Shelly Asquith’s TU-esday round-up: Change at the top of unions and grassroots action

It’s all change at the top of the unions. You likely will have read reports about the three biggest (Unite, GMB, UNISON) being set to choose new general secretaries. Meanwhile, the BFAWU’s new general secretary – Sarah Woolley – has just taken up post, and members of actors’ union Equity recently elected Labour councillor Paul Fleming as their leader.

But what about at the grassroots? Obviously, safety concerns continue to dominate the union agenda, as a growing number of Covid-19 outbreaks are reported in workplaces. Transport unions RMT and Unite responded to a devastating report yesterday, which states that the government’s failure to introduce a lockdown sooner cost the lives of bus drivers. It will likely prompt investigations into other sectors where workers’ lives could have been safeguarded sooner and more sufficiently.

Since I last wrote, the government announced a new pay offer for certain public sector workers. It is a move that some have pointed to as cynical, and has left many more workers demanding parity. A petition by PCS calling for a rise for civil servants is gathering pace, while nurses across the country are organising demonstrations over pay in all major cities from Wednesday 29th July.

Councils of shame

Before the pandemic hit, I wrote about a planned walk-out by Bexley refuse workers fighting for a pay rise. The strike was suspended part-way through as the Unite members continued performing a ‘key’ role during lockdown, but fresh dates have now been set. The refuse and cleansing workers, who Bexley Council contracts out to Serco, will strike for five days starting Thursday 30th July.  They are striking for dignity, decent pay and secure contracts. Messages of support can be sent to @StrikeBexley.

Housing repairs workers employed by Brighton Council, who have recently been brought back in-house, are fighting for the council to honour an 8% pay rise. GMB has named strike dates for Monday 3rd August, Wednesday 5th August and Wednesday 7th August.

Bite the ballot

There is more industrial action in the pipeline, as members threaten or vote to strike.

UNISON members employed by Edinburgh Napier University are balloting for a walk-out over compulsory redundancy plans. 

Tanker drivers in Scotland are threatening strike action over employer Hoyer UK’s plans to make four of them redundant. Unite claims the bosses are using Covid-19 as an excuse to attack members’ jobs. 

There’s a battle on between ministers and their own staff, as PCS fight the government’s plans to move the civil servants back to the workplace. As health and safety concerns remain in the minds of many, and a number of roles can continue to be carried out from home, the unions advice to members is ‘don’t just accept it’ if a boss orders you back.

Elsewhere, PCS is fighting the prospect of hundreds of job cuts at the Tate galleries, and kicked off the week with a socially distanced protest. The union says the plans will disproportionately affect the lowest paid and Black and minority ethnic workers, and has threatened strike action.

A pretty penne

Finally some good news, as Unite members who previously worked at Jamie’s Italian restaurants have been awarded a £2,000 pay-out each in lost wages, as a tribunal ruled in their favour after the chain did not consult the union over redundancies.

…but a similar fight has now spring up in Sheffield as Bakers’ Union members spent Saturday 25th July protesting outside pizza chain Papa John’s, demanding the reimbursement of unpaid wages from before the franchise was taken over. Let’s hope they deliver.

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