Friday July 30, 2021
For the road ahead

Lay union reps are protecting workers during Covid crisis


Workplace trade union representatives have been a lifeline protecting workers from some of the worst economic ravages thrown up by the Coronavirus crisis, a nationwide survey by the Labour Research Department (LRD) has found. The largely unpaid union reps have also forced health and safety improvements for those employees still at work.

The cross-industry survey of union reps - the only one of its kind - found that many have pushed employers to pay better rates for furloughed workers and those on reduced hours, forced resistant employers to allow employees to work from home and improved health and safety for those still going to work.

One in four reps from public, private and voluntary sector workplaces who responded to the ongoing survey during lockdown had dealt with staff going on furlough, with over half (57%) of them winning 100% pay for workers instead of the 80% guaranteed by the government. Other reps had negotiated other pay-related improvements, such as payment for shifts cancelled at late notice and full pension contributions.

The survey also reveals many health and safety issues are still causing concern. For example, 73% said lack of PPE was still a problem, 66% cited issues with physical distancing in the workplace, 60% said mental health was a major worry and 47% were concerned about cleaning.

Some reps have had to force employers to allow employees to work from home. Although the government had encouraged this where possible, reps said some bosses were still coercing employees to come into work unnecessarily, before bowing to union pressure. Eight-six per cent of reps said at least some staff had moved to working from home.

Union reps have also achieved notable wins for precarious workers, such as those on variable or zero hours contracts. For example, at Sheffield Hallam University, reps ensured that many hundreds of furloughed zero hours teachers were paid in line with the hours they were expected to work. At other workplaces, reps won deals for contracted-out staff.

Other ongoing concerns cited by reps include issues over sick pay and absence policies, homeworking and childcare, increased workload and lack of consultation.

Happily, only 2% of reps said that they had so far faced redundancies in their workplace, though many feared this would become a problem in the future.

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