Union News 29th January 2023

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Welcome to this edition of Union News. News from a labour and trade union perspective. In this edition Luton Airport Workers Secure 30% Pay Rise in Unite win, Amazon Workers in UK Go on Strike for First Time Over ‘Derisory’ 50p Pay Rise, Civil Service Union Prospect Launches Massive Industrial Action Ballot, TUC warns UK government’s proposals won’t end fire-and-rehire, Ambulance Workers Stage Strike Action Over Pay Dispute, as Largest-Ever NHS Strike Looms and Workers at Job Centres and Benefit Offices to Take 20 Days of Strike Action.

Luton Airport Workers Secure 30% Pay Rise in Unite win

Luton airport baggage handlers and check-in staff are set to receive a pay rise of nearly 30% according to the Unite union. More than 200 workers employed by Menzies will receive a 20% pay increase backdated to October and will receive an additional 8.5% pay increase next month. The deal, which was secured during annual pay negotiations without strikes, also includes an improvement in overtime rates. The General Secretary of Unite praised the “excellent deal” and urged workers to join the union to improve their wages and working conditions.

Amazon Workers in UK Go on Strike for First Time Over ‘Derisory’ 50p Pay Rise

Amazon workers in Coventry, UK, have gone on strike for the first time in the United Kingdom, protesting a “derisory” pay rise of just 50 pence an hour. Union GMB, which represents the workers, said the employees “just want a decent standard of living” as inflation tops 10%. The main problem stems from “target-led performance measures” set by an “algorithm,” said GMB senior organiser Amanda Gearing. Amazon said it already offers “competitive pay, comprehensive benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth” and that the vast majority of ambulance call-outs to its buildings are related to pre-existing conditions.

Civil Service Union Prospect Launches Massive Industrial Action Ballot

The Civil Service union Prospect has begun its largest industrial action ballot of members in the public sector in over a decade. The ballot, which will take place over the next few weeks, will ask thousands of workers in government departments and other areas, including the Met Office, Natural England, and the Health and Safety Executive, whether they want to strike in protest of a 3% cap on pay offers, potential job losses, and proposed cuts to redundancy terms. In a recent indicative ballot, members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action. Despite meeting with ministers, the union claims that there has been no progress on pay for 2022-23 and no indication that next year’s pay round will be any better.

TUC warns UK government’s proposals won’t end fire-and-rehire

The TUC (Trades Union Congress) has warned that the UK government’s “reheated” proposals to prevent another P&O-style scandal won’t deter bad bosses from treating staff like disposable labour. The charge came after Business Secretary Grant Shapps announced plans for a statutory code of practice for employers, which ministers claimed would empower employees to seek compensation from bosses engaging in fire-and-rehire tactics. The TUC says that a statutory code of practice is not going to stop another P&O-style scandal from happening and it won’t deter bad bosses from treating staff like disposable labour.

Ambulance Workers Stage Strike Action Over Pay Dispute, as Largest-Ever NHS Strike Looms

Thousands of ambulance workers across north-west England went on strike for 12 hours starting from midday on Tuesday, in a dispute over pay for overworked NHS staff. The strike was organized by the GMB union, and was followed by industrial action by thousands of GMB, Unite, and Unison ambulance employees on Monday. This strike comes ahead of what could be the largest-ever NHS strike on February 6, when all three unions are set to strike alongside nurses. The workers are demanding a proper pay offer and are accusing the Tory government of endangering patient safety and demonizing them. Labour has called on the government to clarify its commitment to free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare.

And finally,

Workers at Job Centres and Benefit Offices to Take 20 Days of Strike Action

Workers at job centres and benefit offices are set to take 20 days of strike action in an escalation of the bitter dispute over the pay, jobs and conditions of civil servants. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) will stage walkouts between February 9 and March 3 at job centres in Liverpool, a Department for Work and Pensions contact centre in Stockport and a benefit centre in Bolton. This comes ahead of a strike on February 1 by 100,000 PCS members in 123 government departments as part of the long-running dispute. PCS is demanding a 10% pay rise to help members through the cost-of-living crisis.

Strike to save the NHS!

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced new strike dates for February 6th and 7th, and the GMB union has announced that many of its paramedic staff will join them on the first of those two days.

Unite members across five ambulance trusts in England and Wales are also now set to go on strike on February 6th, as unions increase pressure on the government to address years of pay cuts and worsening patient safety.

The government has expressed disappointment but willingness to engage in pay talks with the unions. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has criticized the government for demonizing ambulance workers and not taking action to protect the NHS.

Here at Solidarity, as our name suggests, we believe in the value of solidarity.

Showing solidarity with striking nurses is important for several reasons.

Firstly, nurses, like other healthcare workers, are on the frontlines of the healthcare system and are essential in providing care and treatment to patients.

They have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, often putting their own health at risk, and deserve fair pay for the work that they do. Secondly, the fight for fair pay for nurses is not just about them, but about ensuring that the healthcare system as a whole is properly funded and can provide the best possible care for patients.

When nurses and other healthcare workers are underpaid and overworked, it can lead to burnout and a lack of staff, which can negatively impact patient care.

Furthermore, the struggle for fair pay for nurses is connected to the broader struggle for workers’ rights and a fair economy.

The government’s refusal to provide fair pay for nurses is part of a larger agenda of austerity and cutting public services.

By showing solidarity with striking nurses, other workers are standing up for the right to fair pay and against the erosion of workers’ rights and the public sector.

Finally, showing solidarity with striking nurses can help to build a stronger and more united workers’ movement. When workers from different sectors and industries come together to support each other, it makes it harder for the government and employers to divide and conquer. By standing in solidarity with striking nurses, other workers are sending a message that they will not be divided and will fight together for fair pay and better working conditions for all.

There are two things you can do right now:

  1. Join a picket line if you can and show you care about the NHS and fair pay for staff.
  2. Donate to the RCN Strike Fund

The RCN has launched a donation page for members of the public to contribute to our strike fund after people have got in touch to ask how they can help support strikes in a practical way.
During strikes, nursing staff forfeit a day’s wage for each day of action they take part in. To protect them from the financial impact of this fight for patient safety, they can receive £50 for each day they strike through the RCN strike fund.

Members of the public can now show their support for nursing strike action by donating to the fund.

Pat Cullen of the RCN said: “We’re all paying the price for the UK government’s failure to pay nursing staff fairly. The NHS is in crisis and nursing staff have been forced to strike to protect our profession and our patients.

“More than a decade of real-terms pay cuts have put the nursing profession and safe patient care at risk. Shifts are understaffed, tens of thousands of posts are vacant and nursing staff are struggling to keep afloat.

“Governments think if they ignore nursing staff for long enough our members will be forced to give in. But we know something they don’t. We know that the public is with us, shoulder to shoulder with nursing staff.”

Nurses stand strong on picket lines

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Thousands of nurses in England went on strike for a second time yesterday , with picket lines reported to be large and lively and receiving massive public support. The nurses, who are members of the RCN union, are fighting for a larger pay rise than the £1,400 a year below inflation payment that was imposed on them by the government last year. The strikes are part of an effort to defend the NHS, which is currently facing a daily struggle. Activists from other unions such as NEU, Unite, RMT and UCU also came to show their support for the striking nurses.

Our video shows a lively picket braving freezing weather at UCU in London.

Video credit: RovingReporter

Health workers anger on pay

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Health secretary Therese Coffey said recently that NHS workers will not get a higher pay offer than the present one of 3 percent. So for all the praise during the most deadly phase of the pandemic, health workers are now being told to take a pay cut of almost 10 percent.

It’s another reason to vote for strikes in the ballots taking place now. Sharon Graham, leader of the Unite union, said, “With RPI now up to 12.6 percent, workers and communities must not pay for a crisis they did not create. We will not stand by and watch the country take a pay cut while corporations profit and the government pours petrol on the fire.

”“Vote yes to save the NHS!” is the Unison union’s slogan as it launches a massive strike ballot over pay. Some 320,000 health workers in England and Wales are set to receive ballot papers in the coming days. It comes after the government imposed a rise of just 4 percent—less than a third of the rate of inflation. Unison is joining the nurses’ RCN, midwives’ RCM, Unite, GMB and physiotherapists’ unions in asking its members to hit back with strikes. It now looks likely that there will be action by at least some groups of NHS workers in December or early next year.

The Unison ballot is “disaggregated”, meaning the vote will take place on a trust by trust basis. Organisers hope this will allow workers in parts of the NHS where union organisation is strong to strike, even if weaker areas fail to meet the Tories’ 50 percent turnout threshold. Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, commented: “Our brothers and sisters in other unions will need to mount an enormous campaign to get the vote out. We have a number of members in the NHS and we will be discussing with them as to how best we can support any strikes and picket lines.”

Picture credit: KollectivFuture 2022. All rights reserved.

Foreign takeover threat to key UK companies

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Cobham a US-owned firm is trying to buy Ultra Electronics which produces vital technology for the RAF. They are offering £2.5 billion. That’s £35 a share, more than 40% higher than the company’s all-time record share price. Dorset-based Cobham, was itself bought by the US private equity firm Advent in a £4bn deal in 2020.Why should we care about this? We should care because ‘Taking Back Control’ doesn’t mean much if key parts of our industry are controlled by foreigners. Foreign ownership of British companies will mean that research departments and production jobs will increasingly relocate overseas. And any assurances or promises are given by these overseas bidders are far from guaranteed.

Since Advent took over Cobham, large parts of the company have been sold off, including its Aero Connectivity arm (bought for $965 million by American rival TransDigm) and Mission Systems, bought for $2.83 billion by Eaton Corporation, which operates out of Ohio.Labour’s shadow business minister, Chi Onwurah, said ministers “should be doing far more than making weak and vague noises to protect [companies such as Ultra].

”Serious questions remain about potential threats to national security, the business model of the new owners, and future governance and operational freedoms,” she said.“The Conservatives have repeatedly failed to protect British businesses from takeovers that might compromise our national security and economic interests. Labour would introduce a robust takeover regime to support and grow our world-class industries.”

Unions too are voicing their concerns. Unite the Union has called for an end to “meaningless government statements” and to act “…to protect UK strategic assets, protecting jobs, skills and our national security.” Last year the Commons defence committee published a submission from Unite on “sovereign capability” calling on the government to generate a list of technologies that need to be secured to give Britain freedom of action without the intervention of other countries.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity commented: “I welcome the lead taken by Unite in speaking out in the national interest. We cannot be reliant on the whims and policies of foreign governments and companies. We must aim for economic and technology sovereignty and not just think about political sovereignty if we are truly to take back control. I welcome the announcement by the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng of an inquiry into the proposed takeover of Ultra Electronics by Advent. I hope that the takeover will be blocked. It’s just a tragedy that action was not taken earlier as we have already lost key industrial companies.”

Picture: Ultra Electronics Business in the Knave’s Beech Business Park at LoudwaterJonathan Billinger/ Ultra Electronics https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Ultra_Electronics_-_geograph.org.uk_-_754776.jpg

Government nationalises steel company

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More than 600 steel-making jobs at Sheffield Forgemasters have been secured following the decision to nationalise the company. The takeover by the Ministry of Defence also secures the supply chain for high-quality steel for the next generation of Britain’s defence investment programmes.

The government stated that Forgemasters is the only available British manufacturer with the skills and capability to produce large scale high-integrity castings and forgings from specialist steels in an integrated facility to the highest standards required for these programmes. It will invest around £400 million in the company over the next decade.

The company specialises in forged and cast steel components for the defence, engineering, nuclear, offshore, petrochemical, and steel processing industries worldwide. Forgemasters will continue to operate in areas outside of defence.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of steel union Community, said: “We know with the right framework of support our industry has a bright future at the core of a low carbon economy, so we are pleased to see some much-needed investment going into Sheffield Forgemasters to provide long-term security.

We see this move as a recognition of the importance of the steel industry to our country’s economic future. The pandemic has shown us the danger of relying on fragile overseas supply chains, so we are pleased to see a viable future secured for Sheffield Forgemasters.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of manufacturing union Unite, said: “Critical infrastructure industries like steel function better in public hands and advanced economies like our own need to have stable, secure domestic steel production capabilities to protect our national security interests as well as to compete in global markets.

“STOP STEALING OUR TIPS!”

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When you give a tip in a restaurant it may not all be going to the worker as you intend. Instead, the company may be taking a hefty chunk of it.

Pizza Express, for example, recently decided to increase from 30 percent to 50 percent the amount that is deducted from the tips received by waiting staff.

The government had promised to address this problem. They first promised to introduce fair tips legislation in 2018 and the measure was included in the 2019 Queen’s Speech but no bill was introduced.

The lack of fair tips legislation, combined with the pandemic has created a huge fall in earnings for waiting staff.

One union, Unite, has written to the secretary of state for business Kwasi Kwarteng, stating the disappointment of hospitality workers that the government has failed to introduce legislation to introduce fair tips nor has it introduced “a code of practice to ensure fairness, transparency and genuine consultation on the allocation and management of tips”.

In its letter, Unite warns that as the hospitality sector opens up, experienced workers are increasingly reluctant to return due to low pay which is made worse by tips deductions. The letter says: “employers are again interfering with tips allocation and distribution, resulting in substantial cuts in amounts received. This combined with the acceleration of cashless pay and home deliveries has created a perfect storm which has effectively wiped out the value of the 2020 and 2021 uplifts in the national living wage and the national minimum wage.

Unite officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said: “A successful hospitality sector is essential for the recovery of the UK economy, but its return to health will be stifled by severe staff shortages until workers are paid fairly and properly. The Conservative government has continued to promise to introduce fair tips legislation and has equally failed to deliver on its warm words.

Hospitality workers can’t wait for promises on the never, never, they need action on tips now. When legislation is finally introduced it is essential that it is free of loopholes and action is taken to curtail the unethical use of troncs which unscrupulous employers use to divert tips away from waiting staff.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, supported Unite saying: “As someone who benefited from tips when I worked in catering first as an agency waiter when a student and between jobs and second as a Restaurant Manager on the Railways when younger I know how important tips can be. When I give a tip I want to know that the worker who I want to reward for good customer service gets it. I support hospitality and catering workers when they say ‘stop stealing our tips!’.