The union of more than 1m members – which represents thousands of drinks industry workers – is imploring the sector’s stakeholders to formulate a blueprint for drivers, warehouse staff and hospitality workers across the drinks logistics industry before pubs emerge from Covid-19 lockdown.
As such, Unite is calling for distributors such as Kuehne + Nagel, Matthew Clark and Tradeteam, plus trade unions and other key stakeholders – including the likes of UKHospitality and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) – to attend a summit to hammer out post-lockdown plans.
As reported by The Morning Advertiser (MA), the Government has outlined that “at least some” pubs could reopen no earlier than 4 July when Britain is slated to move into its third and final phase of lockdown recovery.
However, the on-trade will only be able to welcome the post-lockdown public under social distancing rules covering both customers and staff – including keeping at least 2m distance from anyone outside of their household.
“We represent thousands of drivers and dray workers across the country,” Unite national officer for road transport and logistics Matt Draper said in a statement on 19 May.
“They tell us very clearly they want to engage constructively with their employers for a framework to get back to work safely, once the pubs and restaurants start to reopen.
“To this end, Unite is calling for a summit of industry stakeholders – as soon as possible – to hammer out a blueprint that puts an effective health and safety regime at its heart, given the new social distancing parameters in the workplace for the return to work and the future.”
As reported by MA, Unite recently joined calls for the cancellation of rent on closed pubs as it seeks to prevent mass closures and jobs losses as a consequence of the Covid-19 emergency.
Health and safety must be paramount
In addition to the need for a plan to protect pubs and jobs in the hospitality sector, one safety issue highlighted by Unite’s national officer for the food and drink industry, Joe Clarke, is that the union’s members are only used to remove empty barrels rather than the full kegs of beer and lager currently occupying pub cellars.
“Currently, we have full kegs in cellars with millions of gallons in barrels [that are] full of potentially stale beer,” Clarke explained. “Our dray members are not currently geared up to removing full 22-gallon barrels as they usually remove empties.
“This is a major issue – and why health and safety must be paramount. It would not be permissible to remove these heavy barrels under the current operating practices.
“In a nutshell, a comprehensive discussion needs to happen with all those involved in the beer delivery industry – hence, the call for a summit. Health and safety issues should be negotiated before there is any consideration to possible redundancies and the future of the job retention scheme.
“More broadly, the Government needs to come up with a coherent joined-up package to underpin the future viability of the UK’s 40,000 pubs, which the drinks logistics industry relies on.”
On 6 May, MA reported the BBPA had issued new guidance on how to safely retrieve beer containers from cellars, with the trade body estimating that some 1.9m containers had been left behind in light of the short notice given to operators before closing on 20 March.
The guidance considers changes such as HMRC making it possible for licensees or designated pub staff to destroy beer without an authorised company representative from a brewery or supplier present.
The retrieval of said kegs and containers has been restricted by the lockdown measures limiting movement and proximity, with the BBPA ruling that only one person can work in a cellar as opposed to the usual minimum of two that would do so under normal circumstances.
The guidance has also outlined the forms of acceptable verification to prove the volumes of beer involved and that they have been destroyed.
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