Organising for our common interests
A lack of adequate guarantees for workers from central government and employers means many workers are now facing a difficult decision: continue to work, and risk exposure to COVID-19 (and by extension exposing their loved ones and friends), or alternately stay at home and slip into debt, with rising rent arrears and unpaid utility bills. The following section features advice from Trade Unions, information on active campaigns, and links to self-organised initiatives online, where workers are coordinating to fight for their interests. If you are not yet in a union, now is the time to join one. If you are in a union, now is the time to increase inter-union communication and cooperation. We desperately need a rank and file coordination across different unions, that can fight for the interests of the working class as a whole.
Please note as government policy is constantly changing, some of the resources linked below may not be updated immediately to reflect the latest changes.
Government jobs retention package and other measures
On 20 March the government announced grants for businesses to cover the wages of employees who are currently unable to work because their employers are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The scheme will cover 80% of salaries for retained workers up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Employers are not required to top up salaries as in other countries.
While the scheme won’t open until next month, grants can be backdated to the beginning of March 2020. It is initially anticipated to be open for at least three months.
These measures do not help self-employed workers or those on zero-hours contracts, who can only access Universal Credit at the rate of Statutory Sick pay— £94.25 per month.
These proposals come in addition to addition to a number of other measures to support businesses, including:
- deferred VAT and Income Tax payments until the end of June
- Statutory Sick Pay relief for SMEs
- 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England
- small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
- grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
- Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank interest free for 12 months now (rather than 6 as previously announced)
- a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
- HMRC Time To Pay Scheme
The proposals do not set out any plans to require businesses to make undertakings that workers will not be laid off.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell welcomed the shift in direction but condemned the measures as “not far enough or fast enough.” You can read his response here.
On 23 March, IWGB announced that it was taking legal action against the government for failing to protect precarious workers.
Further statements will be linked here as they appear.
Resources and guidance
Coronavirus Movement for Workers handbook—collated by rank-and-file workers/trade unionists
Coronavirus Movement for Workers Facebook support group—the related online discussion forum for workers/trade unionists
“If You Believe Your Workplace is Unsafe, You Have the Legal Right to Refuse to Work“—guide written by workers on rights to a safe workplace
Campaigns and demands
Coronavirus Movement for Workers—growing online resource and organising platform
Labour’s economic plan: “Wages, Welfare, and Wellbeing”—a step in the right direction from John McDonnell
Health Campaigns Together—protecting our NHS and its workers
IWGB legal action against the government (23 March)—crowdfunding campaign here
Organisations representing freelancers joint letter to the Prime Minister—calling for a Temporary Income Protection Fund
Coming soon as the government publishes more details
What are my employer’s responsibilities when it comes to health and safety?
Your employer has a duty of care under the Health and Safety At Work Act. Responsibility for your health and safety extends to if you are working from home. The Hazards Campaign has produced some guidance specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic. This topic is also covered in Unison’s Q&As.
If you have a question please fill out this form and we shall endeavour to research the answer.
Please see the page on Social Security for information on accessing benefits