline which is trying to force through the introduction of remote sign on for its routes in North and West London.

As a direct result of Metroline’s plans to introduce remote sign on, Unite is currently in the process of balloting its members for industrial action. If members vote for industrial action, there are likely to be strikes on Metroline bus services this autumn, creating severe disruption across London.

Unite regional officer John Murphy said, “HCT’s decision to withdraw proposals for remote sign on are very welcome.

“It shows what is achievable through negotiation when dealing with a responsible employer who is genuinely concerned for the welfare of its drivers,” he added.

“HCT was prepared to listen and understood Unite’s concerns, especially around safety and the dangers of drivers being exposed to Covid-19, with infection rates rising rapidly.

“Metroline has become increasingly isolated in its mania to introduce remote sign on. It is hoped that it now takes a leaf out of HCT’s book and drops these ill-thought out proposals altogether.”

Find out more in our full story here.


Cambridge University colleges

A number of Cambridge University colleges, which are targeting some of their lowest paid employees for the jobs’ axe as they juggle their Covid-19 finances, have been urged to have an urgent rethink by Unite.

Unite said this week that Cambridge colleges – some of the richest institutions in the country – should go ‘the extra mile’ to safeguard the jobs of the lowest paid employees. Already 21 of the 31 colleges have pledged ‘no compulsory job cuts’.

A coalition of Cambridge groups have launched the Cambridge Against Job Cuts campaign, following revelations in the university student newspaper Varsity that Downing, Queens’ and Trinity colleges are planning to sack more than 100 non-academic staff.

It is understood that Downing would seek to restore as many of the threatened posts as possible as soon as finances allow. However, Unite firmly believes that there is no need for the jobs to be lost in the first place.

“There is something morally repugnant that an organisation sitting on that mountain of cash is reacting to the Covid-19 crisis by throwing onto the scrapheap some of its lowest paid workers, many of whom have given years and years of loyal service,” said Unite regional coordinating officer Ian Maidlow.

Find out more in our full story here.

Former NHS trust boss Siobhan McArdle

An NHS trust boss has cashed in on nearly a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayer money after her departure, it has been revealed.

Siobhan McArdle, who served as chief executive of South Tees NHS Foundation Trust for four years, was handed a £240,000 pay-out after announcing that she would be quitting in September last year.

She told the 9,000 staff working at the Trust, that ‘life is just too short’, in a letter to staff upon her resignation and cited the pressure of having to make unrealistic efficiency savings as the reason for giving up her post.

Over the course of 2019-2020 alone, she received an astonishing total of £382,000. This included her salary of £120,000 for six months, £22,000 in overtime payments, an additional £180,000 handout in lieu of notice and a further £60,000, according to figures obtained by the Mirror.

McArdle quit her job just weeks after an inspection and subsequent report by the Care Quality Commission which found that the Trust she oversaw had problems specifically with senior executives being out of touch with frontline staff.

The report stated that senior executives “were not visible, contactable or approachable” and that staff morale was “variable and was especially poor within critical care and surgical services”.

Commenting on McArdle’s latest pay-out, Unite regional officer Neil Howells said, “The eye-watering  pay-off for former NHS boss Siobhan McArdle will cause a sense of revulsion for those NHS staff, many lowly paid, who have, literally, put their lives on the line combating Covid-19.

“It is not as if South Tees NHS Foundation Trust were flourishing under her leadership as chief executive, as it was under fire from the Care Quality Commission which found senior managers out of touch with problems facing frontline staff.”

Find out more in our full story here.

The government – for cruelly ending free TV licences for over 75s

The government has held fast to its cruel imposition of TV licence fees for over 75s in the middle of a pandemic. From August 1, only over-75s who are in receipt of pension credit will be able to watch TV for free.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner explained in a comment piece why the government decision was ‘a disgrace’.

“Millions have been left isolated and frightened, under virtual house arrest, unable to see friends or loved ones for months and often without access to the outside world,” he said.

“To take away that vital lifeline — to news, public-health announcements and entertainment — is an unforgivable conscious and brutal further punishment.

“With a second wave of local lockdowns upon us and temperatures falling, older people living on or just above the poverty line face an unthinkable choice between paying for food and heating, buying a TV licence or signing on for means-tested benefits in an attempt to get it for free,” Turner added.

“For many, unused to claiming benefits and often declining to do so even when entitled, forcing them to claim complicated pension credits over the phone, online or with the assistance of local services cut to the bone by years of Tory austerity, is a disgrace.”

You can read Steve’s full comment piece here. And find out more about Unite’s campaign to save free TV licences in the video below.

Government minister Michael Gove

Angry lorry drivers have accused government minister Michael Gove, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster of ‘blame shifting’ as he tells them to prepare paperwork for ports post-Brexit – an impossible task as the required government systems are not yet ready.

As the post-Brexit as chaos looms at the UK’s ports Gove warned of disruption, “if traders have not completed the right paperwork”.

The problem is though as many freight firms and Unite have told him, this is simply not possible as government ­systems for online paperwork are still not ready.

There are nine different solutions that are being put in place, including the main Smart Freight system – but so far they all remain untested by the industry – despite the deadline being less than 100 days away.

Firms fear they will not receive prototypes until days before the end of the UK’s 11-month ­transition phase on December 31.

Gove has said up to 7,000 lorries could end up clogging the roads around Dover and the Channel Tunnel. He also announced drivers will need a Kent Access Permit – dubbed “Kermit” by lorry drivers – to enter the county. It will be enforced using ­number plate recognition.

Over 8,000 haulage firms and 85,000 exporters will need to complete electronic forms to reach the port of Dover – or face £300 fines.

“I welcome the government’s publication of its reasonable worst-case scenario, which Unite called for last week,” said Unite national officer, Adrian Jones. “However,” he added, “the publication of the document and Mr Gove’s speech to MPs on September 23 will not have provided any reassurance for Unite’s HGV driver members, industry or the communities who stand to be impacted by looming traffic and trade chaos at our borders.

“Mr Gove appeared to be warning cross-border traders and hauliers that it would be their fault if the scenarios contained within the government’s Brexit document, including queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent, come to fruition.”

You can read more in our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

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