Tag Archives: lockdown

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.

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.”

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.”

TV is an absolute lifeline for many older people – Chris Matheson

Chris Matheson, Shadow Minister for Media, responding to Age UK’s survey, said:

“Age UK’s survey has proved what we already knew – that TV is an absolute lifeline for many older people who struggle to get out.

“Lockdown has highlighted the role it plays in informing, entertaining and helping the most isolated maintain a connection to the wider world.

“The Tory government has broken their manifesto commitment to protect the over-75 licence fee and any attempt to push the cost on the BBC is just a cowardly way of cutting this vital lifeline.”

Steve Reed calls for action to ensure local lockdowns are robust and efficient enough to prevent second wave

Labour has today called on the Government to take urgent action to ensure local lockdowns are robust and efficient enough to prevent a second wave of Coronavirus spreading across the country.

Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Steve Reed, has urged the government to take four steps to protect communities:

  1. Ensure that Local Authority Directors of Public Health have access to all Coronavirus test data, including the postcodes of all positive tests.
  2. Provide guidance on exactly what legal powers are available to local authorities to rapidly put in place local lockdowns by closing schools, workplaces or neighbourhoods.
  3. Clarify where decision making for local lockdowns will be taken, which decisions will be made by the Government, Joint Biosecurity Centre or left for local authorities to take.
  4. Keep the promise to fund councils in full for the cost of the crisis, so that they don’t have to cut the resources they need to keep our communities safe.

Steve Reed MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said:

“The Government made local lockdowns a key component of the exit strategy but yet again they were too slow to involve local authorities, just like they were too slow to enforce the lockdown nationally.

“The lack of a functioning test, track and trace system, coupled with their failure to give councils the power to take action quickly could lead to local outbreaks becoming deadly national ones.

“The Government must not waste any more time, we are facing the risk of a deadly second wave of infections and a second national lockdown fatal for both lives and livelihoods across the country.”

Easing of lockdown must happen safely

Avoiding ​a second wave in the autumn ​is vital

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement today (Tuesday) that there is to be a further easing of the lockdown, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“Many people will jump at the chance to see more family and friends, and visit pubs and restaurants, but others will be understandably cautious.

“Good public services need a thriving economy and the spectre of mass unemployment – particularly among the young – must be avoided.

“But the slow return to normal must happen safely. Squandering the lockdown sacrifices ​and progress made in the past three months would be foolish.

“All workplaces opening up must make proper risk assessments of the virus threat. Avoiding ​a second wave in the autumn and preventing the NHS, social care ​and other public services from being overwhelmed ​is vital.”

Huge membership rise for UNISON ahead of new recruitment ad campaign launch​

More than 90,000 new members already joined this year

A new recruitment campaign, ​aimed at increasing the record number of public service workers who’ve joined UNISON since the start of the pandemic, is being launched by the union today (Monday).

The 60-second animated advert is being screened on Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and YouTube with the message that no worker should feel alone in ​these uncertain times.

The film was created by the GOOD Agency, with whom UNISON has worked for seven years, along with animation studio Coffee & TV. At its heart are ​the ​messages that reassurance, peace of mind and ​security are the benefits that membership of the union brings.

UNISON is currently experiencing a membership surge, with more than 90,000 people signing up ​by the end of May. That’s an increase of almost a quarter (23%) on the same period in 2019.

A quarter (25%) of th​is membership ​increase came in May alone, with 23,040 joining​ last month, a 51% ​rise on the same month last year​, says UNISON.

Altogether UNISON welcomed 91,925 new members during the first five months of 2020. The net rise is estimated to be well in excess of 24,000 people when leavers and retiring members for the period are ​discounted.

One sector where growth has been ​significant is among school ​support staff​, says UNISON. Recruitment for May ​among those working in education was more than four times higher (308%) than the equivalent month in 2019.

The union’s campaigning on behalf of care workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic has also ​prompted a marked increase of 135% year-on-year increase for May ​in social care membership.

Figures also show ​that three in ten of ​all new members (31%) are employed in the private sector.

UNISON assistant general secretary Liz Snape said: “Even ​when times​ are good, everyone in work should be in a union. With the added challenges of life during the pandemic, it’s more important ​than ever.

“Unions ​aren’t just for when things go wrong, but ​are there to improve working lives​ ​too. They hold poor employers to account, ​help workers’ improve their skills and work with governments to ensure work is safe and fair.

“During the pandemic, thousands of ​people working in the NHS, social care, schools, police forces and local government have been joining UNISON. They realise it makes sense in troubled times to have somewhere to turn that has their best interests at heart.

“But ​there are still many workers out there who need support and advice, and who’ve never belonged to a union. This film ​shows how becoming part of the UK’s biggest union makes perfect sense.”

Commenting on the new ad campaign, GOOD Agency CEO and ​founder Chris Norman said: “Appreciation of our public service workers across the country has been incredible over the last few months, but they also need the type of support that allows them to focus on the jobs that we all rely on, especially in these uncertain times.

“That’s why we are so pleased to have worked with UNISON on ​its latest membership recruitment campaign. Being part of UNISON gives members the confidence and peace of mind to focus on doing what they do best, looking after all of us.

“The brief was to create a campaign that will beat the previous target-smashing campaign, with the added complication of doing it during lockdown. Working closely with the fantastic team at UNISON and the brilliant people at Coffee & TV, we believe we have done just that.”

Government urged to ‘see sense’ and accept union safety support ahead of social distancing reduction

As the government prepares to report on the conclusions of its review into the two metre social distancing rules, the country’s most influential union, Unite, has repeated its offer to deploy its ‘army’ of health and safety reps to help keep the country’s workplaces safe.

Unite has also written to the government to raise concerns that trade unions were not asked to contribute to the government’s review of the social distancing advice.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said today (Monday) that he was baffled by the Westminster government’s reluctance to put the tens of thousands of highly skilled experts to best use in re-opening the economy safely, especially as the devolved governments have been working with trades unions for some weeks now to ensure that workplaces there do everything possible to eliminate coronavirus risk.

Commenting Len McCluskey said: “Being serious about re-opening the economy safely means, as the government has repeatedly pledged, doing whatever it takes to build public and workforce confidence.

“Any suggested reduction to the two metre rule which has prevailed throughout the lockdown could backfire if the prime minister and the government cannot give an absolute assurance that public health will not be compromised.

“So I urge the prime minister to take Unite up on its repeated offer to deploy our army of tens of thousands of health and safety reps to assist in re-opening workplaces and community spaces safely.

“Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Mark Drakeford in Wales have advised employers to work hand-in-hand with unions and safety reps to ensure that their workplaces are safe; surely English workers deserve the same investment in their safety?

“Prime minister, Unite’s offer still stands.  Put our expertise to best use, assisting in workplaces with no dedicated health and safety expertise.  We could save small businesses a small fortune as our expertise comes with no cost.  

“This is literally a win: win for the government – safer workplaces and a more confident public.  I am baffled by the government’s reluctance to accept this contribution to the national effort of bringing the country out of lockdown.

“There will inevitably be confusion as any new guidance is rolled out, and there are concerns in specific sectors of the economy, including warehousing, hospitality and meat processing that mixed messages on social distancing will actually hamper the recovery.

“Again, we have the infrastructure the length and breadth of the country to communicate and monitor as we transition out of lockdown.  This is an investment in public and worker confidence and I urge the prime minister to see the sense in accepting our assistance.”

Crisis meeting required to stem further food sector Covid19 outbreaks

Following significant outbreaks of coronavirus at two food production facilities in Wales, Unite is calling on employers and the Welsh government to take urgent action before they spread elsewhere within Wales.

Confirmed outbreaks at both 2 Sisters in Llangefni and Rowan Foods in Wrexham are a worrying development on the day Wales announced further measures to ease the lockdown.

Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Regional Secretary commented;

“These significant coronavirus outbreaks are extremely concerning for our members at both 2 Sisters and Rowan Foods, and indeed for any worker employed in the food production sector in Wales. Clearly food production is especially susceptible to Covid19 outbreaks, as these cases and those across the UK and the wider world reflect.

“We are calling upon Welsh Government to convene a crisis meeting of Wales key food sector employers and trade unions to ensure everything is being put in place to protect staff and prevent the spread on the virus to the wider community.

“A rigorous and speedy assessment of the adequacy of the sectors Covid19 preventative measures is urgently needed. Unite will always hold employers to account where they fall short in protecting staff. At this time of national crisis ensuing that accountability is upheld has never been more important.

“We of course support the First Ministers road map out of lock down that he outlined today. This spike in cases in the food sector cannot be allowed to spread and jeopardise our nation’s gradual return to normality”.