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The construction union UCATT has warned the construction of the Olympic Park and venues for the 2012 games could end in tragedy unless workers are given proper employment rights. The union has reached deadlock in talks with the Olympic Delivery Authority over UCATT's insistence that contractors on Europe's biggest post-war construction project should use directly-employed labour. UCATT general Alan Ritchie said the Olympics project should follow the example of Heathrow's Terminal 5, which was built on time and on budget using direct employment. He warned the alternative will be a fragmented, self-employed workforce, which would compromise safety. 'Direct employment for the Olympics is entirely possible just as it was for Heathrow Terminal 5. If the ODA goes ahead and insists on opening the floodgates for bogus self-employed labour then the results will be disastrous,' he said. 'The ideals of the Olympics must not fall prey to gangmasters, unscrupulous employment agencies and other fly-by-night organisations out to make a quick buck at the expense of construction workers - and who will make profits on the hard graft of vulnerable exploited migrant workers.' The union says at least 13 construction workers died during building on the Athens Olympic site in 2004, which relied on casualised self-employed workers, with many more killed in related infrastructure work (Risks 302). There was one fatality during the construction of Sydney facilities for 2000, which used a direct employment model. An ODA spokesperson said site safety was of paramount importance - adding the ODA's procurement policy made it 'explicitly clear that we will evaluate a company's record of working with trade unions when considering tenders.'
GMB members employed by Bakkavör, a Tesco supplier the union says operates unsafely, last week staged a demonstration outside the supermarket giant's London HQ. The union said the protest followed the failure of both Tesco and Bakkavör to take action on a health and safety warning issued by GMB in March (Risks 299). GMB says the north west London Bakkavör site has a poor health and safety record and adds that the company refuses to recognise GMB to represent the 2,500 mainly migrant workers. GMB organiser Tahir Bhatti said: 'Bakkavör managers are putting production for the High Street supermarkets ahead of their legal duty to protect the health and safety of their workers. They have a poor track record on health and safety on that site. GMB has warned them before to stop cutting corners and putting our members at risk. Several union members have been badly injured and disabled by machines on the site.' He added: 'This demonstration by GMB members outside Tesco head office is the second in a series of demonstrations that will take place outside supermarket head offices until action is taken on the warning from GMB members in that plant who fear for their safety.'
The government has been handed a damning union dossier revealing the abuse and misuse of agency and temporary workers by firms that are household names. An in-depth survey conducted by Unite's Amicus section across manufacturing, finance, construction and the graphical and media industries found what the union describes as systematic abuse of agency workers amongst some of the UK's best known names. The companies surveyed included Coca Cola, BMW, Harper Collins, WH Smiths, Unisys and Honda - with problems identified at each. South African workers supplied by Right4Staff Agency to Unisys were sleeping five to a bed, the union dossier reveals. Unite intervened when it was reported workers were being bussed to and from work each day and that some individuals had been sleeping in the staff canteen. Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson said: 'Regardless of how you define a McJob, many employers are using agency workers to undermine pay and conditions and replace permanent workers with cheaper, less qualified labour, leaving hundreds of thousands in a cycle of insecure and low paid employment.' Unite is calling on the government to implement the EU Directive on Temporary and Agency Workers and the Temporary Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill. Other measures sought by the union include the licensing and registration of employment agencies and the introduction of health and safety and wellbeing indicators for temporary agency workers.
A Royal Mail worker who suffered multiple injuries and scarring in a loading bay fall has received a £15,000 compensation payout. Michael Cleary, 48, a member of Unite's Amicus section, was standing on a scissor lift at Cardiff Mail Centre when he slipped into a gap between the bridge flap and a TNT lorry, sustaining injuries to his knee, back, chest and groin. Union lawyers acting for Mr Cleary said adequate guard rails could have prevented the incident. Commenting on his injuries, Mr Cleary said: 'As a result of my accident I injured my knee, my torso, as well as my chest and ribs. The pain inside my left knee has not really eased since my accident and I've had to have physiotherapy. A few days after my accident I had to go to my GP as I had pains in my groin; he confirmed that I had a hernia and I eventually had an operation in February 2006.' Mr Cleary added: 'Swimming is my favourite hobby and I'm really frustrated that I can't swim competitively at the moment. Also, the scar I have is likely to be permanent and I'm very self conscious when people point it out when I'm swimming for example.' Cath Speight, the regional secretary for his union, commented: 'Royal Mail is a large local employer and it has a duty of care to all of its employees. The compensation Michael Cleary has secured covers not only the multiple injuries he sustained, but also the loss of overtime and other earnings. Prior to the accident, he was a very active and fit man.'
More than 20 former Powertrain workers struck down by work-related breathing difficulties have won the fight to lodge industrial disease benefit claims. The workers, members of the TGWU section of Unite, triumphed in a long-running battle to allow sufferers of extrinsic allergic alveolitis - EAA, also known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis - to lodge disability claims. A year ago the Health and Safety Executive revealed that mist from metalworking had caused the disease outbreak. Some 101 employees at the plant had developed occupational asthma and EAA (Risks 255). The government in April agreed to amend legislation allowing the alveolitis sufferers to pursue claims for industrial disease benefits, potentially worth tens of thousands of pounds to victims. Previously only the 87 occupational asthma sufferers were deemed eligible, with the 24 EAA victims missing out on DWP benefits for work-related disease. John Walsh, the union's regional organiser, said: 'The law of the land has now been changed, enabling alveolitis sufferers to lodge their claims. Any person who has been exposed to metalworking fluids can now bring a claim. This is going to give people the opportunity to get disability pensions. We have at last changed the law - these were people who lost their jobs and, for some, also their health.' Mr Walsh said each case would be decided on individual merit. In addition to industrial disease benefits, compensation claims potentially worth £4 million are being pursued by unions through civil action.
The TUC has expressed anger and bewilderment after the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) this week decided there will be no new rights for union safety reps. The decision had been deferred at HSC's March meeting after a TUC bid to get new rights on risk assessments and consultation - strongly supported in a formal consultation on the issue - was rejected, so TUC instead called for separate discussions with employers' organisations in a bid to resolve the issue (Risks 299). However, in subsequent talks with TUC, both CBI and manufacturers' lobby group EEF would not support any new rights. This week's HSC meeting agreed that there would be no change to the safety reps' regulations or the related Approved Code of Practice - the two approaches that would have given legal back-up to any new rights. Work on revising guidance, which has no enforceable 'evidential' legal status, will continue. Commenting on the decision, which was opposed by union commissioners on HSC, a TUC spokesperson told Risks: 'We fail to understand how this decision could be made in the face of overwhelming support for change expressed by respondents to the recent consultation exercise, but whatever the decision, this issue will not go away.' She added: 'We will continue to raise it again and again, not only with the HSC but also with ministers and politicians. We know that improved rights for safety reps not only make sense, but are desperately needed. The consequence of this decision is more injuries and illnesses.' TUC is asking affiliated unions for examples of where safety representatives have not been consulted on a risk assessment and it has had health and safety consequences, or any examples of where an employer had not responded to a safety representative and someone had been injured or made ill as a result.
Schools in England now have the power to search pupils for weapons. The education secretary, Alan Johnson, defended the controversial new rights, which allow school staff to search pupils for knives without consent, insisting they were 'sensible measures.' He said the reforms, which become law from 31 May, would be a 'power not a duty'. Chris Keates, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT said 'the power for head teachers to authorise searching of individual or groups of pupils suspected of carrying offensive weapons is a welcome development. This provision, together with random airport-style checks and the new provisions on pupil behaviour, will provide schools with a menu of strategies from which they can choose to assist them in maintaining high standards of safety, good order and discipline.' She added: 'I welcome the fact that the government took seriously our representations and removed any expectation that teachers and head teachers would carry out searches themselves. Such an expectation would have been counterproductive and would have had an adverse effect on the nature of a teacher's relationship with pupils. Conducting searches is a job for appropriately trained staff who have site security as part of their role.' Guidance says staff should call police if they are concerned about safety risks, and schools can use professionally trained security staff to conduct screening and searching as well as teachers. It includes advice on how to screen pupils and suggests that a randomly selected group of pupils, such as a class, could be screened in order to send out a strong deterrent message. Schools can refuse entry to pupils who refuse to be screened.
A Thames riverboat skipper has been murdered at work on his last day before retiring. Two City bankers were charged with murdering the pleasure boat captain, who died after an attack on the evening of 2 June by a group of drunken passengers. Father-of-three Micky Reed had asked three men to leave his vessel, the Millennium of Peace, after problems with another passenger. But an argument broke out in which Mr Reed was kicked and punched and suffered a blow to the head. He collapsed and died later in hospital. Andrew Liddard, 21, and his brother Christopher, 26, both bank workers, were charged with murder and affray. Mr Reed, 67, had worked on Thames cruise boats for more than 40 years. The owners of the Millennium of Peace paid tribute to the 'loved waterman' whose death had 'shocked everyone working on the river.' Maritime union RMT expressed shock at Mr Reed's death and said it had offered help to both Mr Reed's family and to crew members affected by the incident. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It goes without saying that anything the union can do, both for Micky's family and for other crew members affected by this appalling incident, will be done.' He added: 'It is unacceptable that any transport worker should have to run the risk of violent assault while trying to earn a living, and we will be speaking to boat owners about measures that can be taken to protect crews, particularly at night.'
Some of London's vulnerable workers are to be targeted by a government pilot scheme that aims to uncover abuses by employers and to offer protection. The scheme, launched on 1 June by Jim Fitzpatrick, the employment minister, will focus on groups such as cleaners, security guards, and caretakers who are not getting their full employment rights. A separate scheme aimed at those working in the hospitality and catering industries has been launched in Birmingham. Many people working in these areas are migrants or unskilled workers with poor educational qualifications, earning low wages in part-time or temporary jobs, lacking basic employment protections. Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: 'Too often people are not aware of their basic rights as a worker. The pilot will help to address this by providing better access to support and information. Employers and workers will benefit from employment information as well as drop-in advice surgeries. Information will be distributed in different languages to benefit as many workers as possible.' He added: 'Business will also benefit as the project will make employers better aware of the support available to them and of legal obligations. It will support good employers by tackling those who break the law and undercut legitimate businesses.' The TUC, which linked up with business leaders last week to launch a national commission to investigate the plight of vulnerable workers (Risks 308), will receive funding from the Department of Trade and Industry to run the London pilot. Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: 'Not knowing what to do when something goes wrong at work or knowing who to complain to is a problem for many workers, especially if they are not aware of their employment rights or don't have a good command of the English language.' He added: 'The pilot at Canary Wharf will be an invaluable resource for vulnerable workers in the capital, allowing us to test ways of helping vulnerable workers and their employers, and preventing ill treatment.' The Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum will be chaired by employment minister Jim Fitzpatrick and will include representatives from unions including the TUC, Unite's TGWU section, GMB and UCATT, business groups including the CBI, enforcement bodies including Revenue and Customs the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and Citizen's Advice.
Construction unions are calling on MPs to back Labour MP Jim Sheridan's bid to extend the Gangmasters Licensing Act to the construction industry. Mr Sheridan, whose private member's bill in 2005 laid the basis for the current gangmaster legislation, will move a 10 minute rule bill on Wednesday 13 June in the first parliamentary debate after prime minister's questions. Gangmasters are currently regulated in the food and food processing industries but are known to operate unregulated in construction. Construction unions, including the TGWU section of Unite, have expressed strong fears that the use of cheap labour, often migrant workers who are prone to exploitation by gangmasters, may spread into the prestige projects to build the 2012 Olympics. The debate is scheduled for 12.30pm on Wednesday 13 in the House of Commons.
Concerns about crane safety have been heightened after more serious incidents. A 2 June crane collapse at a building site in south London seriously injuring the crane operative. The tower of the crane fell onto the roof of the adjacent Croydon Park Hotel. The operator suffered broken ribs, and a broken collarbone and shoulder, and a three person rigging team was stranded for seven hours halfway up the tower. The top section of the Terex Comedil crane, belonging to Laing O'Rourke's plant arm Select Plant, fell onto the hotel. At the scene, fire brigade liaison officer Paul Jenkins told Contract Journal: 'The crane driver survived, but was trapped and the crane itself was in a very unstable position.' He added: 'If the crane hadn't hit the hotel, there's nothing below it but concrete with rebars sticking up.' Terry Duxbury, founder of the United Crane Operators' Association, said: 'We just can't believe this is happening. Something radical has to happen with the training and we have to learn from incidents at home and abroad.' He added: 'You can't blame people for asking questions, wanting tests and demanding certificates of inspections. The industry and the HSE have to get a grip of this - and quickly.' It also emerged last week that work on an Epsom construction site had been halted because defects were uncovered in a tower crane weeks after a similar machine collapsed in Battersea killing two men. The Health and Safety Executive found that loose bolts on the crane went uncorrected for four weeks. On 21 December last year HSE served a prohibition notice on Falcon Crane Hire, which also owned the rig that fell on a block of flats near Battersea Power Station. In January this year, all the company's cranes were grounded by HSE (Risks 291), with a subsequent investigation finding up to one in 10 had safety flaws.
Legislation requiring the safety testing of tens of thousands of chemicals has come into effect across the European Union (EU). The new European Directive on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) came into force on 1 June. Its requirements will be phased in between now and 2018. For the first time, it will be up to industry, rather than the regulatory authorities, to prove that chemicals are safe. About 30,000 chemicals are covered by the new rules. Safety data will be required for all of them. The most hazardous - chemicals that can cause cancer or changes in genetic material - will have to undergo further testing. If there is a safer alternative, producers will have to substitute it, unless there is a strong case for continuing to use the existing chemical. But environmental campaigners and some union bodies say the new rules leave too many loopholes. The European TUC's health and safety thinktank, ETUI-HESA, has warned that the requirement to substitute some of the most dangerous substances, including carcinogens, are actually weaker than existing EU law. In the UK, REACH will not replace the duties on employers under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations to protect workers from hazardous chemicals, but sit alongside. TUC says it could result in better information on which to base COSHH risk assessments if it works. It wants to ensure that any changes to legislation as a result of REACH improve rather than undermine the legislative protection provided by the other main chemical regulations, including COSHH. TUC adds that although REACH has come into effect, for trade unions there will be little practical difference until the HSE starts to consult on new regulations. The new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) started operations in Helsinki last week, to coincide with REACH taking effect. When the REACH process is in operation, companies will have to ensure all relevant chemical products are identified and recorded with ECHA.
A hospital trust has been fined more than £7,000 after admitting three charges of exposing staff to asbestos. Two workers were put at risk during the incident at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, in 2004. Northallerton magistrates heard that the workers were told to turn off the water supply to fire hoses after fears that water in the pipes could cause Legionnaires' disease. Michael Elliker, for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the workers were exposed to asbestos cladding around the pipes as they turned off the water. They also cut off the water to the women's health unit by accident and they were again exposed as they tried to re-connect the pipes, he said. Unable to solve the problem they returned a third time the next day. The trust was fined a total of £7,530.75 and handed a two-year conditional discharge after pleading guilty to the offences. Chair of the bench, Caroline Gardiner, said: 'It is hoped nothing untoward happens to these two men.' Neil Permain, the trust's director of operational services, said: 'We would certainly never intentionally place any employees at risk to asbestos, and once we knew staff had been potentially exposed, we promptly arranged health and screening checks and co-operated openly and fully with the HSE.' He added: 'We did rely on an expert report without making further checks and have since carried out a further asbestos survey across the entire site and a complete review of the trust's asbestos policy and procedures.' Cases of asbestos-related disease are now being seen in hospital workers (Risks 308).
The head of BP's refining operations has quit to take up a job in Canada, ending a persistent clamour for his resignation since a fatal explosion ripped through the oil company's Texas City plant in 2005 (Risks 272). John Manzoni is taking up the post of president and chief executive at a smaller rival, Talisman Energy, after 24 years with BP. Mr Manzoni, who was paid £758,000 last year, is in line to get a payoff equivalent to a year's salary. He has faced intense criticism internally and externally since the Texas City blast, which killed 15 people and left 170 more injured. His resignation came just a month after a confidential BP report was made public that accused him of failing to perform his duties in the run-up to the explosion and of engaging in a 'simply not acceptable' standoff with a colleague. The Bonse report, commissioned by BP, said Mr Manzoni had paid insufficient attention to lax safety at Texas City and recommended he should be held accountable. 'It is not simply hindsight to suggest that John should have taken more steps to consider and mitigate the risks long before this disaster occurred,' said the study. The Texas City explosion was the worst industrial accident in the US for a generation, killing 15 workers and leaving 170 injured. Regulators accused senior management of ignoring repeated warning signals. After the tragedy, Mr Manzoni gave a court deposition about his oversight of Texas City. Victims' lawyers have been seeking a similar deposition from former BP chief executive Lord Browne, who resigned four weeks ago over an unrelated scandal (Risks 305).
Agricultural workers exposed to high levels of pesticides have a raised risk of brain tumours, research suggests. All agricultural workers exposed to pesticides had a slightly elevated brain tumour risk, the French study found. But the paper published online by the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported the risk was more than doubled for those exposed to the highest levels. The risk of a type of central nervous system tumour known as a glioma was particularly heightened among this group - more than three times the risk in the general population. Gliomas are more common in men than women, and the researchers speculate that part of the reason might be that men are more often exposed to pesticides. The findings were based on an analysis of 221 cases of brain tumours by the French Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology and Development. The research took place in the Bordeaux wine-growing region, where 80 per cent of all pesticides used are fungicides. Pesticide exposure was linked to a raised risk of Parkinson's disease in a study published last month (Risks 308).
Mental illness is now the second largest reason for UK workers taking time off, a report suggests, headed only by musculoskeletal disorders. A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found an increasing amount of sickness leave is due to depression or stress. The findings - drawn from an analysis of the absence records of 30,000 employees working across 40 different organisations - have been published in a new report, 'New directions in managing employee absence'. Staff with depression were found to take an average 30 days off annually. Those with stress were reported to be away for 21 days. CIPD employment relations adviser Ben Willmott said employers need to act on early warning signs before workers become seriously affected by mental ill-health. He added 'the government also has a role to play in finding ways to help and encourage more employers to provide their staff with access to cost effective occupational health services.' He said GPs should also work with employers 'to identify opportunities for phased return-to-work for individuals with mental health problems in less demanding or reduced hours' roles as part of their rehabilitation.' Commenting on the findings, Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said: 'For too long, workers suffering from these illnesses have been told to simply 'pull themselves together'. The cost of that approach in misery for employees and their families - and even the cost in lives - was horrific.' He added: 'We have made it clear that bosses who are responsible for physically inuring their employees at work must face severe consequences.' John McClean, GMB's national health and safety officer, said: 'Employees are expected to take on extra work without more resources. Sometimes bonuses are unachievable and sometimes targets are too high.' He added: 'There should be an occupational health system. It's up to a GP to decide whether people are suffering. I am not a medical person and most managing directors are not medical people.'
A new charter of workplace rights that sets out baseline health and safety and compensation standards has been launched by Australian national union federation ACTU. ACTU president Sharan Burrow said: 'The health and safety of Australian workers is of paramount importance to the ACTU and the union movement and this charter spells out a decent set of minimum standards for workplace rights that can work in all workplaces across Australia.' She added: 'We are calling on every level of government to end the blame game on this issue and sign up to this charter of workplace rights which clearly outlines the best approach to ensuring Australian workers are as safe as they possibly can be at work.' ACTU's charter includes the right of workers to be represented by trade unions on health and safety matters, the right to receive 100 per cent income replacement after an occupational injury, and an absolute duty of care on employers to provide healthy and safe workplaces. Commenting on Australia's two-tier state and federal government system, Ms Burrows said: 'Governments, business and unions agree that there is a need for a nationally consistent approach to health and safety across the country, but the federal government is driving a race to the bottom.' She added: 'This charter provides a better, fairer and safer vision for health and safety in Australia and will assist all levels of government to harmonise their health and safety and workers' compensation legislation to the highest standards.'
A European Union-wide campaign to tackle workplace strains has been launched by the European Commission. Up to a quarter of the workforce suffers with back pain, the commission said, and the situation risks worsening with the aging of the workforce. Across the European Union's 27 member states (the 'EU27'), 25 per cent of workers complain of backache and 23 per cent report muscular pains, estimates the EC. It adds that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the biggest cause of absence from work in almost all member states. 'Lighten the load', the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work's 2007 campaign to tackle MSDs in the workplace, spells out an integrated management approach with three key elements. First, employers, employees and government need to work together to tackle MSDs. Secondly, any action should address the 'whole load on the body', which covers all the stresses and strains, environmental factors such as cold working conditions, and the load being carried. Thirdly, employers need to manage the retention, rehabilitation and return to work of employees. Announcing the campaign, EU employment commissioner Vladimír ?pidla said: 'Given the demographic change, people will probably have to work longer and this makes it even more imperative that we tackle this problem now. It is essential if European workers are to enjoy not only better quality jobs but a better quality of life and a higher standard of living. We can increase productivity and therefore prosperity in the EU if we manage to improve the situation of days lost to MSDs.'
Three suicides in six months at a French car multinational's research centre have highlighted concerns about the intolerable workplace stress facing overworked staff. The latest suicide at Renault's Technocentre followed two deaths in autumn 2006. Vincent Neveu, the CGT union official covering the group's engineering and white collar workers, said: 'One figure probably sums up the situation for staff at this plant better than anything: the management itself has said that every employee 'donates' an average of 40 days' leave entitlement each year to the company as they are unable to meet their targets in the time available. Just a few years ago Renault was producing four models a year. But now, with fewer staff and reduced resources and training budgets, the 12,000 employees of the Technocentre have to design six.' In an interview with global union federation ITUC, he said: 'The pressure could not be higher. To achieve its objectives, the group management constantly send out messages telling the staff that if they do not achieve their own tasks the whole company will pay the price and such and such a plant will have to lay people off. The three men who killed themselves in recent months were all working on designing new models. They were conscientious workers, deeply committed to their work and keen to do their best and assume their responsibilities.' He added: 'Everything, from the financial pressure from threats of relocation to the individualisation of career structures and the bureaucracy of relationships with the hierarchy, is pushing the workers to give more and more until they collapse.' The union is demanding a ceiling on working hours, worker evaluation procedures and improved international communications. The day after the third suicide, the management of the plant and of the Renault group stated that the workers of the Technocentre urgently needed to recover their 'serenity' and 'trust' and to 'enjoy working again', which CGT's Neveu said was 'a very different message from everything we had heard before.'
An 11-year campaign for compensation for Thai mill workers suffering 'cotton lung' has ended in success. The 37 female workers all suffer from byssinosis, caused by inhaling cotton dust. The legal case against Bangkok Weaving Mills Co was finally settled last week. The workers had originally demanded Bt57 million (£877,000) in compensation, but the final settlement was substantially below this. However, each will receive between Bt10,000 (£154) and Bt110,000 (£1,692), with interest backdated to the day the lawsuit was filed. The Central Labour Court originally ruled in September 2003 that the defendant's negligence in not providing a safe working environment had contributed to the workers' occupational lung disease and ordered the company to pay compensation of Bt100,000 to Bt200,000 (£1,500-£3,000) to each plaintiff. The company then filed an appeal. The appeal court last week upheld the lower court's ruling and ordered the employer to pay compensation to each of the 37 workers within 15 days. President of the Work and Environment-Related Patients' Network (WEPT), Somboon Srikam-dokkae, who was also the first plaintiff in the case, said the workers were satisfied with the verdict even though the compensation was less than half the lower court's original ruling. She will get Bt110,000 (almost £1,700), compared to the lower court ruling of Bt200,000 (£3,000). 'We are satisfied with the verdict. We've regained our dignity after 11 years of fighting. Even though the money is little, we feel more like human beings having obtained justice,' she said.
COURSES FOR APRIL TO JULY 2007
Newsletter (5,900 words) issued 8 Jun 2007
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