Community: Any post-Covid changes to work must be made alongside unions

Roy Rickhuss
Demonstration in support of Clarks workers. © Kate Pearce

HeartUnions week takes place every February. It is a chance for all of us in the trade union movement to tell the story of why unions are so important and encourage all those who aren’t in a union yet to join us.

As we come to the end of this HeartUnions week, we stand at a pivotal moment for our movement. Trade union membership has risen for the fourth consecutive year – the last time that happened was in the 1970s. This is a truly momentous feat that should be celebrated by all.

At Community, we’ve also had some notable triumphs in the last 12 months. We have recovered over £1.7m for our members, as well as £2m in personal injury settlements. We won more than 50 pay deals, including above inflation pay increases, bonuses and better sick pay.

Now, we must build on those victories. We cannot lose momentum at such a vital time for workers. In the same way we rallied and stood together through the pandemic, we should now redouble those efforts as we face new challenges.

The biggest coming challenge facing many of our members will no doubt be the cost-of-living crisis. Energy prices are soaring, inflation is rising, and workers across the country will be feeling the financial pinch.

As trade unions, we must continue to be in our members’ corner to support them through this increasingly difficult time. We will do that by negotiating pay rises, providing advice and support as well as protecting industries, such as the steel industry, which will feel the brunt of the impact most severely.

We managed to prevent ‘fire and rehire’ at Clarks last year, but we cannot see the wide-scale rollouts of these tactics, or anything similar, which are becoming worryingly more present. And an increased prevalence of people working remotely long-term must not be accompanied by any reductions in rights or conditions for any workers. Trade unions need to be there, fighting for a better working world.

Whilst nobody would dispute that we are in a very different place now than we were in March 2020, the pandemic is still not over and the country still needs to be supported. Sick pay still does not apply to everyone, which means millions of self-employed people risk financial destitution if they have to self-isolate. We must continue to campaign to protect and extend working rights for all.

It is true that in some cases the pandemic has accelerated automation in the workplace. Any changes must be made with the involvement of workers and unions, and workers should be given the skills and training to successfully transfer sectors if needed, so that everyone is able to get well-paid fulfilling jobs.

The last year has demonstrated the power in trade unions, and the difference a trade union membership can make. Unions must lead the way as we face the coming challenges together.

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