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Supporting members through the pandemic

Jack Whiston
Jack Whiston
13th October 2020

24th March, the day that the UK went into its first day of lockdown. My colleagues and I waited patiently to see how our employer was going to react; at the end of the day it was announced that we were to be placed on furlough. It was a day of heart wrenching emotion and uncertainty. I knew I had to step up and take my role as a Community rep to the next level. That’s when my work supporting our members through the pandemic began.

Following discussions with the union, our employer made the morally conscious decision to top up our wages to 100% basic pay, to ensure we didn’t face financial distress or hardship during an already difficult time. Yet even this couldn’t stop the weeks of stress and uncertainty that ensued.

As my job role is at the beginning of the production line, I was the first to go on furlough. Although, this did not deter me from helping my members. As a Community rep I was not satisfied until my work family was assured and comforted. I made sure I was on hand when members needed me so I could help with any queries and ease any stress. Most of the time it was just someone needing to check something was correct or share something with a trusted friend and colleague.

My employer has been very supportive throughout the whole pandemic. They have open and honest throughout and consistently communicated with us. It was encouraging to know that the company shared the same ethos as us – to protect employees futures. I know that this hasn’t been the case in every workplace and some reps have had an extra battle on their hands.

As the support provided by government reduced, my role as a rep became even more important. The company made the difficult decision to reduce wages to 80% and organisations across the footwear sector began to look to make redundancies. To respond to this, our Regional Organiser created a WhatsApp group to greater link our rep network. This facility would become one of our most used reps’ tools, allowing us to support each other and support our members better, stronger and more efficiently.

In the footwear industry we now have a challenge on our hands – we are seeing hundreds of redundancies and with those, the skills that have been passed down are being lost. We are losing the capacity and skills to be able to manufacture goods ourselves. We can’t allow this to happen, and I made this case at TUC congress earlier this year. You can read my speech here. As a union we’re campaigning for the future of our industry because we know that the impact of this pandemic will be felt by workers for years to come.

The future is uncertain, but one thing is for sure, I will always do my best to support my members and our industry.

To find out more about becoming a rep in your workplace, contact us at servicecentre@community-tu.org.

Community is the recognised union in the footwear industry, you can join us here.

Want to find out the benefits of being a member? Take a look here.