Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 3 February 2021

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

Your weekly dose of under-reported news, in no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Ahead of next week’s budget, the SNP has renewed calls for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to be increased in line with a Real Living Wage and made available to all for 52 weeks – saying that right now the UK is the ‘sick man of Europe’ when it comes to sick pay.

The UK has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe, with the Council of Europe describing it as “manifestly inadequate” – yet it is the main support available for employees who need to self-isolate during the coronavirus crisis.

The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) has estimated that the average employee earning £531 a week would experience an 82% drop in pay in their first week off sick on statutory sick pay (SSP) and the Women’s Budget Group has revealed that women are less likely than men to qualify for SSP.

The self-employed and employees earning less than £120 per week do not qualify for SSP. Research from the Resolution Foundation shows that this means 1 in 4 part-time workers and 1 in 7 workers in retail, hospitality and leisure are left with no income if they have to self-isolate at home.

Commenting, the SNP’s Health spokesperson Philippa Whitford MP said: “It is shameful that we are almost a year into a global health pandemic, in which self-isolating is crucial to getting Covid infections down, but the UK is still the sick man of Europe when it comes to sick pay.

“Statutory sick pay in its current form is one of the lowest in Europe and not flexible enough to meet the needs of real people. We need a system fit for the 21st century and the current global health pandemic yet the Tories are so out-of-touch with reality that they either cannot or will not recognise this. The UK government must use the upcoming budget to increase and extend sick pay.”

9. Extinction Rebellion (XR) has hit out at the government for seeking to send a climate lawyer to prison in the year UK host’s the UN climate summit.

Last Friday, XR says the UK government applied to send Tim Crosland – a lawyer and director of climate litigation charity Plan B – to prison for leaking a Supreme Court ruling on the expansion of Heathrow. If convicted Tim could face up to two years in prison. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the expansion of Heathrow airport to go ahead rests on an argument that temperature limits set by the Paris Agreement in 2015 are not relevant. XR says this sets a precedent that the climate agreement can be ignored.

In a statement, Tim Crosland said: “It’s been an interesting few days. Last week Professor James Hansen recommended me to the Prime Minister for his team for COP26. And now the Government is applying to the Court for my imprisonment.

He added: “It’s the Government’s primary responsibility to safeguard the lives of its citizens from threats too complex for us to address as individuals…If fighting for my children’s lives makes me a criminal, then so be it.”

8. The Liberal Democrats say the return of LGBT+ military veterans’ medals is a ‘symbolic gesture’ that’s not enough.

Responding to the news that LGBT+ military veterans who were stripped of their medals can apply to have them returned, Jamie Stone MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Defence, said:

“This symbolic gesture is a positive first step towards righting the gross wrongs done to our LGBTQ+ personnel. But, the Government must not stop at symbolism. 

“Along with medals being returned, veterans and their families should receive any financial compensation they have lost after these wrongful convictions, including their full pensions.

“A number of veterans were not only discharged from service on the basis of their sexuality but were also convicted, resulting in criminal records, and also lost pension rights. The veterans who were affected by these terrible injustices must be properly compensated.”

7. Less than 5% of NHS staff think the Government has handled the pandemic well, a poll for the GMB union has revealed. 

Almost half (47%) said they thought the Government had handled the pandemic badly and had made the situation worse. 

GMB has campaigned throughout the pandemic for NHS workers to have proper PPE, Covid testing and pay justice after a decade of Conservative cuts which has seen their real terms pay slashed. 

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said NHS staff have been badly let down by Ministers throughout this pandemic.

“It’s a year into the crisis and we’ve still got ambulance workers attending patients with flimsy gowns and paper masks instead of proper PPE and nurses in hospitals working amongst Covid patients given only the most basic of surgical masks…

“Ministers admitted this week the NHS needs radical reform to repair ten years of Tory privatisation – the first change they must make is to give staff the pay and protection they need to carry on saving lives.” 

6. Unite has announced that it has suspended strike action at the airport to allow Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) to fully consider proposals to end the dispute.

Members of Unite have taken a total of six days of targeted strike action in the dispute over the company’s decision to fire and rehire its workforce, forcing them onto vastly inferior contracts, resulting in large pay cuts for many of the workers.

Following talks between Unite and HAL earlier this week, where the union put forward proposals which they feel would bring the dispute to an end and following an initial positive response from the company, the next two strikes on Saturday 13 February and Tuesday 16 February have been suspended.

5. Wales’ Plaid Cymru has formally pledged that it will offer a Welsh independence referendum within the first term of Government should it be able to command a majority following this year’s Senedd elections. 

The party’s special conference on independence, held virtually today (Saturday 13th of February), saw party members formally approving the pledge made by party Leader Adam Price late last year.  

The policy now makes Plaid Cymru the only political party contesting the 2021 Senedd elections with a commitment to hold a referendum on Welsh Independence within a clear timetable.  

It also makes the 2021 Senedd elections the first ever Welsh elections where independence and its timetable are on the ballot.  

Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price said that history had been made and added that the vote reflected the “growing confidence” in Wales’ ability to run its own affairs. 

Membership of grassroots group Yes Cymru has grown exponentially – hitting 17,000 members last month. 25,000 people have signed its online pledge backing a referendum on Welsh independence.   

4. The Good Law Project is taking the government to court over millions of pounds in contracts being handed to consultants at Deloitte without ever going to tender.

In a statement, the group’s director Jolyon Maugham QC said: “The consultancy gravy train shows no sign of stopping..The deal, worth up to £145 million, was handed to Deloitte to ‘support testing for Covid 19’ for just five months. Deloitte has been given at least 25 public sector Covid-19-contracts since the outbreak of the pandemic, of which contracts totalling £170 million were awarded without any competition. 

“Not only did Government fail to advertise or put this huge contract out to tender, they didn’t come clean about the enormous sum of public money handed to Deloitte until around the time the contract had ended. The contract started in September 2020 and was only made public by the Government in January 2021. It’s almost impossible to scrutinise contracts when Government routinely fails to publish the details within the legal timeframe. 

“We do not believe the award of this contract worth up to £145 million was lawful. We are left with no option but to pursue transparency through the courts. We have taken the first step in legal proceedings.

“Government’s approach to procurement throughout this pandemic has been characterized by a repeated failure to follow its own rules. For the sake of the public purse, we will continue to push for proper governance.” 

3. Unions, women’s groups and charities have called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to urgently investigate whether the government has breached equality law during the pandemic.

In a joint letter to the chair of the EHRC the groups warn that now is a time of crisis for women, with the coronavirus pandemic is having a significant and disproportionate impact on women’s health, jobs and livelihoods.

The joint letter – signed by organisations including the TUC, Amnesty International UK, Save the Children UK, Child Poverty Action Group, Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid and campaigner Mother Pukka – accuses ministers of failing their legal responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty to ensure their policies do not disadvantage or discriminate against women and those with protected characteristics.

They also accuse the government of failing to carry out equality impact assessments on key policy decisions, and to take into account the additional caring responsibilities that would be placed on women as a result of health restrictions and policies on school and childcare closures.

2. The Supreme Court will hand down final judgement in GMB’s landmark worker’s rights case against Uber on Friday.

Judges will deliver the final verdict in the union’s battle with the ride-sharing company over treatment of its drivers.  

In October 2016, the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled in GMB’s favour – determining that Uber drivers are not self-employed, but are workers entitled to workers’ rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. [1]  

Instead of accepting the judgement of the courts, Uber took their case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in 2017, which ruled against the ride-sharing company. Then in 2018, the Court of Appeal judgement became Uber’s third legal defeat on this issue.   

If GMB wins again at the Supreme Court, the case will then return to the Employment Tribunal which will decide how much compensation drivers are entitled to.  Lawyers Leigh Day, fighting the case on behalf of GMB, say tens of thousands of Uber drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 each in compensation.  

Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, said: “Instead of accepting their responsibilities to their drivers, Uber has fought every step of the way. Now they have reached the end of the road. 

“Uber prides itself on being a disruptor, it is a dis-respecter of workers. GMB calls on Uber to recognise the Supreme Court’s judgement and sit down with GMB, the union for Uber drivers, to discuss the way forward.”  

1. The University and College Union (UCU) has condemned the University of Hull’s decision to sack the UCU branch president and put other staff at risk of redundancy. 

Just days after making UCU branch president Keith Butler compulsorily redundant, the university confirmed plans to suspend its modern language provision, putting more staff at risk of losing their jobs.

During the first national lockdown, potential redundancies were deferred due to the pandemic and the union described the sacking of the branch president as a wilful attack on its members, calling for him to be reinstated. UCU has also called for the modern language provision at the university to be saved, and said that if compulsory redundancies are not ruled out then members will register a formal dispute and trigger steps for industrial action.

UCU regional official Julie Kelley said the sacking of the branch president Keith Butler was an ‘opportunistic attack’ on members, especially as other options were available to the university to prevent this redundancy.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

Listen to an audio version of part of the Radical Roundup on the UnionDues podcast, out on Tuesdays.

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