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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Vehement Response to Airlines' Announcement of Mass Sackings
Coming Online Events:
Employment Rights After Coronavirus
Refugees and the Pandemic:
The Crisis within the Crisis
China Donates Medical Equipment:
China Flies More than 22 million Pieces of Protective Equipment to the NHS and Social Care Services
For Your Reference:
Evidence around the Covid-19 Pandemic
News in Brief:
Almost half of UK doctors had to buy their own PPE
Since the announcement of aircraft companies like, British Airways, Virgin and Ryanair to cut workforces, manufacturers like Rolls Royce engines has followed the same course. Airbus announced earlier this month it was cutting aircraft production by a third and has furloughed 3,200 workers.
These brutal announcements go by the name of "restructuring". For example, the Financial Times estimated that the so-called restructuring plan would shrink the workforce by up to 15%.
Rolls Royce announced that it too will cut 8,000 jobs, destroying the livelihoods of many more. The British aeroplane engine maker employs 52,000 people worldwide, with 23,000 in this country. In Derby one of the main headquarters for Rolls-Royce, it was said that some of the 10,000 staff at its two sites in the city could be affected. A Rolls-Royce spokesman cried crocodile tears adding: "We have taken swift action to increase our liquidity, dramatically reduce our spending in 2020, and strengthen our resilience in these exceptionally challenging times. They have said that it is unfortunate, but we will need to take further action."
It is the workers who have built up these companies over many years. They have often had to fight hard many times to secure their right of a livelihood. This is the reward for generations of workers who have given their all to build the reputations and strengths of these companies. To add insult to injury the system pays the rich out of the state treasury in the form of bailouts. What kind of alternative is it where the solution is sackings, or the workers' deductions out of their pay-packets? This one-sided spreading of the load gives the lie to the mantra that "we are all in it together". There has to be an alternative! It is certain that serious battles are ahead pivoted around those anti-social, anti-worker slogans that there is no alternative, and we are all in this together. The crucial step now is for the workers to speak out in their own name in their organisations and fight that what they say is what must be done.
The brutal nature of the monopolies and oligarchies was once more exposed with the announcement of mass sackings in the airline industry. As is also beginning to happen across the manufacturing industries, whether it is the call to restart production despite the obvious threats to the safety and health of the workers, or of the announcement of mass redundancies as was feared from the get-go of the lockdown, these private interests think they can dictate to the workers, despite legalities or illegalities. This flies in the face not only of the rights and interests of the workers concerned, but of the good of the economy as a whole, which these businesses claim to have concern for. In the end, it is the private interests which are determined to serve only their own vested interests, determined that they are the ones that must be competitive in the global market. And the government stands idly by while issuing platitudes. It is clear that the workers and their organisations are the ones not only taking a stand to defend their rights and dignity, but are pointing the way towards how society must be run in the future: definitely not "business as usual".
BA Mass Sackings
British Airways announced unilaterally on April 28 without any consultation that it is to make 12,000 workers at the airline redundant. It was immediately denounced as unlawful and immoral by the workers and their unions. They demand that the threat of redundancies must be immediately withdrawn.
Unite the union said that the unilateral decision to abandon the principles and intent of the job retention scheme and instead make workers redundant undermines the work that the union and the industry have been doing with government to secure a financial package and strategy for the entire sector spanning airlines, airports and air traffic control, as well as addressing industry-related environmental concerns.
Unite said that the sheer scale of the job losses, which will see a quarter of the airline's workforce sacked, will also make the UK aviation sector, already very fragile as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, extremely unstable putting many thousands more jobs across the country, not just at BA, at risk.
Unite demanded that the airline withdrawn the redundancy notices and engage with government and the union to take forward the sector-wide aviation rescue plan currently under discussion.
General secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, said that BA's decision to ignore the principle and intent of the job retention scheme and instead throw 12,000 workers onto the scrap heap is unlawful "because they are denying these workers the meaningful consultation that the law and common decency says that they are owed". "It is immoral," he said, "because BA has been taking taxpayers' money in recent weeks, money supplied on the proviso that the company put the workers on furlough while the industry reshaped. Instead, BA has taken a unilateral and selfish action that could imperil an already very fragile aviation industry - and so a great many jobs - in this country."
The government had been handing over public money to BA, and instead of continuing discussing with anyone it is intent on tearing up agreements, and wrecking the lives of working people and the economy as a whole. In this context, Len McCluskey said: "We say to BA that there is a better way forward for both it and the industry. We urge it to think again. I therefore call on BA to honour the law, remove this threat of redundancy today and join with us to work with the government and aviation industry to deliver the rescue package so desperately needed by the whole sector."
Unite reports that Len McCluskey has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Grant Shapps setting out what steps Unite believes need to be taken to secure the long-term viability of the UK aviation industry.
GMB is the union for British Airways ground staff. Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer, said of the mass sackings: "We believed we had reached some relative, albeit temporary, respite for them following the agreement to furlough 80% of BA's staff now this. I know our reps will work day and night to limit the impact on our members but 12,000 employees is a staggering number."
Ryanair Redundancies Announcement
Ryanair announced on May 1 that it is planning to make 3,000 of its workers in Europe redundant and is also planning pay cuts for employees.
In response, Unite national officer for aviation Oliver Richardson said: "This is another premature announcement, especially while the government's job retention scheme remains fully up and running. Ryanair has significant cash reserves and is in a better place than many airlines to cope with the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has created."
Oliver Richardson continued: "The statement by Ryanair, which follows hot on the heels of the British Airways announcement, further underlines why it is absolutely imperative that the UK works with all relevant stakeholders to provide long-term financial assistance for the aviation sector. If the government fails to provide such assistance, which is already being offered by other European countries to their airlines, then the UK aviation sector faces a very bleak future."
Pilots' Union Issues Distress Call
BALPA, the pilots' union, said that enforced travel restrictions as a result of coronavirus were already having a devastating impact on aviation. It pointed out that over 230,000 workers are employed in the aviation industry.
BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said: "Before coronavirus the UK aviation industry was world leading. But now aviation workers are facing a tsunami of job losses. There is no more time for delay. The UK Government should follow the example set by others in Europe and around the world, recognise that aviation is vital to the UK economy and keep to the promise made by the Chancellor on March 17 to help airlines."
Brian Strutton also said: "BALPA does not accept that a case has been made for these job losses and we will be fighting to save every single one."
The National Education Union (NEU) is among those unions organising that teachers speak out and that what they say must be acted upon and not swept aside in an off-hand and arrogant manner by the government. The NEU has been organising mass phone-ins, for example, to give teachers the opportunity to speak in their own name, voice their concerns, and strengthen their conviction that it their concerns are serious, that the government must listen and consult with the teachers and their unions, and that this is a matter which concerns the future of education, and not simply the concerns of a "special interest group".
The NEU has already gathered over 200,000 signatures for its petition that schools must only re-open when it is safe to do so. Such is the arrogance of those who hold executive power, that the concerns of the teachers are being brushed aside by Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. This has led to such anger and frustration among the teachers, and opposition to the government's turning a deaf ear to the teachers just and profound concerns. In this context, the NEU has launched five tests for government before schools can re-open. Teachers and the NEU believe that these test must be capable of being passed in order to create the necessary confidence amongst parents and staff that it is safe to re-open schools. The government had already said that it had its own five tests to relax the lockdown. Below we reproduce the NEU's five tests that the government has to meet before moving to the further opening of schools.
5 Tests for Government before schools can re-open
We want to begin to re-open schools and colleges as soon as we can. But this needs to be safe for society, for children and their families and the staff who work in them.
We have these five tests which the Government should show will be met by reliable evidence, peer-reviewed science and transparent decision making.
Test 1: Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases
The new case count must be much lower than it is now, with a sustained downward trend, with confidence that new cases are known and counted promptly. And the Government must have extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way.
Test 2: A national plan for social distancing
The Government must have a national plan including parameters for both appropriate physical distancing and levels of social mixing in schools, as well as for appropriate PPE, which will be locally negotiated at school-by-school and local authority level.
Test 3: Testing, testing, testing!
Comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff to ensure our schools and colleges don't become hot spots for Covid-19.
Test 4: Whole school strategy
Protocols to be put in place to test a whole school or college when a case occurs and for isolation to be strictly followed.
Test 5: Protection for the vulnerable
Vulnerable staff, and staff who live with vulnerable people, must work from home, fulfilling their professional duties to the extent that is possible. Plans must specifically address the protection of vulnerable parents, grandparents and carers.
We believe that these test must be capable of being passed in order to create the necessary confidence amongst parents and staff
Commenting on the launch of the five tests, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, said: "We believe that these test must be capable of being passed in order to create the necessary confidence amongst parents and staff.
"Teachers, parents and staff have responded with the utmost seriousness and professionalism to the Covid-19 crisis. They need to be confident that public health is the first priority in all considerations concerning how we move forward and together combat this terrible virus. If confidence and clarity are lacking, there is a risk of chaos and greater spread of the virus.
"The National Education Union is very clear that for schools to reopen we need to have sound scientific evidence that it is safe to do so. The NEU's petition to that effect has over 200,000 signatures.  The strength of support is a clear indication that parents as well as school staff do not want the Government to rush into decisions that could cost lives."
The coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore that it is working people themselves who fight to defend their rights and the rights of all. At the same time, they demand that their rights be guaranteed in law. The emphasis is being put by government and big business on getting back to "business as usual", and putting the demands of the economy above life and well-being. But this itself begs the question of what kind of economy is needed, what is its aim and direction, and who decides. It is certain that in this climate the workers will have to take a stand against the anti-social offensive and for their rights. The TUC in this context is this week releasing a series of interviews on Employment rights after coronavirus. Speaking of this initiative, Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke remarked: "we can expect there will be demands from employers for 'more flexibility' or attempts to weaken the already weak employment laws. European and global trade unions are anticipating a push by employers to role back employment rights in response to a weakened economy."
The interviews are as follows:
Monday, May 4: Michael Ford QC will talk about the employment law fall out from coronavirus;
Tuesday, May 5: Dee Masters and Robin Allen QC of Cloisters about technology at work after coronavirus;
Wednesday, May 6: An interview with Dr Alessio Bertolini of the Oxford Internet Institute on platform work after coronavirus;
Thursday, May 7: Professor Melanie Simms will discuss the longer-run impact on labour markets and the issues facing trade unions.
Each video will last between 10-15 minutes and will be done in interview style.
The TUC will be providing links to these interviews which will be tweeted out. Tim Sharp, Senior Employment Rights Officer at the TUC, says: "During the coronavirus pandemic unions have fought hard to protect workers jobs and incomes and to ensure their rights are respected at this difficult time. But we need to ensure that when the shutdown is lifted and more people return to work outside the home that we are alert to the tasks ahead. These interviews explore the various challenges workers will face whether it is to their legal rights or the impact of new technology to put them in a better position to defend and extend their rights at work."
Written by Eleftheria Kousta, April 29, reprinted from Counterfire
Already vulnerable refugees living in unsanitary and squalid conditions are now bracing for the worst from the global pandemic.
Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic the world has gone into a state of existential panic. With some of the most developed nations failing to contain the spread of the virus the situation for those seeking refuge is looking bleaker than ever.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 96 refugee-hosting countries have reported outbreaks, sparking fears of the virus spreading like wildfire in overcrowded camps that were already at breaking point. Only a few days ago, Lebanon reported its first positive case in one of the Palestinian camps in Beqaa, where refugees have been forced to live in squalid and unsanitary conditions for generations. Meanwhile, deaths have been confirmed in parts of besieged north eastern Syria where 3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been squeezed into a region of 500,000 inhabitants. Elsewhere in the region, Turkey is pressing for repatriations, whilst Afghan refugees are fleeing from Iran back to Afghanistan in their thousands, adding an extra strain to the sending countries where healthcare systems are already fragile. Meanwhile, camps in eastern Africa and south Asia that can be labelled "cities of their own" are bracing for the worst.
In the west things are no better, with camps in Calais and Lesbos being far beyond capacity and resources and access to healthcare scarce since the onset of the lockdown measures. In the US, the detention facilities of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) are becoming death traps for those incarcerated. Isolation and hygiene measures have become mission impossible in these conditions. Amnesty International has reported that ICE does not provide access to sanitary products and keeps on detaining families. With numbers in detention centres beyond capacity from Australia to the US and Europe, there needs to be a serious concern over those incarcerated on the grounds of 'migration offences'.
However, beyond the official UNHCR camps or detention centres, urban destitution where unregistered refugees are forced into poverty is a much larger problem and much more dangerous since access to healthcare is hard to navigate and most funds and NGO programmes are directed towards those living in camps. Urban impoverishment is ever more present since 2015 with most of the refugees leaving the camps and ending up squatting in unsanitary facilities in the big cities, living under threat from rather than the protection of public authorities.
Beyond chronic funding issues and reduced capacity from key organisations such as the UNHCR, state policies and governance deficits are a major liability. Firstly, refugee-hosting countries are usually themselves lacking in capacity to provide quality care for their citizens and have to rely on international aid. Secondly, under law in countries like Lebanon and Jordan refugees have been excluded from access to state resources and care programmes, whilst in other countries access is limited at best. Thirdly, refugees have been frequently used as political pawns and have been caught in a climate of a 'struggle for resources'. Whilst it is clear that refugees cannot be blamed for the outbreak of the virus they are vulnerable to spreading it due to their unfortunate circumstances and have become the targets of misinformation campaigns from far right groups. Last month NGOs had to cease operations in camps in Lesbos as far right rioters attacked refugees and aid workers.
Whilst the beneficiaries of foreign aid will somehow have to cope with the consequences of Covid-19 spreading in refugee settlements, states put under sanctions will suffer greatly. Iran is the hardest hit country in the Middle East and repatriation of Afghan refugees is ensuing on a massive scale, accompanied with all the dangers caused by forced cross-border movement, plus those posed by the pandemic. UNHCR has moved to provide some aid to refugees in Iran, yet, with the organisation facing major funding challenges, Iran is left with one more issue to tackle.
If anything, this outbreak has demonstrated the worst aspects of mismanagement of the refugee crisis and the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable who have been chronically designated the status of "pariah" and "outcast". The situation for refugees and migrants is dire from the United States to Bangladesh. In short, it is a humanitarian catastrophe waiting to happen unless we act swiftly.
States are slowly realising that there is a strong connection between public planning and refugee protection. For example, Jordan has started following UNHCR guidelines and treating refugee camps as an indispensable part of its public health policies. Also, Portugal moved to give all migrants citizenship rights and Germany is trying to tap in the vast labour pool it has accumulated from the refugee crisis. Yet, after the advent of the disease we should do everything possible so that these rights are not rolled back, in the hope of redefining the debate about refugees and migration.
One way to do this is by highlighting the subject as an issue of community development and shifting away from divisive politics, emphasising that an "injury to one is an injury to all". Covid-19 has made it clear that it is time to stop treating displaced people as a mere burden to be warehoused and pushed to the outskirts of society, and instead welcome them into our communities and find streams to utilise their potential, which otherwise would be wasted away in camps.
Crucially, with the first few confirmed fatalities from Covid-19 in north eastern Syria, a need for a global and all-encompassing ceasefire is more pressing than ever. Years of targeting of civilian infrastructure has left conflict zones without capacity to prevent outbreaks and has displaced millions of people from their homes, forcing them into a limbo of uncertainty and deprivation. Governments involved in active combat theatres should reopen all diplomatic channels possible in order to allow the access of aid, and halt arms sales to warring parties, as well as lifting sanctions on medical supplies. Mutual mistrust is of course a major factor, yet extraordinary times are crucial to trust-building and will eventually set the tone for future rapprochement and peace-building processes.
The British Embassy in Beijing, China, reported on April 29 that China has flown over 22 million pieces of PPE and more than 1,000 ventilators to the NHS and Social Care Services over the last three weeks. The Embassy in Beijing worked with the Department of Health to procure and source these donations of medical equipment.
The equipment was shipped between 2 April and 25 April in 20 flights operated by passenger airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as well as various cargo operators and delivery specialists, the Embassy says in a report on the British government website. The China Civil Aviation Authority granted the UK special permission to allow passenger routes to take cargo for the shipment.
Dame Barbara Woodward, British Ambassador to China, said: "I am delighted that we have been able to deliver huge quantities of lifesaving equipment for the NHS and our social care services. Our strong trade relationship with our Chinese partners has meant that we have been able to source the right equipment and we have seen both UK and Chinese firms contribute to our joint fight against Covid-19."
The Embassy reports that almost 2.5 million pieces of the PPE equipment is donated by Chinese organisations including the British Chinese Community Zhejiang UK Association. The biggest donor so far is Bank of China, whose over 1.8 million pieces of PPE and 20 ventilators have already reached the Britain. Guys and St Thomas hospital and Age UK have also received the medical supplies donated by Chinese organisations.
David Lawson, Chief Procurement Officer at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are very grateful for donations from the British Chinese Community and for the support of the British Embassy in Beijing, both of which have helped to ensure a steady and timely supply of PPE and other vital medical equipment to help the NHS response to Covid-19."
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, said: "We are grateful to the people of Changsha for their kind support and donation to Age UK during this challenging time. The masks we received will be given to our local Age UKs which are providing practical support in their communities, including helping people who are recovering from the virus to leave hospital and go back to their homes, and will help to keep staff and older people safe."
The report of the British Embassy in Beijing also mentions that at the start of the Covid-19 crisis, British firms including AstraZeneca and GSK donated supplies to the people of Wuhan.
 "Chinese organisations that donated medical equipment to UK: Dalian Haiqing Food, Tencent, Chinese Chevening Alumni, Administrative Committee of Changsha National High-Tech Industrial Development Zone, First Affiliated Hospital of Sun-Yat Sen University, China Construction Bank, Hangzhou Foreign and Affairs Office and Fosun International." Beijing Embassy report
 "UK organisations that donated medical equipment to China: GSK, AstraZeneca, BP, HSBC Group, Standard Charted, Smith and Nephew, Smith's Medical, Jaguar Land Rover, Swire Group, Diageo, RELX Group, PwC, EY, Deloitte, ReckittBenckiser, Unilever, IHG, BHP and JM Jardines." Beijing Embassy report
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) carried a blog post on May 1 by Iain Bell, Deputy National Statistician at the ONS, on improving evidence around the Covid-19 pandemic.
Iain Bell highlights how the ONS is providing information right down to a local level. It is important to note that this blog post comes in the context of the outrage that the government had not been including deaths in care homes and other places outside hospital in its figures of the victims of the pandemic, and in practice ignoring the concerns and raised voices of the nurses, doctors and other health and care workers about the scandal of the scale of the deaths and the lack of protection given to staff and the fact that many care homes, for example, have become death traps. Iain Bell says in his post:
"Raw statistics are often seen as just numbers. But behind every death, every number, in this pandemic is a human being and a tragic toll on a family and a community."
He writes: "Ten days ago, I set out our workplan for our analysis of deaths data and this week we have published two of the major commitments from that programme, focusing on deaths in care homes and today's article which covers deaths from Covid-19 by locality and deprivation of the area.
"Each of these show that the tragic toll of Covid-19 is not impacting communities equally.
"We have already seen that males more than females are dying from Covid-19 and that increases with age. We've published details of deaths in March where Covid-19 was the underlying cause, while this week we've been able to draw on Care Quality Commission (CQC) data to give fresh insight into deaths in England's care homes."
Asking what is known about urban and rural areas, Iain Bell writes:
"Today we've been able to go further and look at Covid-19 death rates at a local level. Our findings show, perhaps unsurprisingly, how different the impact of the virus has been, depending on where you live. By mid-April, the region with the highest proportion of deaths involving Covid-19 was London, with the virus being involved in more than 4 in 10 deaths since the start of March. In contrast, the region with the lowest proportion of Covid-19 deaths was the South West, which saw just over 1 in 10 deaths involving coronavirus. The 11 local authorities with the highest mortality rates were all London boroughs, with Newham, Brent and Hackney suffering the highest rates of Covid-19 related deaths.
"Just as we see in normal times, it appears the pandemic is hitting more deprived areas harder. People living in more deprived areas have experienced Covid-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas. General mortality rates are normally higher in more deprived areas, but so far Covid-19 appears to make a greater difference still between more deprived and least deprived areas."
On the question of care home data, Iain Bell writes:
"In recent weeks there has been a real pressure to respond to the growing crisis unfolding in our care homes. The government has now started collecting daily data, providing a count of all deaths where a positive test for Covid-19 has been confirmed, wherever that death has taken place. This differs from the weekly data ONS put out this week in one key area - we include all deaths where the registration mentions Covid-19, not necessarily a positive test."
He continues: "Using CQC data we have been able to show that between April 10 and April 17, CQC were notified of 1,968 deaths that were either confirmed or suspected by the provider to have involved Covid. This closely matches the 1,999 Covid related deaths that were registered in England between the same dates.
"CQC were also able to provide us with notifications received up to April 24 for a more up to date picture.
"In total, there were 2,906 deaths involving Covid-19 registered in English care homes up to April 17. Latest data from CQC shows 2,375 Covid-19 related deaths in care home settings from April 18 to April 24. When you look at these together, this gave the clearest indication yet of the scale of care home deaths."
Iain Bell writes that the ONS is working towards providing more insight on the impact that ethnicity has been having on Covid-19 deaths. The ONS is already investigating excess deaths not involving Covid-19, as well as looking at the impact someone's occupation, religion and even air pollution might be having on Covid-19 deaths.
Nearly half of the UK's doctors have been forced to buy their own personal protective equipment or use supplies donated by charities or local firms, according to a survey of frontline health workers. A British Medical Association study of 16,343 members found that 48 per cent had bought PPE items themselves or received an "external donation ... due to non-availability of official NHS procurement supplies".
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