Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 4, February 2022

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Radical Roundup

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1.Unite demolishes Coventry council claims about refuse drivers’ pay

Unite, the UK’s leading union, has demolished Coventry council’s claims that its refuse drivers are paid the same as others in the region. The union has revealed that workers doing the same job in neighbouring councils are paid at least £5,500 more than the striking drivers receive.

Coventry council has claimed repeatedly that its rates for refuse collection drivers are above or in line with what other local authorities in the region pay. And, in an extraordinary move last week, council leader George Duggan also claimed that to pay the drivers appropriately for their skills could trigger equal pay claims by other council employees.

However, Unite has learnt the starting rate for refuse collection drivers in Birmingham is over £5,500 above the £22,183 per annum that Coventry drivers earn, a rate that has not triggered equal pay claims.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “These figures demolish Coventry council’s claims that they are paying the rate. It is abundantly clear that they are not. It is time to pay the rate for the job.”

2. North Somerset faces bin strike as GMB ballots members for industrial action

North Somerset faces a bin strike after GMB balloted members for industrial action.

The ballot, which closes on 4 March, covers almost 100 workers at recycling centres and refuse collection services run by North Somerset Environment Company. 

If it goes ahead the strike could affect 88,000 homes.  Workers are angry after North Somerset Council, who set up the company last year, have only provided funding for a meagre 1.75 per cent pay award – amounting to a massive real-terms pay cut.

Tim Northover, GMB Regional Organiser, said: “Hard-pressed staff are extremely angry about the rubbish pay on offer, particularly in light of the cost-of-living crisis we’re all facing.

“At the height of the pandemic our members were being commended – but now it looks like our members have no option but to ballot for industrial action before the council recognise the service they provide.”

3. Changes to sick pay rules will leave Covid-19 sufferers just £38 to get through first week of illness

The TUC has warned that the government’s decision to end ‘day one’ payment of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will put millions of workers at risk of additional hardship if they need to self-isolate.

From the end of March workers suffering from coronavirus will have to wait until their fourth day of sickness before they can get any financial help through SSP.

The TUC says this will leave workers struck down by Covid-19 with just £38 to get through their first week of illness – compared to the £96 currently on offer.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No-one should be pushed into hardship if they are struck down with illness.

“But the government is making it even harder for Covid-19 sufferers to get basic support.

“£38 a week is a pittance for people to be able to survive on. What planet are ministers on?”

4. SNP MP to present bill to end energy price discrimination

An SNP MP will today lead a ten-minute rule Bill calling on the UK government to end geographical energy price discrimination.

The Energy Pricing (Off Gas Grid Households) Bill, introduced by Drew Hendry MP, will urge the Secretary of State and Ofgem to introduce new measures to prevent households from being burdened with additional costs for failing to live in an area with a main gas supply.

The current price cap, introduced by the UK government and Ofgem, is based on the assumption that household energy consumption is split 80% gas and 20% electricity – however 17% of households across the four nations of the UK currently live in an off-gas area.

Commenting, Drew Hendry MP said: “The UK government is failing thousands of families across all four nations of the UK, all because of the area they live in.

“Alongside Ofgem, this UK Tory government have failed to consider the additional cost for households who do not have a main gas supply, despite 17% of households currently living in an off-gas area.”

5. Plaid Cymru call for legally mandated divestment by UK firms from Russia

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, and Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, have urged the UK Government to impose tougher sanctions, including legally mandated divestment by UK firms from Russia.

Ms Saville Roberts highlighted that BP’s website proclaims that it is one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia and owns nearly 20 per cent of Russia’s oil giant Rosneft. Rosneft also has a secondary holding in London.

Vladimir Putin’s decision to order his military to enter the Russian-controlled areas of southeast Ukraine and the recognition of the territories as independent states was confirmation by Putin of being “a ruthless imperialist poised to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination”, according to Ms Saville Roberts.

6. Barriers to those from low socio-economic backgrounds remain in ‘elite professions’

The Sutton Trust, one of the country’s leading social mobility charities, has released new data which shows that just over one in five (21%) professionals in engineering are from a low socio-economic background, which is higher than doctors (6%), journalists (12%) and professionals in law (13%), although still lower than the workforce as a whole (29%).

The research also found that pay gaps by socio-economic background are smaller in engineering than most other sectors, but those from higher socio-economic backgrounds are still much more likely to progress to senior roles. Almost three quarters (71%) of people in their thirties from higher socio-economic backgrounds are in managerial or professional roles, compared with just 39% from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

7. Government must row back from reckless ditching of Covid rules, say education unions

Chaos will reign in schools and millions of hours of learning will be lost unless the government rows back from the reckless decision to scrap all remaining Covid safety rules in England, three education unions have warned.       

UNISON, Unite and GMB, which represent school support staff, are urging the Prime Minister to think again and keep in place free testing and the requirement to self-isolate, as an absolute minimum.   

The three unions say the government’s failure to provide clear guidance risks a super spreader free-for-all in schools and other workplaces.   

Throughout the pandemic, the government always said it would be led by the science. Ministers must now publish the evidence in full to prove to the public that a bonfire of all the remaining Covid regulations is safe, say the unions.  

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Protection and safety are what’s needed, but there’s only confusion on offer from the government. Parents and staff are desperate for a return to normality – but not at any cost.   

“The Prime Minister appears to care more about keeping in with his backbenchers than he does about the health of the nation.”

8. Dispute ‘far from over’ says UCU as employers force through pension cuts

The University and College Union (UCU) has told university employers to expect more industrial action, including a marking and assessment boycott, as Universities UK’s proposals that would lead to devastating cuts to Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions were ratified at a meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).

In the meeting of the JNC, where staff and employer representatives negotiate USS pensions, employers formally voted in favour of their package of cuts.

UCU’s compromise proposals, which would have replaced UUK’s cuts, were rejected by both UUK and JNC chair Judith Fish, who had the casting vote in a tie.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University vice chancellors have today chosen to steal tens of thousands from the retirement income of staff. This is a deplorable attack which our members won’t take lying down. If these so-called leaders of higher education thought this was the end of this dispute, they have another thing coming.”

9. Twice as many older workers have left the labour market due to sickness than retirement during pandemic – TUC report 

The TUC has today warned that thousands of older workers are being forced out of the labour market due to ill health.

Analysis by the union body shows that the number of older workers who have left the labour market due to sickness and ill health (97,000) is nearly twice the rate of those who have retired (50,000) during the pandemic.

Overall, the number of people aged 50-65 who were not looking for work increased by 200,000 since the pandemic began. 

The analysis shows those in working-class jobs are much more likely to say they have left the labour market due to sickness. Around four in ten workers (40 per cent) in “process plant and machinery jobs” and “elementary occupations” – such as security guards and cleaners – say they have left the labour market due to sickness or ill health, compared with one in ten who work in professional occupations.

BME workers are more likely to have left the labour market due to sickness before they reach retirement age. 

10. Croydon hospital workers to be balloted for strike action over pay

GMB union members employed as porters and domestics at Croydon University Hospital are to be balloted for strike action over pay rates and access to sick pay.

The workers, who are employed by G4S voted overwhelmingly in favour of moving to a formal ballot in their indicative workplace ballot.

All members were present at the vote and all voted to move to the next stage of proceedings, which, if the result were repeated, would see dozens of members out on strike.

Helen O’Connor, GMB Regional Organiser, said: “G4S workers have been joining GMB in large numbers and voting in our indicative strike ballot. They have made their intentions clear to us and they are sending a strong message to their employer that they have had enough.

“They are very angry about being denied decent pay and sick pay, particularly as they now face a cost of living crisis too. Many are using food banks even though they have worked tirelessly in Croydon University hospital throughout the pandemic.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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