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The TUC has condemned this week's Budget as a series of measures 'for the rich by the rich' incorporating a 'regurgitated mish-mash' of pro-business moves that tell employers safety is unimportant and can be ignored. Deregulation of health and safety got top billing in chancellor George Osborne's 21 March announcement of measures for 'supply-side reform of the economy.' The budget statement said: 'The government will scrap or improve 84 per cent of health and safety regulation' and added other measures would include the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) urging the European Commission to introduce 'micro-exemptions or lighter touch EU health and safety regulation' for small and medium-sized firms, 'based on ideas raised during the Red Tape Challenge.' The statement also referred to action with the insurance industry 'in order to tackle the compensation culture' (Risks 543), a phenomenon the government itself has determined does not exist. A statement from TUC noted: 'While this is a regurgitated mish-mash of previously announced moves, presented as a package in this way it highlights the pro-business, anti-worker agenda of this government. Not one of these proposals will do anything to protect the workforce from the epidemic of occupational disease that we have [Risks 547]. Instead it will simply give the message to employers that health and safety is a burden and there is little need for them to give it any priority as there is no chance of them ever being investigated or prosecuted unless they report an injury.' It added the Budget focus on safety deregulation 'shows very clearly exactly why the TUC is organising a Day of Action on 28 April to defend health and safety.' Business lobby group CBI said the deregulatory proposals did not go far enough. 'There needs to be much greater urgency to the government's deregulatory agenda,' said CBI director-general John Cridland. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber described the chancellor's announcement as 'a Budget for the rich by the rich.'
Shopworkers are opposed to 'ridiculous' government plans to introduce emergency legislation suspending Sunday trading laws this summer, their union has said. In his 21 March Budget statement, chancellor George Osborne announced there would be a 'relaxation' of Sunday trading hours restrictions on eight Sundays during the Olympics and Paralympics, starting 22 July. But Usdaw general secretary John Hannett responded: 'Our members are vehemently opposed to any further deregulation of Sunday trading hours and the government's own consultation on this just last year showed that there is no widespread support from either retailers or the general public for change.' He added: 'To suggest that the current legislation, which allows shops to open for 150 hours a week, means Britain is 'closed for business' is frankly ridiculous. With ministerial aides apparently briefing the announcement out as a prelude to permanent change, and with the total number of tourists actually expected to be down this summer, there is understandable suspicion that the government is trying to use the London Olympics as cover for its wider deregulation agenda.' The union leader said he was 'extremely disappointed' the government had announced the measure without consultation. 'Shopworkers are entitled to expect some respect from the government and for their views to be heard and taken into account before any decisions of this importance are made,' he said. He said the union would be raising its concerns with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and opposition leader Ed Miliband.
The government's handling of the health service is leaving staff facing soaring stress levels, the union UNISON has said. The union was commenting on the publication this week of the official NHS Staff Survey findings for 2011 - and warned its own research had revealed the problem could be considerably worse. 'The NHS staff survey reveals the increased levels of stress being heaped on staff by a combination of government cuts, the Health and Social Care Bill and the continuing pay freeze,' said Christina McAnea, UNISON head of health. 'The staff survey reflects some of the pressures felt by staff, but our own survey painted a much bleaker picture. UNISON's survey showed that 85 per cent experienced an increase in workload and 83 per cent suffered an increase in stress over the past year. The increase in workload is not a coincidence, it is down to cuts in staffing and to a lack of cover for staff on sick or on leave. And it is not just staff who suffer - the increase in workload and stress is felt by patients and by workers' families.' Patient frustration could be directed at staff, the union believed. 'Violence and harassment should have no place in our NHS and it is a disgrace that nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff should be threatened going about their work trying to help the sick and injured. It is time that a clear message was sent to those members of the public that attack NHS workers, they will be prosecuted and if found guilty they should receive tough sentences.'
Seafarers will pay with their lives if governments outlaw the payment of ransoms to pirates, the union Nautilus International has warned. General secretary Mark Dickinson has written to David Cameron expressing concern about the prime minister's plans for an international taskforce to discourage the payment of ransoms. The prime minister told the London Conference on Somalia on 23 February: 'Let's create an international taskforce on ransoms. And let's set the ultimate ambition of stopping these payments because in the end they only ensure that crime pays.' Nautilus fears that any attempt to make the payment of ransoms illegal would jeopardise the safety of seafarers held captive. The union said it is concerned at signs of a 'concerted attempt' by the UK and the US to prevent ransoms from being paid. Mr Dickinson said owners had no option but to pay to ensure the safe return of seafarers. 'To consider that ransom payments should be prohibited or discouraged is deplorable - seafarers will pay with their lives and shipping companies will pay on their balance sheets,' he added. 'At no stage has any minister provided us with the requested assurances or information on what the alternative to non-payment of ransoms would be.'
Media organisations must ensure women journalists are safe in their work, unions have said. A motion from the journalists' union NUJ was passed unanimously last week at the TUC women's conference. The motion said: 'The NUJ and the International Federation of Journalists both provide advice and assistance for women journalists who face working in dangerous situations. It is also the duty of media organisations to ensure that their staff and freelances covering war and revolution are safe.' The motion continued: 'Women often find that they are put under greater risk than their male colleagues, but the answer is not that of Reporters Sans Frontiers - calling on editors to stop sending women journalists to cover the protest in Tahrir Square, where women reporters were coming under attack, but to make sure that gender-specific health and safety policies are in place.' The conference also heard from columnist and blogger Cath Elliot who told of the violent and sexual nature of the abuse she had received. The NUJ member said: 'Many of these remarks can be found on the comment threads of publications such as the Guardian and New Statesman; these papers need to respond to them. Women should be able to do their jobs without being subject to abuse and threats of rape.' The conference called on the TUC 'to campaign on the issue of women workers' safety and to urge managements to include gender-specific safety awareness training in health and safety initiatives.'
An apprentice engineer who was trained to remove safety guards from machinery suffered a severe head injury as a result. The 22-year-old from Bournemouth was struck on the face when a solid nylon billet he was attempting to work on at a precision engineering firm in the Bournemouth area flew off the machine. The billet crushed part of his skull and eye socket, and pushed fragments of bone perilously close to his brain. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, needed emergency surgery to rebuild his skull and titanium plates were inserted. He has been left with loss of sensation on the right side of his skull and has been told he risks developing loss of movement in the right side of his face in the future. He suffers from shooting pains in his head and has to go for regular hospital check-ups. He continued his apprenticeship with another company and still works in the industry. The apprentice was first shown how to work on the nylon billet by a trainer, one of the turners on the shop floor, as part of his induction. His trainer removed the safety guard, machined one component while the apprentice watched and then asked him to do one while he observed. When the apprentice had finished the one component he was told that that was his training on the machine. Had the guard been fitted, the billet would never have hit his head. The unidentified precision engineering firm, facing a union-backed compensation claim, admitted liability and agreed a 'substantial' settlement out of court.
An inquiry should be set up after concrete collapsed at the entrance of a Crossrail tunnel, rail union RMT has said. No-one was injured in the incident, which happened at the construction site on 9 March at Royal Oak in west London. A spokesperson for Crossrail confirmed an investigation was under way. But RMT described it as a 'major incident' meriting an official probe. 'Clearly this was a major incident which could have had serious repercussions and rather than the attempt to sweep it under the carpet there should be a full Health and Safety Executive investigation into the structural failure that caused this tunnel collapse to ensure that lessons are learnt and it doesn't happen again,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said. The Crossrail spokesperson told the BBC the construction project, which has been operating for three years, 'has an excellent safety record.' He added: 'No injuries resulted and repairs were quickly undertaken.' The £16bn project is due to be completed by 2018.
Unions have said the prosecution of Network Rail after two girls were killed on an Essex level crossing has exposed the extent of the criminal culpability of those running the company. The rail infrastructure giant was fined £1m plus costs of £60,015 last week in a case brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). The company pleaded guilty to three offences at Chelmsford Crown Court. Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, who were hit by a train in December 2005 as they crossed the railway line at Elsenham station. Judge David Turner accused Network Rail of 'culpable corporate blindness and a complacency going beyond merely inefficient incompetency to entering the realm of criminal failure.' Rail union TSSA, which was instrumental in getting the case brought to court after revealing Network Rail had failed to disclose two crucial reports at the inquest into the deaths (Risks 542), said the prosecution exposed the seriousness of the company's crimes. The Network Rail risk assessments had labelled the crossing 'undesirably risky.' TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: 'The actions of senior Network Rail management in this case were wicked beyond belief. If they had acted on either of these two hidden safety reports, the two school girls would still be alive today.' He added 'the fact that they have spent the past six years hiding the truth from the grieving parents is truly shocking. The culture at the top of this company was simply morally bankrupt.' ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said until individuals are held accountable for safety failures, there was no compelling motivation for improvements. 'We need to examine this whole situation carefully to ensure that the guilty, rather than the innocent, are punished.' Commenting on the fine, he said: 'Merely shunting money from government to Network Rail back to government is meaningless.' He added: 'Surely if a judge is talking about 'criminal failure', it is only reasonable to define where that criminality lay - and to act accordingly.'
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has called 'for action to free businesses from the fear of the UK's compensation culture and overzealous interpretations of health and safety rules that could hold back Britain's economic recovery.' The call from the insurance industry lobby group came at a Chartered Institute of Environmental Health conference on 14 March. Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general Insurance, said: 'Businesses, especially the small businesses crucial to our economic recovery, need to be able to thrive, not operate worried by the constant risk of being sued for the most minor of injuries and confused by health and safety requirements. Insurance is here to help businesses do what they do best, free from the fear of being sued or engulfed in red tape.' However, unions and industrial disease argue that over 90 per cent of all workers harmed by their jobs receive no compensation. And workers are only entitled to any payout if they can demonstrate this harm - which could include the occupational diseases that claim tens of thousands of lives every year - is the result of their employer's negligence. ABI, though, makes no mention of these serious cases, instead focusing on ''slip and trip' style liability claims.' ABI's Nick Starling told the conference: 'The ABI has long argued for reforms to make our legal system more efficient, tackle spurious claims and relieve the burden on UK business. To help all firms, the government must implement its reforms without delay.' In February, prime minister David Cameron invited ABI, insurance firms and industry bodies to a Downing Street 'compensation summit' to devise the new policy (Risks 543). No workers' groups or industrial injury and disease advocacy groups were invited.
Labour MP Michael Meacher has written to home secretary Theresa May demanding a public inquiry into the construction blacklisting scandal. The former Labour cabinet minister tabled a question in parliament last week 'to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will set up a public inquiry into recent allegations that (a) the police and (b) the security services supplied information to the Consulting Association leading to the blacklisting of up to 3,200 building workers.' The call follows revelations during a recent employment tribunal pursued by blacklisted worker Dave Smith (Risks 546). The MP also asked 'if she will refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions for investigation and possible prosecution the 44 construction firms listed on the Consulting Association database as having used the services of that organisation to blacklist up to 3,200 building workers.' Michael Meacher is the second Labour MP, after John McDonnell, to call for a full public inquiry. A 21 March question in the House of Commons from McDonnell received a response from the prime minister. The Labour MP said: 'When 3,000 people, mostly celebrities, had their telephones hacked, the government set up an inquiry under Leveson. When 3,200 trade unionists have been blacklisted, and many have lost their livelihoods, the Home Secretary simply suggests that they go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Why is there one route to justice for celebrities, and another for working people?' David Cameron responded: 'There is one law that has to cover everybody in this land, and if there is any accusation of wrongdoing, that is something that the police, who are completely independent of the government, can investigate. That is what should happen.'
Government plans to scrap protection from unfair dismissal are a charter for nasty bosses, the TUC has indicated. Responding to this week's government call for evidence, which proposes that unfair dismissal laws could be replaced by 'no fault compensated dismissal', TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Scrapping protection against unfair dismissal, even for people who have given years of loyal service, will do absolutely nothing to boost the economy.' He added: 'Losing your job is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone, especially when unemployment is so high. Employees should only be dismissed for fair reasons, as set out in current laws. The clue is in the name - unfair dismissal.' Job insecurity has been linked to higher rates of accidents at work and of work-related suicides (Risks 528), sickness and ill-health (Risks 526). It has also been shown to drive down productivity. TUC's Brendan Barber said: 'Employers already have powers to make fair dismissals for misconduct or poor performance. Giving bosses the right to act unfairly may go down well on the backbenches, but it will horrify employees. But while this proposal does nothing for growth, it does show the kind of economy those close to the prime minister want to create - one in which nasty bosses are given full license to undermine those trying to maintain decent standards.' The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also indicated the move to end unfair dismissal would be counterproductive. CIPD's Mike Emmott commented: 'There is no economic case to be made for the watering down of employment rights for businesses of any size. Businesses have far more to lose in lost productivity from a demotivated and disengaged workforce than they stand to gain from the ability to hire and fire at will.' The recent blacklisting scandal has already illustrated that some employers are willing to target employees for dismissal if they raise health and safety concerns.
Government figures showing over a third of incapacity benefit claimants are fit to work are 'hardly surprising', the TUC has said, charging that the government tests have been designed specifically to get people off the benefit. Figures released last week by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) show that for the first 141,100 incapacity benefits claimants reassessed, '37 per cent of those whose claims have been concluded have been found fit for work. The remaining 63 per cent of claimants were entitled to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)', the payment replacing incapacity benefit. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber responded: 'It's hardly surprising that a test specifically designed to make fewer people qualify for disability benefits is passing more people as 'fit to work'. These tests have deemed terminally ill patients and people with severe disabilities as 'fit to work', are costing taxpayers a small fortune in successful legal appeals and serve no clear benefit to the very people they are supposed to help. The point of a fitness test should be to identify whether someone is really fit to work, not to kick people off benefits whatever the cost.' According to a 19 March article in The Guardian: 'Judging by the mounting pressure on appeal tribunals, where hundreds of thousands of people have flooded to contest the decisions, the system is not working smoothly.' It adds: 'There was a 56 per cent rise during 2010/11 in the number of people appealing rulings that they are fit for work and the tribunals system has become overloaded. Since the system was trialled at the end of 2009, at least 390,000 people have gone to appeal; tribunal courts have been forced to open on Saturdays and to increase staff by 30 per cent since January 2010, to deal with the backlog; the cost of these appeals is expected to reach £50m a year by the end of this month. The scale of the problem is startling; the tribunals service has radically increased its capacity in order to cope with a possible half a million new cases over the next 12 months.'
Plans to introduce a pay-as-you-go-wrong scheme for workplace safety offenders have been put back by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE now says its cost recovery scheme, Fee for Intervention (FFI), which was scheduled to start in April 2012, will be delayed until the autumn. The scheme sets out to recover costs of up to £124-an-hour from those who break health and safety laws. HSE says this is reimbursement for the time and effort it spends on helping to put matters right - investigating and taking enforcement action. The official safety watchdog adds that law-abiding businesses will be free from costs and will not pay a penny. Gordon MacDonald, HSE's programme director, said: 'The government has agreed that it is right that those who break the law should pay their fair share of the costs to put things right - and not the public purse. The government intends to proceed with the FFI scheme as recommended to ministers by HSE's Board in December in response to the formal consultation that took place last summer.' He said discussions on the details of the scheme had not concluded. 'Therefore, FFI will not be introduced in April but at the next available opportunity, which is likely to be October 2012.' HSE says it is taking advantage of the extra time to work further with businesses to improve their understanding of the scheme and how it will affect them.
A leading engineering and construction company has been fined £250,000 for safety failings after a surveyor was killed by a reversing lorry during work to widen the M25 near Dartford. Richard Caddock, 38, was talking on a mobile phone and could not hear the approaching truck above the noise of nearby motorway traffic, when he was hit from behind on 8 April 2008. Maidstone Crown Court heard the Costain Ltd employee had left a parked van and was walking northbound along a section of the central reservation closed off as part of a £65 million scheme to ease congestion. As he talked on the phone, a tipper lorry delivering crushed stone entered the same section and reversed northbound. Mr Craddock had walked approximately 30m when the truck hit him. The surveyor sustained multiple injuries as a result of being run over by the eight wheel vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene. After the hearing, HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said: 'This was a terrible tragedy that could easily have been avoided had Costain Limited implemented basic safety precautions. Mr Caddock may have been distracted on the phone, but the drone of nearby traffic was such that he would have struggled to hear the reversing alarm on the lorry regardless. Quite simply the two should never have been allowed to be in the same place at the same time.' Costain Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence in connection to the death. In addition to the £250,000 fine, the company was ordered to pay £45,000 costs.
A firm specialising in the manufacture of wooden doors and windows has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker died. Andrzej Rokita, a 55-year-old Polish national, had been with MM Contracting Ltd for only 10 days when he attempted to help his son, also an employee, to remove a large board from the middle of a pile stacked upright against a wall in the workshop. The company's usual system for doing this was for one employee to stand in front of the stack, taking the weight of the unwanted boards on his hands, while a fellow worker pulled out the chosen one from the side. Unfortunately as Mr Rokita tried to support the weight of the leaning wooden panels they toppled over, crushing him and causing fatal head injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and found the company did not have a safe system of work for the storage or retrieval of boards. Storing the boards flat on the floor or using a simple purpose-built racking system would have greatly reduced the risk of injury. After a 14 March sentencing hearing at Southwark Crown Court, HSE inspector Kevin Smith said: 'This was a death waiting to happen. Incidents such as this are still a common occurrence in the industry despite the existence of guidance from the HSE offering simple, inexpensive solutions for stacking wood safely.' He added: 'As a direct result of the company's failure to provide safe storage for their everyday materials, a father and husband has lost his life. There is no excuse for employers not ensuring that wood on their premises is properly stored, posing the most minimal risk to their staff.' MM Contracting Ltd had pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence at an earlier hearing. The company was fined £26,000 and ordered to pay £9,000 in costs.
The Australian government has passed a law aimed at improving road safety for truck drivers. The new rules follow a long-running 'safe rates' campaign by the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which lobbied for more regulation to protect drivers from pressure to work long hours, speed or take drugs just to keep going. The new law sets up a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal with the power to set minimum pay rates and conditions as well as resolve disputes and inquire into industry practices. Commenting outside parliament, TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said the Road Safety Remuneration Bill, which was opposed by logistics and retail industry lobby groups, 'marks the culmination of a 20 year campaign by the TWU, together with truck drivers, transport companies, committed politicians, families of people who were killed or injured in truck accidents and communities across Australia to make our roads safer. It has been known for decades that there is a safety crisis in the road transportation industry, and that this is linked to the rates of pay for truck drivers and the economic power of retailers.' He added passage of the law 'marks the most important step for road safety this country has taken in many years. It is the mark of a government that is not willing to allow major retailers economic weight lead to death and destruction. It is the mark of a nation that believes truck drivers are more than mobile warehouses. It is the mark of a people that believe one death or injury as a result of a truck crash is too many.'
A major steel firm in Vietnam has been accused by officials of failing to report an explosion that killed two workers and injured six others. An official from the Hanoi Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs said the site of the incident at the Vietnam-Korea Steel and Iron Corporation located had been disturbed and that two bodies had been buried in the two days before the tragedy was reported. 'The accident happened on March 9, but the department was only informed two days later through the city police,' said Bach Quoc Viet, head of labour safety at the department. Luong Van Dat, 34, and Than Van Hung, 25, were killed when a furnace exploded. Viet said when the labour department inspectors arrived, the two bodies were no longer available for forensic tests. He added that the company had already negotiated with the victims' families to take care of the funerals and support each with VND20 million (approximately £600). A source from the company said the late report was because it had been busy sending victims to the hospital and, as the explosion happened on Friday, it was difficult to report to relevant agencies over the weekend.
Republican lawmakers have indicated it is more important to let employers police themselves on workplace safety than it is to give workers protection when they blow the whistle on unsafe practices. In comments to Daily Labor Report last week, Republican Representative John Kline said his party would reject President Obama's proposed budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the official health and safety enforcement agency. He revealed Republicans are particularly opposed to the additional $4.9 million (£3.1m) for worker whistleblower protection and the $3.2 million (£2m) cut in the voluntary employer compliance program that was the hallmark of the Bush administration. Kline said Democrats wanted 'to increase whistleblower opportunities, increase penalties, increase the number of inspectors, increase the number of inspections and pull back from voluntary participation programs. We just have a fundamentally different view of what we think that relationship ought to be between the government and the workforce.' In a blog posting, the national union federation AFL-CIO responded: 'The last time we checked, more inspectors, more inspections, tougher penalties and worker protections were the hallmarks of any effective workplace safety program. There's plenty of evidence that when given the opportunity, some employers don't hesitate to cut corners or just downright ignore safety and health laws.' An AFL-CIO Executive Council statement last week noted: 'Some employers, such as Massey Energy [Risks 546] and BP [Risks 523], cut corners and flagrantly violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives.'
This year's Hazards Campaign conference - the largest annual grassroots safety conference in the Northern Hemisphere - will take place from 31 August to 2 September 2012 at Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent. In a year workplace health and safety has come in for unprecedented negative attention from the highest levels of government, the conference theme will be 'Countering the attack on the safe workplace.' In addition to top speakers, delegates will have a choice of 19 workshops on issues ranging from campaigning with members to dealing with employers and other risks, mapping, organising and 'finding out about health and safety issues.' The Hazards Campaign is urging supporters to endeavour to get their union, at every level, 'to sponsor the conference to keep down costs and support the Hazards Campaigning all year round.'
COURSES FOR JANUARY 2012 TO MARCH 2012
Newsletter (5,500 words) issued 23 Mar 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-20817-f0.cfm
printed 22 May 2013 at 03:12 hrs by 220.127.116.11