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Disability and poor health are preventing nearly half a million people approaching retirement from working, according to a TUC analysis of official labour market data. The union body warned this is a figure that will only increase as the state pension age (SPA) starts to rise. The TUC research found the employment rates for those approaching the current SPA are low, with just 54 per cent of men aged 60-64 and 62 per cent of women aged 56-60 in work. Nearly two in five of those approaching the SPA are economically inactive, with long-term sickness and disability cited as the main reason for them not working. People formerly working in the skilled trades, heavy industry and low-skilled jobs are most likely to be inactive due to disability and ill-health, while managers and senior officials are far more likely to be inactive because of early retirement. Nearly a hundred thousand more people are currently inactive due to long-term sickness and disability (470,325) than to taking early retirement (375,368). TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'While more people are working past their state pension age, often as the only way to get a decent retirement income, a far greater number of older people are unable to work due to ill-health or because they are trapped in long-term unemployment.' He warned: 'By raising the state pension age and ignoring persistent health inequalities, the government risks overseeing a dramatic rise in pensioner poverty.' TUC pensions officer Craig Berry said: 'We already knew that increasing state pension age was unfair. Variations in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy based on geography and wealth mean that people from more affluent areas spend a higher proportion of their life in retirement, and a higher proportion of their retirement in good health, than people from more deprived areas. Yet the sheer scale of worklessness - most of it involuntary - among people approaching state pension age means that the policy may also prove to be a case of wishful thinking.'
Only 194 of the 3,213 workers on a construction-industry run blacklist exposed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in 2009 know they were targeted three years on, the union GMB has said. The situation is an 'indictment' of the ICO, the union said, describing the privacy watchdog's excuses for not contacting blacklisted workers as 'so weak as to be a joke.' The concerns were raised by GMB Scotland secretary Harry Donaldson and national officer Justin Bowden, who gave evidence to the House of Commons' Scottish Affairs Committee on 4 September. Harry Donaldson told the Committee: 'Last month GMB wrote to the ICO asking for proactive action to inform 3,019 builders that they are on a blacklist that his office has been in possession of since 2009 and to take action against the 44 companies that blacklisted them.' He said discussions were now due to take place with ICO, but the union still 'expect the ICO to use his wide ranging powers to notify the 3,019 people who are on the database and take action against these companies. If he fails to act legal action is likely.' He added: 'GMB intend to pull back the curtain of secrecy to reveal the way that employers like Carillion and others illegally used their power and money to blacklist citizens and to deny them their rights to employment.' GMB's Justin Bowden said 'the ICO is the cork in the blacklisting bottle that needs to be popped.' He said it was unacceptable that employers who blacklisted workers have received billions in public sector contracts. The union said they should be barred from further contracts until they provide blacklisted workers with an apology and compensation.
Workers employed by Carillion who were blacklisted after raising safety concerns have protested outside a court in Swansea where the firm is being prosecuted after a site death. The plea and case management hearing at Swansea Crown Court on 6 September was in relation to the death of scaffolder Russell Samuel. The father of two, aged 40, suffered massive head injuries on 22 January 2008 after falling 62ft from a skyscraper complex which includes the tallest residential building in Wales. Febrey Limited, Michael Febrey and Carillion Construction Limited are all charged with criminal breaches of safety law in a case brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The union GMB called the demonstration outside the court. One of the demonstrators was dressed as a 'grim reaper', complete with scythe. Protesters carried placards bearing the words 'Carillion blacklisted health and safety representatives says GMB' and 'Carillion corporate bullying risks death and injuries on sites.' GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: 'This demonstration is to highlight the terrible toll of death and injury in the construction sector and to underline the importance of the proper enforcement of health and safety laws to prevent this carnage. Employers which kill and maim workers are as guilty of a crime as someone who kills or maims while drink-driving.' He added that Carillion was part of a 'blacklisting conspiracy which deprived workers in the sector of jobs even when they raised concerns about the enforcement of basic health and safety and hygiene standards.'
A photographer who was assaulted by security staff while photographing a demonstration in Topshop's flagship Oxford Street store has received a full apology from the firm. The move came following a meeting between Jess Hurd and her legal advisers from the journalists' union NUJ and Adam Goldman, company secretary of the chain's owner, Arcadia Group, and Topshop's regional controller Tracy Dixon. NUJ member Jess Hurd was assaulted, dragged through the store and arrested whilst covering a peaceful UKUncut protest in December 2011 (Risks 569). She was later de-arrested but banned from the store. She said: 'It is very disappointing that no CCTV footage of the incident could be found, so my assailant cannot be identified, but I welcome the long awaited apology from Topshop and the lifting of my ban from the store. It is not acceptable that having identified myself as a professional journalist covering the protest in the store that I experienced being forcibly arrested and the humiliation of being dragged through Topshop with my clothes pulled up, exposing my upper body. We have the assurance that Arcadia will work with the NUJ to ensure proper media training for their staff and communicate that message to all their contracted security firms to prevent a repetition of such behaviour in the future.' The apology from Arcadia Group also said 'we look forward to working with the NUJ to ensure our security contractors improve their procedures in future.'
Unions have welcomed a joint human rights communique signed this week by the governments of the UK, Russia, Brazil and Korea, the countries holding the current and next three summer and winter Olympics. The communique adds to the pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure companies linked to the games respect workers' fundamental rights, a key demand of the Play Fair campaign run by unions and NGOs since the 2004 Athens games, the unions say. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'By endorsing so strongly the UN Declaration of Human Rights, these four governments have committed themselves to protecting the rights of workers building the facilities, staffing the Games and making the sports equipment and memorabilia to decent wages, equal pay and safety.' He added: 'The IOC and governments in Olympic host countries are now on notice. Make the next three Games sweatshop-free, healthy for all, and free of worker exploitation.'
The safe evacuation of a Northern Rail train derailed near St Bees in Cumbria on 30 August underlines the 'crucial' safety role played by guards and other train staff, the union RMT has said. But the union warned these essential jobs are under threat as a result of 'wrong-headed' government policy. Condemning the government's plan to abolish guards, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the controlled evacuation of workers being transported to the Sellafield nuclear plant 'underlines exactly why guards are so important and why the government is so, so wrong to put private operators' profits ahead of rail safety.' He added: 'Passengers were full of praise for the way the train crew took control of the situation and led people to safety, but if the government gets its way the safety critical role of guards will be ditched, along with thousands of safety-trained frontline station staff.' He called on the public to back the union's campaign to preserve this essential safety function. 'It is at times like these that the crucial importance of professional, properly trained staff becomes so clear, and we would urge everyone who uses the railways to tell MPs and the government that cutting guards and other safety-critical staff is not an option,' he said.
The government is endangering the lives of children, young people and others who come into contact with dangerous dogs by failing to improve the law, the union CWU has warned. In 5 September evidence to a House of Commons select committee the union said both Scotland and Northern Ireland had introduced improved dangerous dogs laws, and Wales plans to legislate later this year, 'but Westminster continues to drag its feet while savage dog attacks rise.' The law in England and Wales doesn't apply on private property, where 70 per cent of attacks on postal workers take place, effectively absolving the owners of out of control dogs of their responsibility. Ahead of the hearing, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: 'We need the government to recognise that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is not fit for purpose and is failing both dog owners and attack victims alike. We desperately need stronger laws to radically improve responsible dog ownership in the UK, reduce the number of attacks and punish irresponsible owners.' He was critical of the government's proposals, which he said 'completely lack preventative measures such as dog control notices which could quickly and effectively identify dogs which pose a risk and deal with them before an attack takes place. Action is now overdue on this issue.' CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce, who gave evidence to the committee, said: 'We want a package of better laws - extended to private property, judging a dog's behaviour not just breed, and bringing in compulsory microchipping. We also need better enforcement of these laws, by giving more power and support to police and dog wardens.' He also said the union was also 'very concerned about changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which will exclude dog attack victims from receiving compensation.'
A reduction in opening hours for Sheffield's five recycling centres is leaving workers and the public at deadly risk, the union GMB has warned. Peter Davies, the union's regional officer, said: 'The 50 per cent budget cut for the recycling centres leading to dramatic drop in opening hours and less hours for staff is not acceptable to our members and will not deliver a service that is fit and safe for purpose for the people of Sheffield.' The low paid workforce, which relies on extra hours to make up a living wage, took strike action last weekend in a dispute that has been rumbling on since May. GMB's Peter Davies said there were serious safety implications of limiting access to the centres, adding 'regardless of strike action or not, we are seeing massive queues at the recycle centres. Queues I should add that are resulting in heavy articulated wagons shuffling their skips around on the main roads whilst pedestrians walk by... queues that could, quite frankly, result in serious incidents affecting the public and the workforce alike.' The centres have been operating on a weekends-only basis, when there has been enormous pressure on the service. Waste and recycling is the UK's most dangerous land-based work activity. The industry has a fatality rate nearly 17 times the national average, and an injury rate over four times higher. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), between 2001/02 and 2009/10 there were 57 fatalities in the waste management and recycling industry caused by being hit by a moving vehicle, amounting to 40 per cent of all deaths in the sector.
Pilots' union BALPA has said the controversy over the impact of prime minister David Cameron's reshuffle on the chances for a new runway at Heathrow is diverting attention from the big issue, the looming threat to air safety. Patrick McLoughlin, the new secretary of state for transport, should put the EU's pilot fatigue proposals at the top of his pile, the union said. BALPA believes the proposals from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) 'are unscientific and unsafe,' adding they 'would allow pilots to fly more tired, more often, and must be stopped.' Commenting on Patrick McLoughlin's appointment, BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said 'my first question to him is: 'Do you think it's safe for pilots to be landing their aircraft after being awake for 22 hours? Do you want to allow pilots to fly much further without a relief crew member to share the workload? And do you want to see flight safety threatened by allowing airlines to roster pilots to do an unlimited number of fatiguing early starts?'' He added: 'These plans are coming to a head in Europe this month, so it's vital he acts quickly. He must get up to date with these proposals and their implications and we will be ensuring he knows our concerns about them.'
A driver who ruptured his Achilles tendon at work is still suffering from the effects two and a half years later. Unite member Kenan Mason, 49, got his foot caught in the plate covering the hydraulic pipes and air lines of a car transporter in January 2010 whilst he was loading cars at Southampton Docks. The STVA UK driver was crossing to the other side of the car transporter when he fell. The gangway plate had gaps at either side and should have been flush against the transporter's trailer. He attempted to continue to work but the pain was so bad he had to go to hospital. He was diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles tendon and needed to take 16 weeks off work, was in plaster for five weeks and then had to undergo intensive physiotherapy. He suffered muscle wastage in his left leg and developed a limp. In May 2011 his leg began to worsen and he needed another seven weeks off work and further physiotherapy. He has since returned to his job but must pace himself to ensure his leg doesn't get too painful. He still walks with a limp but hopes his leg will gradually improve. In a Unite-backed compensation claim, STVA admitted liability and settled out of court for £19,000. Heathcliffe Pettifer from Unite said: 'Mr Mason is coping with his injuries extremely well but this accident should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Simple checks would have avoided this tripping hazard.'
A talented apprentice suffered multiple injuries that stalled his progress when a car ploughed into his Ford Fiesta as he made his way to a training course. Unite member Scott Dennis, 22, was housebound for four months after the BMW ploughed into him when its driver swerved to avoid a van. Scott, who was making his way to college where he was undertaking a toolmaking apprenticeship with Ford Motor Company, suffered serious injuries including a fractured pelvis, a fractured vertebrae, a traumatic head injury, a fractured lower right leg and neck injuries. He was knocked unconscious and was in hospital for three weeks after undergoing surgery. When he was discharged he was housebound and in a wheelchair for four months and feared he'd never walk again. After intensive physiotherapy he re-learnt to walk and was able to return to work on light duties after eight months. He had to resit the first year of his apprenticeship and missed out on gaining an additional qualification, a national diploma, because of the time he lost. Five years on he has now completed his apprenticeship and is working for Ford but still suffers from pain in his back and needs extra time to complete his work. He also suffers from memory loss, which affects both his work and personal life. He is unable to play football or take part in his hobbies of bmx-ing and skateboarding. In a compensation claim supported by Unite, the BMW driver admitted liability and the insurers paid a 'substantial' sum in compensation. The driver was also convicted for dangerous driving.
David Cameron's 4 September reshuffle saw controversial safety minister Chris Grayling promoted to replace Ken Clarke as justice secretary. Iain Duncan Smith remains secretary of state at the Department of Work and Pensions, the department responsible for employment, workplace health and safety and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The new minister of state for employment, a job that includes health and safety, is Mark Hoban, the Conservative MP for Fareham. He was previously financial secretary to the Treasury and is a former accountant. The new safety minister made no mention of the safety component of his job in the DWP news release announcing the changes. He said: 'There are few things more important than ensuring people have the help and support they need to get into work. The government has already improved the support available through initiatives like the Work Programme, I want to give people all the help and support they need to take up the jobs that are out there.' He added: 'I also want to ensure that we give every possible opportunity to our young people, building on the early successes of the Youth Contract and work experience schemes. Getting youngsters onto that first rung of the jobs ladder is one of the most important tasks facing any employment minister.'
The government has drawn up plans to withdraw £71 a week from sick and disabled benefit claimants if they fail to take steps to get back into the workplace, according to the Guardian. The paper says a leaked draft of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) template letter warns sick and disabled claimants they will lose 70 per cent of their weekly employment support allowance (ESA) if they refuse to take part in work-related activities, more than doubling the current penalty. The DWP has also told the Guardian that it is finalising plans which could make unpaid and unlimited work experience placements part of work-related activity. The draft letter, which the Guardian says is expected to be sent to all those in the ESA work-related activity group (Wrag), informs claimants that from 3 December the penalty will jump to £71 a week out of a maximum allowance award of £99.15. Latest figures show that there are just over 340,000 people in the Wrag category and that between 1 June 2011 and 31 May 2012, 11,130 of them have been sanctioned for an average duration of seven weeks. Charities have warned that stripping Wrag claimants of 70 per cent of their allowance risked 'devastating' consequences for people's health, especially since a good number of those currently being sanctioned have little understanding of why they are being punished.
The hangover from BP's deadly safety errors is continuing. Announcing 'disappointing' second quarter results in July, the London-based multinational admitted safety-related costs had left a multibillion dollar hole in its profits (Risks 567). This week the company received two more doses of bad news, with investors seeking damages relating to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster and US authorities accusing BP of gross negligence. The investors who bought into BP shares around the time of the 2010 explosion filed lawsuits claiming the company did not disclose the full extent of the spill. The Telegraph reports that investors including the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority and GAM Fund Management are seeking damages from BP for its actions before and after the spill. The suits, filed with a court in Texas, allege the company misrepresented is commitment to safety. They note: 'These 'safety first' statements were materially false and misleading. BP paid only lip service to such reforms, lacked any tools for dealing with oil disasters such as deep water spills, and continued to operate by sacrificing safety for savings. Indeed, BP's reform failures led directly to the April 2010 disaster.' In a second blow to BP this week, the US Justice Department accused BP of 'gross negligence and wilful misconduct' over the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The allegations, which BP denies, came in papers filed in federal court in New Orleans. The Deepwater Horizon rig had been leased by BP. It exploded on 20 April 2010, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil. BP shares remain well off their pre-crisis high of 655p, but have recovered 18 per cent to 443p over the past 12 months as investors grow more optimistic over the company's ability to move on from the disaster.
A worker suffered a fractured skull at a Derbyshire farm just a day after he started his job. The 49-year-old employee, whose name has not been released, was asked to help an experienced engineer install a milking parlour at Brookley Meadows Farm, Thurvaston, Derbyshire, on 5 July 2011, his second day at work for Shropshire-based United Milking Systems Ltd. Derby Magistrates were told part of the work involved installing four 80kg steel beams at a height of around two metres. The two men tried to install one of them by having one person hold it over his head while the second climbed a stepladder, took the beam from the first person and placed it on to a wall bracket. The engineer had rested one end of the beam on the wall bracket and they were lifting it on to the opposite bracket when it slipped. As one end hit the floor the vibration caused the engineer on the stepladder to lose his grip on the beam and it landed on the new employee's head. He suffered a fractured skull and lacerations and was off work for six weeks. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the incident could have been prevented had the company used suitable lifting equipment. United Milking Systems Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000.
A Skelmersdale firm that makes outdoor shelters has appeared in court after an employee lost parts of three fingers when his hand became trapped in a forklift truck. PRF Engineering, which manufactures shelters for bikes and supermarket trolleys, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident on 19 May 2011. Ormskirk Magistrates' Court heard the 36-year-old worker from Kirkby, who asked not to be named, had been helping to transport a three metre-wide metal sheet when he was injured. He and a colleague stood on top of the sheet to stabilise it on the prongs of the forklift so it could be moved, but as the sheet was lowered the worker's left hand became trapped. He was taken to hospital by ambulance where his fingers were reattached but he has only been able to regain partial use of the hand. The court was told the company had failed to carry out a proper assessment of the risks. It should not have allowed employees to stand on top of the forks and should have found another way to transport the sheets of metal, such as using a large metal basket. PRF Engineering pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £5,164 in costs. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Imran Siddiqui said: 'The company should simply not have allowed workers to stabilise sheets of metal by standing on top on them on forklift trucks. It would have been obvious to anyone witnessing this that it was unsafe. If PRF Engineering carried out a proper assessment of the risks its employees faced then this incident could have been avoided.'
An industry bid to weaken Queensland's strict mine safety laws is 'dangerously naïve' and could endanger the Australian state's mineworkers, the union CFMEU has warned. At their Queensland convention, union delegates passed a resolution to fight any attempt from industry or government to tamper with the state's best practice occupational health and safety regulations, including a threat to reduce the powers of union-appointed safety inspectors. The union has also written to the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), which doesn't want unions to be allowed to select their safety inspectors, calling on the mining lobby group to cease its attacks on the state's safety laws. CFMEU district president Stephen Smyth said the role of the union's safety inspectors was vital and it was important that these inspectors have the ability to pause operations when a serious safety breach had occurred. He said the lobby group's call on ministers to deregulate industry safety 'is quite frankly ludicrous. Taking away the powers of safety inspectors at the coalface in favour of entrusting them to company executives in an office is dangerously naïve.' He said members of Queensland's own Mines Rescue service saw the results of lessened safety legislation firsthand when they were flown to New Zealand to assist with the Pike River disaster which claimed 29 lives, including two Australians. 'After witnessing some of Australia's worst coalmining disasters, Queensland's unions have fought tirelessly to enshrine world's best practice into state law. Attacking this is an insult to those that have died or been injured in mine accidents,' said CFMEU's Stephen Smyth. He added: 'The QRC says it wants safety lowered to match legislation in New South Wales, so why doesn't it lobby the NSW government to boost safety there rather than attacking those protecting Queensland workers?'
The creation of a new national agency to oversee the management and removal of asbestos is an important step towards eradicating all asbestos from Australia by 2030, unions have said. Michael Borowick, assistant secretary of the national union federation ACTU, said the government's announcement a joint ACTU-Cancer Council Australia summit in Sydney showed it took the issue seriously. He said the new Office for Asbestos Safety must move quickly to implement a plan to make Australia asbestos-free within two decades. 'About 600 Australians are dying from asbestos-related diseases each year, including increasing numbers who inadvertently breathed in asbestos fibres during home renovation projects,' he said. 'Although asbestos was banned almost a decade ago, Australians are concerned that it remains a major health hazard in the community, and unions are determined that the removal of asbestos by 2030 remains on the public agenda.' He said the announcement of the new agency at the conference by the minister for workplace relations, Bill Shorten, 'is a good step towards our goal.' The minister said: 'Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos related disease in the world', adding the new approach 'represents our best chance to work together to eliminate asbestos-related disease in Australia. The creation of the Office of Asbestos Safety is a vital first step in that process.'
A coal mine explosion in eastern China on 2 September has killed at least 14 people just days after a blast in the country's southwest left 44 dead. The official Xinhua News Agency said dozens of miners were working when the blast ripped through the Gaokeng Coal Mine in Jiangxi province's Pingxiang city at midday on Sunday. A day later, Xinhua reported 23 escaped or were rescued and 14 were confirmed dead, with one worker missing and 11 workers hospitalised. The tragedy followed a blast on 30 August in Sichuan that killed 44 people, the highest single incident toll for the industry in nearly three years. About 150 miners were in the Xiaojiawan coal mine in Sichuan province when a gas explosion occurred. Fifty of the survivors were reported to be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and several were reported to be in critical condition. The mine owners were detained pending an investigation. Official figures show that 1,973 people died in coal mining incidents in the country last year. China's central government has introduced measures aimed at improving standards, but these directives are often ignored at local level.
The warehousing industry typically involves complicated layers of companies using, owning, operating and staffing warehouses, making the sector ripe for labour abuse. US magazine In These Times highlights a legal case demonstrating the type of problems that arise. The motion filed on 23 August in a workers' class action lawsuit is the latest to highlight problems in goods making their way to the shelves of Walmart, the world's largest retailer. The lawsuit names Schneider Logistics Inc. (SLI) and its subsidiary Schneider Logistics Transloading and Distribution (STLD) along with the companies Impact and Premier, which hired people to staff the warehouses. A key question is whether Schneider or STLD directly employed - and is therefore responsible for the working conditions of - the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs allege that Schneider is their 'joint employer' along with the other defendants. Their lawyers say thousands of pages of documents previously withheld by the company show that 'Schneider's top managers knowingly made material false statements' to the court, including claims that the warehouse employees are not subject to Schneider employment policies and that Schneider does not keep personnel files on them or set productivity quotas. Warehouse worker groups, including the union-based Warehouse Workers Uniting (WWU), have long argued that unrealistic and escalating productivity quotas are among the things that lead to high chronic and acute injury rates in warehouses (Risks 567). According to In These Times: 'Overall, the lawsuit is part of WWU's and individual workers' ongoing campaign to improve conditions in warehouses and shed light on the complicated employment structure that allows major companies like Walmart to benefit from the low-paid, dangerous work of a largely temporary workforce.'
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (5,400 words) issued 7 Sep 2012
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printed 24 May 2013 at 13:47 hrs by 18.104.22.168