Ross Saunders, Cardiff Socialist Party
EE is making it very clear why we can’t leave it to the bosses to control our response to the coronavirus crisis.
Not content with dragging its call-centre workforce into work in the midst of the pandemic, including sales and debt collection, EE then demanded that many of its high street shop workers travel back to their workplaces.
The company told its confused and worried workforce that they will be answering customer queries online – a task that cannot possibly occupy all of the workers called in, and could have easily been performed from home.
Light dawned when management told workers that anyone who didn’t want to come in wouldn’t have to… but they also wouldn’t be paid! Bosses are demanding that workers use up their annual leave or take the time off unpaid.
Many will go into work, unless the company is forced to reconsider; few low-paid workers can afford to see their wages cut even further. No one should be forced to travel unnecessarily in the midst of the pandemic.
Doing so will expose EE workers to a greater risk of catching the virus, accelerate its spread, and increase the strain on the already hopelessly overburdened NHS.
No worker should have their income cut if they refuse unreasonable requests from management that put their safety at risk. There are reports of police forces taking action against individuals even for exercising too much, but big companies are allowed to continue recklessly risking safety in order to maximise their profits.
Any union that takes action during this crisis should be supported; they’re challenging the right of profiteering capitalists to run the response to the pandemic.
The CWU has won recognition in EE in its call centres, and Unite has members in some of the shops. Our trade union movement should provide leadership in the face of these threats. Big business can’t be trusted not to risk our safety for the sake of increasing profits.
All workers, whether they’re working at home, in isolation, are ill or in their customary place of work should get full pay. The TUC should organise a campaign to demand action against firms like EE which are putting their workers and wider society at risk. Councils should be prepared to override companies’ decisions on health and safety grounds.
If the work that companies like EE and BT are carrying out is so key, then it’s too important to leave them in the hands of profiteers, and the whole telecoms industry should be nationalised to ensure access for everyone.
EE is exploiting the fact that it is carrying out ‘key work’ in the telecoms industry to try and cut its wage bill and boost its profits.
Workers’ organisations like trade unions should negotiate what is genuine key work that needs to be performed, despite the pandemic, and what work should be suspended in order to limit the spread of the infection.