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Organising During Coronavirus

During difficult times, having the support of a Union is crucial. The work Usdaw Reps do every day has never been more important - to protect health and safety at work, ensure support for those who need it and give key workers a voice that is heard.

Union organising is essential for workers to continue to stand up for our rights. But with some kind of social distancing expected to last for the foreseeable future, we need to look at how we can do things a little differently to continue to recruit and represent members.

Here are our top tips for Usdaw Reps:

1. Engage with your employer

Speak to your manager about how they can continue to support the agreement with Usdaw.

Look out for any information from the National Officer or through your Division about what has been agreed with your company through our agreement, and make sure it is being followed in your workplace.

Temporary adjustments may need to be agreed to processes, to allow communication to continue with the Union.

Where workplace committees and meetings can’t be held in person agree a way that reps continue to be informed and involved with local issues, have an opportunity to speak to new starters and can continue representing members at work.

Where any meetings do take place, make sure that social distancing measures are followed.

Use your Usdaw noticeboard or agree a space that can be used to help keep members informed, by sharing newsletters, committee minutes, useful leaflets or updates from the Union. Make the Union visible and put up your contact details if members need to get in touch. Download and print our Coronavirus poster for your noticeboard.

2. Make Contact with New Starters

All workers should have the opportunity to join Usdaw if they want to, but our usual stand down and induction activities have been impacted by current social distancing measures.

Local reps are vital to ensure that conversations continue to take place with new starters. Ask your manager to notify you of new starters and give you time to speak to them about the benefits of joining the Union. This could be individually, in small groups or over phone or video call to ensure distance is maintained.

Many employers have agreed to include Usdaw leaflets and membership forms with information given to new employees.

New starters can join the Union online, and you can encourage colleagues to use their phone to register simply and quickly while talking to them. Members in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Argos, the Co-op, Scot-Mid Co-op, Morrisons and Argos are now able to join online via check-off and the Union is working on doing this for other companies.

If you’re talking to new starters face to face, remember to follow the rules around social distancing.

If you notice a number of new starters in your workplace, check to see if they have been spoken to about Usdaw membership. If they have not, review the procedures that are in place and speak to your Area Organiser if you need help in improving them.

3. Talk to Existing Staff

In these uncertain times, it’s even more important that we reach out to as many people as possible and strengthen our position as a voice for the workforce.

There may be people in your workplace who haven’t been approached about joining the Union before now. Even if they have been approached and decided not to join before, they might be open to changing their mind now.

You should be aware of where the non-members in your workplace are, and make the effort to give them a fresh opportunity to join when you can (always remembering to follow the social distancing rules).

4. Go Digital

Reaching out to members online has never been more important for the Union.

Encourage members to check out our website for regular Coronavirus updates, emails and specialist advice covering a variety of topics as well as links to local offices for further support. Members can update their details online to ensure they receive the latest email updates.

Many employers have their own online media platform such as yammer where colleagues can make their voices heard by the company. This can be used to share information with members and raise concerns.

You could also speak to your manager to agree to post a message, or send an email to invite colleagues to join Usdaw.

5. Organise for a Safer Workplace

In order to continue to operate safely, employers must put in place measures to protect workers. This can include ensuring Government guidance on social distance is maintained at all times, access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser, and regular cleaning of workplaces and shared equipment.

Most Usdaw workplaces have been operating throughout the crisis and employers have put in place comprehensive social distancing and hygiene measures. It’s our job to make sure they stick to them.

Employers should be engaging with reps and committees on local health and safety issues and risk assessments in the workplace. This also applies to workplaces that are looking at re-opening.

Whether you are in a retail store, distribution centre or manufacturing site, Usdaw has guidance on health and safety measures that should be in place.

6. Escalate Issues

Raised an issue? No action from your manager? Escalate it using the agreed company policies and get in touch with your Area Organiser for support.

Issues impacting members’ health and safety at work need to be escalated as quickly as possible so they can be resolved. Formal grievances can also be raised where issues are not being addressed.

7. Know your stuff on rights at work

While Coronavirus has impacted the way we work, most things have not changed. Members are still entitled to the terms set out in their contract regarding pay and hours and days of work. Contracted hours can only be changed with mutual agreement.

Other rights still apply such as rights to rest breaks, rights to parental leave and pay and reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.

8. The Union can’t be furloughed

You can still fulfil your Trade Union duties as a rep, even if you’ve been furloughed.

Members are still entitled to Union advice and representation in grievance and disciplinary meetings. Adjustments should be put in place to allow this to happen. This might mean holding the meeting in a larger room to allow for social distancing, agreeing to conduct the meeting by video or conference call or adjusting timescales where necessary.

9. Check in with each other

Supporting others can sometimes mean it’s hard to find time for yourself and your own concerns. This is even more difficult when regular Union meetings have been postponed or are held remotely.

Check in with other reps you know for support, ask how they are doing. Swap organising ideas, share stories and keep each other updated of developments.

You could consider setting up online team meetings – contact your Area Organiser if you need any help with this.

10. Remember that the Union is always here for you

Area Organisers are still at work representing and advising members and supporting reps to organise workplaces.

While they may be unable to visit your workplace in person due to public health social distancing rules, Area Organisers will be making every effort to keep in touch in these difficult circumstances on the phone, by email or by text message. They also have the facility to meet with you and the rep team via Zoom video conferencing, if that’s something you want to try.

Interested in becoming an Usdaw Rep? Find out more!

All workers need the protection of the Union – your work colleagues can join Usdaw online.


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The official website of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers