The challenge is greater than ever, but GMB is ready for the fight

27 Mar 2020

GMB General Secretary Tim Roache writes on what our union has been working on over the last week to help our members

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Is anyone else struggling to know what day it is? We’re full pelt at GMB right now but without the weekly and daily rituals of travelling to London and going into the office, it’s taking me a minute when I wake up to figure out what day it is. I bet I’m not alone in that.  

We started the week with a virtual Finance and General Purposes Committee. I have to thank our President and Executive for taking some very hard decisions. We made the call to cancel Congress 2020, National Equality Conferences and Regional Councils and Committees.  

Annual events like Congress take a huge amount of preparation, and we invest a lot in them financially too so it’s right we make the early decision to cancel given the crisis we are now facing, our main objectives have to be to keep people safe and our union on sound footing.  

Keeping people safe is something we’ve been talking about a lot this week because workers on the frontline are just not getting the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need.  

It's outrageous that vital frontline workers have still not got the Personal Protective Equipment they need. More action is needed to keep workers protected."

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary 

It’s absolutely heart-breaking listening to members who are not just worried for their own health, but that they’re going to carry the disease back to loved ones. We’re fighting this employer by employer, but also raising it with politicians and Ministers too (a big thanks to Jonathan Ashworth for raising the problems members are facing from the dispatch box).  

We’ve now got updated guidance online for members and an online survey to help us identify trends, problem areas and where member need more support – if you’re a front-line worker, please do fill it in.  

I’m hugely proud of the huge contribution GMB members are making to the national effort (I joined in Clap for Carers last night – I hope you did too) , but on the flip side this crisis has also showed some appalling employer behaviour.  

The number of non-essential businesses that have remained open with seemingly no regard for worker safety is appalling. Construction and warehousing are two prime examples.  

At ASOS in Barnsley, workers have been crammed onto public transport with no social distancing measures in the factory – the company is being completely irresponsible, putting profits ahead of people. I cannot for the life of me think what the ‘essential’ fashion emergency is during lock down. 

I was so proud to applaud our brilliant and brave NHS workers and also the thousands of ⁦ GMB Union members on the front line in schools, refuse, police support staff, retail and other sectors. You truly are the backbone of our society. THANK YOU

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary 

 It’s not troubled them in their London Headquarters where staff have been sent home, it’s the working class warehouse operatives who are being forced to put their health at risk and it’s not just the health of workers, it’s the health of entire communities – in the de-industrialised former mining areas in South and West Yorkshire, entire villages rely on warehouses like these for work, which means an infection on one site has the potential to spread like wildfire.  

I know workers in companies like Matalan and Next are facing the same. 

It’s completely irresponsible.  

We’re going to keep taking those employers on, because when we fight GMB is very good at winning.   

Just this week we have seen off plans to cut sick pay at Wilkos, seen NHS car parking charges scrapped (if only temporarily to start with, it’s been a long campaign by GMB and The Mirror) and had frontline workers at Lancaster City Council awarded a pay bonus for their efforts. 

I couldn’t write this week without talking about support for self-employed workers. GMB – with colleagues from across the union movement – is in regular conversation with the government and we’ve been pushing hard for self-employed workers to get support (and we know too many of those are fake self-employed and deserve much better from their employers).  

The announcement yesterday will help millions, and I’m proud we helped to deliver that.   

In the coming week, we’re going to continuing fighting for better protective equipment for members, for non-essential employers to either close their doors and pay their workers through government support, or make their workplaces safe. They can’t continue putting people at risk to line their own pockets and to make the case that many of the most indispensable workers in the UK right now are paid only the Minimum Wage.

It’s time we started to talk about that.  

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary

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