Heroes and zeroes

UniteLive highlights this week's heroes and 'zeroes' amid coronavirus epidemic

Reading time: 7 min

Every week, UniteLIVE has been highlighting all the heroes and ‘zeroes’ of the coronavirus crisis. This week’s heroes are especially poignant after Unite marked International Workers’ Memorial Day on Tuesday (April 28) to commemorate those who have lost their lives in work. And this week’s zeroes are as ever in the Unite spotlight as we aim to ‘name and shame’ their utter disregard for those who are keeping this country ticking over at a time of crisis.


  • Bus workers

Bus workers have before appeared on our heroes list, and this week they deserve a special mention after they marked International Worker’s Memorial Day at 11am with a minute’s silence paying tribute to their fallen brothers and sisters. Already at least 20 bus workers in London have died after contracting coronavirus, with the numbers continue climbing outside the capital too.

On International Workers’ Memorial Day, Unite spoke to bus worker and rep Mustafa who explained just how hard the last few weeks have been for his colleagues.

“Tensions are high amid this crisis after we’ve lost so many members, especially given the shortage of PPE at the beginning of the crisis,” he said. “There’s a sense of anger that these deaths could have been prevented. I myself was very close friends with one bus driver in Battersea who died – it’s really hit us all hard.”

  • Nissan workers

Unite has hailed Nissan’s ‘outstanding’ efforts in re-purposing its facilities to produce hundreds of thousands of pieces of much needed personal protective equipment (PPE).

Nissan was one of the first firms to answer Unite’s call to produce PPE for use in the fight against coronavirus, with the car maker now delivering up to 100,000 face visors and 18,000 aprons per week to the NHS from its Sunderland plant.

Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “The company’s efforts in re-purposing parts of their manufacturing capabilities have been matched by our members’ determination to produce vital PPE for frontline workers battling this terrible virus. Working together they are delivering outstanding and life-saving results.”

  • Care worker sources PPE for her colleagues

Amid government failures to deliver the desperately needed PPE in health and social care settings, Unite member Jane*, a care worker employed by a not-for-profit organisation which provides 24-hour supported accommodation for vulnerable people, decided to take matters into her own hands.

Reaching out into her community, she sourced face shields from a unique crowdfunded initiative called #Shields4Manchester. Now she and her colleagues have an extra level of protection that they would not have had before without community collaboration.

  • Farm and agriculture workers

This week UniteLIVE highlighted amid the coronavirus crisis the many pressures faced by farm and agriculture workers, whose heroic efforts are keeping the country fed.

“It is interesting to see how key to a functioning society many ‘unskilled’ workers really are, from farmworkers, to pack house workers, to delivery drivers and shop workers,” commented Steve Leniec, farmworker and Unite agricultural subsector chair.

“We are all part of the food supply chain and it is only when the shelves are empty that the public notices and values us. Perhaps this will change as society re-evaluates what is important and what keeps a country functioning, providing the essentials of life. People might begin to see us as key workers too.”


  • British Airways

This week’s biggest baddie is British Airways, after it announced on Tuesday (April 28) that it would be making an astonishing 12,000 workers redundant. Unite has warned that their ‘heartless decision’ indeed could be unlawful and the union will be doing everything it can to put a stop to the redundancies.

Calling on BA’s CEO Alex Cruz to think again, the general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey said “BA’s decision to ignore the principle and intent of the job retention scheme and instead throw 12,000 workers onto the scrap heap is both unlawful and immoral.

“It is unlawful because they are denying these workers the meaningful consultation that the law and common decency says that they are owed,” he added.

“It is immoral because BA has been taking taxpayers’ money in recent weeks, money supplied on the proviso that the company put the workers on furlough while the industry reshaped.”

  • Government failures on testing

Unite this week slammed the government’s slow response to testing essential workers such as NHS staff for coronavirus.

The criticism comes after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock pledged to be testing 100,000 people each and every day by the end of April. But with only three days to go until the end of the month, the government has fallen far short of its testing aims. On Saturday, just over 29,000 tests were carried out, while the government said it now has testing capacity of 50,000 a day.

Commenting, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “The government has been very slow, compared with countries like South Korea and Germany, in introducing an effective and fast testing regime to process the large numbers that need testing, starting with NHS staff and other key workers. 

 “The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that: ‘Test, test, test’ was the way forward as long ago as 16 March as ‘you cannot a fight a fire blindfolded’ – ministers were seriously behind the curve in responding to that challenge.”

  • More employers failing to implement social distancing

As many construction workers now head back to work, Unite has committed to calling out all those employers who are failing to implement health and safety measures such as social distancing.

This week, a Fairfox property development site in Hayward’s Heath was caught red-handed not sticking to social distancing rules to keep their workers safe. Unite calls on all construction workers to phone in on its special hotline at 0207622 2442 if at any time you feel unsafe in your workplace. You can also drop us an email at [email protected]

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