Heroes and zeroes of the year

UniteLIVE highlights the Covid-19 heroes and zeroes of the year

Reading time: 8 min

This week, on the first anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, UNITElive is featuring some of the top stories we have covered on the pandemic and our members’ contributions, concerns and achievements.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, UniteLIVE has regularly highlighted the ‘heroes and zeroes’ of this crisis. In the new year we presented you with the top heroes of the year, alongside the worst zeroes, in no particular order. Here we highlight them again on the first anniversary of lockdown.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. The heroes of this crisis are of course too numerous to mention — from health workers to food workers, supermarket staff to delivery drivers, community volunteers, care workers and many more in between — and we salute their brave efforts. The zeroes too are countless, and Unite has worked tirelessly this year to name and shame them, as well as hold them to account.


  1. Danny Freeman

Unite London and Eastern region education organiser Danny Freeman was hospitalised with Covid-19 back in March and April. In this feature from April, he tells of his harrowing experience and the NHS workers who’ve saved his life.

Although Danny recovered, he still suffers from long Covid — an experience he tells of here — and has become a passionate advocate for the NHS staff who saved his life and others like him who continue to battle long Covid too.

2. Nissan workers making life-saving PPE

Nissan, Unite members, got to work in May making life-saving PPE at the height of the first wave of the virus. Find out more in our feature here.

3. Unite retired members

Unite retired members are always there to help their communities, and during the pandemic it was no different.

Back in May, we highlighted the Unite Phone Buddies initiative devised by a Unite retired members branch in Glasgow which helped members keep connected during the first lockdown.

4. Mental health chaplains

Mental health chaplains have played a pivotal role in comforting patients and health care staff especially during the pandemic.

Back in May, we spoke to mental health chaplain Graham Peacock, who told UniteLIVE what it was like working on the frontline of the virus.

5. Taxi drivers

Taxi drivers were among the first to help their communities when their work dried up when the pandemic first hit.

In March, we heard from Unite rep and black cab driver Jim Kelly, who told UniteLive of the difficulties they’ve faced during the pandemic and their strong desire to help others.

6. Care workers

Care workers have been on the very frontline in the pandemic, caring for our loved ones in extremely stressful conditions.

Back in April, we spoke to a care worker Jane*, who told UniteLIVE her story about lack of access to PPE — and how she bravely took matters into her own hands.

7. Bank branch workers

Bank branch workers, like other frontline workers, never stopped working even in the first lockdown.

Back in May, we spoke to Unite rep and bank worker Margaret*, who told of the struggles they faced working at the height of the pandemic.

8. Unite Community members

Unite Community members have been absolutely pivotal in helping people in their communities throughout lockdown and beyond.

Back in July, we spoke to Unite Community Cambridge branch chair May Shafi who helped her local community with a clothes bank and Zoom drop-ins to combat isolation. Unite Community members’ ingenuity never fails to amaze us.

9. Brompton Bikes workers

Brompton bikes workers, many of whom are Unite members, joined in the national effort at the height of the pandemic by manufacturing the iconic foldable bikes to help NHS workers.

Back in April, we spoke to Brompton Bikes CEO and Brompton bikes workers who took part in an extraordinary crowdfunding project Wheels for Heroes to provide alternative modes of transport for NHS staff.

10. Health visitors

Like hospital nurses, health visitors and other community nurses were at the very frontline of the pandemic, caring for and protecting children and babies.

Back in October, we spoke with health visitor Hazel* , who told UniteLIVE of the incredible pressure they were under as they bravely worked to carry out their jobs with few resources after the service has been cut to the bone after years of austerity.


  1. ESS

Branded the ‘UK’s most heartless employer’, outsourcing firm ESS has threatened minimum wage cleaners and cooks employed on MoD contracts with sign or be sacked contracts. The workers stand to lose up to £1,600 a year under proposals to cut their working weeks.

2. Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce has pushed through thousands of job losses globally and in November suddenly announced it would be locking out workers from its Barnoldswick site until after Christmas and would outsource work abroad. Strike action at the Barnoldswick strike continues, with the latest strike having taken place on Christmas Eve.

3. Moy Park

Moy Park was one of several food processing firms that failed to implement rigorous health and safety measures at the peak of the pandemic. In May, a Moy Park worker in Northern Ireland died after contracting coronavirus.

4. Bernard Matthews

Turkey processing firm Bernard Matthews threatened to double the price of its employee bus service for its minimum wage workers in September – after pressure from Unite, the company rowed back.

4. XPO

An investigation found global logistics firm XPO has treated its workers horrendously amid the pandemic, by putting them at risk of catching and spreading Covid-19. They’ve also been accused of subjecting its employees to wage theft and exploitation, hazardous work environments, pregnancy and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and extreme anti-union tactics.

5. Alexander Dennis

Bus maker ADL abruptly closed a plant in Guildford in November, leading to the loss of 200 jobs. Unite says the closure was ‘cynically fast tracked’ using the pandemic as an excuse.

6. British Airways

British Airways was among the worst offenders during the pandemic after it threatened to sack thousands of its workers and ‘fire and rehire’ the rest of its workforce on worse pay and T&Cs. British Airways cargo workers began strike action on Christmas day (December 25) and are set to continue until January 2.

7. Heathrow Airport Limited

Following in the footsteps of BA, Heathrow Airport Limited has threatened to fire and rehire thousands of its workers, forcing them to accept permanent pay cuts of £8,000 a year. The workers are now fighting back with strike action.

8. Ivy Restaurant in Glasgow

Workers at prestigious Glasgow restaurant The Ivy accused the eatery of withholding tips, scrapping staff holidays with no option to carry them over and putting staff health at risk by forcing them to attend face-to-face meetings in contravention of lockdown measures earlier this year. Similar issues were reported at other outlets in the Ivy Collections chain.

9. IHG Hotels

The hotel group which owns Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands, announced thousands of job cuts earlier this year. At its airport hotels in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Holiday Inn sacked all its workers but four of the most senior managers – and is now looking at rehiring some ‘hospitality service experts’ on worse pay.

On UN International Migrant Workers Day, UniteLIVE highlighted how the hotel group and similar multinational hotel chains have treated their workers – mainly migrant workers – horrendously during the pandemic. The union is now calling on the government to investigate.

10. Lloyd’s Banking Group

Unite called Lloyd’s Banking Group decision to slash more than 1,000 jobs ‘shameful’ – especially after posting better than expected third quarter results, with more than £1bn in pre-tax profit.

By Hajera Blagg

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