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.
Hospitality bosses are warned that large-scale job losses will result in a mass exodus of skilled workers from sector
Unite survey showed that 71 percent of hospitality workers would not return to the industry if made redundant
Against a backdrop of fears that up to a 20,000 hospitality workers in Northern Ireland could be made jobless by August, Unite has issued a letter warning of potential litigation to Hastings Hotels, one of the region’s biggest hotel chains.
The letter questions whether proposals for mass redundancies are lawful, when furlough under the government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme is still available and the union has warned that it will not shy away from issuing more legal challenges to hospitality bosses.
Neil Moore, Unite Organiser for the Hospitality sector said:
“Within minutes of Economy Minister Diane Dodds announcing dates for the reopening of the hospitality sector, while standing on steps of a Hastings Hotel, workers for the same group received notice that they faced potential redundancy.
“Union members at Hastings have reported to Unite that they feel there is a lack of meaningful engagement regarding potential redundancies and not enough is being done to avoid job losses. Workers cannot understand why jobs are under threat now given the ongoing available subvention from HMRC until October.
“The union has warned that the industry risks a mass exodus of skills from the sector which will make the recovery more difficult. A straw poll of 400 Unite members working in hospitality and at risk of redundancy revealed that 71 per cent will not return to work to the industry, and that 63 per cent would not recommend hospitality as a career choice for school leavers”, Mr Moore 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.
From historian and author Fergus Whelan, May Tyrants Tremble is a new and comprehensive biography of Society of United Irishmen founder and leader William Drennan. In an exclusive extract, British authorities close in on the leadership of the Society of United Irishmen and martial law is proclaimed in Dublin.
The Chancellor held a visitation to Trinity College from 19th to 21st of April 1798 on account of ‘rumours too well founded that principles of a treasonable nature have made their way within these walls’. Drennan informed Martha that nineteen students had been expelled. He felt that those who were suspected as United Irishmen chose not to appear ‘for fear of further prosecution. In fact, the first person called before the Chancellor was Robert Emmet. He was not present and was expelled. The Chancellor carried on his inquisition over three days and Drennan thought his lectures on morality and religion ironic, in the light of his conversation which is ‘a tissue of obscenity and blasphemy.’
John Browne (1779-1808), who was a native of Belfast and a firm friend of Robert Emmet, was also expelled. Brown carried messages for Drennan which he dared not trust to the postal system. When Drennan told his sister that she could get more details of the visitation from Brown he prudently omitted that Brown himself had been expelled. Drennan thought that Robert Emmet might accompany Browne to Belfast and told his sister that the young man was a wonderful orator, though modest and diffident in company. Within a week a warrant was out for Emmet. When Drennan heard the news, he called around to visit Emmet’s father but there was nobody home.
The Castle now regarded Dublin as the headquarters of treason and the military were patrolling the streets. Drennan joked that if he met one of these patrols at night:
I could safely say it was not Cinna the conspirator but the poet, though they might treat meet to the touch of the bayonet for my bad verses. I should not like to be put to death yet a little, and therefore will keep myself as I have done the most politically innocent man in my conscience I do believe in this city, as yet the one most generally suspected.
On 24th April Drennan arrived back at his Dame Street lodgings where he found a Mr. Wilkinson waiting on him with a letter which read as follows:
You most probably have heard of my being in custody under a charge of high treason for which I am to be tried on 30th of this month, at Maidstone in the county of Kent. My life being at stake, I trust no other apology for me entreating you to accompany the bearer of this letter to England, for the purposes of giving your evidence which my counsel are of opinion will be very material on my behalf. Yours ever most sincerely A. O’Connor
Maidstone 19th 98.
It was most inconvenient for Drennan to go at that time and he knew that professionally the journey would be very considerably injurious to him. He also doubted his evidence would be of any use. Yet he immediately agreed to travel. He was compelled by a sense of duty to risk any injury to himself to do anything he could to help a man with whom he was very little acquainted. He was determined that the slightest omission on his part should be of any disservice to the life of a man. He hoped his family in Belfast would agree with his decision. Martha assured him while they were surprised, the family were not at all dissatisfied that he should do his duty.
However, when he reached London he was advised by Thomas Erskine (1750-1823), the famous lawyer, that if he called Drennan to give evidence it could do more harm than good. In the event O’Connor was acquitted, but his co-accused, James Coigly (1761-1798), was hanged. Drennan’s journey into England was a waste of his time except that he got to see the English countryside and enjoy a very short time in London. When he reached Liverpool late on Sunday the smell of the docks reminded him of the slave-trade. But he enjoyed his coach journey across England.
His travelling companion was Henry Grattan who throughout the journey was civil, kind, courteous and accommodating. When they reached London they spent a lot of time together dining at the White Hart, Holborn and visiting the opera and Drury Lane. George Smith, one of O’Connor’s legal team, gave Drennan a seat in his carriage and they visited with the famous British radical, John Horne Tooke at Wimbledon. Drennan was impressed by Horn Tooke whom he felt ‘to be a person of superior mind’.
Drennan returned to Dublin on 7May. A few days later he learnt that the authorities were offering a reward of £1,000 for the discovery of Lord Edward F[Fitzgerald]. Hearing that Lord Edward’s wife was anxious to know about his visit to England, he called on her and chatted for some time with her. Given the reward for her husband, Drennan must have known that Pamela Fitzgerald (1776-1831) was being closely watched by spies and informers. He believed that the administration was using talk of informers of high degree and low ‘to infuse distrust and complete division’. He told Martha:
Domiciliary visits are to be paid here every night as well as day, in search of strangers from the country who have taken refuge in town or for concealed arms. I suppose three or four people will be set as spies of each division or sub-division of the city. The County of Dublin including part of the city will be proclaimed during the next week, … I marvel much, standing untouched as I do that they have not raised the cry against me of an informer …
Just as Drennan had predicted, martial law was formally declared in Dublin city and county on 18th May. Edward Fitzgerald was wounded during his capture on the 19th and died in great agony a few days later. Ruán O’Donnell describes the measures taken by the authorities when Dublin was proclaimed:
From that day the constant patrolling of the yeomanry and the posting of sentries on the Liffey and canal bridges brought an air of menace to daily life in the capital. Preparations were made to fit iron gates, in storage for over a month, to all the main bridges. This was intended to increase the efficiency of the curfew and impede illegal traffic.
After the city was proclaimed Drennan wrote just one short note to his sister dated 2nd June merely assuring her he was well and had nothing to fear. That was his only communication with her for nearly two months until the end of August, by which time the rebellion had been mercilessly crushed. We have no details of how Drennan behaved in late May and June as the rebellion raged in Wicklow, Wexford, Kildare, Antrim and Down and as a reign of absolute terror was unleashed in Dublin city. He presumably obeyed the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. We may never know whether he saw the body of his old friend Francis Bacon along with dozens of others hanging from Carlyle bridge or the hundreds of rebel corpses thrown into the rubbish pit outside the Royal Barracks. Many of the homes of suspected rebels were torched in the city and the home of Drennan’s friend James Dixon at Kilmainham was occupied by the military. Drennan was fortunate that he was not among those caught up in the ‘vicious circle’ in Dublin who, ‘fearing courts martial and flogging, were driven from their homes with little option other than joining the rebels gathering in the woods, bogs and mountains of south Leinster.’
Martha wrote three letters to her brother between late May and the end of June. She admonished him severely for not keeping in touch at such a time. She knew little of what was happening in the northern countryside except what she read in the papers. She did get a first hand account of the battle of Antrim from a woman who had taken the wounded Lord O’Neill from a street in the town. He died from his wounds on 18th June. She took some comfort from the fact that Belfast was being guarded by a yeomanry corps which included old friends of the Drennan family such as Dr. Bruce, Rev Vance and James Kennedy Trail. This should not be taken to mean that she was supporting the yeomanry and opposing the rebels. She had long feared that the Armagh Orangemen who were welcomed into the yeomanry by General Lake might burn the town of Belfast if they got the opportunity. Better to be guarded by New light Presbyterian ministers of her own congregation and a prosperous citizen with loyalty to the town than by its sworn bitter enemies.
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.
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.
Workers call for no erosion of two-metre social distancing in the workplace as vital Infection control precaution
Opportunities for workforce up-skilling during COVID-shutdown must be explored as part of a new deal for hospitality workers
Unite hospitality organiser Neil Moore challenged recent attempts by the NI Hotels Federation and Hospitality Ulster to blackmail the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward reopening in the sector by threatening a wave of tens of thousands of redundancies.
“Many hospitality bosses were quick to announce job losses and throw tens of thousands of workers under the bus at the beginning of this crisis. The ‘bumper year’ and record-breaking profits that preceded this crisis were built primarily on the backs of workers, often poorly-paid and precariously employed.
“With the wide-ranging government supports in place, there are no excuses for further job losses. Refusing to pay the additional 20 percent that is being sought by the Tory government and threatening tens of thousands of redundancies if they don’t get their way and reopen in July is nothing short of blackmail.
“Workers in hospitality must be protected by the Stormont Executive. Sector-specific support for hospitality should be made contingent on the protection of jobs and safe workplaces – furlough support payments should not be a handout to unscrupulous bosses.
“In recent days hospitality bosses have targeted the two metre social-distancing rule – a vital scientifically-based, infection control measure. There is no possible health-science basis for eroding this protection – it is a demand designed to increase profit at the cost of lives and must be resisted.”
Mr Moore presented Unite’s alternative vision for the sector,
“”With the input of hundreds of hospitality workers, Unite has developed a suite of proposals for a new deal for the sector across the UK. These include using the furlough period to up-skill through providing good quality training, accessing apprenticeship levy funding and a range of measures to ensure safety as facilities reopen. These measures must include testing and contact tracing, supply of appropriate PPE, meaningful engagement with employees, extensive Risk Assessments and their effective enforcement, and continuation of job supports – tied to job retention not redundancy.
“We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive Ministers to hear the voice of hospitality workers who know what is needed, not just to guide the industry out of this crisis, but to ensure that we never again go back to poverty pay and insecure contracts that have left thousands in economic turmoil”, Neil Moore finished.
May 29th: Writing today on the publication of a new ICTU policy Document No Going Back: A New Deal towards a safe and secure future for all, Unite the Union RoI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle was critical of the EU Commission’s recovery fund for Ireland.
Ogle said, “In the very weeks when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail first seemed to rule out tax increases going forward (including the ongoing refusal to accept the Apple Tax), and then state-led borrowing, an attack began on the COVID-19 payment, with people who have been forced into isolation being targeted for ‘being better off’ on €350 a week. Now we learn that, of €750bn targeted by the European Commission in a recovery fund of grants and loans for 27 member states, Ireland is earmarked for just €1.9 billion, a tiny 0.25% of the total. This for a country that Eurostat found had been forced to pay 42% of the total cost of the European banking debt following the financial crash.”
He added, “The call for a universal public healthcare system free at the point of use must now be our most basic demand following a public health emergency where we found out who the real heroes in our labour market were. They were the ones out there saving lives and putting their own at risk!”
Furthermore, “Our individual wellbeing is linked into our collective wellbeing. The public needs to be safe, but who better to give a customer that assurance in a restaurant, bar or shop than the staff who work there? Remember this, when our economy re-opens if a worker serving you is sick from COVID you may well get sick too. Do you really want those workers not to be safe and protected?”
Occupations in which women still predominate such as Carers and Cleaners paid less and treated as lower skilled
Taryn Trainor, Unite Regional Women’s & Equalities Officer reflected on the fact that today marks a half century since pay equality legislation came into force but that despite this average pay for women remains lower than for their male counterparts.
“The Pay Equality Act which was passed in 1970 was triggered by the Ford Sewing Machinists strike of working women in 1968 for equal pay. While it represented a historic milestone in the fight for female equality, despite the passage of half a century, it has not eliminated the gender pay gap.
“While the act sought to ensure equal pay for the same work, it did not address the wider structural disadvantage facing female workers in the labour market. Women had been traditionally paid less than male counterparts and this legacy of structural disadvantage remains in place today. Indeed the sectors in which females have historically predominated remain lower paid by comparison to more traditionally ‘male’ sectors.
“In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, the essential role being played by female workers who overwhelmingly provide care services, for young and old, or who are cleaners is undeniable. These are far from ‘lower-skilled’ professions as some would have us believe – these professions involve very complex skills, commitment and carry huge responsibilities.
“Fifty years on from the Pay Equality Act becoming law, we need to rededicate ourselves to the task of winning genuine pay equality for women. It is vital that equality strategies including a Gender Equality Strategy and Anti-Poverty Strategy be included in recovery measures by the NI Executive. We also need to see Gender Pay Gap regulations as well as the development of a Gender Pay Gap strategy and action plan, as required by the 2016 NI Employment Act. Overall we need to start going beyond simply securing equal pay for equal work and starting to address the structural disadvantages and the gender norms which continue to reproduce inequality and mean that on average women in Northern Ireland still receive 10 percent less an hour than men”, Ms Trainor concluded.
More than two months on from the promised but yet to emerge government support for the UK’s beleaguered aviation industry, the UK’s leading aviation union is warning that without urgent action regional economies will take a big hit destroying the Prime Minster’s pledge to ‘level up’ the economy.
Research commissioned by Unite the union highlights the vast economic contributions airports make to regional economies and details the devastating effect that closure of an airport or severe reductions in activity would have on the local area. An estimated 1.2 million UK workers rely on aviation for their employment, many of them in the airports, airlines, retail, services and transport jobs associated with air travel.
The report is published 24 hours after the sector suffered yet another blow as airline easyJet announced plans to cut its workforce by 30 per cent. easyJet is a hugely important player in terms of regional airports with a base at Belfast International Airport.
Unite’s research details how Northern Ireland is particularly reliant on air travel to ensure connectivity to the UK mainland but its two major airports Belfast International and Belfast City are also major employers, supporting 4,000 workers who are directly employed at the airports. City of Derry airport also provides vital connectivity to the Northwest and plays a vital role in the local economy.
The new research Economic and social importance of the UK’s regional airports further develops the key messages found in Unite’s own blueprint UKaviation flying into the future which provides details of the actions needing to be taken by the government to protect airlines and airports and to preserve jobs and conditions in the sector, which has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unite is warning that without a specific bespoke package for the aviation industry tens of thousands of jobs could soon be lost. All airports are impacted and smaller regional airports may even be forced to close permanently
Unite regional secretary for Ireland Jackie Pollock said: “Airports are hubs for massive economic activity for our towns and cities, supporting jobs from cabin crew and ground handling to engineers and cleaners.
“But across the UK they are facing huge challenges at the moment and need urgent assistance to secure a future where they can continue to provide these vitally important routes and support millions of direct and indirect jobs.
“The prime minister himself made clear yesterday that he is committed to levelling up the economy, to spread the economic benefits more fairly. That really must mean helping our airports through these tough times as, possibly more than any other industry, they provide jobs and incomes in every corner of the country.
“To lose them or see them diminish as employers will open up huge holes in local economies the length and breadth of the country.
“It is crucial that regional airports in Northern Ireland are supported by the government to safeguard connectivity and to ensure our economy is not irrevocably damaged with mass job losses in a major employer at the heart of our economy.
“It is vital to preserve our regional connectivity and to secure its enhancement through support for specific routes through public service obligation funding.”
“Our airports are central to our infrastructure and vital for business, travel and even the NHS. They must be preserved for the nation’s benefit.”
Unite is urging those concerned to safeguard Northern Ireland’s airports to contact their local MP to lobby the government and explain how airports and the entire aviation sector needs specific financial support