General Secretary Statement to BFAWU Members at Greggs

A Message For Our Greggs Members From The General Secretary, Sarah Woolley

The news yesterday from Greggs is not where any of us wanted to be, or indeed expected would come, with such a strong start to the year. As an ex-Greggs employee, my heart goes out to each and every member that’s impacted by the announcement and I want to reassure you that the BFAWU will do everything we can for you over the coming weeks, and when we come out of the other side of the process.

We know there are going to be lots of questions (some we wont be able to answer straight away), but we want you to ask them anyway - there is no such thing as a stupid question; if you're thinking it, someone else will be too. We are here to make sure your voices are heard and your questions are answered.

It is important that you know who your reps are through this process. If you are at work, there is a list of Reps on the 'back office' under the 'people' section in the Unions area. In the bakeries, there should be a list on the notice boards.

If you're not at work, please contact your local Full-Time Official. If you haven’t got a number for your Rep, they will point you in the right direction. Their numbers can be found on our on our website under contacts

As Roger said in his message yesterday, Greggs is a strong company and we have always worked well together; the business and Trade Unions across the board especially in difficult times. This will be no different.

We will get through this and come out of the other side together; stronger and ready to move forward.

Solidarity

Sarah

For the YouTube version of this statement, please click here


BFAWU mourns the passing of Dennis Nash: former National President

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our former National President: Brother Dennis Nash.

Dennis joined our union in 1976, working at Telfers in Northampton, where he was elected as Branch Secretary. He held several other roles in our Trade Union, including serving for many years on our National Executive Council and culminating in being elected as National President in 1994: a position that he held until his retirement in 1999.

Dennis was an inspirational trade unionist who committed his life to our movement. He brought many assets to the role of National President including his knowledge, wit, warmth and genuine camaraderie. He inspired those who spent time in his company or heard him speak, being a great orator.

He laid down some strong foundations in our union, particularly in the area of health and safety. Probably his most exceptional achievement and legacy will be the establishment of the first national Credit Union for trade unionists; an achievement that turned Dennis into a pioneer that led the way in the Labour and Trade Union movement.

Even after retirement, he continued to maintain contact was always inquiring about how the Union was doing. He was always supportive and always ready to offer any knowledge he could.

Dennis will be sadly missed and will always have a place in our hearts. We offer our deepest condolences to his widow, Elsie, and to all his family.

 


Workers and Community protest wage theft at Sheffield Papa John’s

Workers and ex-workers at Papa John’s were joined by community supporters (including Olivia Blake MP) today (Saturday) outside Papa John’s on Ecclesall Road to demand unpaid wages.

Workers were demanding wages owed to them whilst they worked for a previous franchise owner. Workers complained they were owed wages for work completed before the franchise was transferred from previous owner, Tofur Ali, in June. Some claim their wages for this period amounted to less than the legal minimum wage. 

Workers said that they had faced unsanitary conditions including no access to private toilets, and no breaks during long shifts whilst the store remained open throughout the lockdown.

On 27 June 2020, workers arrived to find their store was closed. Workers claimed they were not told that the store would be closed temporarily and the franchise, which covers all Sheffield Papa John's stores, had been transferred to a new franchisee. The previous franchisee, Tofur Ali is disqualified from acting as a company director for conduct with another company(2). 

In the month since, Tofur Ali has not paid workers the full pay they are owed, including all hourly wages at the legal minimum wage and delivery allowances. Some workers said they will be unable to pay rent and bills next week if they are not paid. They were willing to show evidence of the hours worked and amounts paid.

Karen Cabajar, a former worker at Papa John’s, and member of the Bakers’ Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) (3), who is still owed money said: “I really thought that we would just have to move on and forget about what happened. It feels so reassuring to come together with my coworkers, with the support of the union and wider Sheffield community. It is important for workers and employers across Sheffield to see this action so that they know that it is unacceptable to treat workers this way and there will always be consequences. My message to other workers would be to contact Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise. (4) There are people who will support you to get the treatment that you deserve.”

Ian Hodson, President of the BFAWU, the Papa John’s workers’ union, said: “Papa John’s states on its website: ‘People Are Priority Always’. This is a hollow statement when these workers were willing to put themselves and their families at risk by working during lockdown and Papa John’s repays them - by not paying them! As a result of the action, the current franchise owner has agreed to meet the union on Monday at 10am to resolve the issue and pay what is owed.”

Campaigners said the actions of Papa John’s mirrored those in Leicester where injustice in the labour market, with powerful corporations able to absolve themselves of responsibility for what happened in their supply chains, were being highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Paul Blomfiend MP (Sheffield Central), said: “The Covid crisis has highlighted the exploitation facing too many workers, particularly in the food and drink sector. As we look to the future people expect things to change and they must. Companies like Papa Johns must treat their staff fairly.”

In 2017, researchers from Middlesex University estimated that wage theft, where workers are not paid wages they are owed or unlawful deductions are made, is widespread across the country with at least 2 million workers in Britain losing over £3 billion in unpaid holiday pay and wages each year. (5) It is said to particularly affect the low paid and those on insecure contracts. 

Major new research looking at the factors that have made the Sheffield City Region, the UK’s “Low Pay Capital” will be launched this week (6). The research by academics at Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire and Manchester Metropolitan Universities will be discussed during an online zoom event “Precarity is the Pandemic” at 7pm Wednesday 29 July 2020) organised by Sheffield Trades Council and anti-poverty group War on Want.

Dr Bob Jeffrey, a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam and a lead researcher on low pay in Sheffield said: “The situation faced by these workers at Papa John's is emblematic of the wider conditions faced by low paid and precarious workers that we document in our report. Labour market deregulation, a lack of enforceable employment rights and the absence of trade unions gives unscrupulous employers a blank cheque to withhold legal entitlements to breaks, fail to follow health and safety rules, even fail to provide toilet access, or just plain and simple illegal non-payment of wages owed.”

Workers who are facing issues such as wage theft, low pay and health and safety concerns can get in touch with Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise via Facebook, Twitter (@SheffPayRise) or by email (sheffieldneedsapayrise@gmail.com).

Notes to editors: For further information please get in touch with Rohan Kon, Organiser with Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise on rohankon@hotmail.co.uk / Mobile: 07747004870 

  1. High res photos from the protest are available here: https://bit.ly/SNAPFlickr
  2. Information relating to Tofur Ali’s disqualification is available here: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/disqualified-officers/natural/B0iwNT657driOOKFR1AAxZJ2OcQ
  3. The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union [BFAWU] is the largest independent trade union in the food sector in the British Isles, and supports workers across the food manufacturing, fast food and hospitality industries.
  4. Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise is a campaign bringing together low wage workers to demand fair pay, hours and union rights. It is supported by The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and Sheffield TUC (Trades Union Council).
  5. See Unpaid Britain: wage default in the British labour market Nick Clark and Eva Herman, Middlesex University November 2017  https://www.mdx.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/440531/Final-Unpaid-Britain-report.pdf
  6. Embargoed copies of the research “Tackling Labour Market Injustice and Organising Workers: The view from a northern Heartland” and Executive Summary and accompanying press release are available here: https://bit.ly/EmbargoTacklingInjustice

BFAWU Statement – Moy Park Ballymena

It has come to the attention of our Union that there has been a small number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the Moy Park site in Ballymena. As a Union, we are extremely concerned about this development and are doing all we can to keep updated with this issue. We have been in contact with the employer to ensure they are doing all they can to help and support employees, both the positive tested cases and those employees that may have been in contact with them. The company has assured us that the track and trace procedure in place has located anyone that may  potentially have  come into contact with the confirmed cases and these employees have been sent off site to self-isolate. If any employee believes this is not the case and has not happened please get in touch asap. We have also  reiterated the need for everyone at the site to ensure social distancing at 2 meters remains in place and that the  hand washing and PPE measures are still ongoing and being adhered too at all times. We have called on the company to ensure no employee suffers a financial loss should they be impacted by this outbreak. Our on-site representatives are in daily contact with the employer so if you have any concerns please do not hesitate to bring them to our attention. 

If you feel you need to report anything to us in confidence please contact us with the Regional Office whose details located on our website or on the union notice board. 

We are sending our best wishes to all affected employees at this time. 

Laura Graham

Regional Officer

Region 7 – Northern Ireland


Health and safety advice - Let’s stay protected

As attention moves to reopening the economy following the crisis, we are still expecting the highest levels of protection for working people.

During this crisis we have been in regular contact with key employees of the HSE and received support from both the TUC and Hazards. Many of those that work in the Food Industry have continued to attend work throughout, working together with employers and our safety representatives to put in place measures to protect people. Some of these measures, which have been constantly under review, have included:

  • more frequent safety meetings
  • staggered start times
  • relocation of hand washing facilities to outside entry points
  • installation of internal washing stations
  • temperature checks on workers
  • ensuring the provision of PPE risk assessments to build in social distancing measures

 

Moving forward, we expect that:

  • employers put measures in place to notify anyone who may be at risk having come into contact with someone who has notified them that they have the symptoms
  • full sick pay is provided in these circumstances
  • if anyone does become infected work areas/place should close for deep cleaning

We have provided a bullet point "Workplace Assessment" checklist below to assist in your workplace assessment.

Don’t forget that a trade union is its member. It is critical that members are informed and consulted about improving control of the risk in the workplace and that they have the opportunity to raise concerns and receive feedback and all information that will impact on them. If you have any concerns with your working practices or returning to work, ask your employer for a copy of the Risk Assessment that should have been carried out, also asking them to provide any new working procedure. If your employer is not following the guidelines issued by the Government then you should alert your BFAWU representative or, if you are unable to contact them, then contact your regional official whose details are listed on the Contacts Page of this website.

Health and Safety meetings and Risk Assessments

As part of the ongoing process the Health and Safety Meeting should be updated and provided with Risk Assessments that have been conducted. These Assessments should be reviewed and improved to ensure all the risks are controlled. Meetings can be conducted daily or weekly, alongside a full Health and Safety meeting, in line with the Brown Book Safety Representatives and Committees 1977. Further details can be found at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/BrownBook2015.pdf

 

WORKPLACE ASSESSMENT

WORKPLACE ACCESS

  • Stop all non-essential visitors
  • Temperature checks at the beginning of shift
  • Monitor congestion to enable social distancing of 2 metres:
  • Introduce staggered start and finish times to reduce congestion and contact
  • Remove or disable entry systems that require skin contact 
  • Promote good hygiene, wash or clean hands before entering or leaving premises
  • Provide the necessary facilities to do this, warm water soap or hand sanitiser
  • Regularly clean common contact surfaces in reception, office, delivery areas
  • Drivers should remain in their vehicles if the load will allow it and must wash or clean their hands before unloading goods and materials.

TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS

  • Avoid public transport only use if there is no choice
  • Car sharing would only be recommended if living in the same household
  • Travel alone in own transport if this is available to you
  • Use a bicycle if this is feasible or walk if in walking distance
  • Every effort made to provide additional parking spaces for cars and bicycles

ENHANCED CLEANING IN THE WORKPLACE

  • Enhanced and regular cleaning across all areas of the workplace utilising approved cleaning products includes all building touch points
  • Taps and washing facilities
  • Toilet flush and seats
  • Door handles and pushes plates
  • Hand rails on staircases and corridors
  • Lift and hoist controls
  • Machinery and equipment controls
  • Food preparation and eating surfaces
  • Telephone equipment
  • Key boards, photocopiers and other office equipment
  • Rubbish collection and storage points should be increased and emptied regularly throughout and at the end of each day.

CANTEENS CAFES AND EATING AREAS

  • Dedicated eating areas should be identified
  • Break times should be staggered to reduce congestion, 2 metre rule
  • Create space and manage sitting 2 metres apart from each other whilst eating
  • Hand cleaning facilities or hand sanitiser should be available at the entrance of any room where people eat and should be used by workers when entering and leaving
  • Keep equipment clean between use, kettles, microwaves etc. 
  • Ask workforce to bring pre-prepared meals and refillable drinking bottles from home
  • Where catering is provided, it should be pre-prepared and wrapped food only
  • Crockery, eating utensils, cups (unless from dispenser) etc. should not be used
  • Payments should be taken by contactless card wherever possible
  • Drinking water should be provided with enhanced cleaning measures of the tap mechanism introduced or alternatives supplied free of charge.
  • Tables should be cleaned between each use
  • All rubbish should be put straight in the bin and not left for someone else to clear up
  • All areas used for eating must be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each break and shift, including chairs, door handles, vending machines and payment devices

TOILET FACILITIES

  • Restrict the number of people using toilet facilities at any one time
  • Promote washing hands before and after using the facilities
  • Enhance the cleaning regimes for toilet facilities particularly door handles, locks and the toilet flush
  • Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins for hand towels with regular removal and Disposal

HAND WASHING FACILITIES

  • Ensure soap and fresh water is readily available and kept topped up at all times
  • Provide hand sanitiser where hand washing facilities are unavailable
  • Regularly clean the hand washing facilities and check soap and sanitiser levels.
  • Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins for hand towels with regular removal and disposal.
  • Organisations will need extra supplies of soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels and these should be securely stored.

CHANGING FACILITIES, SHOWERS AND DRYING ROOMS

  • Introduce staggered start and finish times to reduce congestion, 2 metre rule
  • Enhanced cleaning of all facilities throughout the day and at the end of each day
  • Based on the size of each facility, determine how many people can use it at any one time to maintain a distance of 2 metres
  • Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins in these areas with regular removal and disposal.

OTHER MEASURES

  • Ensure ventilation is fit for purpose in the workplace, allow adequate ventilation
  • Regularly clean the inside of vehicle cabs and between uses by different operators.
  • LGV drivers have route planning taking into account available toilet and washing facilities, this will be a unique problem to this situation as public eating places are
  • now closed. HSE Guide here: Driver welfare and hours 
  • https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/drivers-transport-delivery-coronavirus.htm
  • Visitors to sites should be curtailed unless essential and business critical such as delivery drivers, outside maintenance or repairs.
  • Any meeting are performed via video link/ skype/ conference call
  • All non - essential staff to work remotely
  • All inductions if needed undertaken with social distancing close contact protocols rigorously observed
  • Observe social distancing and close contact between work colleagues
  • Workplaces that are operational need to have daily communication lines
  • PPE PROCEDURES
  • Re-usable PPE to be thoroughly cleaned after use and not shared between workers
  • Single use PPE should be disposed of so that it cannot be reused
  • See section on PPE below for details

FACILITES FOR ISOLATING in the WORKPLACE

  • Procedures need to be in place if a worker or visitor has been identified as possibly infected. An isolation room needs to be made available

 

 

A reminder

If you or your work colleagues contract the virus follow the Government guidelines on isolation. Ensure your employer reports it using RIDDOR: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/riddor-reporting-coronavirus.htm

Further information can be found at:

 

 


Working Together to Feed the Nation!

Statement by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Unite, Usdaw, BFAWU and GMB

Working together to feed the nation

Every single person working in food and drink manufacturing – whether in production, distribution, or packaging – is doing vital work feeding the nation. The issue of food security has moved to its rightful place as a top priority. The unions and FDF are aware of the exceptionally demanding situation in the sector and are proud of the work being done, but also equally determined to ensure food and drink workers and their families stay safe.
We recognise the personal sacrifices everyone across the industry is making at this time of national crisis. That contribution has been widely recognised, including among others, by HRH Prince Charles, by Secretary of State Rt Hon George Eustice MP, Shadow Secretary of State Luke Pollard MP, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and by many, many people in the wider community.

We thank you for the part you are playing and set out below the key elements we have jointly identified as important for a successful partnership approach between industry and the trade unions at this difficult time, and building on this into the future.
Working together: Unions and Food and Drink Manufacturers
We share two objectives:

• to ensure that essential workers in food and drink manufacturing stay safe and are properly respected
• that we continue to produce the food and drink we need to feed the people of the United Kingdom.

We know that co-operation between us can achieve both goals.
Together, we would like to highlight examples of great partnership between food and drink manufacturers, trade unions and employees that have resulted in the safety of workers and effective running of our workplaces. We believe these examples – and many others – show how we are working together for the common good.
What we are doing is essential
Our industry has been designated because every item of food and drink produced in the UK is important to feeding our fellow citizens and to keeping the shelves stocked. At a time when many are confined, the small pleasures from food and drink can go a long way in lifting spirits. Our workforce is essential as we seek to maintain production, evenly spread across businesses and different product categories, which relieves the pressure on the entire industry.
Working together to resolve concerns
Many businesses have significantly increased the dialogue between managers, unions and employees. This has driven increased levels of communication and mutual support to solve problems and concerns in those workplaces. We know further co-operation is needed to ensure the industry’s continued ability to produce food and to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Working together to help those who can’t be at work
We are an essential industry and we should lead on how we support our colleagues who need to be away from the workplace. Remuneration will be a matter for each business, driven by its own financial imperatives and recognising agreed relationships with trade unions. This is an unprecedented time and we hope that every business will give serious consideration to how they support their essential workforce through pay and conditions.
As positive examples, many businesses are paying in full:

• those in the ‘highly vulnerable’ category during the 12 weeks who need to be at home and isolated in line with government guidelines and;
• those with Covid-19 symptoms or who are self-isolating.

Working together to make people safe at work
A large number of responsible manufacturers and unions have agreed and implemented a series of measures to make people safe in their workplace. These include appropriate social distancing, enhanced hygiene measures and personal protective equipment as applicable and appropriate.
Drawing on the food sector-specific guidance set out by Public Health England and Food Standards Scotland, the key hygiene and social distancing measures employers are recommended to implement are available here and here.
In particular, businesses should ensure they are:

• Raising awareness amongst all staff
• Promoting effective personal hygiene
• Promoting safe and appropriate staff behaviours
• Ensuring effective and regular cleaning and disinfecting
• Ensuring social distancing measures on site and in food production areas
• Ensuring the correct use of appropriate personal protective equipment
• Acting quickly and supportively when a member of staff displays symptoms of Covid 19, to protect them and others, and conducting appropriate deep cleaning operations
• Keeping informed of developing advice.

These are only some examples of the ways in which business, unions and employees are working together. At the heart of all these relationships is mutual respect for the role each of us has to play in this vital national endeavour. Across the food and drink industry we are making a real difference. We thank you for your total commitment to that cause and celebrate your contribution as our industry’s hidden and unsung heroes.
Signed on behalf of

FDF -  Ian Wright CBE (Chief Executive)
Unite -  Diana Holland (Assistant General Secretary) and Joe Clarke (National Officer, Food & Beverages)
Usdaw -  David Gill (National Officer, Food and Manufacturing)
BFAWU -  Sarah Woolley (General Secretary) GMB - Jude Brimble (National Secretary) and Eamon O’Hearn (National Officer)


BFAWU Bids Farewell to Retiring General Secretary!

We’re having to say good-bye to our outgoing General Secretary, Ronnie Draper, in a way that we hadn’t planned, thanks to the current situation and the government’s response to COVID-19. Originally, the idea was for Ronnie to have one last hurrah and say his farewells at our Annual Conference in Southport, which had been scheduled for June this year. However, once it became apparent that Conference wouldn’t be taking place, Ronnie took the selfless decision to retire earlier and allow the incoming General Secretary, Sarah Woolley, to take the reins and move the Union forward.

Ronnie has been with the BFAWU for 47 years. During that time, he’s held countless positions and roles from workplace representative, through to Organiser, Regional Officer, National President and General Secretary. He’s seen and experienced many ups and downs, has led strikes, organised workplaces and delivered important improvements to our members’ terms and conditions. He’s spear-headed a number of successful campaigns, such as ‘Cool It’ and also managed to get the TUC to adopt the £10 per hour campaign, among many others.

No one has ever been able to embellish a story as well as Ronnie can, but all those (including myself) who’ve either experienced or been at the heart of Ronnie’s storytelling will tell you that it helped to create a great camaraderie and real sense of family. No matter what was going on, we knew that the support for each other was always there and Ronnie believed very strongly in that. If any Union employee, officer or member was suffering in some way, Ronnie would always be there to offer support to them when he found out about the situation.

We all have our own standout moments of being in Ronnie’s company, such as the time on Pennine Foods’ picket line when he told South Yorkshire Police Officers to back off, as it wouldn’t be a good look to be seen to be oppressing workers once again, especially whilst they were still being investigated for the roles they played at Hillsborough and Orgreave.

Ronnie was fortunate to work alongside so many giants in our Union, including Joe Marino and Terry O’Neill and enjoyed strong relationships with the likes of Arthur Scargill, Bob Crow, Tony Benn and of course, Jeremy Corbyn. He made sure that as a Union, we kept grounded and on the right path both politically, and in terms of the people we represent. Ronnie was always happiest in the company of our Union members and could always be found shooting the fat with them at BFAWU events, courses and Conferences. The fact that it was usually near the bar was purely coincidental.

Ronnie has contributed to many different organisations both in the UK and internationally, giving evidence in both Parliament and the European Union. As a National Officer, he has always put his heart and soul into defending our members and our Union. We know that his commitment to the BFAWU will not end when he retires and I’m sure he’ll always be available to give support, advice and no doubt a story or two.

I know that you will all join me in wishing Ronnie a long and happy retirement.

Solidarity always.

Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)


A Message from th BFAW Credit Union

Throughout these difficult times with the Covid 19 pandemic and all the issues around it , I would like to let you all know that the Credit Union is running as normal. We are dealing with withdrawals, loans and all of your queries in the same manner as we have always dealt with them.

With loans, there might be a slight delay in the paperwork if it is sent through the post as the post is taking a little longer. It is much easier if you can email the documents required.

Stay safe and look after yourselves. Kind Regards,
Pauline Nazir, Secretary, Bakers Food & Allied Workers Credit Union


Help For Union Members With Emlpoyment Disputes or Unfair Dismissal

It is important to remember that, should you need any advice, you should contact one of our Full Time Officials, whose details can be found on the Contact Page of this website.

If you should have a dispute with your employer, there is only a short time in which any potential claim can be lodged. Please, therefore, see the following instructions:

What you need to do:  Dismissal
If you have been dismissed, you need to text HELP to 67777. This will start the process and you will get a call back from the union who will take your details and you will be allocated a tribunal officer to support you through the process.
You have 3 months less 1 day to lodge a tribunal claim and your tribunal officer will help you through the process.

What you need to do:  Non-Dismissal
It is important that you text HELP to 67777 immediately the problem starts as there are legal timelines that need to be adhered to. The 3 month less 1 day rule applies from the time the incident happened, rather than the time you raised it. These issues could include: sex discrimination, illegal deduction from wages, bullying or anything else that could lead to a tribunal.

Please Note: The BFAWU will only refer those cases to Tribunal where it considers that there is a likelihood of success (Rule 13.3).
Any member who is granted legal assistance agrees to bide by the Rules of the BFAWU in relation to such assistance (Rule 13.4).
The Executive Council’s decision on such matters shall be final (Rule 13.7)

What to expect
It is the member’s [YOUR] responsibility to notify the union of the dismissal or non- dismissal case.
From the moment you contact us, you will be allocated a dedicated tribunal officer from your Region. The tribunal officer will:

  • Assess your case
  • Discuss options with you
  • Liaise with the solicitors
  • Help you through the early conciliation process, and
  • Decide from the minutes, notes and information you have provided, whether or not the union will support you to tribunal.
    YOU will be at the forefront of any decision made by the tribunal officer.
    If you have been unfairly treated, you will be represented by the BFAWU.

To contact us for help:
Text HELP to 67777 Or email help@bfawu.org


Briefing on employer and employees responsibilities in the wake of Coronavirus

The social landscape in response to Coronavirus is fast changing.  Emergency legislation giving ministers new powers to respond to the Coronavirus outbreak is currently progressing through parliament with the Coronavirus Bill, expected to become law by the time this briefing goes to press.  On Monday 23 March 2020 the Prime Minister declared a “moment of national emergency" which meant requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes, closing non-essential shops and community spaces and stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public.  This followed a number of announcements over the last week covering protection of pay for workers and a proposed introduction of benefits for the self-employed but what does it all mean?

This is the second in a series of briefings we are publishing in response to the issues arising from Coronavirus in the workplace for trade unions and workers.  The first focussed on health and safety issues and sick pay.  In this briefing we will attempt to answer some of the key questions that are arising in workplaces across the country, initially with a focus on the Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme and then with a consideration of some practical issues facing workers.

The Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme

What is a Furloughed Worker?

Furlough is not a legal term and it's not defined.  We believe that  furloughed worker is a worker who will remain on his or her employer’s payroll but will not be provided with work as a consequence of the Coronavirus outbreak as opposed to a worker who has his or her contract terminated.

What is the Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme?

The Coronavirus government retention scheme provides a mechanism whereby a government provides a grant to reimburse employers for 80% of a furloughed employee’s wage costs up to a cap of £2,500 per month for those designated as “furloughed”. The guidance states that an employer can then choose to top-up that pay for its employees who earn more than this amount although there is no obligation to do this to access the scheme. The Chancellor has stated any employer will be eligible to access the scheme on behalf of its employees who are paid through PAYE. The scheme is intended to apply to employers who cannot cover staff costs due to Coronavirus. We do not yet know whether there will be any further eligibility criteria to determine whether a decision to furlough an employee has been taken because of Coronavirus or not. The scheme is initially open for a three month period.

How will the Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme work in practice?

There are still many unanswered questions around this.  In short, as described above, employers who access the scheme will be provided with a government grant to reimburse them for 80% of the furloughed employee’s wage costs. Employers will claim this money back through an online portal. An employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and the full salary but does not have to.The scheme is not intended to override the contract of employment and therefore basic contractual principles still apply.  Furthermore, there will be no statutory right to require that an individual must be “furloughed”. For the scheme to operate fairly we would advise:

The Government says that a “furloughed employee” is “subject to existing employment law and… may be subject to negotiation”. It is not common for employment contracts to contain a lay off clause and therefore in the majority of cases the furloughing of workers should be done by agreement between the employer and affected staff.   The alternative would be that workers might be laid off or made redundant so our advice would be agree where possible to the Scheme. 

  • In workplaces where an employer is unable to provide all of its employees with work as a result of the Coronavirus and a trade union is recognised, employers should agree a collective agreement with that union to provide a right to furlough employees which would be incorporated into their individual contracts of employment.
  • The collective agreement negotiated with the recognised trade union should also contain an agreed selection criteria as to how it will be determined which employees should be furloughed if it is envisaged that some employees will remain in work. It may be appropriate in the first instance to invite volunteers in the workforce who are willing to be designated as “furloughed” and only revert to further selection criteria if there are not enough volunteers or indeed too many.
  • In the absence of a recognised trade union employers should consult with employees to seek their agreement to vary their contract to provide an employer with a right to furlough them if the employer is unable to provide them with work as a result of the Coronavirus and the basis upon which selections will be determined.
  • If contracts of employment already provide provisions that entitle an employer to lay off an employee without pay it will be important for unions and workers to persuade employers to use the scheme rather than lay employees off. Although there is no legal mechanism to force an employer to do this the provisions on furlough leave have been specifically introduced in order to deter employers to lay-off staff without pay or make redundancies.

What about workers who have already agreed with an employer to reduce hours or pay in response to the crisis?

Unfortunately, as things stand it does not appear the scheme addresses this issue because in order to be able access the scheme the worker has to be furloughed and not doing any work at all. There are calls for the scheme to be widened to address this point and we await further detail on that. If the scheme does not address this it will cause some inequitable outcomes.

Does the Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme apply to those who are off sick?

It does not appear the scheme is intended to address the circumstances of those who are off sick or who are self-isolating.  Those individuals may be entitled to contractual sick pay if the contract provides for this or statutory sick pay (SSP) (currently £94.25 per week - £95.85 from 6 April) if it doesn’t. We will need to see further detail on the mechanics of the scheme to ascertain whether there is any possibility of an employer designating an employee on furlough leave who is ill or self-isolating which would enable them to be reimbursed for a proportion of contractual sick pay or would enhance the very meagre SSP entitlement.

Are the self-employed covered by the Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme?

No they are not. There are strong calls for further legislation to be introduced to protect those who are self-employed but as things stand now they fall outside of this scheme. The position in respect of “workers” is less clear. In the UK there is a distinction between “employees and “workers”, the latter have fewer rights which are limited to things like holiday pay. The government guidance does not make clear whether “workers” are covered.  However, a statement from the chancellor indicated everyone covered by PAYE would be included.  The intention being to apply the scheme to as broad a range of individuals as possible. It is hoped therefore that workers paid through PAYE will be covered but it is likely those that are self-employed will fall outside the scheme.

How will earnings be calculated under the Coronavirus Government Retention Scheme?

Unfortunately the position on this remains unknown and it is not clear whether the government grant will be for 80% of basic salary only or whether it will encompass all earnings (overtime, bonuses etc.) based on an average that workers have been paid in previous weeks. Consideration will also need to be given as to how pay will be determined for those on zero hour contracts and who work variable hours.

What is the position if I have already been laid-off without pay?

The scheme will cover wages backdated to 1 March 2020. On this basis it would appear it is possible for workers and employers to still make use of the scheme where a decision occurred after 1 March 2020 because the employer was not able to provide work as a result of coronavirus. However, this is uncertain until we see the rules of the scheme.  It appears unlikely that the scheme will cover those who have had their contract terminated since 1 March 2020.

My employer is threatening to make redundancies now – what should I do?

Every effort should be made to persuade employers to take advantage of this scheme now rather than make redundancies. If employers assert they need to do something urgently, and are reluctant to wait for further details of the scheme to be published, it should be pointed out they may be able to access a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.  

What if the employer is adamant it will proceed with redundancies?

The normal rules around a redundancy process should apply. Therefore if an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment it should consult with a trade union where it is recognised or “appropriate representatives” where there is no union recognised (see section 188 1B of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA)). An employer may well argue that Coronavirus amounts to “special circumstances” which render it not reasonably practicable to consult but that will very much depend on the circumstances.   In most cases there should be some form of consultation.  In addition, there will also be a requirement to consult with individual employees in order to ensure a fair process when dismissing an employee on the grounds of redundancy.

Some practical issues facing workers:

Am I still required to attend work following the announcement by the Prime Minister on Monday 23 March 2020?

If you are Critical Worker you are expected to attend work provided you are well and do not need to self-isolate in accordance with government guidance. Critical workers include a wide range of workers who are not just those working in health and social care,  education and childcare but also those in public services (such as those paying social security benefits), food and other necessary goods, those employed in public safety such as the police, fire service, border security, prison and probation staff, transport workers, those working in utilities, communication and financial services (workers in oil, gas, electricity and water, banks building societies etc.)

What if it is not possible to work from home because of the nature of the work?

The employer should abide by government guidance to maintain social distancing in the workplace.  This may involve making adjustments to how the work is done in order to reduce the risk to the health safety and welfare of workers and other such as client’s customers and service users. The employer is also under a duty to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to reduce or eliminate that risk.  The workforce and the appropriate health and safety representatives should be informed and consulted on any measures the employer proposes to introduce including any adjustments to how the work is done.  If the employer suspends a worker from work because there is no alternative measure, the employee should usually be entitled to their normal pay during the period of suspension.  Employers should also consider adjustments to your working pattern to ensure you are able to maintain social distancing in respect of your journeys to and from work.

If work can be done from home does the employer have to provide the equipment?

You should first check if the employer has a home working policy or practice.  This should set out what equipment the employer will provide and if the employer will reimburse any expenses such as telephone calls.  If there is no home working policy and bearing in mind the Government’s guidance is to work from home wherever possible, the employer should consult with the workforce and recognised trade union on what support and assistance it can provide.  As the current position is expected to develop the employer should review the arrangements in consultation with the workforce and the recognised trade union after three weeks and again in accordance with government guidance at that time.

What payments are those who are classed as vulnerable workers entitled to receive?

The government guidance for employers’ states that employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible.  Therefore, those who are in a vulnerable group but who are not unwell or have symptoms of coronavirus and can work from home should be paid their normal rate of pay.  Vulnerable workers who are unable to work from home will not be expected to attend their workplace. These employees should ask to be suspended on full pay or furloughed in accordance with the scheme.  

What is the position of parents who care for a vulnerable child?

Parents who are caring for a vulnerable child are entitled to unpaid dependants leave in an unexpected event or emergency.  However, this is unpaid and only for a short period.  Parents should check if there is a dependants leave policy which provides for pay.  Employees with one years’ continuous service are entitled to 18 week’s parental leave per child.  However, this too is unpaid and limited to four weeks per year.  Another option is to consider flexible working which could include condensed hours (5 days work in 4 for example).  Where an employer disciplines a worker because they are not able to work in these circumstances the worker may be able to argue that they have been treated less favourably because of their association with a child who has a disability.

What is a pregnant worker entitled to be paid?

A pregnant worker who is able to work from home and has not triggered their entitlements to maternity leave and pay is entitled to be paid their normal pay.  Where a pregnant employee is unable to work from home and there is no suitable alternative work the pregnant employee should be treated as having been suspended under the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 and entitled to be paid full pay.    This is because an employer has an additional responsibility to protect the health and safety of pregnant employees.

Are workers entitled to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as apron gloves and face masks?

The government has advised that there is very little evidence that face masks provide any benefit outside of a clinical setting.  However, what personal protective equipment, if any, workers are entitled to will depend on the risk assessment carried out by the employer.  The employer is required to carry out a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment to identify the risks   to health and safety of employees and worker as well as visitors’, clients and customers.  This should set out what steps is reasonably practicable for them to take to eliminate or reduce that risk.  This may or may not include the provision of PPE.  You can request a copy of the risk assessment from your employer.

What are the options for an employee if the employer does not apply social distancing measures at work?

If the workplace has a recognised trade union the employee should bring it to the attention of the union health and safety representative or safety committee.  If the workplace is not recognised the employee should bring it to the attention of the health and safety representative if there is one. 

If it is not reasonably practicable to bring it to the attention of a recognised health and safety rep/safety committee or there is no health and safety rep in a non-recognised workplace, the employee should bring it to the employer’s attention.  When doing so we recommend that the employee makes clear to the employer that they are bringing this to their attention because:

  1.  they reasonably believe it is harmful or potentially harmful to the health safety and welfare of employees and others including clients/customers/service users and visitors,
  2.  government guidance on social distancing is not being followed, and
  3.  there is either no safety representative or safety committee or it is not reasonably practicable to bring it to the attention of the appropriate health and safety representative or safety committee (e.g. because they have tried but not been able to contact them)

If the employer still does nothing the employee may take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others and can even include removing themselves from the premises if they reasonably believe they are in circumstances of danger which are serious and imminent.  What is appropriate action by an employee will depend on all the circumstances of the case including the employee's knowledge of the facts, as well as the facilities and advice available to them at the time.  This would include government guidance.  It is important that the employee seek the advice of their union as to what steps are appropriate for them to take as there is a risk an employer may fairly discipline or dismiss them if their actions were so negligent that a reasonable employer ‘might’ have treated the employee as the employer did.  An employee who blows the whistle on an employer who fails to comply with the duty to ensure the health and safety and welfare at work of all their employees could also have a whistleblowing claim.  

25 March 2020