Tag Archives: COVID-19

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.

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.

Latest blow to civil aviation in Scotland as North Air announces redundancies

Unite Scotland has today (1 July) warned that dozens of workers employed by North Air face redundancy at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.  is a fuel tanker company for aircraft based at both airports The proposed job cuts will mean that North Air will reduce its operations by over 30 per cent at Edinburgh airport and more than 25 per cent at Glasgow airport.

The latest blow to the civil aviation industry follows a series of companies and airlines announcing major job cuts, and the slashing of terms of conditions for the remaining workforce such as those at British Airways.

Companies operating in and from Aberdeen airport have various redundancy consultations underway – which Unite is directly involved in – threatening more than 100 jobs. At Edinburgh airport, Unite is involved in redundancy consultations affecting more than 1,000 jobs including Menzies Aviation, Swissport, ICTS, City Flyer and Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), the company which owns the airport.  At Glasgow airport, Unite is also involved in redundancy consultations affecting more than 500 workers at companies including Menzies Aviation, ICTS, and Swissport.

Last week, the country’s leading civil aviation trade union formally wrote to the first minister for the second time demanding the immediate establishment of a Civil Aviation Task Force to deal with the unfolding jobs crisis at Scotland’s three major airports resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pat McIlvogue, Unite regional industrial officer, in response to the proposed redundancies at North Air said: “North Air has worked constructively with Unite up until this point by using the UK government’s job retention scheme.  However, the company has unilaterally decided to break from this approach and it has issued redundancy notices affecting up to 30 per cent of tits workforce at Edinburgh Airport and more than 25 per cent at Glasgow airport.”

“It’s the latest domino to fall in the industry and thousands of jobs are hanging by a thread. Unite fully understands the situation facing civil aviation and that’s why we have written to the first minister last week for the second time demanding a coordinated national response so that we can safeguard thousands of Scottish jobs.”

Boris Johnson’s ‘gung-ho’ messaging heightens A&E fears as pubs reopen

NHS ambulance and A&E staff are braced ‘with a great deal of trepidation’  for the fall-out from the mass opening of pubs in England on Saturday, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, warned today (Wednesday 1 July).

If that happens, Unite will blame the ‘gung-ho and mixed messaging’ from prime minister Boris Johnson for putting too much emphasis on the easing of the lockdown and not sufficient weight on the need to still follow the social distancing rules.

The warning from Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, came as Britons were estimated to spend £200 million in pubs this weekend, as the hospitality sector reopens on Saturday (4 July).

Already Unite’s 3,000 ambulance members have reported in the last few weeks an increase in accidents at illegal parties; more young people saying they have Covid-19 symptoms; and an increase in ‘non-essential’ calls that could be dealt with by such services as NHS 111.

There has also been an increase in the use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, at these illegal parties. These canisters can be purchased cheaply off the internet.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Our ambulance members have reported an increase in calls in recent weeks and, unfortunately, some of them are related to the flouting of the social distancing rules.

“So it is with deep concern that our members in the ambulance service and in A&E departments are preparing themselves for the fall-out from a badly behaved minority when pubs reopen on Saturday.

“If that happens, we will blame the gung-ho mixed messaging from Boris Johnson who has put more emphasis on easing the lockdown and people enjoying themselves this weekend than with telling people to adhere strictly to the social distancing measures. 

“Unite is not trying to restrict people’s enjoyment and we fully support our members in the hospitality sector who have had a really tough time since March.

“But people need to heed the advice of England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who has said social distancing remains vital, otherwise the rates of Covid-19 infection will rise again, as has been seen in Leicester.

“Sunday (5 July) is the NHS’ 72nd birthday, so it would be a rich irony that after weeks of Thursday evening clapping and warm words of ministerial praise, dedicated NHS staff spend the weekend clearing up drunken vomit due to mixed messaging.”

Chair of the Unite ambulance committee Debbie Wilkinson said: “Our members are bracing themselves with a great deal of trepidation about what is going to happen this weekend, when excessive drinking could see many more visits to A&E departments.

“Ambulance colleagues have noticed for some time that some people are not following the rules and this is really serious as we have more than 43,000 deaths in the UK from Covid-19. We have seen a rise in young, fit people signalling that they have coronavirus symptoms.

“There has been an increase in accidents at illegal parties, as well as the use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’.

“Sadly, we have also seen more people getting in touch, following the lockdown, with very serious illnesses, such as cancer, who should have been seen during the last few months. For some, unfortunately, it is too late.

“People need to behave with responsibility and consideration for others this weekend and not put the NHS under further pressure.”

100 aerospace jobs under threat in Dorset is latest blow to county’s economy, says Unite

More than 100 jobs at Magellan Aerospace’s operation in Dorset are under threat in the wake of the job losses at Airbus for which it supplies aerospace parts.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Wednesday 1 July) that the job losses at the Bournemouth and Poole sites would be ‘very grim’ for the workers, their families and the regional economy.

Unite regional officer Janet Wall said: “Due to a steep decline in orders from Airbus and Boeing because of Covid-19,  the company is planning to make more than 100 workers redundant – 96 by 1 September with a further six roles to go by 1 December. It also plans to close its Poole site.

“This is a very grim blow for the workers and their families, and will also have a knock on effect for the Dorset economy which depends on these skilled workers’ wages to lubricate economic activity.

“Unfortunately, this is part of an emerging trend in Dorset where many small to medium size engineering firms are contracting and making staff redundant because of the massive adverse impact of the pandemic on the UK’s aerospace industry.

“Unite is fighting hard for these workers’ jobs, but the reality is, if more orders don’t start rolling in soon, these jobs will be gone – that’s why the government must step up to the plate to support the aerospace sector as has been done in France and Germany.”

Last night Airbus said that that it is to slash 1,727 UK jobs which Unite branded as ‘another act of industrial vandalism’ against the country’s under-attack aerospace sector.

Magellan Aerospace, part of the Canadian multinational, produces parts for the aerospace industry, primarily for Airbus and Boeing. It currently employs about 250 staff at the two sites in Dorset.

Airbus job cuts ‘vandalism’ – but UK government sits on sidelines while a national asset is destroyed

Unite, the UK’s leading manufacturing union, has described today’s announcement by Airbus that it is to slash 1,727 UK jobs as ‘another act of industrial vandalism’ against the country’s under-attack aerospace sector.

Calling on the government to stop watching from the sidelines while a national asset is destroyed, the union said that No 10 must ‘step up to the plate’, just as leaders in France and Germany have, to protect the sector. In recent weeks, jobs have gone hand over fist in the UK while other competitor governments shore up their businesses and actively protect jobs.

Airbus says that the jobs will go right across its UK operations including at its largest factories at Broughton in North Wales and Filton in Bristol. 1,116 UK manufacturing jobs will be lost alongside 611 office-based jobs as Airbus seeks to shrink its workforce by 15 percent.

However, while jobs are also going in France, Spain and Germany, extended government job retention programmes in those countries of up to 24 months means that no jobs will be lost in those countries in the immediate term.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This is yet another act of industrial vandalism and a terrible insult to our incredible UK workforce who deserve so much better from our government.

“Over the weeks of this crisis, this country’s aerospace jobs have gone hand over fist yet not one word of support or act of assistance has been forthcoming from the government.

“The UK government is watching from the sidelines while a national asset is destroyed.

“The only words uttered by the government in relation to UK aerospace during this entire crisis came out of the blue today in relation to the prime minister’s UK-made ‘Jet Zero’ project.  But while our world-class industry is shedding skills and workers at the present rate, this project will be nothing more than a PR fantasy.

“The prime minister and his team must step up to the plate. UK aerospace workers deserve the same support and investment that Mr Macron and Ms Merkel provide to their workers.  Airbus workers in France and Germany have up to two years to work to fend off their redundancies and turn their businesses around while in the UK the axe falls with immediate effect.

“With every day that goes by without any action to support this sector from the UK government, our competitors cheer.

“Of course, immediate job losses at a word-class company like Airbus underlines the challenges faced by the aerospace sector, caused by the massive downturn in aviation in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But we are in no doubt that it is absolutely essential that the government could do so much more. For a start, it could extend the job retention scheme for sectors such as aerospace which have been most severely hit by the pandemic.  

“If not, there will be an avalanche of job losses this summer – and a world-class aerospace sector built over generations and with so much more to give this country will be lost.”

EasyJet jobs announcement ‘massive blow’ and highlights the need for government action

Major job losses

This latest announcement of major job losses in aviation again highlights the failure of the government to provide urgently needed specific support to protect jobs and airports. This is in stark contrast to many other major countries which have provided multi-billion pound support packages for their aviation industries including France, Germany, Spain and the United States.

The union is also questioning easyJet’s decision to make workers redundant given that the company has received a £600 million loan from the government and has also recently paid out £174 million as a dividend to shareholders.

Massive blow

Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said: “This is yet another massive blow to the aviation industry and our thoughts are with workers who face losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

 “There is no need for this announcement at this time, especially since easyJet has taken a multi-million pounds government loan which it ought to be putting to use defending UK jobs.

 “This is a company with its priorities all wrong.  It has paid a multi-million dividend to its shareholders, borrowed hundred of millions from the government to buy new aircraft and has fully utilised the jobs retention scheme.  It absolutely should not be allowed to make huge redundancies a few weeks later.

 “The latest announcement further demonstrates why it is absolutely essential that the government extends its job retention scheme for the aviation sector, which has been one of the industries worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We are now more than three months on since the Chancellor promised support for UK aviation.  

 “The government’s ongoing failure to provide such support is directly resulting in huge job losses throughout the industry and is threatening the viability of airlines and airports alike.

 “The aviation industry is essential to the future prosperity of the UK’s economy and it is essential that the UK government, steps up to the plate and provides specific support in line with other nations.”

Blueprint for industry

Unite has produced a blueprint of how the government should intervene across the entire aviation sector including airlines and airports to protect the jobs and conditions of workers. Such loans would come with strict strings attached regarding executive pay, corporate governance and requiring stringent environmental standards to be adopted to radically reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

Link between migrant worker exploitation and Covid-19 meat processing outbreaks ‘must be addressed’

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite said there is also a direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’ and the spread of the disease in such environments.

This is particularly true in meat processing factories that do not provide staff that need to self-isolate with company sick pay or any other form of financial support, as it increases the danger of individuals with Covid-19 going into work because they cannot afford to take time off.

The union also raised concerns about track and trace record keeping for agency workers, such as production line staff and cleaners, who often work at multiple sites and whose contact details may not be available or could be overlooked during infection control procedures.

Industry employment standards are also directly linked to overcrowded housing which are a contributing factor to the risk of outbreaks within factories.

A recent Unite survey, comprising of 20 per cent of the workforce at a Covid-19 impacted meat processing plant staffed overwhelmingly by migrant workers, found that 43 per cent of respondents live with two or more colleagues (at least three to a house) and 11 per cent live with five or more.

Nearly 65 per cent of the 150 respondents said they have attended work whilst unwell, with 69 per cent of those doing so because they could not afford to lose pay. Just 10 per cent of respondents said they have been tested for Covid-19.

Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Exploitation driven by corporate greed is a major factor in the public health emergencies amongst meat processing plants here and in other countries.

“Migrant workers, who often do not speak English and are scared to speak out because they fear losing their jobs, suffer under a relentless system that long predates Covid-19 in which they are treated without dignity or respect. Exploitation is so rife within the sector that Unite is also concerned that some workers are vulnerable to modern slavery. 

“This issue is now being brought to public attention because of its impact on the UK’s ability to stem the virus. People can see that the treatment of staff in the sector as disposable assets is unjust, unsustainable and a danger to public health. 

“As a priority, employers and government must end the terrible situation where workers are having to choose between self-isolating or going into work because they cannot afford to be ill. Unite also has concerns over whether employers are able to provide contact details for agency workers, who often work at multiple sites under murky employment structures, to facilitate track and trace efforts. 

“It is imperative that ministers and industry commit to a root and branch reform of the meat processing sector. The dire working conditions, low pay and insecure employment that blight the industry and have now come back to bite the nation’s efforts to defeat the coronavirus must be addressed.” 

Unite supports Moorside ‘clean energy hub’ that could mean 25,000 jobs across the north west

Unite has joined with 16 major companies and other unions to promote the Moorside Clean Energy Consortium which proposes a package of nuclear projects, including a new power station.

Unite hopes that this initiative will kick-start the construction of Moorside nuclear power station, stalled since Toshiba withdrew from the project in November 2018.

Unite also hopes that this industry/trade union plan prompts business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) secretary Alok Sharma to give a copper-bottomed commitment to ‘new nuclear’ as part of the government’s much-vaunted ‘levelling up’ strategy.

Unite regional secretary for the north west Ritchie James said: “The launch of this initiative is to be warmly welcomed. The north west region is reeling from the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 with thousands of jobs across all sectors under severe threat as the furlough scheme tapers off.

“The fact that this consortium is looking beyond tomorrow and into a low carbon future is good news, given that there could be a post-pandemic 25,000 jobs bonanza across the region if this takes off.

“When Toshiba withdrew from the Moorside site, after well-publicised financial problems in 2018, this was a blow to the economic future of Cumbria – we hope the consortium, to which Unite has signed up to, will kick-start a decision from government.”

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Business secretary Alok Sharma needs to provide the financial support and political clout for ‘new nuclear’ as part of the much-heralded ‘levelling up’ strategy that has been repeatedly promised by Boris Johnson. Now is the time for the rhetoric to translate into reality.

“We continue to urge the government to articulate its long-term commitment to a new era for nuclear power where it plays a vital role in the energy ‘mix’ – without this commitment, it is difficult to see how the UK can meet its ‘net zero’ pledge by 2050.”