Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 4, November 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. Unite ensures Ford workers’ wages rise to meet living costs

A two year pay deal won by Unite, the UK’s leading union, will ensure Ford workers see their wages keep pace with rising living costs.

Following extensive negotiations between Unite and the vehicle manufacturer, hourly paid workers at the company will receive an increase of 5.1 per cent (secured when RPI was at 4.9%) from this Wednesday (24 November). For the second year of the deal, workers will receive a pay increase in line with the retail price index (RPI) inflation rate, which is currently standing at 6 per cent.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a good pay deal for Ford workers and will ensure that the wages they bring home keep pace with the UK’s rising living costs.

“This demonstrates how the union’s focus on fighting to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of our members is producing vital wins in pay disputes.”

In addition to the increase in pay, the workers will benefit from a matched increase in contributions into the company’s defined contribution pension scheme.

2. Cheap Fiat Ambulances’ modified seats could lead to catastrophic injuries including decapitation, GMB safety reps warn

South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) is putting staff and patients’ safety at risk with bargain basement vehicles, the GMB Union has warned.

Fiat vehicles – which Seccamb operates alongside its traditional fleet – have a significant safety flaw; the seat position has been moved so staff and patients cannot position the seat belt correctly across their collar bone and shoulder.  

GMB Union has written to its thousands of Secamb members warning them not to use the trust’s bargain basement purchases without seeking a personal risk assessment. The union’s health and safety assessment suggest the incorrectly positioned seatbelts could lead to severe injury, including decapitation.

GMB is now calling for these vehicles to be banned for staff and patients until an independent review is conducted proving they are safe to use. 

Lib Whitfield, GMB Organiser, said: “Trusts across the country are trying to cut costs by using these bargain basement vehicles instead of the safer specification Mercedes ambulances – but they are risking lives.

“These adapted vehicles aren’t safe for running errands – never mind speeding to save someone’s life. 

“It is simply only a matter of time before someone dies – GMB will not be kept silent by an uncaring employer

“Despite GMB Union raising this issue constantly, Secamb executives have ordered another more than 60 more of these potential death traps. Trusts bosses have laughed openly at GMB reps who’ve tried to raise this serious safety issue.”

3. Pfizer’s £2 billion NHS rip-off could pay for nurses’ pay rise SIX TIMES over

Pfizer has extracted nearly £2 billion in profits from the NHS for its vaccine, more than six times the total amount the government has spent on a pay rise for nurses who have worked through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Campaigners have slammed the government for reinforcing a system of intellectual property rules that allows companies like Pfizer to use a publicly-funded vaccine to siphon off money needed to pay frontline staff.

The NHS has paid £2.57 billion to Pfizer for 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, with a £1.903 billion mark-up above production cost.

The eye-watering profit margin is more than six times what ministers have allowed NHS England to spend on pay rises for nurses this year, which has totalled just £302 million.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received £2.5 billion in public funding, mostly from the German and American governments, but the company has been allowed to demand huge profits from healthcare systems around the world.

Pfizer’s vaccine costs just £4.94 to produce, but it has charged the NHS £18 a dose for the first 100 million purchased and £22 a dose for the next 35 million, totalling £2.57 billion.

Tim Bierley, pharma campaigner at Global Justice Now said: “Pfizer presents itself as the saviour of the world, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like all of our Covid-19 vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was developed with huge public funding. It should belong to all of us, not used to rip off the NHS.

“Throughout this pandemic, the government’s priorities have been all wrong. Instead of valuing the key workers who have got us through it, or ensuring everyone has access to lifesaving vaccines and treatments, they’ve helped big businesses profit from a crisis.”

4. Urgent talks with Unilever called for as PG Tips tea business sold to private equity group at heart of Debenhams’ demise

Unite the union has called for urgent talks with consumer goods giant Unilever following the sale of its tea division to private equity group CVC Capital Partners, part of the group at the heart of the collapse of high street giant Debenhams.

Unite warned that the private equity sale of the UK’s second most popular tea brand could end up as ‘another case of corporate betrayal’.

The call for talks follows Unite negotiating three years of protected terms and conditions at Unilever’s tea factory, the home of the iconic PG Tips, at Trafford Park, Manchester, where the union has 300 production and engineering members. The business being sold is now called Ekaterra.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The story of private equity buy-outs in the UK very often has a fatal pattern of debt loading, asset stripping and job cuts as short-term shareholder dividends soar. We will not allow another case of corporate betrayal to ruin another iconic product.

“The sorry consequences of CVC’s so-called ‘investment’ in Debenhams, which crashed last December, are there for all to see with hundreds of shops shut and thousands of jobs gone.”

5. Sheffield JustEat Couriers Set to Strike Protest against “Shocking” Pay Cut

On Sunday 28 November at 12 noon, Sheffield food delivery couriers from the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are protesting outside of Sheffield Town Hall to demand that Stuart delivery cancels a planned pay cut of nearly 25%. Having previously been promised a postponement to the cuts in October 2021, couriers are set to strike from 6 December after the corporation that delivers for JustEat decided to push ahead with the cuts next month.

Stuart is slashing pay on most deliveries from £4.50 to £3.40 from 6 December 2021 as part of a new pay structure that will force couriers who already have to pay their own vehicle costs to work even harder and longer to make the same money.

The upcoming protest and strike, backed by Sheffield Labour MP Olivia Blake, follows a protest organised by IWGB in October 2021 when the pay cuts were first proposed. At Sunday’s rally, couriers will stage a motorcade leaving from Queen Street at 11am, arriving at Sheffield Town Hall at 12 noon where speeches will be given by Olivia Blake MP, members of the council, and workers.

6. Scotland should get share of £20bn for binned Boris bridge

The SNP has demanded that Scotland gets its fair share of £20bn that was earmarked by Boris Johnson’s proposed bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland after the plans were scrapped. The Sunday Telegraph reported that it will be announced the plan is being ditched when the so-called union connectivity review is published this week.

When Boris Johnson announced plans for a bridge between the two nations, it was suggested the project would cost £20bn. Since the plans have now been shelved the SNP has demanded that the money be allocated to the governments at Stormont and Holyrood, so it could be spent on worthwhile projects to transform connectivity across Scotland.

Commenting, SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford MP said: “Let’s be honest, Boris Johnson’s plans for a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland were daft – but the funding that was suggested for it can and should be made available.

“It could then be spent on transport and connectivity projects that are worthwhile and deliverable – and compatible with our climate obligations.

“The Tories’ HS2 snub to Northern England last week shows how their promises can’t be trusted. But a fair share of the money earmarked for the bridge project could allow proper investment in projects like high speed rail for Scotland.”

7. Welsh Liberal Democrats Call for A Larger Pay Rise for Nurses in Wales

Responding to figures released by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) showing a significant shortage of nurses in Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for a greater increase in the pay rise currently being offered by the Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru administration.

The figures released by the RCN show that there are 1,719 nursing vacancies in the Welsh NHS, up from 1,612 recorded in 2020. It was also revealed that nurses give the health service an additional 34,284 hours in overtime every week which equates to 914 full-time nurses.

Staffing shortages of nurses can have a significant impact on care with the RCN stating that nurses working in areas of poor staffing are 71% more likely to experience high burnout and job dissatisfaction than nurses on more favorably-staffed wards.

Helen Whyley, director RCN Wales, said nursing vacancies in the NHS will only grow further unless the workforce is given better pay to match their mounting responsibilities.

Commenting, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS stated: “A 3 percent pay rise for NHS staff across Wales is a real kick in the teeth for our healthcare professionals who have been through so much throughout the pandemic.

“With inflation now over 4.2 percent it is disgraceful to even call the offer a ‘pay rise’. In October the Welsh Government said it cannot “magic money out of the air” for nurses, yet it has managed to find significant sums of money to fund various new projects in its deal with Plaid Cymru.

8. Staffing levels in care ‘dangerously low’ with dying residents denied dignified end, says UNISON survey 

Nearly a third (31%) of care staff say staffing levels are dangerously low, getting worse and negatively affecting the care provided, says a UNISON survey published today.

The findings are based on responses from more than 1,600 care employees and reveal some dying residents are being denied a dignified end to their lives. This is because there are not enough staff to sit with them in their final hours, says the union.

Other shocking consequences of the staffing crisis highlighted by the survey include people being left in dirty sheets, denied regular baths or showers, and not helped to dress until the afternoon.    

An overwhelming majority (97%) of workers say their care employer is currently experiencing staffing shortages with burnout, overwork, and low pay (or better pay elsewhere) among the main reasons cited.    

Other findings from the survey include two thirds (67%) of staff saying they are thinking of leaving social care. The union says this is a disastrous but inevitable consequence of poverty wages, low morale and years of chronic underfunding.   

Commenting on the findings, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Social care is experiencing an unprecedented staffing crisis. Care workers are leaving in their droves – burnt out from the pandemic, exhausted from covering under-staffed shifts and fed up with low wages. 

“This is nothing short of a nightmare for families worried about the care of their loved ones, overworked employees struggling to cope and employers concerned they won’t have the staff to stay open.

“The care sector is desperately short of workers and can’t wait months for the government to come up with a solution. 

“Ministers should give all care employees some early festive cheer and announce an across-the-board pay rise. This would persuade many on the verge of quitting to stay and encourage more people to think seriously about working in social care.”

9. Unforeseen life events plunge over 15 million Brits into financial insecurity

A new report from national poverty charity, Turn2us, reveals how over 15 million people (one in four) in the UK have experienced at least one life event in the past two years that has left them struggling to cope financially.

The research shows that women, disabled people, certain ethnic minority groups and young people, are the worst affected by the financial impact of life events, such as bereavement, illness, a relationship breakdown, or unemployment:

-64% of women have experienced financial insecurity following a life event, compared to just over half of men (55%).

-White Gypsy or Irish Travellers (84%) and White Irish (80%) respondents were most likely to report that at least one life event left them worse off. Similarly high rates were found among respondents who were White and Black African Mixed (76%); Black Caribbean (71%); any other respondents of mixed descent (71%).

-Just over seven in 10 disabled people (72%) suffered a life event in the last two years that contributed to them being financially worse off; compared to 56% of respondents with no disabilities.

-Younger people (under the age of 35) in the UK are the most likely to suffer a life event that left them financially worse off. In all, 75% of people in the UK aged 25 to 34 had experienced at least one life event in the past two years which left them financially worse off. In contrast, respondents aged 55 and older were the age group least likely to report that at least one life event had caused them to be financially worse off (46%).

Thomas Lawson, Turn2us Chief Executive said: “In the absence of long-term solutions that prevent people being plunged into financial insecurity, we urge the government to mandate Local Welfare Assistance schemes, with an additional £250m of ringfenced funding each year. This will enable councils to step in and help prevent families from having to make difficult choices between putting food on the table and paying their bills, because of life events that are beyond their control.” 

10. Don’t legitimise far-right Bolsonaro with trade talks, TUC warns UK government

The TUC has today urged the UK government to shun trade talks with Brazil while Jair Bolsonaro is still President, to “avoid legitimising the far-right president”.

The call comes as the TUC publishes its new report, which documents significant threats to workers’ rights under Bolsonaro’s government – as well as racism, LGBT+ hate and attacks on women’s rights and the natural environment – and the escalating threat to democracy.

Earlier this year, the ITUC released its annual Global Rights Index, which rated Brazil as one of the worst countries in the world to be a worker –warning that trade unionists in Brazil are now being violently targeted, with two having been murdered this year.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Trade deals can be a vehicle to improve workers’ rights and protections, while providing new jobs and investment for communities that need it most.

“But the UK government’s trade policy has not put working people first – whether home or away. Ministers have rushed into trade deals with some of the worst regimes in the world for working people, like Colombia and Turkey. And now it looks like they will do the same with Brazil.

“It’s vital our government does not legitimise the far-right Bolsonaro with trade talks on the global stage, especially in the year of an election.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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