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.


Union learning reps

This week, Unite has joined a new TUC campaign to save the Union Learning Fund (ULF), which was suddenly scrapped without consultation. The Department for Education said earlier this month that from March 2021, it would end the ULF, which was established more than 20 years ago and helps hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people each year get access to vital training and education.

This week, UniteLIVE pays special tribute to union learning reps, who are at the heart of union learning. We spoke to Unite education director Jim Mowatt earlier this week, who explained why union learning – and the reps that underpin it – are so vital.

“Union learning has been a very positive development for us in the last twenty-two years – and at the heart of this are our union learning reps, the tens of thousands of ordinary women and men who volunteer their time to help their mates in work,” Mowatt said. “Union learning is the most visible, tangible benefit that Unite gives its members.”

You can read more about the TUC’s campaign and Learn with Unite in our feature here.

The Henry Reeve Brigade

Unite has endorsed the nomination of a team of Cuban medics – known as the Henry Reeve Brigade – for the Nobel Peace Prize this year for their work in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Henry Reeve Brigade was established in 2005 in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and comprises a team of thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians who help countries hit by natural disasters or pandemics.

This year, their team of nearly 4,000 medics have volunteered alongside health workers in 39 countries across the world to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. They’re true heroes.

Find out more about them in our story here. And watch Unite general secretary Len McCluskey explain why our union is endorsing their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in the video below:

Marcus Rashford

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has been highlighted on our heroes list before – and he earns a spot again this week for his latest fight in pressing the government to extend free school meals over the holidays.

Last week, he launched a petition that has garnered more than 400,000 signatures to date. The Labour party, which backed Rashford’s campaign, forced a vote on the issue earlier this week in an Opposition Day Debate. Shockingly, nearly all Tory MPs save five voted against Labour’s motion to extend free school meals starting from the half-term holidays until at least the Easter holidays next year.

Still, Rashford is undeterred and since the vote he is more resolved than ever to continue the fight. Celebrities and politicians have poured in support for Rashford after the vote and the momentum for his campaign only continues to grow. Local businesses as well councils such as Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Oldham and many others have all pledged to help during the half-term holidays by offering vouchers or meals for children.

You can read more about Marcus’ campaign in our feature here and stay tuned for an update later today.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham

UniteLIVE this week pays special tribute to Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who stood up to the government in defence of the low-paid and most vulnerable.

This week, the government unilaterally imposed a tier-3 lockdown on Greater Manchester – the highest level lockdown where many hospitality businesses are forced to close – after talks with Burnham and other Manchester leaders broke down.

The 10-day stand-off, during which the government and Burnham and others sought to reach an agreement on a financial support package for businesses and workers in Manchester, ended without a deal. It is understood that the government failed to agree to the £65m minimum package that Burnham requested, with the government refusing to budge from its £60m offer, which is reportedly still on the table.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that the union fully supports Burnham.

“Andy Burnham has been doing a fantastic job in speaking up for and defending the people he has been elected to serve,” he said.

 “Unite members will be forever grateful to him for fighting the corner of the low-waged and those in insecure employment, the vulnerable and the young, all of whom are paying the heaviest price of this dreadful virus.”

You can read our full story here.


The Tory MPs who voted to starve children in need over the school holidays

Just as Marcus Rashford is the true hero for relentlessly pressing the government to do the right thing over free school meals, the Tory MPs who voted against providing support to feed children in need over the school holidays are unequivocal zeroes this week.

The Mirror has published a full list of every Tory MP who voted against extending free school meals earlier this week – only five Tory MPs rebelled and voted with Labour.

It was even revealed that before the vote, Tory whips emailed MPs with suggested interventions during the debate, to which Rashford responded, “I despair that we are using the topic of child food poverty to one-up each other.”

Heathrow Airport

A confidential survey of workers at Heathrow Airport has revealed an epidemic of mental and physical ill health, linked to working at the airport.

The findings of the survey, which was compiled by Unite, have been published to coincide with the news that the employer Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is gearing up in its attempt to permanently strip workers of up to £8,000 per annum (25 per cent) of their pay, through the use of highly controversial ‘fire and rehire’ rules.

Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King said, “The level of mental and physical ill health being experienced at Heathrow is jaw dropping.

“The vast majority of our members believe that Heathrow has no interest in their wellbeing.

“The health problems at Heathrow Airport have been greatly exacerbated by the cold hearted and callous manner that the employer is trying to force through pay cuts.”

You can find out more in our full story here.

The workforce is currently being balloted for industrial action in response to HAL’s pay cuts, with the ballot closing on Thursday, November 5.

Construction contractor NG Bailey

Construction contractor NG Bailey has been accused of undertaking ‘union busting’ and victimisation-type activities in a dispute over the payment of wages.

NG Bailey has proposed to move from a weekly pay system to a four weekly (lunar) system. The company argues this will create considerable cost savings.

Under the Joint Industry Board (JIB) electrical agreement and BESA agreements (for heating and ventilation engineers), which NG Bailey adheres to, such changes in the way workers are paid must be agreed with the relevant union, which is Unite.

As a large number of members made clear that they were very unhappy with the proposals Unite refused to agree to the changes.

Over 200 individual grievances have been submitted and Unite has also submitted a collective grievance. NG Bailey is seeking to tie the individual and collective grievances together.

In a disturbing development, NG Bailey sent a questionnaire that asks staff directly if they are member of Unite under the guise of determining whether they are submitting an individual or collective grievance. The workers have been told they have to return the questionnaire by today (October 23).

Unite national officer Ian Woodland said, “By trying to force workers to reveal if they are members of Unite, NG Bailey is guilty of union busting and potentially victimising trade unionists.

“Rather than deal with the legitimate issues workers have with moving from weekly pay to lunar pay, they are seeking to undermine Unite and weaken workers’ collective voice,” he added.

“Unfortunately, NG Bailey has a long history of being involved in blacklisting. Despite having paid a considerable financial penalty for it in the past, its employee relations department appears not to have learned those lessons.”

Find out more in our full story here.

The government – for its proposed TfL funding which will punish the poorest

Unite, which represents thousands of transport workers throughout London, has warned that the government’s proposed funding for Transport for London (TfL) is ‘punishing the poorest’ for the Covid-19 pandemic.

TfL and London mayor Sadiq Khan have been forced to seek additional funding from the government for public transport in London, as revenues have collapsed due to the pandemic.

The government has indicated that it is only prepared to provide financial support if the congestion charge of £15 a day is extended to the north and south circular roads in 12 months time, all fares including those for the bus and tube are increased by greater than the retail price index (RPI) + 1 per cent for several years and a new council tax charge for all Londoners is introduced.

Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said, “The government is punishing the poorest Londoners for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Londoners are facing a triple whammy of increased fares, higher council tax and a massive increase in congestion zone charges.

“The poorest Londoners, who are already struggling financially as a result of losing their jobs or coping with reduced earnings, are the ones who will be least able to afford the increases in fares, charges and council tax,” he added.

“Not only are these increases vindictive, they are dangerous. We do not know when the pandemic will end and by massively expanding the congestion charge people will be forced onto public transport at the same time as they are being told to socially distance.”

You can read our full story here.

By Hajera Blagg

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