All posts by Steve

Member of the Labour Party and Unite the Union

Trying to put the wheels back on the Inspiration Trust project

Ian Duckett – NEU

Norman King – GMB

Wendy Smith – Unite

 On behalf of East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group

On 29 June Dame Rachel De Souza wrote an article for the Eastern Daily Press, titled the ‘Norfolk Academy Trust reveals Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’.

Like all schools and academies the COVID19 pandemic has taken the wheels off Inspiration Trust’s  schools in Norwich and across Norfolk. In the article, Dame De Souza states that pupils will be returning early from the summer break to make up for lessons lost during lockdown in a desperate effort to put the wheels back on. We think that there is another road, an alternative route out of this pandemic that our schools could take and build for a better future.

We feel that this quest to reopen, particularly during a period when the Coronavirus is seen to be on the rise in some areas, in the middle of what promises to be a very busy holiday period for the region is irresponsible and short sighted in the extreme.  It is plain that hubs of infection are springing up from as close as Suffolk, and in Leicester where schools are currently closing.  During the “opening” period people from these regions will be flocking to our city and holiday destinations raising the level of risk.

We are quite sure that the fixed date return will cause huge anxiety among parents, carers, teachers and students and the wider community.  If one thing is certain, it is that we do not know what the infection rates are going to be in the future.

The coalition of parents and teachers – Parents and Teachers for Education (PTE) founded by chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, Dame De Souza, hardly inspires confidence since I feel they cannot represent the interests all concerned parents, teachers, students and the wider community.  Furthermore it is an organisation formed by the trust itself.

Of course we want to reopen schools and colleges as soon as we can. But this needs to be safe for society, for children and their families and the staff who work in them. We also would like to point out that schools never closed. They have been open during lockdown to provide education in a safe environment for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

The pre-conditions for a safe return to schools are: much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases; a proper negotiated plan agreed with unions for social distancing; testing, testing and more testing; whole school strategy and protection for the vulnerable. Have these tests been met? We are far from convinced that they have been. We would respectfully ask the Dame where the evidence is that the Inspiration Trust and the government has met the requirements of these criteria.

We also worry about Health and Safety Officers, who are direct employees of the trust, making these judgements. Are teachers being bullied into returning to work without adequate safeguards being in place?  Do they even know what is in place?  Have the teaching unions been involved in the discussion?

It is already known that some of the school buildings are barely suitable, being disused industrial units.  How is social distancing to be maintained in these circumstances? No doubt there is a huge amount of work to be done before schools can be reopened safely, in terms of the curriculum and the wider community with regards to containment of the virus.

However, Dame Rachel is right about one thing. There is a crisis. It is a crisis of identity and – equally one of survival – for many of our young people lost somewhere in a wilderness between education and social care. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this worse.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments stand out and are frightening: “there will be all sorts of problems in terms of social unrest, violence amongst young people that we’ve not seen before”.   This suggests that the purpose of our education system is no more than to contain the youth population.  I put it to him that many among this population are educating themselves in matters that are of direct concern.  This is witnessed by the movements that have focused on the virus, to name one, East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group who have held online meetings, written open letters and supported the Norfolk NEU petition and who are holding weekly protests at Norfolk County Hall regarding the safe reopening of schools.

Without the interventions of an emergency post-14 curriculum with slimmed down knowledge content and an emphasis on skills like communication, problem-solving, co-operation learning and employability rather than Dame Rachel’s notion of “Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’” many will not make it out of the post-COVID-19 wilderness, will have reached the point of no return and will be lost somewhere between education and social care.

Give it a rest, Ofsted

Ian Duckett and Chris Smith

Norfolk and Suffolk SEA and Norfolk NEU

 “Ofsted has nothing to contribute to this current crisis.” Was the response of NEU general secretary Kevin Courtney to a question from a teacher about what to expect from the government watchdog over the next stages of the educational response to Covid19 in one of the unions many zoom meetings to discuss its approach to the governments mishandling of school reopening. Hardly a revelatory sentiment and one which the majority of the teaching profession will have shared in normal times, but times of crisis like these are remarkable for their ability to bring into sharp focus the things that really matter and those that don’t. The fact that during a time of existential threat to education as we know it the body whose own logo reads as “raising standards, improving lives” can be so accurately described is telling, and the quangos silence over how to educate children in unprecedented circumstances speaks volumes over how little it has to offer on the subject of raising educational standards. It is revealed for what it is and what all teachers have always known it to be a political tool utilised to shape education in a manner appealing to politicians even, and often especially when at odds with the profession itself. It has nothing to offer now on how to actually educate and safeguard children because ofsted inspectors are not in the business of offering such services themselve, if they were they would be where doing so really counts. In the classroom.  So now that Covid has established the political narrative of following the science and being led by the experts let us apply that theme to a reconstructed school inspection system based on those principles.

The most significant failures of Ofsted as a body charged with “raising standards and improving lives” through inspecting schools all stem from the inadequate nature of its inspection procedure and the professional nature of its inspectors themselves. The political narrative around Ofsted’s creation and reform has also been far too narrow to provide adequate discussion of such an important issue. In his memoirs Ken Clarke the former education secretary who presided over Ofsted’s creation claimed he introduced it “not to kick teachers” (although it its telling he felt the need to address this perception) but to counter what he perceived as the tendency of education, as well as all other public services in his view, to favour the needs of those who worked in the service over those who, in his words “consumed” the service. The need to counter this “producer bias” was also referred to by Tony Blair in his memoirs in explaining why he continued the public service reforms of the Major governments and why he held the views of trade unions in such low regard feeling they did not represent the people that really mattered, the consumers of services. Even former union leader Alan Johnson recently resorted to the term “producer bias” in an interview explaining why he felt the government was right to push for school reopening against the views of the majority of the teaching profession and its unions. This language is significant as it frames the narrative in a dangerously reductionist fashion in two ways. Firstly by applying the language of the market to public services it begins the transition to applying the logic of the market to their delivery. However as services like education are not commodities they should not be reduced to market speak as students certainly do not consume education from teachers who dispense it in a transactional fashion and I doubt very many parents think of their child’s experience in school in this way. Interestingly in the case of education politicians often mean “parents” rather than students when they speak of consumers in a further debasement of language.

Secondly perhaps most significantly this language casts producers and consumers as being somehow in conflict with each other and in possession of opposing and irreconcilable goals which of course is absurd in the relationship between teacher and student. Both desire the students’ success, in some cases teachers wanting it more than students themselves.

This false dichotomy then is the basis for Ofsted, keeping the producers of education in line in case they attempt to fleece their customers. Absent from this view is any trust in teachers as professionals who have the best interest of their students at heart, in the same way doctors do their patients, lawyers their clients or even politicians their constituents (and I mean that unironically as I am convinced the majority of politicians enter politics to serve others, I just take issue with which others specifically they seek to serve). Aside from Tristram Hunt’s unthought through pitch of a teacher’s oath to rival the Hippocratic oath of doctors from his brief stint as shadow education secretary under Ed Miliband the case of teachers professionalism being the starting point for assembling the superstructure of the UKs education system has been totally absent from the thinking of leading politicians. At the last election despite both the Liberal Democrats and Labour pledging to remove Ofsted the Tories didn’t even engage in the debate that a standards body which long ago lost the confidence of the profession it seeks to safeguard is in an untenable position. So let us now re frame this debate in the realisation that while Ofsted has nothing to offer the world of education as it now is, that world cannot function without the highly skilled and committed professionals who are teachers. So their views must surely be placed at the forefront of determining, assessing and then raising standards in education.

My former head of department used to half jokingly compare ofsted inspectors to the ring wraiths from the Lord of the Rings. Just as the wraiths had once been great kings, corrupted by the temptations of the rings of power, many ofsted inspectors had once been teachers now tempted out of the classroom by the inspectorates’ claim to “raise standards and improve lives”. Only of course to find themselves bringing nothing but misery to their former colleagues. The most insulting feature many teachers will report from ofsted inspections is the unaccountable and out of touch nature of inspectors, many will not have been in the classroom full time for years and given the pace of change in education that can well equate to making their previous experiences irrelevant. So why not make all those who inspect schools currently serving classroom teachers themselves?

Make it part of the professional expectation of the role that at some point in your career you will be called like jury service to undertake a year out of the classroom to travel the country reviewing other schools Ask any teacher what they wish they had more time to do in the cause of CPD and invariably “observe other teachers or schools” will be on the list. As a PGCE & NQT mentor it is something we must make time for trainees to do as part of their initial training but then after that initial NQT year it is something which drops to the bottom of everyone’s priorities despite it being recognised as a great way of improving all involved. Ask School leaders what they spend their time doing to raise standards and it is network with other schools to scout out how others cope with the latest initiative or challenge. So why not adapt the inspection of schools to meet these goals and make it what Ofsted claims to be a supportive body dedicated to raising standards. Well put the teachers in charge of it and let them do just that at a stroke raising their professional autonomy and status as gatekeepers of standards based upon peer review rather than top down dictat. There should be no such thing as permanent inspectors whose sole job is to pass judgment on others doing a job they themselves do not. Rather the DfO can pride schools with the funding required to cover the salaries of serving teachers for the years they are drawn to visit other schools, with the expectation being that at the end of the year those teachers return to their schools and can then present a whole school cpd session informed by what they saw in the other schools they visited. A virtuous circle for all involved.  Including on the financial front, gone is a vast bureaucratic quango with armies of permanent inspectors on contract in its place a minimal secretarial staff for administration, and perhaps a small pay rise equivalent to an additional point on the current pay scale for teachers competing for a years service. Or perhaps not even this as teachers would value the enhanced professional autonomy they would receive and the corresponding stress free existence in a post ofsted world they would enjoy far above any financial reward. The true definition of doing more with less, and working smarter rather than working harder.

What of those school visits (I am purposely dropping the term inspections). They are to be what they should always be a learning opportunity for all involved in the spirit of what education is a public service. All schools have something of merit that they can teach to others, depending upon their different circumstances and this lack of appreciation of context is one of the most gaping holes in current ofsted criteria. Serving classroom teachers are the best places to notice and comment appropriately on this difference in context when visiting schools different to their own. The aim of these visits should be to point out what is going well, what can be improved and what could be shared to improve other schools. If “innocent until proven guilty” is good enough to form the basis of the western world’s justice system it should equally apply to education. Unless clear evidence of malpractice, or continued ineffective practise is found schools should be assumed to be effectively meeting the needs of their communities. Teachers can judge what is effective or not in a classroom or school community and it is this language that should be used to replace the debasement of language that are the  “outstanding” “good” and “requires improvements” of Ofsted. If we must stick to such labels how about: “effective” “partially effective” “not yet effective”. These terms were suggested by education blogger and author Mike Fleatham (who runs the Thinking classroom website) who led a session on pedagogy for an NUT young teachers conference some years back that I was fortunate to attend. Afterwards I suggested to my head we use this language for our staff appraisals to replace the ofsted language we had been using to that point, and to my great surprise he agreed regarding it as summing up what he wanted to do in changing the culture of appraisals from “observations done to people” to a collaborative process they took ownership of”.

Do Black Votes Matter?

By Dr. Ian Laws, Socialist Historian

Hashtags. I really hate hashtags. In fact, if I had to throw just one thing into Room 101, it would most definitely be…well, just about anything and everything that has contributed to the implementation of a pernicious, global, neo-liberal agenda over the last forty years or so…but you get the point. One hashtag that should be of paramount concern to those of us on the Left, and to members of the Labour Party in particular, is the #OfficialOpposition hashtag that has been trending on social media recently, applied to such diverse personalities, institutions, and organisations as Piers Morgan, Mark Rashford, the UK Premier League, and Black Lives Matter. Whenever Piers Morgan, of all people, is praised for holding the Government to account through uncompromising journalism and hard-hitting interview techniques, social media is full of comparisons between that unlikely champion of righteousness  and the leader of the Official Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer MP.

The humiliation was particularly acute for Labour following Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid’s April 15th interview with Sir Keir on Good Morning Britain. Commenting on a performance which could have had the Labour MP mistaken for a Tory Minister striving to defend Government policy, Facebook and Twitter were ripe with praise for Piers Morgan and condemnation of the new Labour leader’s lacklustre response to  Government ineptitude, with one Twitterer observing: “Piers Morgan is interviewing Keir Starmer on GMB this morning, and he’s holding the Government to account better than the opposition leader”. Another highly critical tweet by Huffington Post contributor Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu claimed Starmer’s words were no different from those of the Prime Minister. This insanity appeared to culminate in a topsy-turvy world in which Momentum plastered videos of Comrade Morgan condemning Government plans to reintroduce parking charges for NHS staff all over the Internet.

Such views were similarly reflected in polls questioning the Public’s views on Labour’s performance during the Coronavirus crisis. An Ipsos mori  poll of April 2020, for example, found that less than one in five respondents believed that Labour was doing a satisfactory job holding the Government to account during the pandemic, while even among Labour voters (as of December 2019), less than a third thought the Party was serving effectively as the Official Opposition. Conversely, considerably more participants felt that the country’s journalists were effective in challenging Government policy and highlighting it’s mistakes, with an impressive  43% of respondents  praising the media involved in covid-19 daily briefings.

Laura Kuenssberg – BBC Political Correspondent (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)

Surprisingly, it was only when pressing the Government on the need to release a clear and definitive strategy to end, or at least significantly relax, lockdown restrictions that Sir Keir’s  passion and steadfastness became apparent. Indeed, if anything, the new Labour Leadership gave the distinct Impression that it was attacking the Government from the Right of the political spectrum.  Author and journalist Patrick Maguire has labelled Starmer’s position on the Government’s jobs retention scheme an attempt to  outflank the Tories on the right, while BBC News Editor Laura Kuennsberg accused the Labour Leader of appearing to be a spending hawk. Meanwhile, amidst the deafening clamour of disappointment arising from Labour’s lukewarm response to so many emotive issues of the day, Starmer has at least earned praise from the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Anna Soubry, and Nigel Farage.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 08: Footballer Marcus Rashford is photographed on February 8, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Paul Cooper/Contour by Getty Images)

 Likewise, it was not the Labour Leadership, but Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, who is credited with forcing the Government to reverse it’s decision not to extend free school meals vouchers for children into the summer holidays, again, with all the attendant social media cacophony hailing Rashford as the true opposition to Tory misrule;  whereas such a corporate institution as the Premier League itself has more explicitly supported the recently enlivened Black Lives Matter Movement, in both word and deed, than the current Labour front bench. This support has varied from public endorsement of the Movement’s basic principles, through replacing the Players’ names on footballers’ shirts with “Black Lives Matter” for several matches, to the creation of a  new BLM badge to be included in all Premier League kits for the remainder of the season.

Protesters transporting the statue of Colston towards the river Avon. Edward Colston was a slave trader of the late 17th century who played a major role in the development of the city of Bristol, England, on June 7, 2020. (Photo by Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Keir Starmer, in contrast, has faced considerable criticism for describing BLM as a moment, rather than a movement. When the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the river Avon in Bristol last month, Starmer, in an interview with LBC Radio, claimed that the action was “completely wrong”. While not condoning the presence of statues commemorating the accomplishments of slave traders in a modern British city, the Labour Leader insisted that removing such symbols  must be achieved through ‘proper’ channels, and with ‘consent’. Starmer likewise labelled BLM calls to defund Police authorities that failed to address institutional racism as pure “nonsense”. In an interview with BBC Breakfast, he criticised BLM attacks on policing, and insisted that his support for the police was very strong. The BLM’s somewhat predictable response came from its official UK Twitter account which branded Starmer, who had previously headed the UK Crown Prosecution Service, a “cop in an expensive suit”. Various Union officials and Labour MPS also lambasted Starmer’s statements, with recently elected MP Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy remarking, in a tweet of June 29th, that in the absence of clear support from Parliament, real change was “going to take sustained pressure from below.” At its peak, this “pressure” manifested in 260 UK towns and cities, with considerably more than 200 thousand protestors defying lockdown restrictions throughout June and early July, according to a recent Guardian Exclusive, which described this so-called ‘moment’ as the “largest anti-racist protest seen in the UK since the slave abolition movement” of more than two centuries ago.

Of course, it is never easy for any senior political figure to publicly endorse activity of, at best, questionable legality, and those who combine a role in ‘respectable’ representative politics with street-level activism are certainly few and far between, but it is not difficult to imagine a very different response from the Official Opposition had this occurred on Jeremy Corbyn‘s watch. Indeed, the former Opposition leader himself spoke at a local BLM demonstration in Islington on July 1st, amongst other occasions.

The Corbyn era gave us a glimpse of how Labour as a Party, can be a home for Labour as movements; a chance to analyse the interaction between a reformist parliamentary institution and an amalgamation of various protest movements and causes. Now, nobody would expect Starmer to leap on the stage at Glastonbury, to rapturous applause, or to be greeted with a spontaneous chorus of “ohhhh Sir Keir Starmer”; nor, more importantly, would he feel remotely comfortable with any such acclamation.

My recent article, amongst other things,  traced the connection between the eruption of student protests against tuition fees in 2010  with the emergence of Corbynism as a political force 5 years later. It outlined the argument that the seeds of organisations like Momentum were to be found in such anti-austerity street demos, and in the founding of activist groups like the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Comparisons were made between the response of the contemporary Official Opposition and then-fringe figures such as Corbyn or Diane Abbott. While the likes of Corbyn and McDonnell endorsed the protests, attacked police brutality, and even participated directly, then-Labour leader Ed Miliband  refused to attend demonstrations, and publicly opposed a teachers strike in 2011, while Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls frequently criticised the protestors, their aims, and most especially, their methods.

Photo by Retha Ferguson on

If Keir Starmer’s attitudes and actions are not a million miles away from those of Ed Balls in 2010, or Ed Miliband in 2011, it hardly takes a great stretch of the imagination to envisage that a void similar to the one which facilitated the radicalisation of Labour Party politics from 2015 could open the door to history repeating itself in the not so distant future. But to who, then, can we look to harness the potential energy of these emerging protest movements? Just as the attitude of senior Labour officials has apparently resulted in an exodus of BAME members from the Party, Including such notable figures as Journalist Evie Muir,  leading the Labour Leader to publicly call for BAME people to remain, and telling the Huffington Post: “I don’t want anybody to leave the Labour Party…It is a place that I hope and am determined that Black people feel that they are welcome…”, a younger generation of Labour MPs  are simultaneously being praised for their commitment to the struggle. The so called ‘Baby of the House’, Nadia Whittome MP, has received particular acclamation for calling the tearing down of the Colston statue “an act of resistance to be celebrated”. She could almost certainly have been speaking for like-minded comrades such as Zarah Sultana MP, who, during the early days of BLM protests in the UK, posted advice for demonstrators on Twitter regarding their rights and how to deal with the Police, whilst personally attending and speaking at a BLM gathering in Coventry city centre a fortnight later. Meanwhile, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity is still committed to “rebuilding resistance to the  Tories”, in the words of former Labour MP Laura Pidcock, who, during the opening months of 2020, took an increasingly active role in directing the movement in its efforts to renew local campaigns against government cuts.

 Yet this disillusionment of grassroots protestors at the changing direction of the Labour Party is only half the story. While the energy and activism of the Corbyn era is still very much alive on the street and in social media chat rooms, this radicalism is no longer the ‘new normal’ of Left Wing political discourse in the UK, and, following early Shadow Cabinet reshuffles and the appointment of David Evans as the Party’s General Secretary in May, and despite the lingering traces of radicalism in Sir Keir’s ’10 Policy Pledges’, Labour looks certain to return definitively to the centre ground. It was no doubt in reference to these pledges that the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, in heaping praise on the new regime for making Labour ‘politically competitive’ again, added that: “there are a whole set of questions around  policy and so on that in time I’m sure and know he will come to”.

This attitude is far from being an isolated one in Labour circles, with many Party members and Labour voters alike jubilant that the Party is slowly making its way back to ‘electability’. Words like ‘competent’ and ‘confident’ are most often bandied around whilst discussing the Labour leader, often accompanied by praise of how forensic he is in his questioning of government policy. This so called ‘professionalism’ is often contrasted starkly with the anti-establishment tendencies of Jeremy Corbyn, and, perhaps not quite incidentally, the BLM movement.

When listening to the announcements coming from the current Labour Front Bench, one will almost certainly come across more talk of “fostering aspiration” and “helping people who want to get on” than was the case only a few months previous. And this kind of talk will attract support both from within the Party, and the wider population. Those who scorn the new Labour Leadership for coming across more like apologists for the Government rather than its opposition during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, or for criticising or letting down the thousands of BLM protestors flooding Britain’s streets are, at least on occasion, countered by those expressing relief that they no longer need to feel ashamed of supporting Labour. As one previous, and allegedly future, Labour voter, Louise Hantman from Northumberland, put it, during one of Sir Keir Starmer’s weekly online consultations with the Public: “We feel quite excited that you’re there now. There’s a light on the horizon.”

But one should remember that sometimes, just sometimes, the light, whether on the horizon or at the end of a tunnel, happens to be an oncoming train, a train quite possibly filled with protestors heading to a BLM demo…

Poll of passengers and public finds British Airways damaging brand

New poll:  British Airways damaging brand and should face review of privileged landing rights, say public and passengers in response to ‘fire and rehire’ move 

  • 70% of the public say BA’s ‘fire and rehire’ scheme wrong.
  • By a 3-1 ratio (61% vs 20%) public say BA is taking advantage of a national crisis to boost shareholder profits.
  • 69% believe the current landing slot arrangements should be reviewed.

A new poll reveals that the British public backs tough action against British Airways over its ‘fire and rehire’ plans, with both Conservative and Labour voters giving strong support for the introduction of legislation to strip the nation’s flag carrying airline of its privileged access to UK landing slots.

The poll of over 2000 people, including over 1219 BA passengers across the UK, conducted by Survation, reveals that 69% of all those surveyed believed the government should review the UK’s current arrangements on landing slots (vs just 16% saying the government should not) with 76% of Conservative voters backing a review.

British Airways stands accused of using a global health pandemic as cover to impose a long-term plan to ‘fire and rehire‘ the majority of its staff in order to re-engage them on inferior terms and conditions while making up to 12,00 redundant.

The majority of those polled believe BA is wrong to terminate staff and re-employ them on reduced terms and conditions in the middle of a health crisis (70%) and just 14% of those polled trusted BA to give out fair and accurate information.

Unite executive officer, Sharon Graham said:“It’s clear that Britain wants the government to get tough on the nation’s flag carrying airline for its disgraceful plans to fire and rehire its staff while cutting thousands of jobs. 

“The airline is stripping its loyal workforce of their terms and conditions while sacking thousands in the middle of a health crisis. If BA press ahead to create a new and unrecognisable airline, it should not continue to benefit from its domination of lucrative legacy take-off and landing slots.

“British Airways has lost the trust of its workforce, politicians and the country. The only way British Airways can retrieve its reputation as the world’s best loved airline and protect its lucrative landing slots, is to withdraw its unprecedented attack on staff and enter into sensible negotiations.”

In a statistic that should alarm BA, the poll revealed that almost half (49%) of those polled who have travelled with BA in the past say they are less likely to use the airline in the future given the dispute, with the number rising to 53% for respondents who fly with BA three times a year.

Talks tomorrow over lack of Covid-19 measures at Bexley refuse depot

Crunch talks are due to take place tomorrow (Tuesday 7 July) to resolve health and safety concerns over the lack of Covid-19 prevention measures at the Crayford refuse depot which serves the borough of Bexley.

Pressure from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, has prompted the talks with controversial outsourcing giant Serco which runs the council contract.

This follows criticism from the Health and Safety Executive over the failure to have adequate social distancing measures in place at the Thames Road depot, Crayford, Kent from where about 200 employees work.

The HSE’s criticisms from an inspection visit in May included that cleaning was ‘not robust enough’; inadequate monitoring of those visiting the site; and people passing on the stairs with no social distancing.

Unite also said that there had been two separate serious injuries recently when one member had his foot run over by a lorry and another nearly lost the use of his fingers.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “What we are seeking from tomorrow’s talks is a dramatic step-change for the better in the health & safety regime which we think should mean a change of management at the Crayford depot. Our members’ lives have been put at risk due to managerial incompetence.

“Our members, many of whom are on ‘poverty wages’, have been working right through the pandemic ensuring that the refuse of Bexley residents is collected regularly – so, at the very least, they deserve the best Covid-19 preventive measures in the depot and their working environment when they are on their collection routes.

“The HSE’s damning inspection report was a marker that Serco urgently needs to get its health & safety act together – there needs to be a radical change of culture in this area. Cost should not be a factor when combating coronavirus.

“I do not say this lightly, but the workforce at Serco Bexley has completely lost confidence in the local management’s ability to be responsible for their safety.”

Earlier this year, Unite’s 125 members working on the Bexley contract took a day-and-a-half of strike action over the ‘dire’ pay they receive from Serco – but called off further industrial action as the lockdown came into force in March. The refuse workforce was earning about £4 an hour less than their counterparts in Greenwich.

Union warns that there will be no`build, build, build’ unless government acts to avert construction apprenticeship crisis

he prime minister’s recent promise to `build, build, build’ the UK back to economic health will not be `get very far’ unless urgent action is taken to avert a crisis in skills and apprenticeship development, the country’s leading construction union has claimed today Monday 6 July .

Lethal combination

Unite the union says that a lethal combination of employers’ long-standing reluctance to invest in apprentices, allied to widespread redundancies because of the pandemic and a reluctance to recruit new entrants due to the ongoing economic uncertainty, is likely to result in there being 20,000 fewer apprentices across the sector this autumn, vastly down from the 47,284 in England last year (2019).

Industry forecasts have also indicated that there will be a sharp decline in the construction apprenticeship intake this autumn. Without the skills needed to support the sector, Unite fears that some construction contracts will have to be cancelled placing more construction workers on the dole.

Redundancy fears

The union also understands that at least 50 per cent of electrical construction apprentices are currently furloughed, with growing concerns that as the job retention scheme winds down they will be made redundant.

Such is the union’s concern, it has written to the chancellor Rishi Sunak requesting that the Chancellor uses his upcoming economic statement to “implement without delay economic policies that can help save existing construction apprenticeship jobs and ensure the summer 2020 intake of construction apprentices is of a level to meet the industry’s future needs.”

Failure to recruit

For decades the construction industry has failed to recruit and train sufficient apprentices but the skills crisis has been masked by the heavy reliance on migrant labour.  However, with changes to government policy on immigration that option will no longer be so easily available.

Additionally, construction has an ageing workforce and many workers are forced to leave the industry before state retirement age due to illness or injury.

Workforce needed

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The prime minister’s pledge to build, build, build the country’s way out of this pandemic-caused crisis won’t get very far without a workforce.

“Construction apprenticeship training is in danger of collapsing as an after-effect of the pandemic, which is why we’re calling on the chancellor to make it clear when he announces his plans for recovering the economy this coming week that our young workers will be given a chance of a career in construction.

“At the moment, for every one good quality apprenticeship, there are one thousand applicants. Young workers have to scale this huge mountain so it is only right that they have the chance to complete their apprenticeship and have a job at the end of their training. 

“Furthermore, without these young skilled workers the industry will struggle to recover from the recession as contracts will be cancelled because there is a serious lack of expert workers.

“There has been a long-term skills and training crisis in the construction sector but the Covid-19 pandemic along with the changes to immigration law have brought this to a head.

 “Unite is working closely with responsible employers and trade associations in order to tackle the challenges on apprentice recruitment but to really conquer the challenges we face, the government must step in to support existing apprentices and ensure that new recruits will have a pathway into construction employment.”

Action required

Unite is calling for the chancellor and the government to adopt the following measures:

  • Extension of apprentice wage support to safeguard jobs
  • Repurposing of the apprenticeship levy funds to fund all first year apprentices’ pay
  • Public sector procurement policies that ensure the recruitment of high quality apprentice
  • The extension of the job guarantee scheme so that apprentice opportunities are delivered in public-funded infrastructure projects.

Covid-19 reinforces the case for a ‘substantial’ pay rise for NHS staff, says Unite

The coronavirus pandemic reinforces – not diminishes – the strong case for the NHS workforce to receive a ‘beyond substantial’ pay rise for 2021-22, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Friday 3 July).

Unite has joined with 13 other health unions and professional organisations to launch a campaign today to demand that pay talks start as soon as possible out of respect for the dedicated NHS staff who have battled Covid-19.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health sector, said that the last three year pay deal had started to rectify the pay deficit, but this now needs to be substantially built on.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Warm words of praise by ministers and the weeks of Thursday evening clapping by a grateful nation are only part the story – and that’s why a generous pay rise is required to repair the damage of the last decade when pay in real terms was eroded by an estimated 20 per cent.

“A ‘softly, softly’ approach will fall on fallow ground, as the Tory ‘mask’ on the NHS begins to slip away – last week some 331 Conservative MPs opposed a motion that would have led to weekly testing of NHS workers and care staff.

“This hard-faced attitude was also highlighted by care minister Helen Whately who confirmed the government had ‘no plans’ to backdate a new financial support package that is set to be introduced for students starting this autumn.

“Now the lockdown is being eased, it was clear the Tories are reverting to type when it comes to their distaste for public services, of which the NHS is ‘the jewel in the crown’.

“Doctors, nurses and health workers of all hues, including student nurses and those who came out of retirement, stepped up to the plate big-time when the lockdown was imposed in March and the NHS was under severe pressure – and, sadly, more than 300 NHS and social care workers have now died after being infected with coronavirus.

“NHS staff don’t want ministerial platitudes on pay on the eve of the NHS’ 72nd birthday on Sunday (5 July), but a beyond substantial pay rise for their commitment, especially over the last few months when they have put their lives on the line, literally.

“As society returns slowly to the ‘new normal’, the government cannot be allowed to forget the dedication of NHS staff.”

Before lockdown, NHS Digital reported that between January and March this year, there were 84,393 advertised full-time equivalents in England – these ‘recruitment and retention’ issues are still relevant and important, and need to be addressed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

An uplift in pay will start to tackle these recruitment problems.

Unite has signed-up to the plan of the joint health unions to bring about better pay for NHS staff, which Unite believes has widespread public support.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added: “People are fully engaged with the concept that without the NHS and its staff, the appalling death toll of nearly 44,000 would be even worse – and that the years of underfunding must cease. Increased funding must include budgets to tackle the backlog in non-Covid operations and procedures.

“Many, including prime minister Boris Johnson, owe their lives to the NHS – and now is the time to recognise that 24/7 commitment with a decent pay rise that reflects the sentiments of a grateful and relieved country.”

Sharp rise in construction deaths coincides with plunge in inspections

Unite, the UK’s construction union, is warning that the large increase in construction deaths could be related to a steep fall in proactive inspections and prosecutions being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive.

It was revealed this week that construction fatalities increased by 33 per cent in a year from 30 in 2018/19 to 40 in 2019/20, a third of all work related deaths.

Decrease in inspections

A freedom of information request by Unite has uncovered that the increase in deaths corresponds with at least a 25 per cent decline in proactive (unannounced) construction inspections.

In 2018/19 there were a total of 9286 proactive inspections compared to just 6381 in 2019/20, a decline of 31 per cent.

Inspections suspended

In March 2020, the HSE ceased making proactive inspections due to Covid-19.  Notwithstanding this development, the fall in construction inspection still amounts to a massive 25 percent reduction in the number of inspections when compared to the corresponding 11 month period in the previous year.

Construction workers in danger

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “These figures are alarming and raise serious questions about the safety of construction workers.

 “Each of the fatalities was a terrible tragedy, a loved one went to work one day and never came home again.

 “It is simply no coincidence that the drop in inspections has occurred at the same time that there has been a steep rise in deaths.

 “We need to be honest, the constant cuts to the HSE since 2010 have had an awful impact on workers’ lives.  The simple way to protect construction workers and to help stop the loss of life in our workplaces is to restore funding to the inspection and safety agency.

 “It has always been the case that there are employers in construction that are prepared to cut corners on safety to boost profits – only the threat of action by the HSE keeps them in check.

 “With the added problems of the Covid-19 pandemic, regular inspections by the HSE have never been more important.

 “For employers who are trying to ensure that they follow the complex rules on social distancing, there is a real danger they could take their eye off the ball when it comes to other safety measures.

 “With the unscrupulous employers, the rogues will consider the current crisis a good excuse to play fast and loose with all safety requirements in the unfortunately correct assumption that they are unlikely to be caught.

 “Over the past decade, the HSE has been cut to the bone. The recent meagre increase in funding it has received is a drop in the ocean compared to the funding it has lost.

 “If the HSE is going to keep workers safe and healthy, able to deal with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and workplace safety, then it must be given the resources by the government to do so.”

London and South West biggest reduction

The sharpest decrease in inspections was in the South West where inspections declined by 54 per cent but the most alarming decrease was in London which accounts for 30 per cent of the UK’s construction work and where inspections halved. There were also sharp declines in the West Midlands (-49 per cent), South East (-48 per cent) and Eastern England (-33 per cent).

Unite’s FOI also revealed that the total number of enforcement notices issued by the HSE concerning breaches of safety laws has declined by 30 per cent in 2019, while the number of prosecutions heard in courts for serious safety failures was down by 24 per cent.

Unite bitterly disappointed that proposals to save Northwood Hygiene Penygroes are rejected

Directors at Northwood Hygiene have today rejected proposals from Unite representatives aimed at saving the Penygroes site which will now result in its closure and the loss of 94 jobs. Despite extensive efforts of the Unite representatives during the 30 day consultation and potential financial support from Welsh Government, the Company have confirmed their decision to close the site by October 2020.

Daryl Williams, Unite Regional Officer:

“The decision from the Company today will come as a bitter blow to the workers and the loss of these jobs will also be crippling to the local economy of Nantlle Valley and the surrounding area. Unite Reps pulled out all the stops to save the site with counter proposals that had potential financial support from Welsh Government but ultimately it wasn’t enough to persuade the company to maintain production at the site.

Unite will now focus on supporting our members at this difficult time. We will be seeking the best possible redundancy packages and maximum help with finding new employment.”

North East and Yorkshire’s aerospace industry at ‘five to midnight’ as government stays silent on support

The union is appealing to the people of the region to get behind its campaign to keep jobs and incomes in the community.

With a huge decline in new orders and maintenance work – a knock-on effect from the pandemic hit to the aviation sector – many jobs are at risk in the industry right across the region. More than 13,000 aerospace redundancies have already been announced in the UK.

Unite issued its jobs warning following the publication of a new report by economic experts Acuity Analysis, which details the challenges facing the NEYH and the entire UK aerospace sector. The analysis profiles the importance of the sector to the region’s economy and reveals:

  • The aerospace sector provides secure well paid jobs across the NEYH region, with 3,700 workers being employed in the sector.
  • There are 150 employers in the region split between 50 manufacturing companies and 100 companies specialising in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of aircraft.
  • Major aerospace employers in the region include BAE and Rolls Royce.
  • The sector is incredibly valuable for the region generating £224 million in gross value added per annum.

According to Unite, which has been battling for sector support since March, large-scale job losses would have a crippling effect on both the NEYH’s and the nation’s economies: 5,000 aerospace jobs lost would see more than £2 billion wiped off the UK’s economic output.

Unite has been pressing the UK government to follow the lead of competitor nations such as France and Germany to establish an investment programme for the sector to survive, rebuild and recover. A central call from the union is for the government to extend the jobs retention scheme to prevent the premature loss of more jobs and skills while the sector works to build back.

Unite regional officer Suzanne Reid said: “Aerospace is a major contributor to the NEYH economy but the lack of action at Westminster means we now stand at five to midnight and could be looking at a very bleak future.

“Jobs are going by the day and our world-leading status is slipping away as other nations sense the competitive advantage in our government’s inaction.

“Without the support this sector is crying out for we will lose thousands of the highly skilled, secure jobs that we are told the UK needs and that the government wishes to encourage.

“It is a travesty that the government has not followed the lead of other countries including France and Germany to provide specific support for what is a world class industry. Worse still, the UK government’s silence on support gives our competitors a business advantage.

“We are pleading with the government. Waste no more time. Be clear that the JRS will be extended to ensure the sector preserves skills and jobs. Commit to a package of support for the aerospace sector which would not only preserve jobs across the North East and Yorkshire but be the shot in the arm the national economy desperately needs.”

Unite is urging everyone who is employed directly in the aerospace industry or indirectly associated with it to contact their MP and ask them to lobby the government for support for the sector.

Suzanne Reid added: “If you work in the NEYH aerospace sector, know someone who does, or simply value quality jobs in our region please help us save this flagship industry that is so vital to our communities. Pick up the phone to your MP or drop them an email. Only by speaking up together can we win the future our workers absolutely deserve.”