TWO LONDON organisations are flouting government policy over coronavirus by attacking the pay, and terms and conditions of their employees, the Unite, union said Friday.
Unite is pinpointing the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), which runs 33 nurseries across London; and Gateway, a cleaning company, a spin-off operation of GS Plus (Greenwich Service Plus), which, in turn, was set up by Greenwich council.
Unite said that neither organisation had waited to see how they would benefit from the government’s comprehensive package to keep workers in employment.
Unite said that LEYF, which caters for the children of key workers, had demanded that its nursery staff accept reduced hours each week and cuts to holiday entitlement and sick pay to the statutory minimum by 1st April – or face the sack.
Unite said that about 100 agency workers at Gateway, including passenger transport staff who take children of key workers to school, had been told by text that there was no more work for them – some of whom had been working regular hours for a number of years. The union is demanding their immediate reinstatement.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: ‘Both these organisations have behaved appallingly to their workforces at a time of national emergency when we should all be pulling together. We are calling on both managements to rescind their actions.
‘What is even worse, they did not even wait to see how they could have benefited from the employment packages that chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced to keep people in jobs, whether they are full-time or self-employed.
‘Unite has members at both organisations and we urge their bosses to engage with Unite to work constructively to keep dedicated workers in employment.
‘I am sure that these organisations are not the only ones across London to take opportunistic advantage of their staff at a time of national emergency – and if Unite uncovers further examples, we will call them out without fear or favour.’
- Unite is also demanding that Wren Kitchens immediately rehires hundreds of staff it fired in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown following new advice from the government that workers sacked since 28th February are eligible for 80 per cent of their wages if they are reinstated.
According to Unite members and former staff, the firm sacked the workers for purportedly ‘underperforming’ on Tuesday 24th March but also cited the impact on the economy that the coronavirus will have and invited them to ‘reconnect with the company’ once the crisis is over.
Unite said there was zero evidence to back up the company’s allegations of underperformance and called the claims an ‘insult’ to a committed workforce.
As the workers have been sacked, they will no longer be entitled to claim 80 per cent of their wages under the government’s furlough scheme, however official guidance makes clear that workers sacked since 28th February are eligible if they are reinstated.
Unite, which has members at the firm, also criticised Wren Kitchens for failing to listen to staff concerns over maintaining social distancing and coronavirus safety measures at its factories in Barton and Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, and Howden, East Yorkshire, which have continued to operate despite the nationwide shutdown.
Unite regional officer Mike Wilkinson said: ‘Firing staff in the midst of the pandemic lockdown for supposedly underperforming is truly appalling behaviour as well as an insult to a committed workforce. That this happened when the government has guaranteed the wages of furloughed workers makes Wren’s behaviour particularly cruel. The government has made clear that workers sacked after 28 February are eligible for the scheme if they are rehired. Wren must do the right thing and reinstate these workers immediately.
‘Workers at the firm’s sites in Howden, Barton and Scunthorpe have also expressed severe concerns about safety measures and social distancing. While supplying kitchens for those who have removed them in expectation of a new one is necessary work during a period when it isn’t possible to use restaurants or visit a relative’s house to eat, Wren must heed its workers’ concerns immediately. Social distancing and safety measures must be enacted, and the last remaining orders fulfilled using the minimum amount of staff possible.
‘It remains to be seen if the public will forget the way Wren has treated its staff at a time when the entire nation is supposed to be pulling together. Unite urges Wren to right the wrongs it has so clearly displayed over the last week before its reputation is forever besmirched. For those that are sick of being treated as disposable assets or having their health and safety disregarded, we urge them to organise and join a trade union.’
- Logistics giant UPS has been told to massively improve its cleaning regime at its depots and in the interiors of vehicles, as drivers are concerned by the threat of coronavirus as they deliver vital supplies, such as medicines.
The call has come from the Unite union, which represents about 2,500 members nationally who are involved in the feeder and package car delivery operations.
Unite has been constantly telling the management this week that when feeder drivers arrive at site they have to use equipment that has not been properly sanitised. The union wants this practice stopped and replaced with high-standard alternatives.
The feeder drivers move goods, such as medicines, to the depots which are then delivered by the package car drivers to their final destination. The drivers are also concerned that the vehicles’ interiors have not been cleaned sufficiently.
Unite national officer for road transport and logistics Matt Draper said: ‘Delivering vital supplies, such as medicines, falls into the key worker category and therefore UPS bosses need to listen to our serious concerns.
‘The hygiene regime at UPS depots needs to be massively ramped up and the risk to the drivers reduced as much as humanely possible.
‘The same issues are also facing our delivery drivers, who are keen to contribute at this time and understand that essential medicines and similar products need to continue to be delivered.
‘However, they do have concerns about the delivery of non-essential goods, but while these deliveries are allowed to continue, UPS must ensure that our members’ legitimate concerns about lack of hand sanitisers are addressed and the cleaning of vehicles needs to focus on the inside, as well as the exterior, to ensure the safety of the drivers.
‘If ever there was a time for a company to clean up its act – that time is now.’
- The government could bring economic security to millions of precarious workers by ending ‘bogus self-employment’ and declaring their employee status, the leader of Unite has said.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, was commenting in response to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of incomes assistance for self-employed workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
McCluskey said that while details of the scheme have yet to be forthcoming, the programme must be simple, straightforward and speedy to avert a collapse in the household incomes of millions.
He was making the call in relation to the millions of workers in UK workplaces who work alongside the directly employed doing more or less the same work, but who have been falsely declared self-employed in order to deprive them of access to sick pay, paid holidays and other rights.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: ‘We are pleased to note the government’s intention to give the self-employed the same economic security during these worrying times as the directly employed.
‘We look forward to seeing the details so that we can examine this in terms of our self-employed members, from cabbies to carers.
‘But by far the most effective way to give many of these workers the economic security that they need is to end the abusive status that is bogus self-employment. Ministers can do that at the stroke of a pen, declaring these workers employees and so bringing them into the furlough scheme, where they can access up to 80 per cent of their incomes. The government could do this easily, by statutory instrument possibly, and I am sure would attract cross-party support for doing so.
‘Thousands of construction workers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers are not actually self-employed but have been told to declare themselves so by their ‘employers’. These workers and millions of others teeter on the edge of financial collapse. They desperately needed to hear today that a simple, straightforward and speedy to access package of support is heading their way.
‘Self-employed workers must have no delay in receiving funds – this will force them to conclude that they have to still go to work, putting themselves and others at risk.
‘The fact that cash will not get to those workers who do qualify for assistance until June is alarming. The promise of money in weeks to come doesn’t pay the rent or put food on the table in April and May.
‘We also need the chancellor to do more to compel employers to access the jobs retention scheme. This scheme is a radical departure for this country, but it is in danger of not delivering on its promise because employers will not use it, opting instead to send workers home to live off poverty sick pay.
‘Unite has said that it will pull every lever available to compel employers to use the scheme, including legal action if needs be. But the government urgently needs to set out to business why using the scheme is the most effective and responsible way of playing their part to avert collective economic disaster.’