Pay, hours, conditions

Call for action on social care

Late May has seen significant developments in the fight around social care. After months of refusing to even address the issue of sick pay and isolation pay for care workers, the Tories have announced a £600m “infection control fund”. Guidance for the fund states that part of its purpose is to “maintain the normal wages of staff who, in order to reduce the spread of infection need to reduce the number of establishments in which they work, reduce the number of hours they work, or self-isolate”. This is potentially an enormous victory. But the announcement has been very quiet, no doubt because...

Organise against university cuts

Coronavirus is intensifying the fault lines in UK higher education, and huge cuts are coming to our universities. Universities are announcing job cuts and hiring freezes to mitigate the huge predicted loss of income from international students’ fees. Staff on casual, fixed-term or hourly paid contracts will be the hardest hit, and their workloads will be pushed onto permanent staff. Lots is still unclear. On Sunday 24 May, Student Strike Solidarity held a meeting to discuss how students can organise with university workers to stop these cuts. We heard from activists involved in local campaigns...

A shorter working week with no pay cut!

Janet Burstall argues the case from an Australian perspective. The same basic ideas are applicable in Britain and elsewhere. The most optimistic assessment by the Reserve Bank is that it will take a “few years” to reverse “much” (i.e. not all) of the increase in unemployment from the Covid-19 lockdown. The wages vs jobs trade-off debate is back with a vengeance. Unionists are arguing that keeping up incomes will stimulate demand and economic growth, while employer voices argue that they cannot afford a 4% rise in the minimum wage, and many will cut employment or go out of business. The system...

Construction update

According to Construction News (22 May), the percentage of big construction companies’ employees laid off on the British government’s furlough scheme is 22%, down from 30% in late April. A return to work on construction sites, which began well before 10 May, is continuing, but slowly and partially. Another survey, including smaller contractors, reported 46% of staff furloughed in the two weeks ending 7 May, the same percentage as in the two-week period ending 19 April. Even on sites run by big contractors, many workers are employed by smaller subcontractors. 89% of construction businesses have...

Fight the "out of work" drive

In the coming months workers face an out-of-work drive as much as a back-to-work one. Some manufacturing and construction sites are restarting, usually slowly and partially. But between 11 May and 17 May the number on the government’s furlough scheme went up from 7.5 million to 8 million. Taking an optimistic assumption that “the lockdown period starts to be eased from the middle of May and... economic activity... resume[s] safely in the second half of the year”, the National Institute of Economic Research estimated in late April that unemployment would rise to “about 10 per cent of the...

The pandemic, homeworking and automation

In April 2020 49% of the UK workforce was working at home. This includes most clerical, information and communication workers. Expanded homeworking is likely to persist after the emergency, though probably not at the same level.

Isolation pay for all!

Just days after the government announced the planned easing of lockdown, over 180 people attended the Safe and Equal campaign’s first public Zoom meeting on 12 May. The meeting brought together workers from health, social care, local government, the civil service, supermarkets and retail, construction, power and education sectors, including many outsourced workers. The meeting heard from Ruth Cashman, library worker and Lambeth Unison joint branch secretary, Tracey McGuire, teaching assistant and NEU [National Education Union] Executive member, Kas Witana, NHS worker, and MPs John McDonnell...

Right to protest

After a leaked Treasury paper suggested a two-year public sector pay freeze, a group of London nurses held a socially distanced protest outside Downing Street, wearing their PPE. This is one of a number of protests health workers have organised around the country. In response NHS England and NHS managers in London have issued a statement saying workers should not join protests as it would “adversely affect public confidence”. It also suggested support for police repression of demonstrations! Over two hundred health workers have died from Covid-19 in eight weeks – more than the number of...

Workers' control of reopening!

Workers in every industry and workplace must fight for the maximum degree of workers' control over the conditions under which any “return to work” takes place and under which services are resumed and increased. While this will necessitate “working with” employers in the sense of meeting with them to present our demands, and scrutinise their proposals, the basic stance we must fight for our unions to take is one of militant distrust and hostility to our bosses. This doesn't require a belief that every individual manager is a moustache-twirling villain, desperate to plot ways to harm workers; it...

July deadline in Tower Hamlets

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public services union Unison, joined a May Day virtual rally called on 1 May by Tower Hamlets Unison, over “Tower Rewards”. That is a plan to reduce workers’ conditions to minimum “green book” standards, by way of sacking them all and re-employing them on new contracts. (More here .) The unions got big ballot majorities for strikes, but suspended them for the pandemic. The (Labour) council said it would still impose the change on 13 April, then at the last minute said it would postpone it to July. • More: facebook.com/TowerHamletsUnison

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