More heroes and zeroes have emerged this week as the coronavirus crisis intensifies. This Friday (April 3) on our heroes and zeroes list we again celebrate the key workers – many of them on minimum wage – who are keeping the nation afloat. Meanwhile, zeroes continue to proliferate amid the crisis, from employers failing to take health and safety seriously to others abusing police and other essential staff.
- Clapping for key workers
On Thursday (April 2) night more and more people have joined in to clap and make noise for NHS staff and other essential workers at a time of crisis. This week, we hear from dock workers and firefighters expressing their gratitude in a big way.
In Scotland, firefighters at Glasgow Airport, Unite members, sent a shout out to key workers across the UK in their own special way:
— Unite Scotland (@UniteScotland) April 3, 2020
As did dock workers at London Gateway:
- Unite win for British Airways
As the civil aviation industry faces a major crisis, negotiating for workers in the sector is doubly challenging. But Unite has risen to the challenge and secured a massive deal for its members in British Airways.
On Thursday (April 2) British Airways reached an agreement with Unite in which 27,000 workers for the airline will be furloughed until May 31st, on 80 per cent of their pay. The deal improves on the government jobs retention scheme in that there will be no cap on earnings.
Workers will be able to divert their pension contributions into their pay for a short period of time, and British Airways has agreed that there will be no unpaid temporary lay offs, nor will there be any redundancies during this period and the redundancy process that had already begun has been halted.
Unite national officer for aviation Oliver Richardson said, “Given the incredibly difficult circumstances that the entire aviation sector is facing this is as good a deal as possible for our members. The deal protects the jobs of BA staff and, as far as possible, also protects their pay. This is what can and should be done to protect workers during this unprecedented time for the airline sector.”
Unite cabin crew members working for British Airways took to social media to celebrate the deal and their union.
- Minimum wage heroes
UniteLive highlighted earlier this week that a huge proportion of the UK’s essential workers in the coronavirus crisis are on the minimum wage.
UniteLive this week salutes them for risking their lives even as they themselves struggle to get by on poverty pay — and has called for an increase in the minimum wage.
“The country is fast realising the true worth of our low waged workers while they clean, care and deliver for the nation during the crisis,” said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. “These workers surely deserve a wage that reflects their huge contribution to our country, one that lifts them off the breadline and truly is an income that can be lived on decently.”
Hear from some of these minimum wage heroes featured on the BBC’s Panorama programme earlier this week:
Four million people in the UK earn around the minimum wage and many have been asked to keep working during the #coronavirus crisis.
We’re relying on them for food, to care for the most vulnerable and to protect the #NHS.
— Panorama ? (@BBCPanorama) March 30, 2020
- Manufacturing workers producing life-saving equipment
Unite members in manufacturing are joining in the national effort to tackle the coronavirus epidemic as a consortium of the UK’s biggest firms in the sector prepare to rapidly build tens of thousands of medical ventilators.
The Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium, comprised of manufacturing giants including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, Ford, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace and others, announced on Monday (March 30) that it plans to imminently help ramp up production of ventilators amid a nationwide shortage.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner hailed the news:
The #VentilatorChallenge has brought together the best UK manufacturers – with a world class workforce and their Union, all determined to do #WhateverItTakes to get our NHS the vital equipment they need to save lives #SoProud @unitetheunion https://t.co/Owl5TJgvKc
— Steve Turner (@SteveT_Unite) March 30, 2020
- Police and other essential worker abuse
While the vast majority of the British public have pulled together in tremendous solidarity and supported key workers and emergency services, a number of people have deliberately coughed on essential workers such as police and NHS staff.
Unite vehemently opposes such morally repugnant and indeed criminal behavior.
Coronavirus: NHS staff, police and public being coughed on by people claiming to have COVID-19 https://t.co/TKMBblvgVS
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 28, 2020
- Employers refusing to furlough
While many employers have done the right thing and taken up the government’s job retention scheme to ensure their workers who cannot work continue to be paid, far too many are refusing to do so.
Unite is standing up to these employers and has successfully pressed many to take up the scheme. Unite will continue to pile on the pressure, as it has with auto interiors firm Faurecia, which has still so far refused to commit. The union this week called in car giants JLR and PSA to join in the fight to pressure the firm to do the right thing.
We’re calling on car giants PSA and JLR to join us in increasing pressure on auto-interiors firm Faurecia to commit to registering staff under the government’s job retention scheme.#COVID19 https://t.co/IMYxVd3joo
— Unite the union (@unitetheunion) April 2, 2020
- Big banks failing small businesses
As the government announced emergency loans and grants for small businesses so they’re able to weather the coronavirus storm, it has emerged that many big banks have refused to lend or are imposing onerous repayment terms making it impossible for small businesses to benefit.
Under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the government pledged to underwrite 80 per cent interest free loans for the next 12 months to help businesses stay afloat.
But it’s been revealed that after the 12 months, some banks have told SMEs they’ll hike interest rates to extortionate levels of 30 per cent. Other small business owners have said they’ve been asked to put up their homes as collateral.
Business secretary Alok Sharma warned against such predatory behaviour.
“The taxpayer stepped in to help banks in 2008, we will work with banks to… repay that favour”
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) April 1, 2020
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner also warned banks that they must support small businesses that are the lifeblood of the UK economy.
“The banks have a duty to invest in the national economy,” he said. “The people of this country bailed out the banks when they needed it. It is now time that they repaid the nation.”
Keep in touch
If you’ve been affected by the virus and want to tell us about it then let us know. We’re especially interested if you have any positive news, especially if you’ve been helping or have been helped by others. Contact us at email@example.com
Stay tuned to unitelive.org for the news as it happens