Workplace Struggles

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 main page on Coronavirus

Government jobs retention package and other measures

Updated government guidance for employees

Updated government guidance for employers and businesses

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.

The TUC and larger unions, including Unite, welcomed the news as a step in the right direction.

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

Anti-Viral Work for Freelancers and Small Businesses Facebook group

Unite crisis helpline

ACAS advice

Association for Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed guidance

Unite comprehensive and updated advice for employees and employers

Unite advice on lay-offs and short-time working

Unison Q&A on rights at work

Unison sector-specific advice: Education; Healthcare; Social care; Local government services

GMB union members briefing

UCU (University and College Union) advice

Equity advice for performers and creative practitioners

Equity guidance for theatre and live performers

Musicians Union advice

TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association) guidance

TUC (Trade Union Congress) guidance for all participant unions

TUC guidance for parents about time off during school closures

Solidarity Federation (grassroots union) guide “Coronavirus: your rights to sick pay and wages”

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

United Voices of the World (union of precarious and migrant workers) response and demands

Hazards Campaign briefing

Health Campaigns Together—protecting our NHS and its workers

TUC (Trades Union Congress) report “Protecting workers’ jobs and livelihoods”

CWU (Communication Workers Union) postal workers as additional emergency service

FBU (Fire Brigades’ Union) statement (16 March)

GMB Union People’s Bailout campaign

GMB Requisition Private Hospital Beds campaign

IWGB (Independent Workers’ of Great Britain) letter to the Prime Minister (17 March)

IWGB couriers demands to gig employers (17 March)

IWGB legal action against the government (23 March)—crowdfunding campaign here

UCU (University and College Union) statement

Rail Industry Coronavirus Joint Forum statement

Unite video message from General Secretary Len McCluskey (20 March)

Musicians Union demands and petitions

UCU response to proposals to use predicted grade for cancelled exams (20 March)

UCL-EndOutsourcing! secures pay for all casualised workers and those on zero-horus contracts

Organisations representing freelancers joint letter to the Prime Minister—calling for a Temporary Income Protection Fund

IPPR and Common Wealth joint statement on bailout conditions for airlines

We are not disposable” workers’ stories

Workplace FAQs

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