Remembering together – whilst staying safely apart

UNISON is used to organising events that bring people together. But when Covid-19 means we need to show support for each other by keeping our distance, then the way that we bring people together looks very different.

On Tuesday 28 April, our union was one of those that called for a minute’s silence in memory of our colleagues who have become sick or died due to Covid-19. At 11am, across the country, in various ways, UNISON members celebrated International Workers’ Memorial Day and paid their respects to key workers.

UNISON South East staff joined together online to observe a minute’s silence, led by Steve Torrance, Regional Secretary.

Watch here

Stephen Morgan, MP for Portsmouth South, has sent a letter of solidarity to UNISON South East members on International Workers’ Memorial Day.

Letter from Stephen Morgan MP

Portsmouth City UNISON gathered together online, and watched a live stream of branch officer lay flowers at the Workers’ Memorial in Portsmouth.

(pictured: Claire Pond, Portsmouth Health Branch)

At Portsmouth Health branch, Claire Pond reached out to the clinical commissioning groups (CCG) that she works with. Working from home for much of the week, Claire used her connections to get an official message spread to staff where she could. Although talking to the UNISON members she represents was easy enough, this was the best way to reach out to colleagues across the employer.

At Portsmouth CCG this meant an intranet news story noting Workers’ Memorial Day this year was marking a minute’s silence for NHS and public sector workers. Authorised by the managing director, this news release made it clear not only that the minutes silence should be observed by staff – but, crucially in the context of UNISON campaigning to demand the government resolve the crisis in personal protective equipment, that this call came from NHS trade unions.

Claire notes: “In local CCGs across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, I was one of those who called for the minute’s silence to be observed. In most places, this call was taken on board by senior managers. I’m really pleased that it was marked as so many key workers have given so much in this crisis.”

UNISON’s involvement mattered because where UNISON reps weren’t able to put the message in context, some of the Workers’ Memorial Day message and vital campaigning for health and safety was lost.

“It was strange to see how easily the message was put in a different context. I was listening to the radio news and they mentioned the minute’s silence for key workers. But there was nothing about the wider connection to Workers’ Memorial Day. That’s why it’s so important to have a UNISON rep in your workplace. We need to make sure our colleagues understand the work unions do to keep them safe.”

Workers’ Memorial Day was one of the days that Claire was rota’d to be working at Fort Southwick to provide admin support to local health economy emergency planning leads. Claire, nonetheless, took the time to pause and pay her respects with colleagues.

“Our Senior Manager sent out a meeting request for the team to observe the one-minute silence. Covid-19 means we might not all be able to gather together in the way we’d have liked, but we were able to mark it in our own way. Nurse colleagues sent gifs of flickering flames. The meaning shone through.”

How did you and your colleagues mark International Workers’ Memorial Day?

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