Welcome to our regular update about trade union campaigns

From Sam Gurney, regional secretary and
Laurie Heselden, regional policy and campaigns officer

TUC: LESE is the Trades Union Congress region that is responsible for London, the east and the south east of England, where nearly two million trade union members live and work. Think Norwich across to Oxford, and then down to the Isle of Wight and you will have a rough image of our geography, a fragment of which is displayed in the photo above. (Do you know where it is?)

Our offices are now closed until further notice but we are all working remotely so the usual email addresses and phone numbers work pretty much as usual. Our contact information is here

We will be working closely with the officers of the TUC: LESE regional council to maintain communications, and to sustain our accountability and democracy.
As always there is a lot in this bulletin so please feel free to scan down and look at the items that are of most interest to you.

And please cascade this campaign bulletin to trade union colleagues and activists, and urge them to register to receive it directly, by using the registration tool at the end of this bulletin.

Do all you can to stay safe and to help others to do the same.

Trade union values at their very best in times of crisis

In times of crisis you always see trade union values of collectivism, professionalism and selflessness come to the fore. And in this crisis trade unionists working in the NHS, schools, the fire service, transport, logistics, local authorities, the civil service, the essential utilities such as water, gas and electricity, retail and others, are literally the spine of society that we are all dependent upon. When you begin to think about it the list of key workers is long, and many are insufficiently recognised in ‘normal’ times.

And in every community trade unionists will be living the collective way, reaching out and supporting vulnerable people and those in need.

Living as a trade unionist is not about being a member of an insurance scheme, it is a way of life. And when it gets tough we confront it, we get smart, and we organise. And each time the world tumbles into crisis, that truth becomes more obvious. As trade unionists we solve problems and build for a better future for all. Hope and a ‘can do’ mentality will be our way. In the words of a scientist “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution”. Albert Einstein

Whenever possible, stay at home

Stay at home. Leave your home as little as possible for at least the next 3 weeks. Legitimate reasons to leave home are:
• Essential food shopping
• Exercise once per day, alone or with household members
• To get medicines, and to support vulnerable people
• Travel to work, by key/essential workers only
The spread of a virus is a matter of some very basic maths. If on average a person with the virus infects 2.5 people, then within a month that one person will lead to the infection of more than 400 others. If on average the infected person infects only another 1.25 people, then the spread will be to roughly 20 others in a month . Good hygiene, good discipline and ‘social distancing’ are vital.

‘Spread the word – don’t spread the virus’.

‘In place of fear’ – the government must provide all necessary PPE equipment as a matter of urgency

Our gratitude to the commitment and selflessness of NHS workers knows no limit, especially those in direct contact with sufferers and potential sufferers of coronavirus, such as nurses, doctors, health assistants and those who clean NHS facilities. And we must thank all other workers in essential services that have public facing roles, such as teachers, fire fighters, police officers, transport workers and shop workers.

But the inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns and gloves, for front line staff is a massive problem. They totally deserve all the protection they need and frankly we need them to stay well so they can continue to serve the public good. In place of workers justified fear and concerns we need adequate PPE equipment now and every day going forwards.

If the government and NHS managers have been planning to meet the challenge of a pandemic for more than a decade we have to ask what are the causes of the shortage of PPE equipment, and has the chronic under-funding of the NHS, and abolition of strategic bodies played a negative role in this shortage of PPE kit for those who desperately need it?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is very much a workplace issue. Here is a TUC update for workplace reps

This guide is for trade union reps, designed to give an understanding of workplace issues in the context of the cononavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and to provide support in being effective at negotiating with employers, and about steps that can be taken to best protect the health and safety of the workforce. You can access it here

The TUC will produce weekly webinars that you can join in with live or watch later on Youtube.
Visit here to reserve your seat on each of our upcoming webinars. Registering is quick and easy – you just need to enter your email address and choose a password. You won’t receive any spam emails but you will receive a reminder before the webinar starts.

Our first excellent webinar

Medical advice is updated regularly. The most up to date clinical advice is available from Public Health England here

Remember employers still have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This means making sure that workers and others are protected from anything that may cause harm, effectively controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace. Employers have duties under health and safety law to assess risks in the workplace. More about this here

Recognised safety reps have legally enforceable rights in the workplace including the right to take active part in risk assessments and to information about safety matters such as hygiene. More about these rights here These rights still apply. Very often trade union health and safety reps know the law better than their managers. Do not be afraid to politely remind your employer of the law.

Check out your union’s website for the latest, and sector specific advice, about coronavirus – unions supporting their members and society

Unions are not just supporting their own members but doing what they can to help society cope at this time. Here are a few examples what support unions are offering nationally and regionally, but please let us know what your union, branch or trade council is doing.

Unison
Unite
GMB
USDAW
NEU
NASUWT

TUC is campaigning night and day for a robust and just response from the government to coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic poses huge risks to workers’ and businesses. Unions are ready and willing to work with the government to do everything we can to protect health, jobs, and livelihoods. But we will robustly call out inaction and unfulfilled promises.

We believe that government must:
1. ensure that business support measures are conditional on support for jobs. This can’t just be a bailout for boardrooms.
2. fix the sick pay system to provide better sick pay for all, including the self-employed and those working in the gig economy.
3. introduce targeted support for parents who need to take time out of work to care for kids.
4. provide more help to families – and a stimulus to the economy.
5. bring together a taskforce of unions and employers to help co-ordinate the national effort.
Take a look at our latest economic response to coronavirus

Many industries and those working within them are going to be impacted by coronavirus, and by the necessary measures taken to reduce its spread. Jobs and livelihoods are at serious risk, and without unprecedented government action, the consequences will last well beyond the immediate nature of the virus.

After intensive talks involving the TUC and the CBI, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that the government would for the first time step in and pay some of some people’s wages, as he launched an unprecedented economic rescue plan. The government said it will cover 80% of the salaries of ‘retained workers’ up to £2,500 per month, but we are waiting on exact details.

He also said he would defer the next quarter of VAT payments due from businesses. And he outlined £6bn of extra support for the welfare system.

We are glad that the government listened to unions and took action that is unprecedented in the UK to support some working families with wage subsidies, following similar action in other European countries such as Germany, Norway and Denmark. We await the exact detail and the implementation, but sadly, some redundancies have already been announced. The situation is urgent.

The TUC has also been in close dialogue with the Cabinet Office about adequate access to PPE equipment for all workers who need it, and access to testing for coronavirus. More on this below.

The TUC has also sought to convene sector talks with the government and unions in the transport sector, in which aviation and rail are so adversely impacted, and sustaining road transport is so important.

We welcome the payment of Statutory Sick Pay from day one of illness, but the rate is dismally low, £94.25 a week, and it should be raised to the living wage. #SickPayForAll

There is an immense hole in the support offered to the self-employed and to those working in the gig economy.

We welcome the recognition that much more has to be done for those who are, or will need to be, in receipt of welfare benefits, such as Universal Credit, including addressing the capacity of the system – because the level of new demand will be immense. It is reported that nearly 500,000 new claims for Universal Credit have been made in the last 9 days, that is ten times the normal rate of applications. And the present system does not pay UC for the first five weeks of a claim, though advance payments are available.

At just £94.25 a week, Statutory Sick Pay in the UK is a national disgrace. And nearly 2 million UK workers do not even qualify for Statutory Sick Pay. We need the government to guarantee decent sick pay for EVERY worker. Sign petition today

Paid parental leave – nobody should lose their job or their pay because their kid’s school or nursery is closed


The government should bring in emergency time-limited measures to make sure parents don’t lose their jobs or suffer hardship because their children’s school or nursery has had to close.

We support measures to reduce the spread and impact of coronavirus, but no-one should be forced in to poverty, or even worse, put out of a job, for doing the right thing.

Now that schools and nurseries are closed for most children, and the ‘social distancing’ advice has been hardened, lots of parents are unable to work normally because they’ll have to look after their kids. But current parental or dependants’ leave arrangements are too short and in any case mean going without pay – something most people simply can’t afford.

If we want people to follow government health advice, the government has to support parents. And they need to act fast to deal with this emergency. That means:
* Maintaining levels of household income if their kids’ school or childcare closes.
* Reimbursing employers – just like they do for maternity pay.
* No-one should be treated unfairly or lose their job because they need to look after their kids.

Let’s support workers in getting us through this epidemic, and make sure no-one loses their job or is pushed into hardship because their kids’ school closes.
You can sign the petition here

If you’re a working parent and concerned about your own work rights when schools close, find out more where you might stand under the current arrangements here

Defending the self-employed and those working in the gig economy

The TUC has called on the government to provide urgent aid to Britain’s five million self-employed workers.

A new TUC report says the current measures in place for self-employed workers are “inadequate” with many facing severe hardship over the coming months.

The report calls on ministers to extend the wage subsidy scheme announced on Friday last week to the self-employed.

The TUC says this could be done through providing the self-employed with a guarantee of at least 80% of their incomes based on their last three years of self-assessment tax returns. This could be paid directly to the self-employed as a tax rebate.

The report highlights the example of Norway where the government is providing grants covering 80% of self-employed workers’ earnings. And Belgium where an income replacement scheme has been set up for the self-employed.

All workers – both employed and self-employed – should have their wages protected.

The full TUC report can be found here

All theatres are closed, and presumably most TV production requiring sets and film production will close too. Actors, singers, lighting crews, make up artists, camera and sound technicians etc are mostly self-employed. Many live and work in the TUC: LESE region.

The circumstances that confront them is replicated across the economy and impacts 5 million workers, many of whom have a low income at the best of times.

We might not see scenes like this again for months.

When we need them most many of the regional bodies we need are just not there any more

The TUC is in dialogue with the government at a national level, addressing the response to the health, social and economic emergency.

In London unions are working closely with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority. Sam Gurney has been invited to join the Business Emergency Planning Forum sub-group of the London Resilience Committee and we have arranged for leading trade unionists to join conference calls about the response in London in different sectors of the economy. We are confident that, where they exist, Mayors of other metropolitan areas will similarly be drawing on the knowledge and expertise of trade unionists.

But the simple fact is that in 2010 the incoming coalition government, led by the Conservatives, annihilated regional bodies. It abolished Regional Development Agencies, it abolished Regional Skills Partnerships and Learning and Skills Councils, it abolished Government Offices for Regions, it abolished the voluntary regional assemblies, and it marginalised and then abolished the regional committees that managed EU Structural Funds. All had trade union representation on them. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 abolished regional health authorities. And in 2013 Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts were abolished.

In London there is a recognition that unions are a senior and legitimate regional partner, that we have a valuable contribution to make, and there is a regional infrastructure that can be galvanised in response to needs. Whether you like directly elected Mayors or not, they have a strategic role and capacity in cities such as Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. But the only other directly elected Mayor in TUC: LESE’s region, other than Sadiq Khan in London, is in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. There are no others in the East of England and none in the South East. And massive scrutiny is needed on the overall impact of having Mayors in ‘so-called’ growth areas, leaving other communities increasingly marginalised. What does a devolution agenda founded on directly elected Mayors, mostly in big cities, do for people and businesses in Great Yarmouth, Jaywick, Sheerness, Thanet or the Isle of Wight?

We are not saying that the previous regional infrastructure was perfect but we are saying that regional strategies, regional bodies and Government Offices for Regions were impactful. As we work through the response to this crisis, the different approaches that are possible in, for example London, which has elected regional government and a strategic authority, and the South East, which is devoid of regional bodies, throwing ever more responsibility and pressure on massively under-funded local authorities, will be studied closely. And the conclusions will hopefully be support for more regional bodies and more partnership working, including trade unions as a key partner.

Let’s give a ‘shout out’ to everyone working in the food chain

The media is quick and right to praise the dedication of those who work in the emergency services. And we frequently talk of those working in schools and colleges as having a vocation. But this crisis has revealed the reliance we have upon those who grow our food, process our food, deliver our food and serve us in shops and supermarkets. Years ago, after the financial crisis in 2008, the former Director of the CBI, Adair Turner, criticised much of the banking sector as being ‘socially useless’. The value of the ‘food chain’ has been emphasised to everyone of us as ‘socially essential’.

Many who work in the food chain are members of USDAW, Unite, BFAWU and GMB, and we salute them all. Especially those on the front line in shops and supermarkets. They are often not well paid and their work, face to face with us, is not without risk. So treat them well and publicise USDAW’s campaign against violence and abuse in the retail sector.

#SolidarityWithShopworkers

Rail and tube update

The government is suspending rail franchises and converting them into management agreements, as part of the response to the coronavirus emergency. Operators are being invited to accept ‘Emergency Measures Agreements’ for at least the next six months, so that they are free to act ‘in the national interest’. Any operator which declines the offer faces full renationalisation, using the Department for Transport’s Operator of Last Resort powers.

TSSA has asked the government to deploy police officers at train stations to make sure only those allowed to travel are on board, after carriages remained packed with commuters on the first day of the nationwide lockdown. NHS workers expressed their frustration on social media on Tuesday morning after being faced with busy services, despite the PM urging people to stay at home.

Both Aslef and RMT demanded action be taken about crowded use of London’s tube system, before the more stringent social distancing measures were introduced. The number of people using the tube was far too high on Monday. It was considerably reduced on Tuesday, but still too high. The government needs to be far clearer with employers and workers about which workplaces are permitted to be open and whom should be travelling to work. It has to get a firm grip of this issue, at the moment the public announcements on this are ‘fudged’.

On Tuesday 24 March work on the entire Crossrail construction project was suspended, except for safety critical maintenance.

CWU again wins massive support for industrial action – but the people’s needs will come first

 

Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) members in the Royal Mail have put forward a proposal to form an “additional emergency service” after the union secured a second overwhelming vote in favour of strike action.

In the re-ballot, necessitated by the High Court decision to disallow the first ballot, 94.5% of the 63.4% of workers that participated voted in support of taking strike action if necessary.

But the union has said that it recognises that there is a growing health crisis, due to the spread of coronavirus since it started the re-balloting process, and this had changed the priorities.

CWU has suggested that neotiations should be held to enable postal workers to deliver medical aid, check on the vulnerable and support people working from home.

It said: “In any national emergency in our history, and in our day-to-day existence, the universal postal service has played a vital role, these unprecedented events remind us all of that postal workers always come through and will stand ready to serve the nation again.”

Postal workers are supporting you. Please support them.

Keep up to date with developments on the CWU website and #WeRiseAgain You can print the poster from the CWU website and display it in your window.

Heartunions week 2020

 

Heart unions week took place from 10 to 16 February 2020. The week of activity throughout England and Wales highlighted the good work that unions do every day to offer everyone a voice at work. Unions took the chance to tell the story about why they are vital for everyone at work, and to encourage people who aren’t yet in a union, to join. Every year heart unions week is a chance for reps and activists to publicise what they’ve been doing and make the case for union membership.

There was an online webinar held 4 February, (14.00-15.00), about ‘organising at work and recruiting new members’. All TUC Education webinars are recorded and made available on our YouTube channel after the event, so you can still view it.

And we were delighted to join PCS members on strike at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who are seeking union recognition by the outsourcing company for which they work, Interserve. At the protest were TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, and many MPs.

You can see our film on the impact of outsourcing and what should be done about it

Since the acceleration in the outbreak of coronavirus PCS has been successful in negotiating improved sick pay arrangements with outsourcing companies. An example of unions delivering for their members.

Windrush scandal – the government begins to apologise, but massive reform in government’s culture, policy and practice is needed

At the end of last week Priti Patel, Home Secretary, apologised for successive government’s failures and the commitments of terrible injustices, including the wrongful deportation of people of Caribbean origin, who were British citizens.

The ‘Windrush Lessons Learned’ review, led by Wendy Williams, found that the ongoing failures of ministers and officials within the Home Office “demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department”.

Williams called on the government to apologise to the entire Black population of Britain. The report made 30 recommendations for reform and action. The report calls for the simplification of immigration rules and the appointment of a Migration Commissioner to speak for migrants. The report calls for an impact review of the ‘hostile environment’ policy designed and implemented by Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary (May 2010 – July 2016, after which she was Prime Minister). And the report called for an end to the dehumanising vocabulary used to describe migration, such as ‘stock’ and ‘flow’.

Theresa May introduced a series of “hostile environment” policies under which she sought to make life literally intolerable for people who had entered the UK illegally, in an effort to cut immigration numbers during her time as home secretary. But this policy adversely affected many people who were living here entirely legally or whose immigration status was not fully regularised, but could be. Both May and Home Office officials ignored warnings and ignored evidence of the real injustice and harm that was being caused.

Under Theresa May’s leadership the Home Office wrongly designated thousands of legal UK residents as being in the country illegally. Some were illegally deported to countries they had left as children as long as 50 years earlier, and others were wrongly detained in immigration removal centres. Many lost their jobs after being told they did not have the right to work in the UK and were later denied benefits, leaving them destitute. Many were made homeless, denied NHS treatment and prevented from travelling. The report can be downloaded from here

Trades councils and the response to coronavirus

Trades councils operate on scant resources at the best of times, and these are the worst of times. Delegates to trades councils are constrained by the social distancing requirements and health issues, and many delegates will be working in essential services. Yet many trades councils will be eager to do all they can, and they are well placed. The sort of thing trades councils might do are:
• Publicise the public health messages
• Support workers who are threatened with redundancy, or made redundant
• Publicise and engage in local volunteer networks
• Being alert to things going wrong locally, that might be remedied, such as meals on wheels services being interrupted or voluntary bus services failing – and reporting to the local council
• Establish links with local food banks and seek to generate donations to them
• Being an authoritative spokesperson on behalf of workers with local press
• Using their networks and reaching out online to stimulate conversations
• Being alert to any threats of evictions from private rented housing. The government has promised that such evictions will be prohibited, so a trades council might inform local MP, the local authority and if thought to be appropriate, the local media
• Support those who have claimed Universal Credit, referring to expert sources of advice
• Pass news of innovative and effective local actions that trade unions are involved in that exemplify trade union’s/trades council’s dynamic response to the health crisis, that might be replicated – back to TUC: LESE
Social policy textbooks wax lyrical about the importance of ‘social capital’. Recent Conservative governments have opined about building a ‘big society’. Meanwhile, under their noses, trades councils have been at the heart of communities for 150 years and they are getting on with the job.

A new campaign tool for your union – and it is free and easy to use

 

Megaphone is a new petition website that is provided by the trade union movement and can be used to support your campaigns.

It is free, easy to use and you can start your own petition.

We think it will work best for local and specifically targeted campaigns. And it can be used to target the person, or body, that the campaign needs to make the decision that will give you the campaign win.

Take a look at the campaign petitions that are already running, sign the petitions you support, and think about how your union might best use Megaphone in future campaigns. Click here

You can help build our trade union communications network
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If you have received this campaign update, but not directly from TUC: LESE, you can register for both it and our events newsletter by clicking on the link below.

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