Fighting for members in the toughest times

23 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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Things are not going to be ‘normal’ at GMB for a good while by the look of it, so every week I’m going to try and write something to help members understand how your union is working for you.

It’ll give you some insight into what’s happening behind the scenes, and when you see things happening the way they are, why. I hope it’s helpful, I’m sure social media will tell me if it’s not!

Last week has been non-stop. Last Monday I followed my usual routine of getting the train down to London (I live just outside Leeds), and made the trip a little later to avoid the crowding of the morning rush. I worked with our Director of External Relations on the train, drafting an article and agreeing the key priorities that our team had been working on over that weekend.

These are the priorities coming from speaking to reps and members, understanding what’s actually happening in workplaces and sectors.

Our priorities as a union have been to keep people safe, keep people paid and to secure jobs for the future."

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary 

Those priorities translated to keeping people safe, keeping people paid and out of poverty and securing jobs and industry so that people have work at the other side of this.

It’s really important to establish clear priorities early on so everyone in our teams knows what we’re working towards – it helps me speak to the TUC, I speak to Frances O’Grady regularly, it helps the political team speak to politicians, our officers to speak to government departments and our communications team to plan what we’re saying publicly, but also to members.

From there the week was about two things: delivering on our priorities for members and getting the union set-up in a way that keeps employees safe but continues to function.

On getting the union physically ready, we’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now, making sure we have the basics like the IT equipment people need to work from home – it’s a big logistical operation to move over 600 employees to an entirely different model of working within a couple of weeks.

Every day last week our Senior Management Team, National Secretaries and specialist staff met (mostly by video call) to review changing government guidance, the numbers of staff in self isolation or at high risk, to put new place policies in place and take collective decisions.

We made the decision early that all high risk employees should work from home, and from Wednesday we moved the Euston Office to ‘work from home’ – London is higher risk and people were taking public transport to get to work.

Coronavirus advice

The advice around coronavirus (COVID-19) is constantly changing, take a look at our briefing for the latest advice from your union.

Coronavirus advice

In amongst that, we’ve had to do every single trade union activity you can imagine.

We’ve taken on bad employers – like ISS who refused to pay hospital cleaners, started a campaign for a People’s Bailout, called for better PPE for the front line. We’ve launched a Coronavirus Hub for members and a workplace rights guide to the crisis that are both updated as often as needed; conducted impact assessments of at risk sectors; issued all member communications and then specific advice and communications for reps in different sectors.

We’ve opened up a Coronavirus hotline at our legal firm UnionLine (for those who can’t reach a rep or Officer). Our Officers and Political Team have been lobbying politicians and speaking to Ministers and their departments, a lot of work went into speaking to government about what constitutes a ‘key worker’.

On the ground, reps and Officers have been speaking to employers to protect jobs and feeding information through so we can raise it nationally – if you look at industries like aviation for example, there’s an economic crisis and the need to secure jobs, but also practicalities for security workers, baggage handlers, catering staff.

Our incredible reps and officers have continued to do what they do best; standing up for our members. To all of them, I say thank you.

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary 

Workers lose security clearance if they don’t work on a set-number of flights within 60 days, so what happens then? We need to save jobs but also plan ahead. Last week culminated in the Chancellor’s announcement. I’d never give credit to a Conservative Chancellor unless it was due - and it is.

Of course we need more on self-employment, but by and large the package announced for workers was what we were asking for. It will protect wages but also ensure there are jobs to come back to, which is crucial for workers but also for economic recovery.

So this turned out to be a bit longer than I thought!

From now I’ll try to do a weekly update on a Friday, for this week ahead we’ll be campaigning to secure protection for self-employed workers, improvements to sick pay - and to make sure everyone who needs protective gear has it.

Take care, keep social distancing - look after yourselves and your loved ones.

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary

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