Absolute heroes

The ‘absolute bravery’ of workers in the face of COVID-19 is impossible to overstate, a senior trade unionist has declared.

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 8:00 pm
Unite Branch Secretary Gregory O'Kane(DuPont/Lycra Company) pictured with Tesco employees Catherine McLaughlin and Tanya McDermott during the Unite Union 'Shop for NHS' day at the Lisnagelvin store. The Branch Members donated 500 in support of Altnagelvin staff required in the frontline against Covid-19. Included is Branch Member Tim Gordon.

Liam Gallagher, a Unite organiser, believes there will be a fundamental reevaluation of how labour is valued when Derry emerges from the crisis.

“A lesson to be learned from all of this when this settles down is the real true value of labour and the meaninglessness of materialism and greed and let’s hope that when we come out of it we come out as a better world, a world that treats people decently and respects workers for the hard work that they actually do,” he said.

Yesterday Unite members from DuPont donated a £500 shop from Tesco to Altnagelvin staff on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19.

Mr. Gallagher described health care staff as heroes. He said the same applied to retail staff, food producers, utility workers and other, often low paid workers, who are keeping the lights on and food on tables in Derry.

“The first thing that has to be said is a recognition of the absolute bravery, not just of the health staff who are on the frontline but the people who are serving in shops, the people who have to produce food on production lines, boning halls, who are literally, every day of the week, going to their work, worrying about their own safety and worrying about their families. Not enough is being said about these people being real heroes.”

He added: “I think that after all of this is done and dusted and we come out the other end, we as a society are going to reevaluate the value and the weight we put on labour.”

Mr. Gallagher said those working in essential sectors of the economy were showing extraordinary courage.

“Workers are working around the clock to try and put food on people’s tables, to keep society and the country going. The absolute bravery of those people can not be overestimated or overstated.”

He said the Unite union was engaging with managers and directors to try to ensure workers’ safety.

“We are working with companies every day to get them to recognise that. We are working with those that buy in the products, the massive supermarket chains, to reassess the value of what these people contribute,” he said.

Mr. Gallagher said he has been inundated with representations from members concerned about social distancing and the provision of PPE and proper sanitisation.

“Most employers are thankfully listening to the health and safety advice they are getting from the HSE and from the government.”

He singled out a number of local companies for praise. These included DuPont and ESB, the owner of the Coolkeeragh power station.

“Firms like DuPont and Lycra have worked with the unions to try to get as many people off-site as possible, limit the exposure and introduce really stringent safety measures to protect workers and to draw up contingency plans so if this virus spikes over the next couple of weeks they can run the plants with skeleton crews. Another example of heroism is those who keep the lights on for us at Coolkeeragh.

I’ve been talking to those workers and they have drawn up very good essential planning on how they are going to operate if the virus strikes the workforce including contingency plans on plant.”