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Usdaw reflects on the impact of the pandemic and sets out the need for a New Deal for Workers #Usdaw 21

Date: 26 April 2021 The online Annual Delegate Meeting of the retail trade union Usdaw has today reflected on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on members and sets out a wide-ranging campaign for a New Deal for Workers.
Addressing delegates, Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary said: “We have truly been through a year like no other. Whether as a key worker facing the daily anxiety of going to work, a furloughed worker, facing increased financial worries, or a clinically extremely vulnerable worker, isolated from communities as a result of shielding; the pressures of the virus have clearly affected every Usdaw member.
“Any reflection of the past 13 months must clearly recognise all those who have lost their lives and the millions more who have been affected by the mental and physical health impacts of long Covid. On behalf of Usdaw, I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected by the virus and pay tribute to their hard work and commitment to their communities.
“From the beginning of last year, an unprecedented crisis rapidly spread across the globe and as other countries introduced restrictions and other safety measures, the Conservative Government failed to take appropriate action. A shameful dereliction of duty – with COBRA meetings skipped, a refusal to listen to the science, and a failure to lock down quickly enough.
“The result being confusion, fear and severe panic buying. Shoppers quickly stripped the supermarket shelves of items such as toilet paper, pasta and hand sanitiser. Retailers were forced to limit the amount of goods individuals could purchase and queues were seen outside stores.
“Despite legitimate health concerns, and unacceptable levels of abuse from customers, Usdaw members worked tirelessly, making sure that everyone could get access to the food they needed. It is simply no exaggeration to say that the remarkable efforts of Usdaw members kept the UK going.
“As the crisis deepened and the Government announced the first national lockdown, the Union quickly ensured that our members were correctly recognised as key workers, essential to the functioning of the UK economy.
“Usdaw also rapidly reached agreements with major employers to protect the clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable. These agreements granted additional paid leave for vulnerable members, to keep them safe at home and financially secure.
“At the same time, the union was key in promoting rights to maternity suspension, meaning that pregnant workers could be paid in full if they were unable to work safely and for those who remained in work, the union quickly oversaw the introduction of brand new safety measures, including social distancing, protective screens and additional hand washing facilities.
“Time and again, the union reached ground breaking agreements to protect the safety of our members and, following discussions with Usdaw, many employers agreed to pay bonus payments in recognition of our members' hard work.
“However, each and every agreement was reliant on effective workplace reps, ensuring agreed safety measures were put into place and enforced. The outstanding efforts of Usdaw reps and officials protected the safety of members and their communities and truly demonstrated the benefits of union membership and organised workplaces.
“But while many Usdaw workplaces remained open, members in non-food retail, hospitality and other sectors had their workplaces closed overnight. A huge shock and a really worrying time. The Job Retention Scheme was a lifeline, but it would never have existed without the trade union movement and Usdaw intervened straight away – making sure that the furlough scheme calculates wages according to normal working hours, protecting those on short-hours contracts. And the scheme protects entitlement to benefit payments such as Universal Credit – crucial for safeguarding the lowest paid.
“All too often over the past 12 months, the lowest paid, and other disadvantaged groups have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. Low paid workers have been least likely to receive full company sick pay and those on the lowest wages don't even qualify for Statutory Sick Pay. Black Workers have been more likely to work in front line roles, with greater exposure to the virus, young workers have been more likely to be made redundant. Women workers have borne the brunt of additional childcare responsibilities, frequently having to take unpaid leave. Disabled workers have been more likely to be told to shield, isolating them from their communities and LGBT people have been cut off from their support networks.
“Structural inequalities that were already holding so many people back have been further exposed as a result of the virus and this crisis has clearly demonstrated why we must move on from the problems of the past.
“It is unacceptable that low paid workers cannot afford to put food on the table. It is unacceptable that retail workers face abuse simply as a result of going to work – abuse that has got worse simply because they are trying to keep customers safe. It is unacceptable that so many workers are still on insecure contracts – causing them anxiety and mental health issues.
“Over the last 12 months, Usdaw has committed significant resources to our Freedom From Fear, New Deal for Workers and Retail Recovery Plan campaigns. These campaigns can help shape a society that delivers for working people and ensure that the efforts of key workers are not forgotten.
“I look forward to us moving the campaign for a New Deal forward. To win for our members and to organise – so that all workers have the protection of trade union membership.”
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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