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.
Unite accuses company of failing to engage and breaching agreement
July 8th: Unite, which represents workers at Drogheda magnesia plant Premier Periclase, has announced that its members are set to take strike action from Monday July 20th.
Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Willie Quigley said:
“Despite a long-standing collective agreement, management have not meaningfully engaged with us on their proposals for what they have called a ‘Temporary Shut-down of the Plant’.
“The company proposes to lay off our members or put them on reduced hours, while transferring work to non-union labour and retaining contractors on site.
“We have made a number of unsuccessful attempts to avoid arriving at this point. However, management did not seem interested in meaningful discussion on issues surrounding the ‘temporary shutdown’. As a result our members have voted to take strike action from Monday July 20th.
“Unite remains available for meaningful engagement”, Mr Quigley concluded.
Members of Unite give coalition a ‘slow clap’; say workers were “applauded then abandoned” by those who promised a “lasting appreciation”
July 2nd: Members of Unite Trade Union held a short rally outside Dáil Éireann today (Thursday), highlighting how workers have been forgotten about in the so-called ‘new normal’. This was followed by a sarcastic ‘slow clap’ for the new coalition Government which remarkably, managed to leave a workers’ rights agenda out of its Programme for Government almost entirely.
There have been lessons for workers in the last few weeks, starting with the treatment of the Debenhams workers who could only be exploited because successive Governments failed to close a legal loophole which had already caused untold misery for workers in Clery’s, GAME, La Senza and Vita Cortex (to name a few). Speaking this morning Jane Crowe Shop Steward at Debenhams Henry St said:
“We are striking now for around 6 weeks now, our future and our families futures are on the line, we still have a lot of fight left in us and we will keep going until the bitter end’
Further to this, last week’s landmark High Court ruling on the constitutionality of Sectoral Employment Orders could have very serious implications for tens of thousands of construction workers.
Speaking ahead of today’s event, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said:
“The government must immediately seek a stay on the orders contained in the Court decision and then appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.”
Health & Safety is now a major concern for workers and Unite’s Hospitality and Tourism spokesperson Julia Marciniak pointed out, “While there has been no shortage of industry voices seeking to trivialise important public health advice by forcing debates on the merits of social distancing, many workers are being forced back into working arrangements in which they are afraid, at-risk and have been denied consultation.”
Unite Community is demanding that the new government take into account the urgent need for a new Charter for Workers, one that places the health and safety of workers, and their right to be represented by a trade union, at the heart of any roadmap for recovery.
Comprehensive strategy and support package needed to avert huge job losses and severe damage to the Northern Ireland economy.
Recent losses of 1,500 aerospace jobs estimated to have lowered national output by half a billion and reduced household spending by £50 million
New research commissioned by Unite and undertaken by Acuity Analysis highlights the importance of Aviation and Aerospace currently threatened by the inaction of both Stormont and Westminster in the face of a sharp global downturn in the sectors caused by the Covid crisis.
Echoing the call by his union, Unite, at the launch of their campaign demanding a national aerospace taskforce to save the industry Jackie Pollock Regional Secretary said,
“Aerospace makes a colossal contribution in terms of jobs, economic output and demand; if we lose this world-class sector it will punch a huge hole in the Northern Ireland economy. Together Aviation and Aerospace generates billions in output and supports tens of thousands of high value-added union jobs.
“In the face of the unprecedented Covid downturn to this critical, high-skilled industry, the foot-dragging of governments in Stormont and Westminster is threatening catastrophic job losses. If you look at Germany and France, they have brought forward huge investment programmes to sustain aviation and aerospace, by comparison to which the support offered by the UK government pales into insignificance.
“Research commissioned by ourselves with Acuity highlights that Northern Ireland’s aerospace cluster comprises 220 companies employing around 10,000 people. That means that despite having just 2.8 per cent of the UK’s population, Northern Ireland is home to over 8 per cent of the UK’s aerospace companies and 10 per cent of aerospace employment. The sector directly generates £1bn in output (gross value-added) annually and contributes more than £2bn to Northern Ireland’s entire manufacturing output.
“Aerospace jobs are high value-added and tend to be unionised, and therefore better paid. The research confirms a large Aerospace premium amounting to an additional £11,000 per year for each worker. These are not jobs easily replaced – they must be defended.
“In recent weeks we have unnecessarily lost more than 1,500 aerospace jobs. The research estimates that these losses alone, and their impact in the wider supply chain, will reduce national economic output by half a billion and cut household spending by more than £50 million and that’s before accounting for loss of taxation or social security payments for each redundant worker. For every job lost at an aerospace company like Bombardier, three more are lost within the supply chain; the damage from these avoidable losses will be long-felt and reflect the cost of continued inaction and political failure.
“The additional impact for Northern Ireland and for the UK from the combination of the aviation and aerospace clusters must also be considered. Both sectors are highly interdependent and their proximity in and around Belfast generates significant spill-over effects, in terms of employment and economic output.
“The Stormont Executive must help secure the establishment of a national aerospace taskforce by the London government. We also need to see an Aerospace rescue strategy for Northern Ireland; unions and the aerospace industry must be involved in delivering a detailed programme for the sector to survive, rebuild and recover. In recent days, we’ve heard a lot of talk about innovation and government intervention but very little action; the bottom line is that with every day that goes by without government intervention, aerospace jobs become more and more vulnerable.”
Unite workplace reps and officials will be meeting with Economy Minister Diane Dodds where they will raise these concerns directly.
Unite blasts move since three-quarters of workforce facing jobs threat could easily remain on furlough
Aviation rescue strategy to safeguard future of both Belfast airports needed from Stormont
George Brash, Unite Regional Officer for security workers employed by Wilson James at Belfast International Airport blasted management plans for 54 redundancies – many of which were entirely unnecessary.
“Unite has received a HR1 notification from Wilson James for proposals to make redundant 54 workers at Belfast International Airport. This heartless decision by bosses is entirely unnecessary and avoidable. Three quarters of this workforce are currently furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme and there is absolutely no need to push them onto dole queues and their families onto bread lines in the midst of a pandemic.
“The workers affected have been left reeling as they had rightfully assumed that their status would be protected through the furlough scheme until the airport recovered its footfall.
“This announcement is only the latest in a string of job-losses at Belfast International and City airports. As Unite has repeatedly highlighted, there is now a serious threat hanging over the future of both airports as vital security workers, baggage handlers, check-in staff, cabin crew and pilots have been laid off.
“Again we are left asking what exactly the politicians in Stormont are doing to safeguard the aviation sector and the future of these critical regional transportation hubs. Once again we call on Stormont political leaders to bring forward an Aviation Rescue strategy – Northern Ireland and these workers deserve better than continued inaction.
“In response to this announcement, Unite will continue to engage with management at Wilson James to attempt to reduce job losses and to obtain the best possible outcome for our members. We are doing everything we can – but we can’t save this industry alone”, Mr Brash concluded.
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 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.
Protective notice extends to 175 Swissport employees at Belfast City airport and 112 workers at Belfast International
Stormont Ministers must now intervene to deliver Aviation rescue strategy as shadow is cast over regionally strategic airports
George Brash, Unite Regional Officer for Swissport workers at Belfast City and International Airports expressed his disgust over a management jobs threat issued to 287 employees.
“This evening’s announcement by Swissport confirms our worse fears after the company announced 4,556 job losses across the UK: 175 employees at Belfast City and 112 at Belfast International airports face the immediate prospect of redundancy.
“This will be devastating news for these workers and their families. It is also entirely unnecessary – the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme remains in place – these workers could continue to be furloughed. There is no need for any job-losses at this time. This is a disgraceful move solely rooted in the need to secure corporate profits.
“The situation in Belfast City Airport is particularly concerning as the protective notice extends to every single Swissport employee at the airport. Without baggage handlers, gate staff and security desk workers, the airport cannot operate; the scale of this announcement casts a shadow over the future of both Belfast airports, in particular Belfast City.
“The total inactivity of politicians in Stormont in the face of the mounting economic challenge to aviation has been nothing short of criminal. In March, at the start of the Covid downturn Swissport workers joined with colleagues from the collapsed airline Flybe to rally in front of Stormont to seek urgent intervention but absolutely nothing has happened since. In the intervening period, Belfast International has made 45 redundancies and the small operator, Jet2, 34 – while Easyjet has announced 4,500 job-losses across the UK although we haven’t a breakdown of how that affects Northern Ireland. There is a mounting crisis in our aviation sector.
“There is no reason for these jobs to go but the Northern Ireland Executive has offered nothing positive by way of a rescue strategy for aviation. In particular, there doesn’t appear to be anyone making the case in any serious or effective way in Westminster for Northern Ireland aviation jobs and the vital importance of both Belfast airports – key to securing the future economic prosperity of our region.
“It is now absolutely imperative that we see urgent action in both Stormont and Westminster to safeguard our aviation sector, its workforce and the future of regional airports”, Mr Brash concluded.
June 24th: Members of Unite’s Regional Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) Committee have expressed solidarity with all those saying “Black Lives Matter!” in Ireland and around the world. Pointing out that the global response to the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States has highlighted racism in Ireland and elsewhere, union activists are determined to build on the current momentum to combat institutional racism:
Committee chair Memet Uludağ said:
“The Black Lives Matter response to the killing of George Floyd has rapidly spread beyond the United States, and the past two weeks have seen numerous manifestations of solidarity throughout the island of Ireland. While racism is deeply embedded in US society, we in Ireland also have systematic state racism and discrimination that manifests itself in different forms, from discriminatory policing of Black and ethnic minority people to the deeply inhumane – and racist – Direct Provision System in the Republic.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is educating all of us in understanding racism today, as people are making links between slavery in the past and the systematic nature of modern day racism.”
Committee member Muhammad Al-Hussaini added: “This is an historic opportunity for the labour movement in both the Republic and Northern Ireland to speak and act in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters in the United States and worldwide. At the same time, the Irish labour movement must engage with the endemic discrimination against the Irish travelling community, as well as more recent Black and ethnic minority arrivals who have made Ireland their home. This is a time to engage self-critically and remove the statues and idols of prejudice in our own minds”.
Looking beyond the protests, Memet Uludağ said:
“Solidarity events in Ireland have sent a strong message of unity against all forms of racism. There is also a growing determination that politicians must not be allowed to condemn racism while implementing discriminatory and racist policies.
“Trade unions play an important role in the fight against racism. As noted by Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, we need to take further steps to build on anti-racism within Unite and the wider trade union movement, and ensure that the voices of Black and ethnic minority union members are heard and acted upon. As in every area of life, there can be nothing about us, without us”, Memet Uludağ concluded.
Decision threatens workers and economic recovery
Unite will use all means to protect and advance workers’ terms and conditions
June 24th: Trade union Unite, which represents workers throughout the construction sector, today (Wednesday) said that the Government must immediately seek a stay on the orders proposed in yesterday’s High Court decision striking down the electrical Sectoral Employment Order and then appeal the the ruling to the Supreme Court. Pointing out that the decision has implications for tens of thousands of workers whose terms and conditions are governed by SEOs, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald warned that the ruling posed a significant threat to Ireland’s economic recovery and said that Unite would use all means at its disposal to protect and advance workers’ interests.
“The Government must immediately seek a stay on the order proposed in yesterday’s High Court decision and then appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.
“At a time when Ireland is facing into an unprecedented economic crisis, yesterday’s decision threatens the incomes of tens of thousands and workers and thus puts our economic recovery at risk.
“Crucially, the absence of Sectoral Employment Orders would also mean that, for the first time in over 50 years, in huge sections of the construction sector there would be no constraints, beyond existing industrial relations legislation, on workers taking industrial action to defend themselves. Such a situation would pose a considerable threat to many employers. In that scenario, Unite is confident in our ability to defend our members’ terms and conditions using all means at our disposal”, Mr Fitzgerald warned.
Foyle Foods Omagh workforce suffered at least 35 confirmed Covid cases during first peak of pandemic
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.
Unions 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.
Provision 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.
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.
June 19th: Unite, which represents workers in all sectors throughout Ireland, has said that the draft programme for government negotiated by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party would see Ireland continuing to be run in a manner that puts private interests above the public good. In a statement issued today (Friday), the union’s Senior Officer in the Republic of Ireland, Brendan Ogle, said:
“The draft Programme for Government represents a plan to continue to run our country in a manner that puts private interests above the public good. In addition to the complete betrayal of any pretence to deliver workers’ rights that meet international norms, the Programme commits to Ireland continuing to act as an international tax haven. Ireland will continue to be a safe haven for those who want to contribute nothing, and a daily drudge for those working and paying to improve their lives and our society.
“We have the lowest standard of workers and union rights in our peer group. Negotiators for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party are happy to keep it that way.
“Apart from the betrayal of workers, including the frontline workers who have been hailed as heroes during this pandemic, the proposals on healthcare are actually shocking. Rather than learn the obvious lesson we need a single tier public health system based on need, not means, the Programme enshrines a right to ‘retain access to private health services, ensuring choice for those accessing health care.’ People on low incomes have no such ‘choice’.
“Putting profit and ‘choice’ before the nation’s health is exactly what left us completely unprepared to face this pandemic. If the pursuit of profit is what is driving our basic right to healthcare (and it is), it is clear what the agenda of this proposed new Government is – further division, inequality, poverty and death.
“This programme is shameful”, Mr Ogle concluded.
New Government parties must firm up on programme commitments to Midlands
Workers must be central to proposed Just Transition Commission
June 17th: Responding to the news that Bord na Mona is to suspend peat harvesting, trade union Unite – which represents craft and administrative grades in the company – said today (Wednesday) that workers need a clear roadmap illustrating how jobs and incomes will be continue to be protected as Bord na Mona exits out of peat. Unite welcomed Bord na Mona’s commitment in writing to the GOU that no jobs will be lost as a result of the announcement, and said it is now up to the parties forming the likely incoming Government to firm up on the commitments to the Midlands in the Programme for Government published on Monday.
Regional Officer Colm Quinlan said:
“While the exit from peat harvesting marks the end of an era in the Midlands, our focus must now be on ensuring security of employment and earnings going forward.
“As members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party consider the Programme for Government, Bord na Mona workers and their families want to know how the parties will implement the commitment to “ensure that the Just Transition in the Midlands works inclusively” and that “vulnerable families and communities are protected”.
Regional Officer Ed Thompson added:
“Translating those aspirations into security for workers and communities requires a roadmap detailing projected jobs numbers while ensuring security of employment and earnings.
“The Bord na Mona Group of Unions believes that, as a matter of urgency, all parties should conclude an industrial relations agreement that will lead to job security and the retention of current earnings for existing workers by utilising voluntary redundancy and redeployment where necessary. Such an agreement should set out clear timelines on an annual basis over the next five years for transitional plans, allied to the Just Transition process.
“The Programme for Government notes that the exit from peat in the Midlands is the first test of Just Transition.
“If the parties forming the next Government are to pass this test, workers must be fully involved in the de-carbonisation process. .
Concluding, Colm Quinlan said:
“Bord na Mona workers have a wealth of expertise and experience which can inform the transition to a new low-carbon digital economy, ensuring that communities are not left behind. Workers and their representatives must be central to the proposed new statutory Just Transition Commission, and we look forward to the parties to the incoming Government giving a firm commitment in this regard”, Mr Quinlan concluded.
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.
Bombardier plans for 600 redundancies comes only days after similar announcements elsewhere in sector
Stormont Executive challenged over inaction in face of mounting threat to vital Aerospace sector
Reacting to today’s huge job loss announcement by Bombardier, Susan Fitzgerald, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer called for urgent action from the Northern Ireland Executive on a strategy for the vital Aerospace sector to survive the economic shockwaves of the Covid pandemic.
“Today’s announcement of 600 job losses is a huge blow to the Bombardier workforce, their families and the economy of Northern Ireland as a whole. Unite will do whatever it takes to support these workers but the reality is that every worker will be going home today in uncertainty and concerned for their future.
“Bombardier jobs are high-value added, unionised jobs. The money these workers spend and the supply chain demand from this business plays a vital role in the Northern Ireland economy. Redundancies on this scale will have a devastating impact across the board but in the face of mounting threats to the Aerospace sector as a whole, all we have seen is complete inaction from the Stormont Executive.
“Governments in many other countries have announced major interventions to safeguard jobs and skills. France has just announced a €16 billion programme for their aerospace and aviation sectors to safeguard jobs, from engineers to airline and airport staff.
“Similar measures are needed at a UK and Northern Ireland level. Unless a specific support package is brought forward soon, including measures such as an aircraft scrappage scheme, then thousands of jobs will be lost and the UK will lose its standing as a world leader in aerospace. Public money invested to secure this industry would be recouped through the taxes and contributions of all those who would otherwise be forced onto dole queues and could be matched with equity-stakes and tied to a transition to greener aircraft.
“The action to save this sector needs to come from government. Where is Stormont’s strategy to safeguard Aerospace from the Covid downturn?”, Ms Fitzgerald asked.
GMB Senior Organiser, Denise Walker, echoed the concern of workers and pointed to the importance of Aerospace to Northern Ireland’s economy.
“The news of 600 job losses will be devastating to workers at Bombardier and casts a shadow of uncertainty over the entire Aerospace sector in Northern Ireland. Today’s job losses will be felt by every member of our unions – it is a bitter blow.
“Aerospace is a vital element of Northern Ireland manufacturing and has a global footprint. Every major commercial aircraft programme in the world depends on structures, components and services sourced from Northern Ireland. The sector is valued at £1.9 billion and employs 10,000 workers, including those in sub-supply chains.
“Northern Ireland Aerospace is one of Europe’s leading aerospace regions in revenue terms – this is not a sector where a complacent ‘laissez-faire’ approach from Stormont will pass. We need to see real action to safeguard jobs, skills and a future.
“The workforce unions, the GMB and Unite, will be seeking urgent meetings with political leaders in the hours and days to come. We will continue to engage with our members and to provide all the support and help to those facing redundancy as a result of today’s announcement”, Ms Walker concluded.
Frequently 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 firstname.lastname@example.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 Pandemic. The 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.
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.
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:
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
Employees previously earning over €586 net per week
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
No confidence in role of tourism working group – a business cabal composed overwhelmingly of bosses but excluding totally hospitality workers – to oversee workplace safety
Call for Northern Ireland to adopt ‘roving health and safety reps’ like Scotland and introduce limited reopening with continued pay guarantees for workers
Unite hospitality organiser Neil Moore explained that he had written to all the Northern Ireland Executive Ministers to protest today’s announcement by the Economy Minister to reopen hotels and other accommodation without any effective means of enforcement on basic infection controls.
“Far from being welcomed by hospitality workers, today’s announcement has caused widespread fear and concern among those who face the prospect of returning to work in unsafe working conditions. This decision appears driven by the need to secure the profits of the super-wealthy individuals who own much of the hospitality sector here rather than the concerns for workers or public health. It certainly isn’t to protect jobs – in the immediate aftermath of the announcement – workers in a number of large chains were warned of pending redundancies and attempts to impose contract changes to reduce pay and T&Cs.
“The tourism working group placed in charge of overseeing infection control measures is a business cabal composed overwhelmingly of business owners excluding any trade union or worker representation. It’s like leaving a fox in charge of the hen-house – workers will have absolutely no faith in their ability to oversee safe reopening.
“The move comes amid efforts by hospitality owners to reduce the two metre Covid social-distancing rule. The consequences of such a downgrading for workers and public health could be devastating – making likely a second peak and the need to revert to an economically-damaging second lock-down.
“Where operators have already reopened to provide a takeaway service demand is many multiples operating capacity, leaving workers facing pressures on one hand to meet unachievable order targets while on the other being threatened with punishment if they break social distancing rules. Bosses often point-blank refuse to provide Risk Assessments and many even engage with the union in any way whatsoever.
“Unite has written to all Executive Ministers to make explicit our objections to the Economy Minister’s decision. The Executive must commence meaningful consultation with workers representatives ahead of reopening.
“Unite is seeking the introduction of roving health and safety union reps that the Scotland government has introduced and has been legislated for in England & Wales. The two metre social distancing rule must be defended and effectively enforced. Where outlets reopen demand must be capped at a level coherent with the ability to deliver orders safely; workers partially employed should continue to be supported through a flexible furlough scheme guaranteeing their income”, Neil Moore concluded.