Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried this week

Left Foot Forward's roundup of the progressive news you might have missed.

In no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. A plan by Centrica, owner of British Gas, ‘to fire and rehire’ its 20,000 employees is the latest example of organisations using the coronavirus emergency as a smokescreen to shed jobs, and erode pay and conditions of workers, according to Unite.

The Unite union said the decision of the energy giant follows on from other high profile employers, such as British Airways and the University of Sheffield, which have also adopted similar ‘deplorable’ employment practices during the pandemic.

Unite represents Centrica workers including electrical services’ engineers, as well as those employed at power stations and at Centrica Storage Ltd.

Unite regional officer Mark Pettifer said: “The notice that Centrica has given the trade unions that it is going to ‘fire and rehire’ its 20,000 staff on what, we believe, will be inferior pay and employment conditions is deplorable.

“It is part of a disturbing trend where employers are using the pandemic to shed staff and erode employment conditions.

9. The Prime Minister’s talk of returning to normality by Christmas is ‘phony’, the GMB union has said.

GMB, Britain’s general union, says the Prime Minister showed a failure of leadership today as he ‘passed responsibility for keeping people safe to employers and local authorities’ as he called for people to return to work from next month.

John Phillips, GMB Acting General Secretary, said: “The Prime Minister has once again shown a failure of leadership in the face of this pandemic. Passing the responsibility of keeping the people safe to employers and local authorities is confusing and dangerous.

“With fears of a second spike looming, bewildering advice, and a desperately underfunded health service – the Prime Minister’s talk of returning to normality by Christmas just seems phony.”

8. The BBC has announced it will need to cut 70 more jobs than previously expected as a result of Covid-19.

The corporation had previously earmarked 450 jobs to go in News as part of a £800m savings package across the whole of the BBC. These cuts were “paused” as part of the BBC’s response to covering the Covid-19 crisis. Now, as a result of the pandemic and a delay in implementing new rules surrounding free licence fees for the over-75, the BBC needs to save a further £125m.

In the latest round of cuts, Politics Live will return but only for four days a week, Monday to Thursday, instead of the pre-Covid Monday to Friday. It follows major cuts to local and regional news.

BBC Parliament will focus on live coverage of the elected UK chambers and will no longer commission the bespoke programmes it currently makes, while the pool of presenters will be reduced.

7. Labour peer Lord Hendy – one of the country’s leading experts in UK labour law – is to lodge a complaint to the International Labour Organisation on behalf of the National Union of Journalists, over an alleged ‘union-busting deal’ between the British Association of Journalists (BAJ) and UK station Iran International.

BAJ clinched a ‘sweetheart deal’ with Iran International, despite the overwhelming number of journalists there being members of the NUJ who were engaged in a recognition bid, according to the NUJ. At the time there were no members of the BAJ at the broadcaster.

Since then a senior manager has become the BAJ “rep”. The NUJ has received reports of pressure being put on staff to join the obscure, non-TUC-affiliated union. This has created a climate of fear, the NUJ says, particularly as many of the journalists depend on their job for their visa to live in the UK.

6. Unite has launched a ‘landmark’ legal case against an alleged case of union blacklisting on the Crossrail project.

Unite member Daniel Collins was working for an agency on the Bond Street Crossrail station project. Soon after beginning work on the project Mr Collins witnessed some serious safety issues and followed the site procedures to report his concerns. Shortly after this he says he was asked to leave the site “due to a reduction in work”, despite originally being assured that there was three years’ worth of work on the project.
 
Despite applying for numerous related roles, he was either unsuccessful in his applications or if initially selected, work offers were then subsequently rescinded. Mr Collins then made a series of subject access requests which Unite say reveals coordination to deny him work on the project.

A spokesman for Unite said: “Unite has always believed that blacklisting has continued in construction but the challenge has been to unearth this dirty and deceitful practice.
 
“The fact that this alleged blacklisting has been occurring on a flagship public sector project raises massive concerns…Sadly Unite believes that this is not an isolated case and that other workers have also suffered from blacklisting. Those responsible must be exposed.”
 
Rachel Halliday, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “We have sent letters before claim to Crossrail, and six contractors working on the Crossrail project, and we await their responses.”

5. The SNP has said Labour is “ducking its responsibilities” on Brexit after the party abstained on cross-party calls for an extension to the transition period.

With just five months to go until the UK is due to crash out of the transition period in the middle of a global pandemic and economic crisis, Pete Wishart MP said Labour and the Tories were putting jobs and the economy at risk by “piling crisis on crisis”.

The SNP MP called for the Tories and Labour to accept the EU’s offer of an extension to avoid the risk of a bad deal or no-deal outcome, at a time when many businesses are already struggling to survive, thousands of jobs are being lost, and the UK could face a second wave.

Scottish Government analysis has revealed that ending the transition period in 2020 could cut £3billion from the Scottish economy in just two years – on top of the impact of coronavirus.

The opposition day debate follows calls for an extension by the governments of Scotland and Wales, and six opposition parties across the UK – including the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party, and Alliance Party.

Polls show the majority of people support an extension to the transition period. A survey by Focaldata found seventy-seven per cent (77%) of people across Britain say the UK government should agree to an extension. However, analysts say an extension now would be ‘very difficult’.

4. Oxfam expressed major concerns over the planned merger of the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office, following the International Development Committee’s report into potential impact of the move.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: “The committee is right – the demise of DFID is likely to do real damage to the world’s poorest people and to Britain’s international standing.

“British people expect our aid to be used for the benefit of those without clean water, medicines or food. But the timing and presentation of this merger clearly indicate that it was primarily about politics rather than becoming more effective in helping people to escape poverty.

“At a time when Covid is making millions of people poorer and hungrier, this decision was not just impulsive but also deeply irresponsible.”

3. Strike action called off as outsourced security staff employed by the French multinational company Engie have won NHS rates of pay.   

Unison members employed as security staff at Tameside Hospital by Engie were finalising plans for a 48 hour walk out on Monday 13th July when last minute negotiations brought significant changes to proposals from management.

The security staff submitted a pay claim in December 2019 for full Agenda for Change pay, including shift enhancements and overtime rates.

Initially there was a flat refusal from Engie management to consider the pay claim. However, Unison members voted to take industrial action in a formal ballot with a 100% turnout.

Management came back to the negotiating table, and following a couple of offers from the company which were rejected by the members, Engie offered to pay the full Agenda for Change pay rates, including enhancements and overtime payments. This will be implemented with immediate effect. 

Some hospital security staff will now be paid several thousand pounds a year more.   

2. Lisa Nandy MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, responded to reports that Russian state-linked hackers are targeting Covid-19 vaccine researchers in the UK.

In a statement, the MP said: “The reported actions of the Russian Intelligence Services are wrong and should be condemned. The Labour Party is committed to working with the government to protect the UK’s national security and safeguard our institutions from foreign interference – none more so than those leading the international effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The long-overdue Russia Report must now be made public, and the Foreign Secretary come to the House of Commons and provide MPs with concrete steps that will be taken to protect the UK from these kind of foreign cyber-attacks.”

1. A Green Party councillor has helped pass the first successful motion to demand government reparations for slavery. 

Lambeth Council passed a motion on Wednesday calling on the UK government to establish a commission to study the impact of UK involvement in the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans and to make reparations.

The motion, initiated by Green Party Councillor Scott Ainslie, is believed to be the first such motion to be passed by a local authority. Greens councillors in Bristol and Islington have also highlighted the issue in what is expected to become a national campaign.

Ainslie, who worked with the social movement Stop The Maangamizi campaign and the ruling group on Lambeth Council to ensure the motion would pass, said it was vital the government took seriously the impact slavery has had on current racial inequalities in the UK.

He said: “This is an historic motion, and long overdue. The repercussions of hundreds of years of slavery are still all too visible in the inequalities and prejudice which exist in our society today.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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