Heroes and zeroes

UniteLive highlights the latest 'heroes and zeroes' amid coronavirus epidemic

Reading time: 9 min

Each and every day as the coronavirus epidemic rages on, heroes from across British society have emerged to help others. But so too have ‘zeroes’ – employers who have taken advantage of the crisis – to rip off workers and their communities.

This week, UniteLive celebrates and names and shames a new list of heroes and zeroes.


1. Retired and student nurses


Last week, retired and student nurses were urged to rejoin the NHS or take on paid clinical placements as they finish their studies. Tens of thousands answered the call and will soon get back to work to help battle the coronavirus epidemic.


Earlier this week, Unite and other health unions reached an agreement with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to ensure that student nurses who take on placements are safe and will not lose out financially or have their education and careers adversely impacted.



2. Solidarity!
On Thursday (March 27) night, millions of people participated in a widely circulated call for everyone across the UK to open their windows and balconies and clap for all the key workers – health staff, shop workers, delivery drivers and others – who are getting us through the crisis.



3. Food production workers taking a stand


Workers in food production are frontline staff in the fight against the coronavirus crisis, keeping our food supply going. But many employers aren’t taking their safety seriously by flouting government guidelines on social distancing and other measures.

This week, many workers have decided they’d had enough and took a stand, with the support of their union Unite, for their and their colleagues’ safety.

On Wednesday (March 25), about 1,000 workers at poultry giant Moy Park’s Segoe site in Portadown, Northern Ireland, spontaneously walked out, while minutes later scores of workers at ABP Meats followed suit. You can read our full story here.




On Friday (March 27) about 60 more workers also walked out at the Linden Foods sites in Dungannon over safety concerns over social distancing.



4. Taxi drivers

Taxi drivers across the UK are finding creative ways to help their communities. Watch Liverpool cab driver Gary, who is one of a group offering free fares to NHS staff to and from work, in the video below.



But taxi drivers across the UK need government to support to enable them to help them help others. Find out more about our campaign and sign our petition here.


As ever, Unite is committed to taking bad employers to task for failing their workers. This week’s zeroes include:

1. Mike Ashley and Sports Direct
Mike Ashley received widespread criticism for trying to classify his business as essential so he could keep his sports retail firm Sports Direct operating as normal amid the pandemic, when other shops have been forced to close. Although Ashley has since apologised, the company still continues to operate its Derbsyhire warehouse for online orders, where working conditions have been revealed to be seriously unsafe.

Find out more from Unite’s Paresh Patel in the video below:





2. Wren Kitchens

Wren Kitchens sacked its workers for purportedly ‘underperforming’ on Tuesday (March 24) but also cited the impact on the economy that the coronavirus will have and invited them ‘reconnect with the company’ once the crisis is over. Unite said there was zero evidence to back up the company’s allegations of underperformance and called the claims an ‘insult’ to a committed workforce.





Wren Kitchens is among a number of companies who has so far refused to take advantage of the government’s furloughed workers’ scheme, where the state has pledged to cover 80 per cent of workers’ wages if they cannot work because of the epidemic.

“Firing staff in the midst of pandemic lockdown for supposedly underperforming is truly appalling behaviour as well as an insult to a committed workforce,” said Unite regional officer Mike Wilkinson. “That this happened when the government has guaranteed the wages of furloughed workers makes Wren’s behaviour particularly cruel. The government has made clear that workers sacked after 28 February are eligible for the scheme if they are rehired. Wren must do the right thing and reinstate these workers immediately.”


3. Gordon Ramsay
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has found himself in hot water after it was revealed that instead of keeping staff on, he decided to terminate the contracts of hundreds of his employees working in his restaurants. Meanwhile, instead of staying put according to government guidelines, he’s flocked to his luxury holiday home in Cornwall, where locals have warned that there isn’t capacity for local health services if the outbreak there intensifies.


4. Wetherspoons
Last week, Wetherspoons made it on our list of zeroes, and this week, it finds itself here yet again. Just as the epidemic began to spread, Tim Martin, who heads the pub chain, went against government guidance to avoid pubs and vowed that he would not close his pub chain’s doors. The chain, along with all other pubs, has since been forced to shut down.



But earlier this week, workers were told that they would not be paid after March 22 until the company received government grants for furloughed employees – likely at the end of April. In a video message to staff,  Martin told staff to work at Tesco in the meantime. Although Martin has since U-turned on the issue following massive public and union pressure, workers are still fighting to get 100 per cent of their wages paid for April.




Unite on Friday (March 27) warned employers that they must reinstate workers that they’ve sacked since the epidemic began.


Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said, “Those employers who have fired staff because of the impact of coronavirus must immediately reinstate them.


“The official guidance is clear that anyone made redundant since 28 February is entitled to 80 per cent of their wages under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.


“Not doing so will result in unnecessary suffering and hardship for thousands of working families across Britain.”


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 protected]


You can also visit our website page for more advice and our membership helpline for vulnerable members


Stay tuned to unitelive.org for the news as it happens

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