Bosses discriminate against pregnant workers — know your rights!

Some unscrupulous bosses are using the pandemic to discriminate against pregnant women.

The BBC website (10.5.) reported one 16-week pregnant care assistant was ″given permission″ by her employer to stop work (in line with advice from her midwife) but was told this would either be unpaid leave, or she might get sick pay if she was given a sick note by her doctor. But she is not sick, she′s pregnant! Her and her partner have now had to arrange a mortgage payment.

Health and safety law states that if there are any risks to an expectant mother employers must make adjustments to work, offer alternative work or arrange paid leave.

Another employer asked a healthcare assistant to take maternity leave just 12 weeks into her pregnancy thus she will lose out on maternity leave after her baby is born.

Employers are refusing to furlough pregnant workers on zero-hours contracts although they can claim relief for furloughing employees on any kind of contract.

Pregnant workers can be at greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19, are included in the government list of clinically vulnerable people and many will have had a shielding letter from the NHS.

These bosses are acting unlawfully in this discrimination, causing distress and hardship at a particularly vulnerable time for many women. Some bosses claim a lack of clear guidance from the government, but this information is available online, and many of these employers include large firms, and even the NHS. There is no excuse!

If you are pregnant, these are your rights:

• Pregnant women can be furloughed, subject to agreement and depending on the employment contract, but should not be furloughed just because they are pregnant

• If you’re getting Maternity Allowance while you’re on maternity leave, you cannot get furlough pay at the same time.

• If you have agreed to be put on furlough, you must contact Jobcentre Plus to stop your Maternity Allowance payments.

• The UK Government has passed a law to ensure that, for furloughed workers whose paternity or maternity leave begins on or after the 25 April, the “earnings test” will take into account the person’s usual wages not their furloughed wages.

• The UK Government states you can be furloughed on any type of contract, including a zero hours contract.

• If you were made redundant or stopped working for your employer after 28 February 2020, your employer can agree to re-employ you and place you on furlough.

• When an employee provides written notification to her employer stating that she is pregnant, the employer should immediately take into account any risks identified in their workplace risk assessment.

If the risk cannot be removed employers are required to:

• Temporarily adjust her working conditions and/or hours of work; or if that is not possible

• Offer her suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay) if available, or if that is not feasible

• Suspend her from work on paid leave for as long as necessary, to protect her health and safety and that of her child.

More information and help:

Jeff Bezos: super spreader

Amazon have done well out of the pandemic. Very well. Over the last few weeks Amazon′s share price has rise by 50%; the personal wealth of its CEO Jeff Bezos (riches man in the world) has risen by $41 billion to $146 billion.

Anti-corporate greed blog have calculated that just 1% of Bezos’ fortune would cover two week′s sick page for Amazon′s global workforce of over 798,000. A US Amazon employee earns on average $16.26 per hour.

Not only do Amazon not provide sick pay, on the 1 May Amazon ended a policy allowing unlimited unpaid time off. According to the Guardian (7 May), in California, at least four warehouses have recorded cases of Covid-19.

SumofUs have installed a giant billboard outside Bezos’ Washington DC mansion accusing him of being a super spreader.

SumofUs are right. All bosses who refuse to pay full sick and isolation pay are contributing to the spread of the virus.

Migrant workers need PPE too!

Migrant workers need PPE too!

Migrant work­­ers are being forced to work without access to the same PPE (personal protective equipment) and paid leave for isolation and shielding that their British born colleagues are receiving in at least one Tesco distribution centre.

Managers are refusing to take the time to explain the changes in policy and what they mean for the staff in a way that can be understood despite the language barrier, and telling them to work above their usual pick rates despite the fact monitoring has been suspended for the duration of pandemic.

Whilst many reps are in self-isolation and the increased targets make it difficult for the staff to organise, they have produced a series of demands for their managers:

  • Sterilisation of all equipment inbetween users
  • Opening up offices and training rooms for use during breaktimes for social distancing
  • Translating and explaining all policies in a way that all staff can understand
  • Retaining the 10% bonus and beneficial rota changes after the crisis
  • Trainees spread out across the distribution centre.

These demands are good and highlight no going back on improvements to our working conditions that we’ve won in this crisis, whilst making it clear that we as a class, regardless of national origin or language, are united against our bosses trying to wring us even harder. The staff at the distribution centre should continue to organise together, and demand that USDAW take up that their fight.

Charlie George

Charlie is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

Checkout screens: back to back problems

Protective screens have been put up between till operators in most supermarkets, in order to enable them to open twice as many tills while ostensibly adhering to social distancing guidelines, but many staff feel like they just don’t go far enough.

According to a senior USDAW official, the union approved their use in Tesco (where I work) without even seeing the screens, and upon seeing them doubts were raised about why they had been approved in the first place.

The policy pushed by USDAW and adopted across many of the supermarket chains is that it is to remain only one checkout operator per island unless it is absolutely necessary to open more tills, but so long as other social distancing measures are in place, such as the one-way one-in-one-out system, this should be an unusual exception and the screens must certainly not be an excuse to drop these other measures designed to protect customers and staff.

One checkout operator has said they “don’t feel protected at work at all” as a result of the shoddy implementation of these protective screens, and as such, some Tesco staff have taken action. In some stores, checkout operators working with their USDAW reps have enforced local agreements with their managers that under no circumstances should they be working back to back with anyone whether there’s a screen in place or not. In at least one instance the manager’s refusal sparked a short walkout before they caved in.

Staff in all supermarkets should discuss amongst themselves the protections and policies they believe they require and organise to enforce them locally and force the Union to push for national implementation, ensuring maximum safety for everyone in the store.

Charlie George

Charlie is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

Nurse urges colleagues to escalate sick pay safety concerns

On Friday 17th April, mental health nurse, Stuart Jordan, wrote to Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May citing the duty under the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code to escalate patient and public safety concerns. He argues that the many workers across the health and care sectors have no right to occupational sick pay and cannot afford to follow public health advice to if they need to self-isolate. This creates a situation where the people least able to follow the public health advice if they need to self-isolate are caring for those most likely to die if they are infected by Coronavirus.

Figures from the GMB union suggest over 400,000 care workers have no occupational sick pay. “Without occupational sick pay it is likely that some care workers will come to work with signs of Coronavirus infection. Many of my patients who are dependent on social care have underlying health conditions and are supposed to be shielding. The only people they see are people least able to follow the government’s public health advice.”

Low wages and the lack of occupational sick pay for health and social care staff means many more vulnerable adults will be infected with Coronavirus than is necessary.

Having become aware of this major patient and public safety issue, each nurse, including the Chief Nursing Officer, has a professional duty to escalate concerns. If you are a nurse, act without delay.

Write to Ruth May at and to other senior nurses, such as the lead nurse in your Trust. If possible give examples from your own experience of speaking to colleagues about their sick leave entitlement. Make the broader arguement about the lack of occupational sick pay for over 400,000 social care workers. See Stuart’s letter below. Let us know how you get on.

Dear Ruth,
The NMC code of conduct states that we must “raise and, if necessary, escalate any concerns you may have about patient or public safety, or the level of care people are receiving in your workplace or any other health and care setting and use the channels available to you in line with our guidance and your local working practices.”
I wish to bring to your attention a serious and widespread risk to patient safety within the NHS and other health and care settings that could be mitigated by employer and/or government action.
At my place of work I have met  several members of staff who have no right to occupational sick pay or are unaware of their right. These include agency staff employed to backfill vacancies by Serco who have a contract for security, reception, and domestic services, cleaners employed by G4S and bank staff who are unable to access full paid leave to selfisolate because of the way this provision is organised. These workers are low paid and many have told me that they would struggle to cope financially if they or a family member developed Coronavirus symptoms and they had to take time off to selfisolate. Some of them might take the financial hit and follow the government advice. But across the NHS there are many individuals in this situation and some of them will continue to work. There have been several newspaper reports of individuals coming to work with symptoms because they cannot afford not to, including in a NHS 111 call centre. Any workplace where there are workers without entitlement to full paid sick and selfisolation pay, are workplaces where there is a heightened risk of Coronavirus infection. In the NHS that means a heightened risk of death for staff and patients.

Moreover, some of my patients live in care homes or are reliant on home carers. My patients require the services of these workers to maximise their independence and allow them to live fulfilling and dignified lives. However the local provider who organises a care package does not pay occupational sick pay. Again, without occupational sick pay it is likely that some care workers will come to work with signs of Coronavirus infection. Many of my patients who are dependent on social care have underlying health conditions and are supposed to be shielding. The only people they see are people least able to follow the government’s public health advice. A recent survey by the GMB union found that 55% of care workers have no right to paid sick leave: that is over 400,000 keyworkers.

Myself and colleagues have raised these concerns locally and yet the risks we identified persist. However these problems are not limited to my workplace, the risk exists throughout the health and social care system. It is a risk that can easily be mitigated by government and/or employer action to ensure the right to full sick and self-isolation pay for all workers.

I hope that now that you are aware of this risk to patient and public safety you will fulfil the duty to act without delay to escalate these concerns.
Yours sincerely,
Stuart Jordan
Community Mental Health Nurse

No going back at Tesco!

The 10% bonus being paid on actual hours worked over the crisis is welcomed by Tesco staff in what has been an extremely challenging tine for us with busier stores, stressed out managers and concerns about our health and safety at work.

But our work has been getting harder for years. This 10% shouldn’t be just a pat on the back for working hard over these few months, we should be demanding that we keep this as a permanent 10% pay rise! The company can afford it. Despite the constant refrain from lead managers of Lidl and Aldi forcing us to cut staff and work harder, Tesco’s profits and wider financial position have been improving year on year as the financial report sent out to us all last week shows.

And why stop there?

The 12 weeks paid leave for vulnerable colleagues should be extended to make Lifestyle Breaks paid – it’s all well and good saying we can go out and travel the world or take time off work, but if we can’t afford to eat, then it’s of little use!

The minimal notice period and line-manager approval for all types of leave should be continued, too. As we’ve seen, the company has no problems in finding cover when it’s really needed.

Finally, but by no means least, the suspension of the degrading attendance review process should continue. Our managers aren’t doctors nor are they aware of everything going on in our lives – we shouldn’t be asked to justify for a second time, months down the line every day we’ve needed off. This, alongside full paid sick leave from day 1 will make a huge difference to our lives and our ability to take time off when need it.

We shouldn’t accept any retreat on the things we have won over the past few weeks, and we should organise in our shops to keep them and to push USDAW to take a militant stance and fight for more.

Charlie George,

Charlie is and USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

NHS agency staff need full self-isolation pay

At the start of the pandemic NHS England, understood the need to ensure everyone carrying out duties in NHS premises had rights to follow public health advice to self-isolate on full pay. Without this right, workers are under huge financial pressure to come to work when they should be self-isolating, creating avoidable risks of infection for all staff and patients.

On 2.3.20 NHS England said this right should extend to all workers, including bank staff and workers employed by sub-contractors. However, a joint statement by Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, Public Health England, NHS Employers and NHS Improvement substantially weakens this earlier pledge to just bank and subcontractors. In guidance issued on 27.3.20 they state: “Where an individual has no substantive employment with an NHS employing organisation, they will not be entitled to any pay from the NHS. Individual agencies should determine their own approach to pay for employees that have to self-isolate.”

The original pledge was not made because NHS management had suddenly become champions of workers’ rights. On the contrary, management issued this statement because they understood that it was essential for infection control purposes that there was no financial pressure forcing workers into NHS hospitals when they had signs of Coronavirus infection. They understood that the degrading of workers’ rights over many decades of outsourcing and real-terms pay cuts was one of the important ways in which the NHS was ill prepared  to deal with the pandemic.

It is not clear what happened between the 2nd and 27th March that meant agency workers were dropped from this basic protection. And if agency workers are not covered by the latest guidance then the infection control problems remain.

The government and NHS employers resent having to pay agency nurses wages but it is a problem of their own making.  Since 2010, nurses pay has fallen by around 15% in real terms. Nursing shortages due to poor workforce planning, Brexit, the scrapping of the student bursary and similar mean that there were 44000 fulltime nursing vacancies across the NHS when we entered this crisis. Many nurses, fed up with low pay and increased workload, have opted for agency work. They are now a large section of the NHS workforce. Some may be able to take the financial hit of a week or fortnight in selfisolation but some will not. If we are serious about slowing the spread of the virus then they need the same right to sick and selfisolation pay as substantive staff.

Moreover, agency work is not just confined to clinical staff. Many outsourced cleaning, security and transport services use agency to backfill staff vacancies. These are often very low paid and have very few rights.

As staffing shortages increase through the pandemic, the NHS will become ever more dependent on agency workers. They will be working alongside substantive staff through the crisis. As a basic infection control measure and to fulfil the employers’ health and safety duties, all workers including agency workers, need the right to selfisolate on full pay.

USDAW: Unions are an essential service!

In response to the pandemic, USDAW – the shop workers union – has closed down it’s democratic structures, cancelled all its conferences, meetings and schools, and sent everyone on release back to work.

It is precisely in crises that we need our unions to increase its activity and generate wider discussions across workplaces and companies.

While it may be a good idea to postpone our larger conferences, there is no reason at all why our branch meetings and educational discussions couldn’t happen online, and why, with appropriate PPE, reps on stand down couldn’t continue to provide support in their area.

Most worryingly of all, in Tesco at least, the monthly store rep team meetings, where we discuss what’s going on in our store and how to react, have been cancelled. There’s no obvious reason for this, especially seeing as we’re all working with each other anyway!

USDAW must rapidly find a way to reopen its branches and divisions for democratic discussion on how best to respond to this crisis.

Most reps I’ve spoken to understand this, with our group chats and Facebook groups more active than ever. But we can’t just allow this to be a discussion amongst ourselves on how best to implement the policies from our managers – we need to be talking with our colleagues in our store (particularly in the absence of larger meetings) and agreeing amongst ourselves what protections and policies we want to fight for.

Charlie George,

Charlie is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

Tesco: let’s extend these policies

Charlie is an USDAW Rep in a large format Tesco store in London

Tesco’s response to the pandemic has been unusually clear, and provides a firm starting point for those of us wanting to ensure greater protections on the shop floor now and better pay and conditions when this crisis starts to subside.

We’ve been given paid leave to self-isolate up to 14 days, and our vulnerable colleagues (everyone who needs a flu jab, or is pregnant or over 65) have been given 12 weeks paid leave to make sure they stay safe.

Gloves, masks, and hand gel should be available to anyone who feels like they need them, and there’s a one-way one-in-one-out system in operation across all stores, and barriers are being put up around the tills.

This all sounds pretty good, but here’s the catch:

The paid leave is based on core hours and isn’t available to the 45,000 new starters! In order to protect our staff and our customers, it should surely be the case that everyone we work with should be able to isolate themselves without worrying about paying for food or rent. We demand full paid leave, based on average hours worked, for all staff working in Tesco.

Despite the clarity of the policy, however, some line managers or even store managers think they know better! I’ve heard reports of managers refusing the 12 weeks paid leave without the letter from the NHS declaring them “extremely vulnerable”, despite this leave being available to all vulnerable colleagues; line managers have been encouraging staff to come to work despite the fact they should be self-isolating; store managers have been ignoring the social distancing policies and bragging about how much money they’re making.

This is unacceptable. If this is happening in your store, talk to your USDAW Rep and your colleagues around you. File grievances against your managers and refuse to work unless the policies are properly implemented, or better still, until they’ve implemented what measures you’ve agreed with your colleagues that you want in place, regardless of how much further they go than what head office wants.