The first of a fortnightly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back
The scale of the Covid-19 job crisis was laid bare by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) in a recent analysis which found that nearly half a million jobs were under threat of redundancy between July and the end of September. That is over and above the figures obtained from the government that show employers notified the Insolvency Service of some 380,000 staff at risk of dismissal between May and July.
The IES figures represent those jobs under threat before the end of the furlough job retention scheme on 31 October takes its toll. The overall real figures are undoubtedly higher given employers cutting fewer than 20 staff do not have to notify the Insolvency Service.
Just as the government is prioritising the economy over our health, employers are using the Covid-19 crisis to try and slash jobs and sustain profits. Official figures last month showed Britain had entered the deepest recession since records began. The increase in the rate of infection and hospital admissions are certain to further compound the economic crisis. As well as being used to attack terms and conditions, the coronavirus crisis is making our workplaces increasingly hazardous.
But there is resistance. From Hospitals to hospitality, from Tate strikers to Transport workers, workers are beginning to fight back. Now is the time to organise. During lockdown, millions of people showed their sympathy with workers. Now is the time to turn sympathy into solidarity.
Community activists support bus drivers in Manchester
In Manchester, Go North West bus drivers are balloting over pay and conditions as the company seeks to use fire and re-hire to reduce their sick pay and bring down wages. Earlier this month, a ballot on whether to proceed with industrial action resulted in a 94% yes vote from the drivers.
The dispute, which has also seen the Unite union branch chair suspended, has attracted widespread public support with community activists regularly taking part in early morning blockades to support the drivers and the union chair. A Facebook page has been set up to keep up to date with the dispute.
Sick pay parity fight leads to walkout in Brighton
GMB members are striking for the second time this month at Brighton & Hove City Council. Workers in the housing repair team that had transferred from private contractor Mears are fighting for parity on sick pay. The first strike lasted for five days with a further ten-day walkout planned from the 28th of September.
Three days’ pay is not OK! Redundant Debenhams workers take action
Debenhams shop workers in the UK and Ireland are taking action against the mass redundancies they have suffered. thousands of staff were laid off over the summer, despite the company having access to the furlough scheme. In the North West, the Manchester and Wigan stores have recently been targeted for protests.
Usdaw is calling for legally obligated, meaningful consultation and proper redundancy pay for the workers, who were given just three-days' pay when laid off. Protests are growing in support and taking place every Saturday at 3pm outside the Market Street store in Manchester with regular updates being supplied through Facebook.
Key workers strike for a pay rise at Burton’s Biscuits
Factory workers are striking for a pay rise at Burton's Biscuits in Edinburgh. GMB says members there have been offered a below-inflation pay rise of just 1.6% and nine months later than they should have.
The union said that its members, who have been working non-stop throughout the coronavirus crisis, voted 91% in favour of strike action. There have been three 24-hour walkouts already this month and the workers are demanding a 7% pay rise.
Glasgow City Council accuses cleaners of ‘illegal strike’
A spontaneous, 48-hour walkout has been staged by Glasgow City Council cleaners in opposition to the council phasing out coronavirus working arrangements without consultation.
Their union, GMB, is fiercely defending its members who have been accused of an illegal strike on social media by the council. GMB says, even before lockdown, the staff were facing a severe lack of investment and resources.
Anglia Ruskin UCU raises the stakes
The Cambridge-based University and College Union (UCU) branch became the first to enter into official dispute with their employers over Covid-based safety fears on 8 September.
“UCU reminds the University that it is under a duty to consult with Unions (more specifically the Unions' H&S reps) in good time when introducing measures which have an impact on the health and safety at work of employees.
The only consultation that has taken place has been in relation to the Institutional Risk Assessment, which deals with measures to mitigate the decision to return to face to face teaching. The hierarchy of controls means that the University should eliminate the risk in the first instance, rather than mitigate. No such discussion on the principle of face to face teaching has taken place, either in relation to health and safety responsibilities or professional and industrial considerations and repercussions.”
This is further indication of the widespread discontent within the higher education sector and, more significantly, the unique role unions play in expressing the Covid anxieties of all working people.
Tate United: Gallery workers on strike
More than one hundred workers at Tate Modern and Tate Britain galleries are now on indefinite strike against redundancies. Having claimed job cuts are economically essential, management is now trying to bring in extra staff to replace workers on worse conditions.
Like so many opportunist managements across the country, bosses at the Tate appear to be using Coronavirus as an opportunity to step up outsourcing. Tate workers have had massive support from other groups in the arts sectors and messages from some of the biggest names in the arts world. Go to @TateUnited to find out how you can help.
Reduced redundancy payments reversed at Arcadia
Head office employees facing redundancy at Dorothy Perkins and Topman, subsidiaries of the retailer Arcadia, were facing a reduced redundancy pay package because they are currently furloughed.
Following the threat of legal action from Unite the union, Arcadia was forced to U-turn and concede all staff that face redundancy will now receive 100% redundancy payments.
British Airways backtracks on fire and rehire
The UK’s second-biggest airline has seen attempts to fire and rehire staff met by resistance and an increase in trade union membership amongst its workers. Years of attempts to crush trade union membership within the company has meant that staff were better prepared to fend off attacks on their jobs.
A combination of public campaigning and workforce action has meant that attempts to reduce pay and conditions using fire and rehire tactics on 26,000 staff have been at least temporarily avoided.
Members of Aslef Train Drivers’ Union return a huge YES in Strike Ballot
As the TfL funding crisis comes to a head, the threat to jobs, terms and conditions and pensions looms large as the Tory Government and the Transport bosses negotiate cuts as part of a financial settlement. However, Aslef drivers have upset the apple-cart and raised the stakes as they prepare to resist the cuts backed with a massive 95.2% vote for strike action.
Pushing for a 15% pay rise in the NHS
Health workers from across the country are pushing for a 15% pay rise. There have been a series of demonstrations and protests in London and up and down Britain since the government announced in July that nurses and many others in the NHS others would get no rise this year.
The protests have involved thousands of health workers and been organised by new self-organised networks in the NHS including Nurses United, NHS Staff Voices and NHS Workers Say No to Public Service Pay Inequality. The continuing campaign has now won the support of the GMB and Unite unions.
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