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TUC Congress 2020 Britain's workers deserve better, Rishi

Unions unite in call for action as jobless figures soar

TRADE unions united today in their call for action to prevent devastating mass unemployment following the coronavirus pandemic.

On the second and final day of the TUC Congress, the unions challenged the government to create decent jobs with fair pay that Britain needed to get escape recession and avoid the looming unemployment for at least tens of thousands of people.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the Congress: “In hospitals, care homes, nurseries, and council departments, NHS staff, refuse collectors, teaching assistants, care staff and other  public service workers have shown extraordinary courage, dedication and self-sacrifice.  

“There are stories of heroes — but, sadly, of tragedies too. Of those who didn’t live long enough to [...] hear the clapping at twilight when a nation applauded its real stars.  

“Many workers missed the applause as they were too busy mopping hospital floors, feeding patients, holding the hands of those in their last hours or working through the night in the mortuary.”

He said that the country “can never go back to normal.”

“Normal meant a decade of pain and austerity, pay freezes and cuts,” Mr Prentis said.

“Normal for public-service workers was unsafe, and it meant stress and unfairness. Normal was being underappreciated, underpaid and undervalued.

“There must be a new deal to rebuild all public services, where funding is based on need, where services are run in-house — for the public good, not private greed.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said it was down to unions to inspire and mobilise members.

“Let’s not wake up on November 1 wishing we had done more,” he said in reference to the ending of the furlough scheme.  

CWU general secretary Dave Ward also called for unions to come together and mobilise so, united, they could push for a new deal for workers in shared industrial and political demands and put together common bargaining agendas. 

GMB union’s David Flanagan said: “We must not repeat the mistakes of the last recession. 

“We must fight against Tory attacks with all our power, but we must also make the case for a positive alternative.”

Creative workers’ union Equity deputy general secretary Stephen Spence warned that simply reopening theatres was not enough, but when they reopen there would be opportunities for black, older and disadvantaged workers. 

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis spoke about how the key workers in supermarkets, supply chains, food-processing centres and delivery drivers were undervalued and demanded a new deal for workers.

“We are facing a massive crisis and we desperately need a recovery plan to get back on track,” he said.

Prospect union deputy general secretary Sue Ferns emphasised the importance of building a green recovery for the climate and the economy and investment in skills to provide good quality jobs for young people who “desperately need them.”

The Congress took place as figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the largest annual rise in unemployment for eight years, the largest fall in jobs on record for 18 to 24-year-olds, and sharp falls in employment across many industries.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the figures were “deeply worrying” and with state support coming to an end, the threat of mass unemployment was “very real.”

She called on ministers to build on the furlough scheme by setting up a new job retention and upskilling deal.

The government could create 1.85 million jobs in two years by fast-tracking green infrastructure investment and unlocking 600,000 public-sector vacancies, recent TUC analysis showed.

BAME workers have been asked to “shoulder more risk” during the pandemic, TUC analysis has also found.

Ms O’Grady said: “This crisis has to be a turning point. The government must challenge the systemic racism and inequality that holds BAME people back at work, and beyond.” 

On the ONS figures, shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “Unemployment will continue to rise unless the government acts now and adopts a more flexible approach targeted at the sectors that need it most.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “This is a wake-up call for both the UK and Scottish governments. 

“At Holyrood, the SNP must come out of denial. A quality jobs guarantee scheme can’t cut off vital support from those who will need it the most.” 


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