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

The news you didn’t see this week…

Radical Roundup

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

1. Unite blasts Weetabix claims ‘fire and rehire’ tactics irrelevant to current dispute

Unite says the union has “irrefutable evidence” that Weetabix is using ‘fire and rehire’ tactics to attack the wages and conditions of Unite engineers, including the threat of sackings. Unite engineers at Weetabix factories in Kettering and Corby in Northamptonshire are currently taking strike action four days a week against company moves to attack their wages and terms and conditions.

The union estimates this could cost some engineers a loss of wages amounting to £5,000 a year. This despite the fact that last year Weetabix turnover grew by 5 per cent to £325 million and profits leapt by almost 20 per cent to £82 million.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham says: “These attacks are totally unjustified. They are a serving of corporate greed. And what’s more, although Weetabix deny it, we have irrefutable evidence that they are using ‘fire and rehire’ strategies.”

It comes after a senior Weetabix director made a public statement alleging that the present dispute had nothing to do with ‘fire and rehire’. He said: “We’re concerned to see that our reputation is being damaged in service of Unite’s national campaign on ‘fire and rehire’, which is irrelevant to the current industrial action at Weetabix.”

2. ACAS fire and rehire guidance ‘worthless to sacked workers’ says GMB

GMB Union says ACAS guidance on fire and rehire is helpful, but next to worthless for sacked workers.

Andy Prendergast, GMB National Secretary, said: “Whilst the ACAS guidance over fire and rehire is helpful, it will be ignored by bad employers and doesn’t change the fact the Government has failed workers by failing to legislate against this insidious practice.

“The recent bill put forward by Barry Gardiner that would have curtailed the practice was voted down by Tory MP’s who were happy to put the needs of the worst employers ahead of those of their hard working constituents.

“For the 460 engineers sacked by British Gas though the process, guidance that asks for restraint is next to worthless. Ministers must legislate properly to make this archaic, Dickensian practice illegal.”

3. Low pay is endemic in modern Britain

Living Wage Foundation figures which show that one in six workers are earning under the real Living Wage, meaning low pay is endemic in Britain. Commenting on the findings, the TUC’s Frances O’Grady said: “Every worker should be able to afford a decent standard of living.

“But these new figures from the Living Wage Foundation show that low pay is endemic in modern Britain. Millions are in jobs that don’t pay the bills or put food on the table.

“After eleven years of Conservative government, real wages are only just getting back to their 2009 level. And the Budget revealed we face another half decade of wage stagnation.

“With Britain in the middle of a cost-of-living crunch, it’s time for the government to act.”

4. Morrisons warehouse workers ballot for industrial action with pre-Christmas strikes looming

Over 1,100 workers employed at two Morrisons supermarket distribution centres have begun balloting for strike action in a dispute over pay. The affected distribution centres are Northwich, in Cheshire, and Wakefield. The centres are responsible for distributing food and goods to Morrisons supermarkets throughout the North West, Yorkshire and beyond.

The dispute is a result of the workers, who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, receiving an entirely unacceptable pay offer. Most workers have been offered a three per cent pay increase, although the lowest paid have been offered just two per cent. Both offers are far below the current rate of inflation, with the Retail Price Index standing at 4.9 per cent.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Morrisons is a multi-million pound operation which has financially benefitted from our members working throughout the pandemic. Workers will simply not accept a pay offer which is a real terms pay cut.

“Unite prioritises the jobs, pay and conditions of all its members and our members at Morrisons will receive the union’s full support in their campaign for a fair pay rise.”

5. Scottish Tory MPs vote to slash pensioner income again

The SNP has slammed Scotland’s six Tory MPs for, yet again, failing to vote against the scrapping of the triple lock. Douglas Ross, Andrew Bowie, David Duguid, Alistair Jack and John Lamont all voted in favour of the proposal late last night – with David Mundell the only Scottish Tory MP failing to vote.

The proposal is set to leave over 1million Scottish pensioners £520 worse off next year, and a cumulative £2,600 worse off over the next five years.

Research from the House of Commons Library, conducted in June, revealed UK pensions are the least generous in north west Europe by comparison to the average wage. UK pensioners currently receive around a quarter (28%) of the average working wage whilst pensioners in Luxembourg and Austria receive 90%.

Commenting, the SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson David Linden MP said: “Yet again, Scotland’s six Tory MPs have failed to grow a backbone and stand up to Boris Johnson.

“Each of these MPs have voted in favour of taking money away from pensioners in their constituency and should hang their head in shame.

“The UK currently has the least generous pensions in north west Europe, and the Tories are determined to make things even worse.”

6. AstraZeneca profit-pricing shows “utter folly” of handing over patent for Oxford vaccine

Reacting to news that AstraZeneca will begin charging a for-profit price for its publicly-funded vaccine, Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said: “AstraZeneca’s decision to start profiting from Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine mid-pandemic shows the utter folly of giving away publicly-funded science to big pharma.

“The non-profit pledge was never a gift to the world from a benevolent company. It was the most Oxford could get from a manufacturer playing hardball during a global health emergency. And AstraZeneca has still refused to share the vaccine recipe with the WHO, which would allow poorer countries to manufacture it for themselves.

“This moment was always going to come – and it’s exactly why public health experts have demanded a waiver of intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines. Corporations will always put profits first if you give them control over who lives and who dies.

“In the future, public funding for the development of essential medicines must be conditional on global access. And we need global public manufacturing capacity to ensure this never happens again.”

7. Universities to be hit with three days of strikes in December

58 universities will be hit with three days of strike action from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December, the University and College Union (UCU) announced on Tuesday.

The full strike dates are:

·        Wednesday 1 December

·        Thursday 2 December

·        Friday 3 December

Earlier this month UCU members backed strike action in two separate ballots, one over pension cuts and one over pay & working conditions.

Last week UCU wrote to employer representatives, Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, setting out how university bosses could avoid strike action before Christmas. The union is asking for pension cuts to be revoked; and for employers to improve their pay offer and commit to meaningful agreements and action on casualisation, workload, and equality pay gaps. But employers are currently refusing to revoke pension cuts or to even acknowledge issues like casualisation.

Staff pay has fallen by 20% after twelve years of below inflation pay offers; one third of academic staff are on insecure contracts; the gender pay gap sits at 15% and the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures reveal that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, under a third (27%) were women and only 155 (1%) were Black; staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.”

8. Quarter of trading businesses consider moving to EU post-Brexit

An Institute of Directors (IoD) survey for Channel 4 Dispatches ‘Did Brexit Work for Business’ programme, revealed that UK businesses are facing increased costs from shipping, customs clearance, paperwork, new tariffs and VAT charges – with around half (47%) of businesses doing less trade or having stopped trading entirely with the EU since Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit deal came into effect in January.

The IoD survey of 635 business leaders found:

-62% of businesses that trade with the EU say their costs of trading have risen

-Nearly half (47%) of businesses that trade with the EU are doing less trade or have stopped trading entirely with the EU since January

-26% of SMEs that trade with the EU are considering moving some European operations out of Britain

-Around a fifth (16%) have already decided to move some or all of their EU operations to inside the single market because of Brexit.

It comes as a separate poll by YouGov finds three quarters of people in Scotland (76%) think the UK government is handling Brexit ‘badly’ – with more than half (56%) saying the UK government has handled Brexit ‘very badly’.

9. Court of Appeal hears challenge to controversial oil drilling permission

A woman who opposes Surrey County Council’s decision to allow oil drilling in greenbelt countryside, near Gatwick airport, took her legal battle to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

The challenge has been brought by Sarah Finch (who has been campaigning against the Horse Hill oil drilling operation since 2013), supported by the Weald Action Group, and is due to last a day and a half. 

Friends of the Earth has been given permission to intervene in the challenge and will support Sarah’s case. Permission for the oil drilling was granted by Surrey County Council in 2019, just months after it declared a climate emergency.

The UK government has also been given permission to take part in the court case as an interested party and is defending the decision by Surrey County Council.

It is estimated that the development could lead to more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent being released into the atmosphere when the oil is ultimately burnt.

Sarah Finch said: “If Councils don’t assess all the climate impacts of a proposed development before giving it permission, then we have no chance of reaching net zero. Surrey County Council didn’t do this in the case of Horse Hill, which I believe was wrong, legally as well as morally.

“The Prime Minister said at COP26 ‘If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow’. He’s right. And getting serious means leaving fossil fuels in the ground.”

10. Long ambulance delays causing distress for patients and staff, says UNISON

Commenting on data published today by NHS England showing that NHS waiting lists are at a record high and targets for 999 response times are being missed, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The NHS has been experiencing winter-style pressures for months now. There are real fears that staff and services will be unable to cope as demand inevitably increases.

“Lengthy delays are causing much distress to ambulance crews and control room staff. They can’t respond as quickly as they would like to emergency calls. Staff are increasingly concerned that pressures on the system are compromising their codes of conduct. 

“It is essential employers do everything within their power to hold onto experienced employees. Or delays and response times will worsen. Ministers too must realise the important role that pay plays, both in holding onto staff and ensuring a steady supply of new recruits.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

Comments are closed.