Heroes and zeroes

UniteLIVE highlights the latest heroes and zeroes amid the coronavirus crisis

Reading time: 12 min

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

Labour MP Dan Carden

As Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett explained in a comment piece republished on UniteLIVE earlier this week, the covert human intelligence sources bill (CHIS) – also known as the Spycops bill – places many lawful organisations, including trade unions, at risk of infiltration.

The bill is now being rushed through the House of Commons – but Unite alongside other unions and campaign groups such as the Blacklist Support Group are calling on MPs to oppose it. This week, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton Dan Carden resigned as Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury and from Labour’s frontbench over the issue and stood firmly in opposition to the bill.

Unite praises Dan’s brave stance – and urges other MPs to likewise oppose the bill.

You can find out more in the Tribune article linked below.

Wear Red Day participants

Every year, the anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card – an organisation Unite has long supported – hosts its annual Wear Red Day event.

People who take part are asked to wear red and share a photo on social media to raise awareness and funding for the charity’s work.

Today on Wear Red Day (October 16), Show Racism the Red Card’s CEO Ged Grebby believes it will be the biggest Wear Red Day yet – with more than 100,000 people expected to participate.

UniteLIVE salutes all those who’ve taken a stand against racism by taking part in Wear Red Day today. If you haven’t yet, it’s not took late to join in – find out more here.

Unite is also holding a t-shirt competition today on Wear Red Day, where 11 people will win exclusive new t-shirts. You can find out more below, and watch out later on UniteLIVE when we’ll publish a gallery of all our favourite Wear Red Day snaps.

Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick workers

Workers at the historic Rolls-Royce factory in Barnoldswick, Lancashire are not only fighting to save their jobs – they’re fighting to defend their community and a proud legacy stretching back decades.  

The Rolls-Royce plant is the birth of the jet engine and has for the last 80 years been a site of engineering excellence. At its peak, the site employed 3,000 workers. Over the years, the number of workers dwindled, with 500 currently employed at the plant.

But Rolls-Royce announced plans in August to cut a further 350 jobs and halt all production of wide-cord fan blades, a major function of the site. Instead, this work will be shipped to Singapore.

Now, the Rolls-Royce workers are worried that cutting so many jobs and leaving the plant with only 150 workers risks the future of the site. If it were to close, this would spell doom for their beloved town of Barnoldswick.

These proud Rolls-Royce engineers are not about to give up without a fight, and now their union Unite is balloting them for strike action to put a stop to the proposed job cuts and outsourcing plans to Singapore – the ballot closes today (October 16).

Unite has also released a powerful film about the history of the Barnoldswick factory and why the site means so much to so many people.

Watch a clip from the film below and also check out the full film here.

Health visitors

Last week, it was reported that overstretched health visiting services have left some health visitors caring for up to 2,400 newborn babies and their families at one time – 10 times the recommended number.

UniteLIVE this week spoke to health visitor Hazel Grieves, who explained the immense challenges that she and other health visitors now face amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

 “When services are cut to the bone we are already on the back foot when a crisis like this hits, but under the circumstances and guidelines we feel we have done the very best we can. We take a great deal of pride in our work and we will continue to do our very best for our families,” Hazel told UniteLIVE.

UniteLIVE pays special tribute to all health visitors for the heroic work they’re doing at this time of crisis – and why the government must do more to support health visiting services which have been cut to the bone over the years of austerity.

You can read our full feature here.


Online retail giant Amazon

Online retail giant Amazon has been handed millions in government contracts over the years – including £23m since the pandemic started – but shamelessly presses on with an extractive and exploitative business model where the company pays little in tax and treats its warehouse staff horrendously. 

A new analysis from the TUC and other unions found that Amazon has benefited from a total £630m in government contracts over the last five years alone. This covers 82 contracts worth £225m and an additional £405 contract from the Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (YPO) to create a digital marketplace for 13 local authorities in the area.

Since the pandemic started, Amazon has been granted £23m in government contracts, including more than £8m for work related to the NHS test and trace app which has been beset with delays and technical glitches.

Despite benefitting from millions in government contracts and grants, workers at Amazon warehouses in the UK, across Europe and the US, have highlighted terrible working conditions, including unreasonable productivity targets, bogus self-employment contracts, covert employee surveillance and an aggressively anti-union stance where the company pointedly refuses to engage with unions.

This week, when Amazon hosted its annual Prime Day sale, the TUC and other unions called for the government to use its influence through its contracts with Amazon to force the retail giant to treat its workers better and pay its fair share of tax.

Find out more in our full story here.

Outsourcing firm ESS

ESS, part of the multi-million pound Compass Group, has been branded the UK’s most “heartless employer”, due to the manner in which it is treating staff working on Ministry of Defence bases, who are being forced to sign contracts making them hundreds of pounds worse off or immediately lose their jobs.

The affected workers, employed on outsourced MoD contracts, primarily undertake cooking and cleaning roles; the majority are paid the minimum wage and are facing cuts in hours as well as a reduction in their working weeks.

The workers are facing a cut in their working weeks from the normal 52 weeks to 50, 49 or even 48. Some of the workers face losing up to £1,600 a year.

ESS’ approach is even more controversial than that of British Airways and Heathrow Airport — also in the spotlight in recent months for similar fire and rehire plans — as it is telling workers to ‘sign or be made redundant’. Unite does not believe this is a genuine redundancy situation as the company has not issued either a HR1 or section 188 notice, or undertaken a genuine consultation process on redundancies.

Unite lead officer for defence workers Caren Evans said, “ESS are seeking the title of the UK’s most heartless employers and in a crowded field they are strong contenders.

“They are using a false redundancy process to force workers who are already on the breadline to accept huge pay cuts.”

Read more in our full story here.

Cornwall’s Tory MPs

Cornwall has been ‘hung out to dry big-time’ by the lack of government support for the coronavirus-hit tourist economy and the shortfall in funding for local government, Unite said this week.

Unite said the latest blow are plans by Cornwall Council to axe 400 directly employed jobs out of a total workforce of 5,600 by March 2021 as a result of Whitehall’s failure to pay for the costs incurred by Covid-19, leaving the council with a £40 million deficit to fund statutory services.

Unite accused Cornwall’s six Conservative MPs, including environment secretary George Eustice, of ‘failing to go in to bat’ for the county, which has some of the most serious pockets of deprivation in the UK.

Cornwall’s economy has been buffeted by the curtailed holiday season due to the lockdown, and local firms are closing or shedding jobs.

Unite regional officer Deborah Hopkins said, “Cornwall’s public services and the economy are facing a perfect storm of rising Covid-19 cases and the ending of the job retention scheme (JRS) – yet, Cornwall’s MPs seem to be reluctant to go in to bat for the county, even though George Eustice has a seat at the cabinet table.

“Cornwall Council is now planning to cut 400 jobs by voluntary redundancy, but, no doubt, if that fails, it will be compulsory job losses – and that’s because of the failure of central government to fully fund the authority’s response to coronavirus.”

You can read more in our full story here.

The government – for failing to ensure food safety standards post-Brexit

This week Tory MPs voted against a Lords’ amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which would have required that imported food meet domestic legal standards from January 1.

Farmers and campaigners staged an eleventh hour attempt to get food safety and animal welfare standards enshrined in UK law after Brexit – as the agriculture bill returned this week for debate and a series of votes in both houses of parliament.

Armed with placards and tractors, the campaigners from Save British Farming set off from New Covent Garden, headed up to Defra (department for environment, food and rural affairs) and then on to Parliament Square – determined to change the government’s adamant opposition to legislating for a continuation of the high standards required under EU law.

Unite national officer for agriculture Bev Clarkson said Unite agricultural and rural workers would be deeply disappointed by the Bill’s passing and the threat to food standards, safety and treatment of animals.

“This is a terrible, retrograde step for British farming,” said Clarkson.

“The UK’s high standards have long been held up as the benchmark for global food and animal welfare standards. Now we’ve seen that our suspicions were correct – the government would indeed be prepared to sacrifice these standards, built up over many decades, to achieve post-Brexit trade deals at any price.

“Our members find this outcome deeply disappointing. Now we are insistent that the government must enshrine in law these standards to ensure no watering down; and stand up to the lobby that advocates chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef entering the UK market from the US.”

You can read our full investigation by UniteLIVE and Landworker editor Amanda Campbell about what the Agriculture Bill may mean for the future of British food standards here.

By Hajera Blagg

Related Articles