Heroes and zeroes

UniteLive highlights the latest ‘heroes and zeroes’ amid coronavirus epidemic

Reading time: 9 min

Each Friday here on UniteLIVE we highlight the heroes as well as the zeroes of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The theme of Mental Health Awareness week this week is kindness – and our heroes we highlight today are perfect examplars of the sort of kindness that we so desperately need now as we navigate our way through this crisis.

Meanwhile, our zeroes this week — employers who are causing needless suffering — are not only absolutely lacking in kindness, but so too in any common sense. As UniteLIVE highlighted earlier this week, if we are to find our way to economic recovery, employers must think long-term and do right by their workforce, alongside government support.


Unite phone buddies

In an ingenious plan devised by the always active Unite Retired Members Glasgow Branch, branch members have set up a calling system to help their thousands of members feel connected.

Unite Glasgow Retired Members branch secretary Mick Rice said he felt the service was especially helpful at a time when so many retired members are vulnerable to coronavirus, and also totally locked down at home because of their age or any health conditions they might have.

The idea was a simple one – retired member activists volunteered to contact 10 to 20 other retired members in their local area to check up and see how they were coping. While the branch developed an initial script, which asks members about the level of support they have now and the level of support they might need, the branch discovered that most people were well supported with logistical needs such as shopping and medication – but all were grateful to have someone else to connect with.  

 “We do not follow the script because most members are so pleased to hear from us that they just want to talk,” Mick said.

“Everyone I spoke to wanted to take down my telephone number for future reference should they need it. All our members without exception were delighted that the union branch had bothered to contact them to see how they were coping.”

You can find out more about Unite Phone Buddies in our full story here.

Well-being help

Never has mental health or well-being been so important more than now. And with the lockdown, many of our usual methods of coping with stress are not available to us. But thankfully, there are tons of online resources that can help.

 Unite’s health sector, which includes our psychologist members, have forwarded to us an ingenious four week calendar – complete with a different well-being video for every day, to share with UNITElive readers.

You can read all about and access the calendar in our full story here.

Healthcare chaplains

They may not be the first people who come to mind when we think of key workers, but health care chaplains are among those providing an absolutely vital service in this time of crisis.

Unite rep and mental health chaplain Graham Peacock is one such worker who is supporting people through an unimaginably stressful time. He works with people of all faiths and none, and explains why this is an unprecedented time for so many people who are struggling mentally during the pandemic.

“Right now people are really questioning what life is all about,” he told UniteLIVE. “And not just in the sense that death may be close but also this sense of dislocation, that everything is closed . My partner may have lost their job, all the protective facts I had before — I could go to work, I could go home, I could go to church, I could go to the pub, or the gym, or the coast — they’re all gone. It’s like we’ve been suddenly thrown back on ourselves.”

For Mental Health Awareness Week this week, Graham highlighted why kindness was now more important than ever before.

“Kindness is what makes us human,” he said. “And when we feel more human, it makes us feel better. When you’re working in the public sector, being kind to others, it makes people feel you’re with them; that you’re not just some disembodied person delivering a service. You’re a human being as well as they are.”

Stay tuned on UniteLive next week for our full interview with Graham.

Simple acts of kindness

While many of our members are embodying kindness in big ways – whether it’s risking their lives to care for hospital patients, providing emotional support in their roles as chaplains, or setting up a ‘phone buddies’ system, others are making a difference with smaller acts of kindness – which are no less important than the bigger ones.

This week Unite activist and occasional poet ‘Beaky’ celebrates kindness in all its forms and describes how that feels in these days of pain, in her new poem The Wave. You can read her poem here. Be warned – it’s a real tear-jerker!



They may make popular hoovers but this week the company has shown its true colours, after trying to force its employees who can work from home to return to their offices — against explicit government guidance. Their staff, however were having none of it, and after a workforce revolt, Dyson reversed the decision.

Sheffield University

Hundreds of staff employed by Sheffield Students’ Union (Sheffield SU) are being furloughed on 80 per cent of their pay from the beginning of May, while workers employed by Unicus the university’s arm’s length body were furloughed on 80 per cent of their pay since the beginning of April. The vast majority of these workers are on the bare minimum and so the pay cut represents a wholly unlivable wage.

Unite called on Sheffield University to intervene and help some of their lowest-paid workers, but in a letter to Unite, Sheffield University has confirmed that university vice chancellor Koen Lamberts will not meet with the union and help.

“I find it incredible that the Vice Chancellor appears to be washing his hands of these young people who have paid fees to study at his university and work at his university in order to pay for their food and accommodation,” said Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner.


Unite this week slammed plans by aerospace giant Rolls-Royce to slash thousands of jobs globally, with more than 3,000 job losses planned in the UK.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner called on the company to think again.

“For us this is premature – this is a hasty knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

You can watch the full clip of Steve in the video below:

SSE Energy Services

Also on our zeroes list this week for proposing needless job losses is energy giant SSE Energy Services, taken over by OVO this year. This week the company announced it plans to axe an astonishing 2,600 jobs.

Unite, which has 1,300 members from meter services to contact centre staff across England, Scotland and Wales, called for urgent talks with the company. The union will be strongly pressing management as to why they are not continuing with the government’s job retention scheme (JRS) which runs until October.

Unite national officer for energy and utilities Peter McIntosh said,“This is devastating news for the loyal and dedicated workforce who have continued to provide emergency and essential services to customers throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

“We will be pressing the company to explain why it is not continuing to take advantage of the government’s JRS which was specifically designed to deal with potential job losses caused by the coronavirus crisis.

“It was on the cards that, after this year’s integration of the two businesses, jobs could be lost with more customers going online and the expansion of digital services. Covid-19 has accelerated this development, but it is still no excuse not to proactively engage with the JRS.

By Hajera Blagg

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