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Driving instructors warn of COVID-19 risks in absence of sector-specific safety protocols

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of red

Potential 20,000 daily personal interactions in sector

July 12th: Unite, which represents driving instructors throughout Ireland, today (Sunday) warned that both instructors and learners could be at risk unless rigorous safety protocols are developed which take account of conditions specific to the sector.  The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted prior to being included in Phase 3 of the re-opening ‘roadmap’, and asking the Minister to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in order to develop sector-specific safety protocols.

Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Jean O’Dowd said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have focused attention on the challenges faced by different sectors in keeping those providing and using services safe.

“Driving instructors face particular issues given that their work is carried out within the small enclosed space of a car, and involves close interaction with learners.  Our members estimate that there could be up to 20,000 personal interactions in the sector every day.  Both the confined space and the close interaction pose an obvious risk for both instructors and users.

“Unite has written to Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting these issues and asking him to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in the sector to develop safety protocols which will keep everyone safe and ensure that the sector does not contribute to spreading the virus.

“We are now at a critical juncture in our management of this emergency, and workers must be fully involved in developing safe working practices to protect all of us”, Ms O’Dowd concluded.

How Covid-19 can be eliminated from Ireland

By Near FM – Listen Again
On this edition of Northside Today: Professor Gerard Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at the school of Biological, Earth and Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, explains how Covid-19 can be eliminated from Ireland, with only a modest amount of additional effort, according to new modelling analyses. Broadcast: 10/07/2020

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Chinese National, Lucy Chang: Living in Ireland Compared to Life in China

By Near FM – Listen Again
On this edition of Northside Today: Chinese National, Lucy Chang, based locally in Dublin’s North East, joins Johnny to discuss her experience of living here in Ireland compared to life in China under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and also about reports of how allegedly China’s initial cover-up led to the Covid-19 Global Pandemic. Broadcast: 02/07/2020

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Stormont must act on manufacturing threat after latest announcement of job losses by Sensata

By Unite the union NI

Decision to make redundant 160 workers in Antrim comes only months after plans to close Sensata Carrickfergus was announced

Stormont must establish a Manufacturing Taskforce to roll-out a proactive Industrial programme to secure jobs, skills and a future for industry

George Brash, Unite Regional Officer

George Brash Unite Regional Officer for Unite members in Sensata, the sensor manufacturer, expressed his dismay after bosses in the company revealed to the media plans to make 160 workers redundant at their Antrim site.

“While this is only the latest in a string of Covid-related redundancy notices, the impact on each of the 160 workers who will lose their livelihoods will be hugely distressing; another 160 households face the loss of an income in the midst of a pandemic. There is absolutely no need for these job-losses in the context of the continued availability of furlough support through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“Today’s announcement comes only months after Sensata bosses decided to shut-down their Carrickfergus site. There is a mounting sense of retrenchment – and it isn’t confined to this one business. Northern Ireland manufacturing is facing a tidal wave of job-losses and threats of job-losses as the Covid pandemic is being used by employers as the excuse to slash their employment footprints and reduce capacity.

“The cumulative impact of job-losses on such a scale will be potentially devastating for the working-class but all we have seen from Stormont is continued inaction. We now need to see real ambition and determined intervention to safeguard the skills base so vital to future growth when markets restabilise. Unite is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to establish a Manufacturing Taskforce, bringing together unions and employers, to oversee an ambitious industrial programme for growth and a just transition.

“The way in which news of these job-losses was broken to the media demonstrates the need for workers to be collectively organised with full trade union recognition rights. The best way for Sensata workers not already members of our union to protect themselves from similar attacks in the future is by joining Unite. We will be engaging with our members in the company to secure the optimal outcome for any affected by today’s bad news”, Mr Brash concluded.

Increased Poverty in the EU

By Near FM – Listen Again
Research & policy Analyst Michelle Murphy from Social Justice Ireland joins Donie to discuss an increase of 6 million people in poverty in the EU over 10 years EU was struggling long before Covid-19 crisis.

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Student issues arising due to Covid-19

By Near FM – Listen Again
Student engagement & experience officer Dr Rachel O’ Connor from TU Dublin joins Donie to discuss annual cost of living survey highlights  covid-19 related financial difficulties facing students in 2020/2021.

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Threat by Foyle Food Group bosses to scrap one pound an hour Covid-19 payment is a slap in the face to essential workers

By Unite the union NI

Foyle Foods Omagh workforce suffered at least 35 confirmed Covid cases during first peak of pandemic

Gareth Scott, Regional Officer

Unite the union Regional Officer Gareth Scott was scathing about a threat by Foyle Food Group bosses to remove a special Covid payment from July 3rd. The payment was provided to employees to help meet the additional costs arising from the pandemic.

“Foyle Meats workers in Omagh suffered probably the most significant cluster of Covid-19 infections in the meatpacking sector in Northern Ireland. Despite the secrecy around the scale of the outbreak, Unite is aware that at least 35 people in Foyle Food sites in Omagh tested positive for the virus.

“While bosses have been safely cocooned away, day after day meatpackers at Foyle Foods in Omagh and Campsie have turned up to production lines. Although management pays lip-service to the role of employees in ‘ensuring a seamless supply of red meat’ – they are choosing to reward them with this callous slap in the face.

“In recent days, despite extended delays in revealing details we now know of two very major outbreaks in meatpacking facilities in England and Wales. In Germany seven hundred workers in one workplace alone have tested positive for Covid-19 and it is estimated that 25,000 workers in US meat processors have contracted the virus in the last few weeks. Contrary to what bosses are proclaiming, the risks of a second peak in this industry remain very high.

“Meanwhile workers continue to face additional travel and childcare costs; there is every reason to retain a special Covid payment at this time. While one pound an hour might seem inconsequential to bosses, to their lowly-paid employees one pound a day can make a big difference.

“Workers were informed of plans by Foyle Food Group to scrap the payment at the very same time bosses at ABP Group announced to their workers that they would end a ten pound weekly Covid payment. These are wanton acts of naked corporate greed.

“There is a palpable sense of mounting anger among the Foyle Food Group workforce over this latest act of disrespect by bosses. Unite is demanding Foyle Food Group reviews their decision and extends the payment – there should be no deductions to our members’ take home pay”, Mr Scott concluded.

Aer Lingus: Craft unions write seeking immediate meeting with company  

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redUnions warn that unilateral action will undermine airline’s recovery

 

June 20th: Unite Regional Officer Willie Quiqley, who chairs the Craft Group of Unions at Aer Lingus, has written to Aer Lingus management seeking an immediate meeting in light of the company’s decision to unilaterally ‘lapse’ the Covid 19 Recovery Plan 2020 ‘Understanding’ and move to forced implementation of changes and layoffs. 

 

Aer Lingus’ decision followed their refusal to allow craft unions time to ballot on the company’s proposals, while at the same time affording another grade of worker three weeks to consult and ballot.  These actions by management have created a huge amount of anger among members along with a high level of mistrust of management.  

 

“Any unilateral action will undermine the company’s prospects for recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.

 

“Aer Lingus appears intent on tearing up the industrial relations practices which have been developed over decades and contributed significantly to the company’s success.

 

“The Craft Group of Unions has written to Aer Lingus management seeking an immediate meeting and we look forward to an early reply and meaningful engagement with the company”, Mr Quigley concluded.

Hairdressing: Agreed safety protocol needed before June 29th re-opening

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redProvision must be made for those who cannot return to work due to health or childcare concerns

Responding to this evening’s announcement that the hairdressing sector is to re-open from June 29th, three weeks earlier than initially planned, trade union Unite – which represents hairdressers throughout Ireland – said that employers need to engage collectively with workers to develop an agreed Covid-19 safety protocol before salons re-open.  The union also called on employers to facilitate those employees who are unable to return to work at the end of the month due to underlying health conditions or lack of childcare provision.  Commenting, Regional Officer Brendan Byrne said:

“While our members are keen to return to work, they need to be assured that both they and their clients will be safe in circumstances where close contact is unavoidable.  Unite is also aware of workers who have underlying health conditions, or family members with such conditions, and therefore do not feel safe returning to work.  There are also many workers in the sector who will be unable to make childcare arrangements between now and June 29th.

“Employers have not been in contact with Unite regarding re-opening, and the only safety information we have is a document published by the Irish Hairdressing Federation earlier this month.  Before salons re-open, a sector-specific safety protocol will have to be agreed between employers, workers and the relevant government agencies.  In this regard, Unite would welcome contact from employers’ representatives.

“In addition, hairdressing workers who cannot return due to underlying health conditions affecting themselves or their families, or who are unable to make childcare arrangements, must be maintained on current income supports.

“The best way to ensure that the hairdressing sector recovers quickly is for employers to engage collectively with their workers on all aspects of the re-opening”, Brendan Byrne concluded.

ABP Meats Chief Executive plans to scrap meagre Covid premium to low pay meatpacking workforce is a disgraceful act of corporate greed

By Unite the union NI
Brian Hewitts speaking from the ABP picket line

Frontline Meatpackers at ABP Craigavon who continued to work despite Covid-19 pandemic threat to sector left deeply angered over threat to pull premium of a mere tenner a day

Workers continue to face extra Covid costs due to lack of childcare and fears over using public transport

Unite the union Regional Officer Brian Hewitt slammed a communication sent by the Chief Executive Officer Bob Carnell to ABP workers to tell them that management at the company planned to end the Employee Assistance Fund/Scheme, initiated on March 30th, on Sunday June 21st.

“The communication to workers by the Chief Executive of ABP UK is nothing short of a blatant act of corporate greed. Like those everywhere else in this sector, the workers at ABP Meats are poorly-paid but throughout the Covid pandemic crisis, day after day, they continued to present for work.

“Globally Covid-19 has infected tens of thousands of meatpackers and outbreaks have occurred across meat processing plants across Northern Ireland but while the likes of Bob Carnell were safely cocooned, these workers were at the lines ensuring vital food supplies. Is such a contribution so easily forgotten?

“The letter speaks of the ‘significant cost to the business’ incurred by paying workers an extra tenner a day. I doubt Mr Carnell has much idea of what an extra £10 a day means to low paid workers so the decision to remove it is just another business consideration to him. This business is part of the ABP group which made €170 million in profits last year – this is not a business which needs to slap its workers in the face like this.

“While thankfully the first peak has passed, there are still very genuine fears in the meat sector globally and the pandemic is still costing our members money. Mr Carnell excuses his move by telling workers that ‘as lockdown eases… public transport and other retail / consumer services resume’ but they live the reality of real problems getting childcare. There’s still real fear about travelling on public transport and fewer seats given the need to ensure continued social distancing.

“The scrapping of this meagre payment is all about protecting the company’s bottom line – for shareholders and ensuring the Executives continue to receive huge bonuses. There is a very real sense of anger among the workforce who feel that bosses only want to exploit them. We are demanding that no deductions are made to our members’ take home pay”, Mr Hewitt concluded.

COVID-19 Making People Think About Their Future Care With Patricia Richard-Clarke, Safeguarding Ireland

By Near FM – Listen Again
On this edition of Northside Today: Patricia Richard-Clarke, Chairperson of Safeguarding Ireland, talks about how COVID-19 has caused a rise in people thinking about their future care. Broadcast: 19/06/2020

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Cian O’Callaghan TD (Social Democrats): Overcrowding & Climate Change Targets

By Near FM – Listen Again
On this edition of Northside Today: Cian O’Callaghan, TD (Social Democrats) joins Johnny to discuss how overcrowding is having a serious affect on Covid-19 infections and also about the need for climate change targets to be included in the EU-UK trade deal. Broadcast: 28/05/2020

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Cllr. Daithí Doolan: Demand for a comprehensive compensation package for Dublin City Council

By Near FM – Listen Again
On this edition of Northside Today: Cllr. Daithí Doolan, (Sinn Fein) joins Johnny to speak about the demand for a comprehensive compensation package for Dublin City Council to cover financial losses incurred since the outbreak of Covid-19. Broadcast: 28/05/2020

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Working from home is no domestic bliss

By Padraig Mannion

The corporate embrace of working from home will hurt workers, especially women workers, and trade unions must adapt, writes Padraig Mannion.

CSO figures show that at the end of 2019 there were over 2,360,000 in employment in the Republic of Ireland. Unemployment was less than 5%, 118,000 people. 

Four months later, after the Coronavirus restrictions and lockdown of certain sectors of the economy, the situation was radically transformed for 50% of the workforce. Roughly 600,000 were unemployed because their sectors were shut down, and a further 600,000 workers approximately were having their wages heavily subsidised by the government. 

A third cohort of workers affected by the Coronavirus restrictions are those who are now working full-time or mostly from home when previously they would have worked in a central location with their co-workers. 

On 19th May the CSO published the results of a comprehensive survey which gives us a close approximation of the numbers working remotely. Just under 16% of workers (377,600) have been transferred to full-time working from home while another 12% (283,200) are either working from home part-time or were already doing some work from home but have had their home working hours extended. This just over one quarter of all workers in the Republic of Ireland are now working either full or part-time from home.

This massive surge in the numbers working from home raises serious issues for workers, their families, employers and society at large.

Some large multinational firms are obviously reasonably happy with the shift to remote working and clearly see potential in this development for cutting costs and increasing profits. On May 21st, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s adoption of permanent remote work. Zuckerberg predicted that half of Facebook’s workforce will take him up on the offer over the next five to ten years. 

The sting in the tail for workers who adopt this work model is a reduction in wages “to reflect the local cost of living”. In other words, workers cannot bring their Silicon Valley wage with them to Detroit or Delaware. Obviously, there is an immediate payroll saving for the company, plus a reduction in the amount of office space needed. A win-win scenario for company profits.

“Difficulties in working from home affect women more than men.”

On the other hand, workers are not so universally enamoured with the change to working from home. On May 19th the CSO report ‘The Social Impact of COVID-19 Survey’ found that of those new to working from home, almost half (48.6%) of the women reported that they would like to return to their workplace after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. This compares to less than one in three (31.7%) of male respondents.

Among the issues highlighted by women who wish to end the working from home arrangements are worries about maintaining social ties, childcare responsibilities, caring responsibility for another relative, and the difficulties of working while sharing family space with children. The survey itself was taken up during the last week of April. It would be interesting if the CSO carried out a follow-up survey to examine if, or in what direction, the results might change.

An online survey conducted in the first week of May by NUIG and the Whitaker Institute also looked at the issue of remote working but from a somewhat different angle and without using the same representative sampling techniques used by the CSO, and without giving a gender breakdown for results. However, we are told that of the 7,241 survey participants that 77.5% were female. Here, only 22% of respondents wanted to discontinue home-working, 

Results from the whole group highlighted three major problems faced in working from home: not being able to switch off from work; that collaboration and communication with colleagues and co-workers was harder; and poor physical workspace. We can see that the last two issues, in particular, would be heightened for lone parents, for workers living in crowded or indeed overcrowded accommodation, and for workers who also act as carers for parents or other relatives. In other words, these difficulties in working from home affect women more than men.

The Financial Services Union, in a survey of their members who are homeworking, found that: 44% feel pressure to answer calls and emails outside of working hours; 56% have seen an increase in work intensity; and 66% report an increase in work-related stress. As a response to this the FSU are calling for workers to have the right “to disconnect”.  

Remote working also raises fundamental questions for the trade union movement. How can trade union organisation, union recruitment, workers’ representation in disputes with management, and collective bargaining evolve and adapt if remote working becomes standard across large sectors of the economy which are now office-based. 

Already, in many sectors like accountancy, financial services, and technology, trade union density is low and management has a virulent anti-trade union approach. If workers employed in firms here are, in the future, to be dispersed across the country, or indeed outside the country, then where can unions gain a foothold? 

This is a challenge which some trade unions have already recognised, as even before Covid-19 a small minority of workers had sought, or had volunteered for, remote-working. Thus, unions (like SIPTU, FSU, Fórsa) have already greatly increased and refocused their social media presence. Unions’ social media presence is increasingly being developed as a vital communication and recruitment tool rather than as merely an add-on to traditional media as an outlet for press releases. 

Technology for online recruiting, online training, online meetings is being increasingly used and adapted by the union movement to suit their needs and provide maximum security to their members. This is a process that will continue and expand greatly over the next few years.

Regional Secretary of Unite, Jackie Pollock, seeks urgent meeting with Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill on response to Aerospace crisis

By Unite the union NI

_TC80050

Jackie Pollock, Unite Regional Secretary

Union says that future of this vital pillar of Northern Ireland economy hangs in the balance

Government must enforce transition to higher fuel economy aeroplanes to stimulate demand and stabilise employment

Unite the union Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock writes to First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill seeking an urgent meeting on threat to vital Aerospace sector.

“Today Bombardier announced that 600 Aerospace workers in Northern Ireland will lose their livelihoods. Only a week ago, 500 aerospace workers lost their jobs in Thompson Aero Seating and the same company previously laid-off 430 workers in March.

“Aerospace jobs are high-value added, unionised jobs; they are not easily replaced and they have a vital role in our economy. Between direct and indirect employment, the sector accounts for 10,000 jobs in Northern Ireland and 1.2 million in the UK, which is a global leader in the industry. In terms of exports, Aerospace is even more significant for Northern Ireland; it’s output is valued at £1.9 billion a year. The industry is a pillar of our economy but its future hangs in the balance as order books have collapsed on the back of the Covid-19 shutdown.

“There is need for decisive and urgent action by government both regionally and nationally. The French government has taken the initiative and brought forward a €16 billion intervention to protect French aerospace and aviation skills and jobs, while also delivering on climate change commitments. Significant investment alongside moves to enforcing a transition to higher fuel economy planes will significantly stimulate demand and sustain jobs while helping lower emissions of greenhouse gases.  

“This is precisely the sort of intervention we need to see and quickly from the UK government and NI Executive. Unless a support package is brought forward soon, including measures such as an aircraft scrappage scheme, then thousands of jobs will be lost and Northern Ireland will lose its standing as a global leader in aerospace. I have written to the First and deputy First Ministers jointly seeking an urgent meeting and will seek action from them to defend Aerospace workers’ jobs and the future of the sector”, Mr Pollock concluded.

Northside Today 09-06-2020 Architect Hugh Wallace joins Donie

By Near FM – Listen Again
Architect Hugh Wallace joins Donie to discuss advice for businesses on creating a safe post Covid-19 work environment

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Writedown debt to rebuild the economy

By Conor McCabe

A debt jubilee is needed to ensure a just recovery, writes Conor McCabe.

Debt is a creature of accountancy and the law. It has no physical presence but has a coercive power due to state enforcement of its mechanisms. Rent, for its part, is essentially parasitic.

In times of crisis it is folly for the state to privilege such profit over the survival of the real economy.

We have been here before. We cannot do the same again.

We need to introduce a debt, rent, and utility bill moratorium and subsequent write-down for the coronavirus months, coordinated by government and the state, and tied into the liquidity response that the European Central Bank (ECB) has already undertaken.

These measures are needed to ensure that people get through this crisis somewhat in one piece, and that the State has the resources going forward to tackle the housing and health issues that dominated the recent election, as well as to ensure we can implement a green new deal that is vital to our future.

The signs so far, however, are not good. 

The government has put in place a moratorium on evictions – the absolute bare minimum needed in a pandemic – but has refused to deal with the payment itself outside of a ban on rent increases. 

This is in spite of the fact that unaffordable rent is a key issue that dominated the recent election. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and tens of thousands of businesses have shut down. It is unlikely that all will be able to open up once the current restrictions are lifted.

Despite headline initiatives such as a Covid-19 payment of €350 per week and the (temporary) public administration of the entire health service, the Government’s response is actually not that different from that of the previous recession – protect banks and landlords over the real economy.

We cannot afford to make the same mistake this time. To make an analogy, significant sections of the economy have been put into a state-induced coma so that our medical services can fight this infection. Countries across the EU, including our own, are purposely shutting down economic activity in order to save lives.

In Ireland it means that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have a reduced income, but under current arrangements they are being treated for the purposes of rent, debt and utilities as if nothing has happened. 

At the end of all of this we need a debt jubilee – a writedown of loan and rent payments that were due during the coronavirus months.

The message from government is clear: protect people in the short-term but make no structural changes.

The Government response so far, however, has been to ask banks to defer loan repayments, not to get rid of them. Similarly, it has asked landlords to show some ‘understanding’ with regard to rent payments.

It has not, however, given itself legal powers to enforce these requests. This merely straddles people with debt for the months during which they were told to stay at home and not do anything.

It has increased welfare payments, but done nothing – absolutely nothing – to tackle high rents and low supply. 

The collapse in Airbnb rentals should have been used by the state to introduce a long-term solution to the housing crisis. Instead, it has taken out short-term leases at full rent with corporate landlords to house homeless families until such time as hotels open back up again. 

The message from government is clear: protect people in the short-term but make no structural changes.

The question, then, is what should be done and how to achieve it.

At a minimum, the following is needed:

– Full moratorium on domestic rents and mortgage repayments for people affected

– Full moratorium on commercial rents and loan repayments for businesses affected

– Full moratorium on utility bills for businesses affected

– Legislation to ensure that claims for rent, mortgage, and loan repayments, as well as utility bills missed during the crisis, are not legally enforceable

– Legislation to ensure credit history is not affected by missed payments during the crisis

– Interest-free loans and overdraft facilities for businesses to pay suppliers and contractors

 – Negative interest-rate loans for non-commercial and arts bodies/collectives/ venues/facilities.

The suspension of rent, mortgage, and debt repayments would take a significant burden off people’s shoulders, and enable affected households to get through this crisis on the announced payment of €350 per week.

We need to push the debt of the coronavirus breakout into the world of finance, which is where the significant and almost unlimited support measures announced by the ECB will come into play.

It is the role of the ECB — not renters — to ensure that otherwise healthy banks and utility companies remain solvent. The ECB, for its part, has made it clear it is willing to honour its responsibilities.

At that stage it is then possible to look at either write-downs or the quarantining of coronavirus debt by placing as much of it onto the balance sheet of the ECB or through a bad bank fully funded by the ECB. There it can be parked for decades while we go about restructuring our society on environmentally and socially sustainable lines. 

None of what has been proposed here is outside the realm of possibility. It can be done. The mechanisms are there. It is all about whether the political will is there. 

That is a question for our progressive parties to answer. At this time of political flux, it remains to be seen whether they are willing or able to step up to the plate.


Covid-19 and your Rights as a Worker – UPDATED 5 June

By unitetheunion

Respect workersFrequently Asked Questions – UPDATED 05 June 2020

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation continues to evolve and Unite will continue updating our advice as dictated by circumstances. 

The measures announced by the Government in March resulted in widespread business closures, layoffs and job losses affecting many Unite members.  The measures also meant that more people have working from home in challenging circumstances. 

On Monday June 8th, the second phase of the Government’s ‘Roadmap’ (accelerations announced on June 5th) will see additional workplaces, re-open  while remote working will continue to be encouraged where possible.  This follows the first phase of re-opening on May 18th, which saw many construction workers – including many Unite members – return to work.  The information below has been updated to reflect ongoing developments.

Unite is endeavouring to maintain our service to members during this unprecedented health emergency. In order to facilitate social distancing in line with public health guidelines, our offices remain closed to public visitors until further notice.

If you require assistance, please email adminroi@unitetheunion.org.

Below, please find information on some questions you may have as a worker affected by the COVID-19 emergency.  We will continue updating this FAQ on a rolling basis as the situation develops. The current version incorporates announcements made on June 5th. As well as the general information below, please scroll down for specific Health & Safety information.

As we prepare for workplaces to re-open (see current schedule below), Unite, together with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is continuing to engage with Government and employers in different sectors to ensure the safety of our members, and to protect their terms and conditions going forward.  The Return to Work Safely Protocol is available for download here.  Unite will continue advocating for increased enforcement resources and powers to ensure that the the Protocol is fully implemented by all employers.

On a broader level, Unite and the wider trade union movement are determined to ensure that working people, their families and communities do not pay the price for any economic recession when we emerge from this emergency.  In this regard, click here to download our policy document Hope or Austerity: A Road Map for a Better Fairer Ireland after the PandemicThe policies in that document fed into ICTU’s recent report, No Going Back: A New Deal towards a Safe and Secure Future for All, which is available here.

A PDF of this document is available here.

Please note that this information only applies to the Republic of Ireland.

 What if I fall sick and/or need to self-isolate?

If you feel you may have COVID-19, or may need to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19, the first thing you should do is phone your GP and self-isolate in line with HSE advice.  Your GP will assess you and decide if a test for COVID-19 is necessary.

*  DO NOT GO TO YOUR GP IN PERSON  *

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or a GP has certified that you need to self-isolate, you need to inform your employer and adhere to any employment sick pay policy in place.  You then need to apply for Illness Benefit. An enhanced Illness Benefit of €350 per week has been agreed for COVID-19 related cases. To be eligible for this payment you must be confined to your home or a medical facility.  This payment, which is also available to members of a household who have to self-isolate in connection with COVID-19, is available from the first day of illness.   The enhanced Illness Benefit arrangements will now continue in force until 19 June.

What if I am working from home?

On Friday 27 March the Government issued an instruction to people to stay at home and to only travel to and from work if providing an essential service as specified here. Despite the phased return to work, this inevitably means that many Unite members are either working from home, have been placed on layoff or rendered unemployed (further information on your rights in the event of layoff/job loss is below).

If you are working from home at your employer’s instruction, your employer must pay you your usual wage.  Confirm with your employer that this is the case before agreeing to work from home.

Revenue has made provisions for these people to be reimbursed for work-related expenses, such as heating, electricity and possibly broadband expenses.

An employer can pay €3.20 tax-free (without PAYE, PRSI or USC being deducted) a day to their employee to cover additional costs involved in working from home.   It is important to note that there is no legal obligation on your employer to make such a payment.

Even if your employer does not make this payment, you will still be eligible for tax relief on such expenses.  Such claims would need to be supported by evidence in the form of receipts, and you may be required to produce a letter from your employer confirming that you have been working from home.

Further information on e-working and tax is available on the Revenue website here.  Health and safety information relating to working from home during the COVID-19 emergency is available here.

What if I want to continue working from home during this period?

While the widespread closures referenced above mean that many people still have to work from home, there will be other workers who can return to their workplaces under the ‘Roadmap, but who wish to work from home during this period in order to mind children during the period of school closure or for other health, personal or family reasons. You should approach the company and request to be facilitated in that regard.  It is at your employer’s discretion whether or not to grant that request but they should be cognisant of public health as well as Government advice and instructions.

It may be that your presence is necessary for only some of the normal working week when particular tasks need to be performed. If so, it may be worthwhile highlighting this fact to your employer. Given the ‘stay-at-home’ order announced on 27 March, with the exception of workplaces specified in the different phases of the ‘Roadmap’, attendance may otherwise expose you and your employer to criminal sanction.

When will workplaces be re-opening?

On 1 May, the Government published its ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ which included a schedule for the reopening of workplaces in different sectors. This started on May 18th, and on June 5th it was announced that the Roadmap would be accelerated as indicated below, with further adjustments possible.

  • 8 June: On June 5th, an acceleration of the Roadmap was announced which will see all retail outlets with street entrances re-opening, with staggered hours. Shopping centres (only retail outlets) will re-open on June 15th, ensuring physical distancing. Solitary workers and those who who can maintain physical distance can return to their workplaces, but working from home is encouraged where possible.
  • 29 June: Re-opening of the hospitality and tourism sector, including bars which also serve food; limited to table service. All domestic travel restrictions will be lifted.
  • 20 July: Remaining restrictions will start to be lifted.

What if my employer asks me to attend work, but I don’t feel safe doing so?

Your employer must abide by the Return to Work Safety Protocol, which is available here. Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme?

Government-ordered closures of businesses, as well as reduced demand in some sectors due to the pandemic, have resulted in a significant number of lay-offs.

The Government has asked those employers who have ceased trading to continue to pay workers during this period; this measure is intended to retain the link between workers and their employers.

A wage subsidy scheme was established providing that the Government would pay relevant employers 70 per cent of a workers’ salary (after tax) – up to maximum of €410 per week – in respect of workers who would otherwise have been laid off. This Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, which employers may top up, is intended to ensure that workers retain their link with employers and they do not have to submit a jobseeker claim. This scheme replaced the COVID-19 Refund Scheme announced on 15 March, and is now scheduled to last until the end of August.

On 15 April, changes to the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme were announced which primarily addressed anomalies which had become apparent at the higher and lower ends of the earnings spectrum.  The Scheme has now moved from the ‘transitional’ to the ‘operational’ phase.

Operation of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme:

  • Initially, and until 4 May 2020, the subsidy scheme refunded employers €410 for each qualifying employee.
  • From 4 May 2020, the subsidy payment moved to a system based on the previous net weekly pay for each employee. See further information below.
  • Employers should pay the relevant subsidy to each employee and may make an additional payment so that the total pay does not exceed the average net weekly pay of the employee.
  • The subsidy scheme applies both to employers who make additional payments to their employees and those that are not in a position to do so.
  • Employers make this subsidy payment to their employees through their normal payroll process.
  • Employers will then be reimbursed for amounts paid to eligible employees and notified to Revenue via the payroll process.
  • The reimbursement will, in general, be made within two working days after receipt of the payroll submission.
  • Income tax and USC will not be applied to the subsidy payment made through the payroll.
  • Employee PRSI will not apply to the subsidy or any additional payment by the employer.
  • Employer’s PRSI will not apply to the subsidy and will be reduced from 11.05% to 0.5% on the additional ‘top-up’ payment from the employer.

Subsidy rates from 4 May

The following new rates will apply to payroll submitted from 4 May with a pay date on or after that date until the end of the scheme. (No backdating of the revised rates prior to 4 May will apply.)

Employees previously earning up to €586 net per week

  • An 85% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay does not exceed €412.
  • A flat rate subsidy of up to €350 shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €412 but not more than €500.
  • A 70% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €500 but not more than €586, with the maximum cap of €410 applying.

Employees previously earning over €586 net per week

  • For employees whose average net weekly pay is greater than €586 per week but not more than €960 per week, the temporary wage subsidy shall not exceed €350 per week, and shall be calculated with reference to the gross salary paid by the employer and its effect on net average wages as follows:
    • A subsidy of €350 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount up to 60% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
    • A subsidy of €205 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 60% but not more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
    • No subsidy shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings.

A comprehensive FAQ on the Wage Subsidy Scheme is available here.

What if my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, but is refusing to pay the top up in respect of public holidays?

Payment for public holidays is generally subject to the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act, and Unite would argue that if an employer is topping up the Temporary Wage Subsidy they should also do so in respect of public holidays.  However, given that the Act did not envisage the current circumstances, an employer may argue that they are not obliged to pay the top up – which is at the employer’s discretion – in respect of public holidays. Any disputes in this regard would need to be raised by way of a formal grievance in the first instance and thereafter to the Adjudication Services of the Workplace Relations Commission.

What if I am returning from Maternity Leave?

At the end of May, following pressure from unions and civil society organisations, the Government rectified an anomaly whereby women returning from unpaid maternity leave – as well as people previously on paternity leave, adoptive leave illness benefit or off-pay leave – were ineligible for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme since they had not been paid in January or February, the calculation basis for the Scheme.   These categories of people will now be eligible for the Scheme.  The revised arrangements will be in place from June 12th, and payments may be backdated to March 26th.

What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is NOT operating the Wage Subsidy Scheme?

If a worker is laid off without pay, there is no need to claim in person at an Intreo centre.  Instead, a new support payment has been introduced which applies to those workers whose employers lay them off.  This Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is paid at a flat rate of €350 per week.

The payment is available to all employees and the self-employed who have lost their job due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, and is scheduled to last until at least August 10th.

On June 5th, a change to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was announced whereby, from June 29th, part-time workers who were earning up to €200 per week will receive a PUP of €203, while those earning over that amount will continue receiving the payment of €350.

The Covid-19 unemployment payment can be applied for through the Department of Social Welfare’s online portal www.MyWelfare.ie.

All that is required is for the applicant to have an email address, a bank account and a Personal Public Service Number.  You will find your PPS number on a range of documents, including previous payslips. Simply go onto the Covid-19 Services section of the website and apply for the payment. You will have to set up an account but it is a simple and straight forward process.

To avoid any delay in payment, it is very important that you check carefully to ensure you have supplied the correct bank account and PPS numbers. 

What about other social welfare payments?

If you were working and were also in receipt of any social welfare payment such as a Carers Payment, Working Family Payment (WFP) or One-Parent Family Payment, you can, provided you have lost your job due to COVID-19, also claim the COVID-19 emergency payment, in addition to retaining your existing welfare payment. The COVID-19 Payment Unemployment Payment will replace your employment income and will be regarded by the Department as equivalent to employment income.

If you have one adult and one or more dependent children you should claim a Jobseeker’s Payment instead of the COVID-19 Pandemic Payment.

This is because you can claim an additional allowance for your adult dependant and child dependants, which will bring your weekly payment to in excess of the €350 weekly payment due under the emergency COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.  Further information on Covid-19 and social welfare payments is available here.

What if I have been placed on short-time working?

If your employer reduces your hours to 3 days or less per week from your normal full-time hours, you can apply for a payment called Short Time Work Support.

Your employer can also put you on short-time working which is a more formal procedure and applies in the following situation:

  • Due to a reduction in the amount of work to be done, your weekly pay is less than half your normal weekly pay, or
  • Your hours worked are reduced to less than half your normal weekly working hours

What if my employer instructed me to go home?

You are entitled to clarity regarding your work situation, and in particular regarding whether you are to be paid, or are being laid off, made redundant or expected to work from home. If unclear on any of these or related questions, contact your employer in writing (e.g. by email) and ask them to confirm your employment and payment status in writing.  In the event that your employer says that you will not be paid the Department of Social Protection will require written confirmation of your status if you are applying for a Social Protection payment.

A simple email detailing when, where and by who you were told to go home and asking that your status be confirmed to you in writing without delay will assist you to explain your circumstances to the Department of Social Protection.

If I have been placed on layoff or short time working as a result of COVID-19, can I claim for a redundancy payment?

The provisions of Section 12 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 have been suspended where an employee has been temporarily laid off or put on short-term work arising from the COVID-19 emergency measures.  These provisions will remain suspended for as long as the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment remain in place.

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Workplace health and safety

Please click here to download the Return to Work Safely Protocol, and here to download the ICTU’s User Guide to the Protocol.  Unite is continuing to advocate for improved resources to ensure enforcement of the Protocol.

Members working in the construction sector should note that Unite has set up a hotline for you to report any safety concerns relating to Covid-19.  The number is 089-2031044.  We also have a dedicated email address for construction members to contact: constructionROI@unitetheunion.org. 

You should have a Health and Safety Representative – and you should know who s/he is

Under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, all employees are entitled to elect a Health and Safety representative.  You may also have a union safety rep.  It is important that you know who they are, that they are fully updated on any health and safety risks and relevant measures.

The Return to Work Safety Protocol states that your employer MUST:

  • Appoint at least one lead worker representative to make sure safety measures are in place and being followed.
  • Update business and safety plans, including the business COVID-19 Response Plan, the occupational health and safety risk assessment and the safety statement. Include how to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the safety plans and appoint a dedicated manager in charge of dealing with suspected cases.
  • Develop, consult on, communicate and implement workplace changes or policies.
  • Send out a pre-return to work form to employees at least 3 days before their return to work. The form will ask employees to confirm they have not had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been diagnosed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been in close contact with someone confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days and are not self-isolating or cocooning. You can get a return to work form templatefrom the HSA website. Note: Employers should not directly receive any test results from the HSE. Rather, the results should be provided to the person tested, who should then pass on the outcome to his or her employer.
  • Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff.
  • Put in place temperature testing in line with public health advice.
  • Have appropriate hygiene facilities in place, display posters of good hand washing practices and have proper ventilation. Give tissues as well as bins or bags for employee’s disposal. Empty bins regularly and provide advice on good respiratory practice.
  • Provide for physical distancing across all work activities of at least 2 metres as much as possible. (Staggering breaks, put in place arrangements for meetings and canteen facilities, put in place a no handshaking policy, no sharing of cups or pens, adapt sign in or sign out systems). Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers were 2 metre distancing is not possible.
  • Keep a log of any group work to help with contact tracing.
  • Have regular cleaning of the workplace and provide hand sanitisers.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing where there is an identified COVID-19 exposure risk and in line with public health advice. You can get more information on PPE from the HSA.
  • Make sure employees look after their mental health and well-being and are aware of any employee assistance programmes.

If an employee has symptoms of the virus during work hours, your employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and must follow a specific procedure:

  • The designated manager must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route
  • Maintain a 2 metre distance
  • Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.
  • Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken

You are legally entitled and obliged to protect your health and the health of others

Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

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Fattening the Curve

By Near FM – Listen Again
On this edition of Lifeline: Debbie McMahon is joined by NearFM’s Karen Meenan to talk about a new illustration book brought out during the covid-19 pandemic by her sister in law Una Healy called Fattening the Curve. Broadcast: 03/06/2020

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Northern Ireland Executive must ensure Chancellor moves on June 10th furlough deadline currently blocking support to 500 Thompson Aero Seating workers

By Unite the union NI
Kieran Ellison1

Kieran Ellison Unite Regional Officer

Government intervention and investment for repurposing needed to preserve Aerospace jobs and skills as sharp downturn leads to empty order books

Kieran Ellison, Unite Regional Officer for Thompson Aero Seating, expressed his union’s dismay at this afternoon’s announcement by Thompson Aero Seating Ltd bosses of plans for five hundred potential redundancies.

“Today’s announcement will come as a very severe blow to this workforce who only weeks ago [in March] suffered more than 430 job-losses, mostly among agency staff, at the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Unite will seek to mitigate the threatened job losses so far as is possible and is seeking for these workers to obtain furlough instead of being made redundant. Should job-losses on this scale proceed, it will represent a devastating blow not just to the workers affected and their families, at this time of crisis, but to the economy of Northern Ireland as a whole. Thompson Aero Seating currently employs a core workforce of approximately 1,200 and at least a further 100 casual workers at its sites at Portadown and Banbridge – it is a regionally significant employer.

“If these workers can be furloughed instead of made redundant it offers some hope to safeguard jobs until demand in the aerospace sector improves. The Northern Ireland Executive must now act to defend these workers’ jobs”, Mr Ellison concluded.

Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock called for urgent action from the Northern Ireland Executive in the face of the challenge facing the Aerospace sector.

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Jackie Pollock, Unite Regional Secretary

“Northern Ireland Aerospace plays a central role in our region’s economic success. But the sector faces huge challenges going forward as a result of the Covid shutdown of the aviation sector leading to a collapse in new orders. The government of Northern Ireland cannot afford to sit back and watch – it must now intervene to protect vital industrial capacity, jobs and skills.

“They must immediately secure movement from the Chancellor on the inflexibility that is currently built into the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. At present, workers must be furloughed before June 10th to receive support under the scheme; however, this is simply not possible where companies have contractual obligations for orders which are due immediately after this date. This is the case in Thompsons Aero Seating and means five hundred workers now face the prospect of redundancy rather than support under the furlough scheme.

“The Executive needs to bring forward a wider programme to safeguard vital industrial capacity. They need to be ready to take equity stakes in leading companies which now face unprecedented challenges and threats. Such investment should be focussed on repurposing production to better meet fundamentally changed economic conditions. The priority must be to save jobs and our skills-base so that our economy is well-positioned to make the most of any bounce-back in coming years”, Mr Pollock concluded.

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