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

The news you didn’t see this week…

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Your Wednesday fix of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

1. Co-op HGV Drivers secure inflation-busting pay increase

HGV drivers employed by the Co-op on its delivery contract have secured an inflation busting pay increase. The drivers, who are predominantly members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, will receive a five per cent pay increase backdated from 1 February 2021 and a further five per cent increase payable from 1 November 2021.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is an excellent result for our driver members at the Co-op and demonstrates what can be achieved through negotiation when workers are organised.

“Lorry drivers have had to endure low pay and poor conditions for far too long. Unite is dedicated to putting the jobs, pay and conditions of its members first. There is no way that Unite will accept continuing low pay and poor conditions for its lorry driver members.”

2. Almost 150,000 self-funding care home residents propping up ‘broken system’, ONS figures show

Data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed that between 2019 and 2020, there were approximately 143,774 (36.7%) self-funded care home residents. Years of inadequate local authority funding for the care sector has forced many families who pay for a loved one’s care into financial hardship, the GMB union has said.

A previous GMB investigation into social care debt carried out by GMB in 2018 revealed at least 166,000 people were trapped in debt for their social care, with more than 78,000 having debt management procedures started against them and more than 1,000 facing court proceedings.

Pete Davies, GMB Senior Organiser, said: “The under-funding and exploitation of our care system has weighed heavy on those who find themselves having to pay for their own care.

“Many people are paying far above the rate that a local authority would pay for the same service.   

“Ultimately, they are paying over the odds and often being plunged into debt to prop up a broken system – one that relies on gross injustice to generate bloated profits for shadowy private companies.”

3. UK blocks vaccine patent waiver

Campaigners condemned the government for again blocking an intellectual property waiver on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, saying the move could “help prolong the pandemic indefinitely”.

Global Justice Now said on Thursday 14 October that “the weight of history was on the Prime Minister’s shoulders – and he decided to shrug it off”, asking “how many more people must die” before Boris Johnson acts.

The World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property council, known as the TRIPS council, met on the 13th and 14th October to discuss waiving intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

The proposal, put forward by India and South Africa in October 2020, would allow global south countries to manufacture their own vaccines and increase global supplies. It is the support of countries including the United States, Australia, France, and almost all low and middle-income countries, but the UK, EU and Switzerland have blocked the move so far.

Tim Bierley, pharma campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “Today the UK once again opposed plans to allow low and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines. The government’s weasel words at the WTO could help prolong the pandemic indefinitely.”

4. SNP MP introduces third bill to ban fire and rehire tactics in UK

An SNP MP has introduced a Bill aimed at ensuring power over employment laws are transferred to the Scottish Parliament where it belongs. Gavin Newlands MP has lodged the presentation Bill in Parliament on Tuesday in what is the first step towards securing full power over workers’ rights for Holyrood.

The Devolution (Employment) (Scotland) Bill would transfer legislative power over employment matters to the Scottish Parliament, allowing Holyrood to start bringing Scotland into line with the rest of Europe.

The move follows the MP’s months of campaigning on the issue of Fire and Rehire where workers are threatened with the sack if they do not sign up for lower pay and conditions – a tactic used in recent months by companies such as British Airways, British Gas, and Tesco during the pandemic.

Commenting, Gavin Newlands MP said: “The economic impact of the pandemic has highlighted the complete lack of action on the part of the UK government to protect workers’ rights.

“Whether it’s the despicable actions of some businesses using fire and rehire tactics against their employees, or the appallingly low rates of statutory sick pay, it’s clear the UK is happy to sit on their hands while workers in Scotland are failed time and time again.”

5. Great Ormond Street Hospital cleaners declare victory in dispute over terms & conditions

Cleaners at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) have called off prospective strike action and are celebrating victory after NHS bosses conceded to their demands for full NHS terms and conditions, paving the way for full equality.

The worker’s ballot for strike action saw a 97% ‘yes’ vote which came out as GOSH announced their commitment to bringing the cleaners up to full NHS ‘Agenda for Change’ terms and conditions. United Voices of the World (UVW) members have warned they will not hesitate to walk out if GOSH reneges on any commitments.

Gora Diop, a cleaner at GOSH since 2017 and the first UVW member on-site, said: “We’ve been fighting with the help of the UVW to be treated equally in the NHS. We won the fight because we voted yes to go on strike and GOSH gave in to us. The UVW has done a great job for us to have full equality. All workers in the UK can do the same as us by joining the UVW to get better terms and conditions.”

6. Council and school staff deserve increased pay offer, say unions 

Unions representing council and school support staff have urged employers to return to pay talks with an improved offer as they prepare for industrial action over “inadequate” pay proposals.

Months of disruption to local government services could lie ahead​, but the unions say councils have it within their gift to prevent community services being badly affected if they give workers the proper pay rise they deserve.

UNISON, Unite and GMB – between them representing 1.4m council and school staff ​in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – have written to ​the local government employers asking them to return to the negotiating table to improve the 1.75% offer the unions say has left staff “disappointed and angry”. In consultation ​exercises held by each of the unions, an overwhelming majority of workers who took part voted to reject the offer. ​UNISON, Unite and GMB are now preparing industrial action ballots​, asking workers to vote for strike action ​in support ​of their pay claim.

UNISON head of local government Mike Short said: “Council and school workers continued working tirelessly throughout successive lockdowns. Their efforts ensured communities were safe, the vulnerable received care and schools remained open.

“But they’re underappreciated and this offer – a wage cut in all but name – shows they’re appallingly undervalued. Pay is slipping while the cost of living spirals.”

7. Johnson urged to let Wales cash in on half a billion pound green energy potential

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, today urged the Prime Minister to support her Crown Estate (Devolution to Wales) Bill, which would “bring half a billion pounds worth of offshore wind and tidal stream potential under Welsh control.”

While the Crown Estate is devolved to Scotland, powers over the management of Crown Estate Wales are still held in Westminster. The value of the Crown Estate Wales’ renewable assets grew from £49.2m in 2020 to £549.1m in 2021.

Ms Saville Roberts said that currently, wealth and investment is hoarded in the south east of England. She urged the Prime Minister to put his ‘levelling up’ rhetoric into action by using the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to “entrust the people of Wales with the means to manage our offshore wind and tidal resources for everyone’s benefit”.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Liz Saville Roberts said: “Devolving powers over the Crown Estate would bring half a billion pounds worth of offshore wind and tidal stream potential under Welsh control – assets currently controlled by Westminster. Scotland, meanwhile already has these powers.”

8. Unite warns of dock strikes if employers do not break wage freeze with better pay offer

Unite is warning that the refusal of the nation’s port employers to make fair pay offers to their workers could result in industrial action, causing disruption to the nation’s supply chain.

Over a 1,000 dock workers are currently preparing to be balloted for strike action. The workers are incensed that their employers are seeking to impose pay freezes or proposing pay increases that are so far below the current inflation rate it amounts to a pay cut in real terms.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Dockers in the UK play an absolutely essential role in ensuring that we all receive the goods we need, including medicines and keeping food on supermarket shelves.

“There is absolutely no way that Unite is going to allow our members to suffer real terms pay cuts. Where employers are making huge profits, workers deserve a decent deal and Unite will organise to achieve that.”

9. Appointment of Katherine Birbalsingh as Chair of the Social Mobility Commission criticized by the Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations says that the appointment of Katherine Birbalsingh as chair of the Social Mobility Commission is evidence that the government is ‘ignoring the evidence on inequality whilst presenting educational attainment, ‘cultural deficits’ and ‘geographic inequality’ as the main inhibitors of social mobility.’

The IRR said that it is troubling that amid government silence on school exclusions that disproportionately affect black Caribbean boys and girls, ‘Ms. Birbalsingh places the blame on drill music, families and smartphones while dismissing evidence of hardwired racism in the education system’.

The think tank said: “While ‘levelling up’ conjures up a UK map which centres northern towns as the site of the ‘left behind’, economic inequality, social exclusion and obscene poverty can be found everywhere, including in London. But with education presented by the government as the key indicator of social mobility, and London schools seen as superior to the rest of the country, the capital’s multiracial poor are seen as having an unfair advantage over the white working-class.”

10. Sage Nursing Home workers to strike for dignity in care for all

Carers, domestic, and maintenance workers at Sage Nursing home in North London have begun strike action today. Workers say the home is short-staffed, mismanaged and bullying, favouritism, and that blame culture is rife.

It follows months of empty promises by trustees, as well as delaying tactics and a failure to take action over what UVW members believe to be unfair dismissal and disciplinary action of long-serving workers and UVW members, Adam and Shamila.

Bile, senior care worker at Sage and member of UVW Executive Committee, said: “We built a high profile campaign, supported by care workers around the UK, that led to strike action at the start of the year in the harshest of conditions during a global pandemic lockdown.

“Yet Sage Nursing trustees not only failed to keep their word but they also continue to preside over a workplace that is short-staffed, mismanaged and where bullying, favouritism, and a blame culture is rife. They have tried every trick in the book to break us but our resolve is stronger than ever.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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