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Falling numbers of women in full-time work and a rise in their self-employment and involuntary part-time and temporary employment has left women increasingly insecure at work. A TUC economic report published this week notes that while the number of women in full-time employee jobs has fallen by 170,000 in the last two years, nearly 200,000 more women now describe themselves as being self-employed. The proportion of women in part-time work because they can't find full-time jobs, rather than not wanting to full-time work, has also been rising for the last decade, and has accelerated during the recession, the report shows. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Female unemployment has been rising steadily over the last two years... Full-time employee jobs are being replaced with shorter hours and self-employed contracts.' He added: 'Replacing full-time jobs with low-paid, insecure work will drive down wages and keep this country mired in recession.' A report last week from Hazards magazine linked job insecurity to higher injury and sickness rates and poorer health overall, including a greater chance of suffering heart disease and strokes. Other problems linked to insecure work include a greater risk of suicide, depression and mental health problems (Risks 573).
Government plans to reduce payouts for unfair dismissals will do nothing to boost economic growth and make it easier for bad employers to mistreat their staff, unions have warned. Under the changes announced this week by business secretary Vince Cable the cap on payouts for unfair dismissal will fall from £72,300 to a year's pay. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber responded that 'reducing payouts for unfair dismissals will let bad employers off lightly and deter victims from pursuing genuine cases. This will feel like another slap in the face following the government's decision to bring in fees for employment tribunals.' STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: 'These moves by Vince Cable, the business secretary, would tend to suggest he has abandoned his principles and previously held views on there being no need for further deregulation of our labour market.' He added: 'His department is presiding over the most savage cuts in employment protection we have witnessed since the previous Conservative government while, at the same time, the Department of Work and Pensions is slashing health and safety regulation and attacking the effectiveness of HSE [the Health and Safety Executive] to enforce the legislation and protect workers.' The government changed the law earlier this year to increase to two years the service requirement to claim unfair dismissal. In April 2013 the government will introduce charges for access to tribunals, which unions believe will further discourage safety whistleblowers. Workers claiming victimisation after raising safety concerns fall into the top £1,200 fee bracket for taking an unfair dismissal claim (Risks 565).
The TUC has backed calls for an independent and impartial inquiry into last week's factory fires in Pakistan and is demanding justice for the victims (Risks 573). In a letter of condolence to Zahoor Awan, general secretary of the Pakistan Workers' Federation (PWF), TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'I write to express our shock and sorrow at the tragic deaths of some 300 workers in the two factory fires in Karachi and Lahore and condemn in the strongest terms those responsible for the unprecedented disaster through their crass disregard for health and safety at the workplace. We understand that the workers trapped inside the buildings without fire exits had little time or opportunity to escape and that many jumped to their deaths or sustained serious injuries in their attempts to flee the inferno.' The letter continues: 'The TUC joins the international trade union movement in demanding an independent and impartial investigation into this tragedy which will enable the authorities to bring those responsible for it to justice without delay. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy and I should be grateful if you would kindly pass our deeply felt condolences on to them.' The International Labour Organisation (ILO) this week 'pledged to support the families of the victims of the Karachi garment factory fire and announced a plan to strengthen workplace safety, to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.'
A union has warned that targeting unions reps for raising safety concerns could lead to tragedy on a London site. The comments from Unite came as union members protested outside a west London Crossrail site at the dismissal of 28 workers, allegedly for raising health and safety concerns. The workers employed by contractor EIS lost their jobs last week when the firm's Crossrail contract was terminated. They claim EIS was taken off the job by the Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) consortium - which won the bid to build the Crossrail tunnels - after its workers raised safety concerns. Unite London regional construction officer Harry Cowap told the Morning Star that the attack on health and safety and unionised workers could lead to a 'major catastrophe' on the site. 'Management refused to speak to me today because they felt 'under duress',' he said. 'How must the men and women feel who lost their jobs?' The union believes Unite safety rep Rodney Valentine was removed from the site immediately after he was elected and was subsequently moved, suspended and dismissed. It adds that shop steward Frank Morris was banned from the site after raising concerns over dangerous cables in the tunnels. Unite's Harry Cowap commented: 'They have terminated the EIS contract purely to remove the shop steward and safety rep.' Crossrail challenged the union's claims saying the contract with EIS had run its course. A spokesperson said: 'Crossrail regards the safety of all those working on the Crossrail project as paramount and is committed to delivering Crossrail to the highest standards of safety at all times.'
A Liverpool shopworker has won the TUC's Health and Safety Rep of the Year award. Usdaw member Peter Ammundsen, who is 57 and a night shift worker at Tesco's, received his award at the union body's annual congress in Brighton. He scooped the honour for his in-store work to promote good safety practice and for making important changes to existing and proposed working practices. 'Members were pulling heavy cages, sometimes two at a time, which was dangerous and I also prevented an increase to the number of fruit and veg trays stacked on the shopfloor, as this could have caused serious injury if they had toppled over,' he said. 'Generally, I have worked with the management team to introduce best practice and keep on top of any emerging safety issues. It's really about problem-solving.' Usdaw general secretary John Hannett congratulated the Usdaw safety rep. Alluding to the garment factory tragedies in Pakistan last week, he added: 'In this of all weeks, I hope people will remember that health and safety laws and regulations are not 'burdens' or 'red tape', but vital to help prevent injuries and save lives, whether inside or outside the workplace.'
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is urging firms to do more to prevent Legionnaires' disease, as concerns heighten about the government-driven removal of official scrutiny by the safety regulators. HSE this week issued a safety notice targeting companies and organisations that use hot and cold water systems for bathing and washing or in manufacturing processes. It highlights the measures to be in place to control identified legionella risks and urges these are reviewed regularly. HSE's legionella expert Paul McDermott said: 'Companies and businesses have a legal responsibility to ensure they're doing all they can to protect workers and the public.' The HSE call came a week after new research found nearly half of English local authorities responsible for cooling towers have not carried out any proactive legionella risk inspections within the past five years. The investigation by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health's (CIEH) magazine, EHN, follow earlier EHN research published on 8 August that found the number of proactive HSE inspections for legionella - the bacteria responsible for the disease - across the UK fell from 833 in 2009 to 464 in 2011, a drop of 44 per cent. The latest EHN research found 'an estimated 50 per cent of councils have reduced their number of proactive legionella risk inspections for both cooling towers and other potentially hazardous water systems within the past five years.' Joan Walley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and a CIEH vice president, raised the latest findings in the House of Commons on 10 September and called for 'pre-emptive inspections' to be made the basis of public health action. She told MPs that in the light of the government's policy of cutting inspections to remove a 'burden' on business, 'we have to ask whether one person's unnecessary burden is somebody else's death sentence.' New safety minister Mark Hoban responded: 'We are taking action to tackle the problem and no one's life will be put at risk as a consequence of the changes that we are making.' EHN obtained the figures from freedom of information requests to all councils responsible for health and safety inspections in England. In all, 266 authorities responded.
A combination of high demand at work and low control over decision making increases the risks of deadly heart problems, a major new report has found. UK researchers analysed 13 existing European studies covering nearly 200,000 people and found 'job strain' was linked to a 23 per cent increased risk of heart attacks and deaths from coronary heart disease. The research published online in The Lancet medical journal asked participants in the studies whether they had excessive workloads or insufficient time to do their job as well as questions around how much freedom they had to make decisions. They were then sorted into people with or without job strain and followed for an average of seven and a half years, during which time there were 2,356 heart attacks or other first-time coronary heart disease events. Researcher Professor Mika Kivimäki, from University College London (UCL), said: 'Our findings indicate that job strain is associated with a small but consistent increased risk of experiencing a first coronary heart disease event, such as a heart attack.' The researchers said eliminating job strain would prevent 3.4 per cent of these coronary events. Co-author Professor Andrew Steptoe said: 'It is the coupling [of high demand and low control] that is problematic. It is more common in low income jobs where people are doing the same thing again and again, such as assembly line work, but it is across the whole social spectrum.'
An employer whose criminal neglect left his workers at risk of serious occupational disease is being presented by the Conservatives as a champion of their safety deregulation plans. At prime minister's questions on 12 September, Tory MP Chris Kelly asked the prime minister if he agreed 'with Kevin O'Toole, the managing director of Eurocraft Enclosures Ltd in Dudley, who contacted me about the government's plans to sweep away unnecessary health and safety red tape to say: 'At last years and years of regulation are being replaced by a simple concept called common sense'?' Chris Kelly added: 'Is it not common sense to remove the headache of inspections for low-risk businesses?' Prime minister David Cameron said the MP was 'absolutely right' to highlight the issue. UNISON, though, was unimpressed. The public sector union points out that less than a year before the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had served Eurocraft Enclosures Ltd with an improvement notice for three criminal breaches of safety law. The employer had failed to eliminate or control the risk to employees from hand-arm vibration. Vibration exposure of this type can cause serious and permanent occupational disease. According to UNISON: 'As demonstrated by Eurocraft Enclosures Ltd, we cannot rely on common sense to ensure that employees are kept healthy and safe at work. If you believe that everyone should be able to work without having their health damaged by their job, join UNISON in defending against the government's attack on health and safety inspections and legislation.'
The director of a south London firm has been given a suspended jail sentence, a curfew and community service after removing asbestos from a house without a licence and deceiving the householders by providing a doctored air test saying the room was safe to re-enter. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the circumstances of the incident and brought the prosecution against Peter Horrey under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. Southwark Crown Court was told that Absolute Asbestos Ltd was hired to take out all the asbestos insulation from the boiler room of a home in Camden, north London. Peter Horrey, the sole director of the firm, did the work over eleven days in July last year. As well as being unlicensed to remove asbestos, he failed to effectively clean and decontaminate the area. He left visible fibres that were a danger to the householders and to the plumbers, who were due to start work in the boiler room. After he finished the work, an analyst who went to take an air test provided him with a certificate showing clearly the site had failed. However, Horrey provided a doctored report to the owners indicating it had passed the test and was safe for them to re-enter, which they did. The director, who had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to three criminal breaches of the asbestos regulations, was given a six month prison sentence on each charge, to run concurrently and suspended for two years, ordered to do 300 hours of unpaid community service, given an electronic curfew between 9pm and 6am for three months and ordered to pay £11,340 to the affected Residents' Association in Camden plus £10,160 costs.
The government has caved in to pressure from cancer campaigners fighting a policy that required cancer patients to seek work if they wanted to keep their benefits. The fit for work policy meant those getting oral forms of chemotherapy and radiotherapy could be placed in a 'work-related activity group', a category that required them to make efforts to return to work or lose their Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). But in a written statement to the Commons this week, employment minister Mark Hoban said: 'We have listened to cancer charities and people suffering from cancer, and I am very pleased we can play our part in reducing the burden on people during what everyone knows is a particularly difficult time.' It was one of a number of 'considerable improvements' to the work capability assessment system as a result of an independent review conducted by Professor Malcolm Harrington, he said. The move follows a campaign led by charity Macmillan Cancer Care. Director of policy Mike Hobday said it would keep up the pressure to ensure the proposed changes were implemented. 'We welcome the government's announcement that more cancer patients will avoid having to face stressful medical assessments or back-to-work interviews while experiencing the effects of gruelling treatments,' he added. 'Macmillan campaigned vigorously for greater protection for cancer patients who are too sick to work.'
A Merseyside firm has been sentenced after a worker received life-threatening injuries when he fell from scaffolding at a Croxteth sports centre. The 43-year-old man from West Derby, who has asked not to be named, suffered a brain haemorrhage, fractured skull and collapsed lung in the incident on 18 January 2011. His injuries also included a broken collar bone, ribs, wrist and fingers. He was in intensive care for two weeks and his brain injury has had a long-term impact on his personality. He has also been unable to return to work as a result of his injuries. His employer, CME Ceilings Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the scaffolding tower the company provided for the job was unsafe. Liverpool Magistrates' Court was told the firm had been hired to install a suspended ceiling at the sports centre, and at the last minute decided to use a mobile tower scaffold instead of the planned scissor list. The court heard the brakes on the wheels of the scaffolding tower had not been applied to stop it moving and there was no edge protection, including boards and rails, around the work platform to prevent employees falling off. The man fell more than two metres to the concrete floor below when the cobbled together tower, made up of parts from several different manufacturers and all of which were in a poor or damaged condition, started to move across the room as he was working. CME Ceilings Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs.
A roofer narrowly escaped death when his six metre fall from a roof was broken by a bush. Refurbishment company Newlook Roof Coatings Ltd was fined this week after the incident in Cirencester. Cheltenham Magistrates' Court heard 26 year-old Lee Hanson, from South Shields, was using a roof ladder as he replaced tiles on 28 October 2011. He lost his footing and fell six metres, breaking his fall on a bush before he hit the ground. He broke his right wrist and suffered cuts and bruising. He was in hospital for two nights and was unable to return to work for six weeks. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) heard Mr Hanson's employer, Newlook Roof Coatings Ltd, had been served with a stop-work prohibition notice earlier in 2011 after a fitter was found working on a two-storey property without any edge protection. HSE had also given guidance and information on roof work, yet this had not been fully implemented. Newlook Roof Coatings Ltd, based in Monmouth, pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Sue Adsett said: 'Mr Hanson was lucky to have had his fall broken by a bush,' adding: 'This incident could have easily been prevented by providing scaffolding on the property for the duration of the work.'
Walkers Snack Foods Ltd has been fined after a 400 kilogramme block of compacted snack waste fell on a worker, breaking his leg. The employee, who has asked not to be named, was working as a forklift truck driver at the company's site in Lincoln, when the incident happened on 17 December 2010. He was trying to put the block into a wheeled bin when the bin overturned and the compacted waste landed on him, fracturing his lower left leg. Lincoln Magistrates' Court heard that waste pellets from the Quavers production line ran off a machine into a magnum bin - a large plastic box with slots underneath for the forks of a forklift truck. The pellets solidified into a large block, which could not be dug out of the magnum so the worker and a colleague used the forklift to turn the magnum over so the block fell out. But as the block was then lifted into the wheeled bin, it became stuck at the top. When the two men attempted to move the bin, it tipped over causing the block to fall onto the employee. He was off work for 15 weeks but has since returned to work with the company. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told magistrates that the work had not been properly planned, supervised or carried out in a safe manner. Walkers Snack Foods Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of safety law, and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000.
A worker lost a finger when it was crushed in machinery as safety procedures were ignored at a recycling centre in Wales. GLJ Recycling Ltd appeared before Caerphilly Magistrates Court in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. The court heard that GLJ employee, Rhys Dee, who was 19 years old at the time, was working on a baling machine on 14 April 2011. He was helping to crush domestic copper boilers in the machine by standing in front of it to pick up pieces of copper and feed them into the baler to speed-up the process while a colleague operated the machine. His finger was crushed in the baler as he fed in the metal. However, industry guidance states to prevent injury only one person should operate the machine, staying behind the guard. HSE inspector Dean Baker, speaking after the hearing, said: 'This serious accident could have resulted in much more severe injuries for Mr Dee. GLJ Recycling Ltd were aware of the guidance but encouraged the use of the machine with two people.' A spate of deaths this summer in the waste and recycling prompted an HSE warning last week, in what is already the UK's most hazardous land-based industry (Risks 573).
Workplace deaths in Australia have hit a three-year high and middle-aged men working in transport or trades have been identified as the most likely victims. An official analysis of workplace fatalities over the past decade has revealed 92 per cent involve men, with those aged 45 to 54 years old accounting for a quarter of cases. The rise has triggered union calls for tougher fines and more official safety inspections. Safe Work Australia preliminary statistics show 128 people had been killed in the period until 18 September, compared to 119 at the same time last year. The most dangerous workplaces were in transport, postal and warehouses (41 deaths) followed by agriculture, forestry and fishing (27) and construction (18), according to the figures for the year starting 22 December 2011. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) national secretary Dave Noonan said state-based occupational health and safety authorities were biased toward employers and under-resourced. 'In a number of states the inspectors never issue fines and prosecutions don't happen,' he said. Speaking at the ground breaking ceremony this week for a National Workers' Memorial in Canberra, workplace relations minister Bill Shorten said: 'Each year, on average, up to 300 Australians are killed at work and it is estimated more than 2,000 will die from industrial diseases caused by exposure at work. That's nearly 300 workers, mainly fathers and sons, who do not come home from work.'
The Canadian government has announced it will no longer oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the 'prior informed consent' export rules of the Rotterdam Convention. In what human rights and union campaigners have described as an 'extraordinary and dramatic turn of events,' Canada's minister of industry, Christian Paradis - one of the asbestos industry's staunchest defenders - made the announcement last week in his asbestos mining constituency of Thetford Mines. Paradis also promised that Canada will provide Can$50 million (£31.6m) to enable workers to retrain in other fields of work. He was reported as looking glum and speaking in hushed tones as he made the announcement, blaming the new Quebec government for the decision. Global building union federation BWI and unions worldwide had argued for a 'just transition' of this type, with funds provided for retraining and economic development programmes in asbestos mining communities. The asbestos industry has been completely closed down in Quebec since September 2011. The asbestos mine at Thetford Mines, after operating for 130 years, shut down last year after a landslide from its tailings piles damaged the mine, rendering it inoperable, and destroyed a road close to the mine. LAB Chrysotile, the company that operated the mine, then declared bankruptcy. The only other remaining asbestos mine in Quebec, the Jeffrey mine, ceased operation two year ago. The new Quebec government of Pauline Marois has stated that it will cancel the $58 million (£36.7m) loan, given by the previous provincial government to three investors intending to open the Jeffrey underground mine and export millions of tons of asbestos to Asia.
A German retailer has become the second firm to sign up to a union-backed fire and building safety programme at its suppliers in Bangladesh. The global union body IndustriALL, working with international labour rights campaign groups and Bangladeshi trade unions, reached the agreement with Tchibo to implement a fire and building safety programme in the Bangladeshi garment factories. The company, based in Germany, becomes the second retailer to commit to the 'groundbreaking' programme after PVH, the owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, signed up in March. Since 2006, more than 600 garment workers died in unsafe buildings in Bangladesh. IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina commented: 'The garment industry is notorious for its safety hazards. The requirements of this programme are straightforward, common sense measures which will have a significant impact on worker safety in many factories in Bangladesh. Tchibo and PVH have taken the lead, now it's time for other brands to follow.' The programme has been developed by IndustriALL, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), together with Bangladeshi trade unions and labour rights groups.
A huge blaze erupted at a Mexican gas plant near the US border on 17 September, leaving at least 26 people dead and dozens injured or missing. The site, operated by the state-run Pemex energy firm, is located near Reynosa, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas that sits across the border from the Texas town of McAllen. 'Regrettably, the number of workers who died in this morning's accident in Tamaulipas rose to 26,' the company said on Twitter. Four of the dead were Pemex workers while the 22 others were contractors, the company said. Pemex later tweeted that another 21 contractors and seven company employees were admitted to hospital - of those, two were in serious condition. 'Seven workers are still missing,' the company added. A Red Cross worker told reporters earlier that 40 people had been taken to a hospital, with half of them suffering from first- and second-degree burns. The company said experts were investigating the cause of the fire - the third incident at a Pemex facility in a little over a month. On 13 August, an explosion rocked a refinery in the Tamaulipas city of Ciudad Madero, and on the same day a fire broke out at a pipeline in the central state of Hidalgo. No injuries were reported in either incident. In December 2010, an oil pipeline exploded after it was punctured by thieves in the central town of San Martin Texmelucan, leaving 29 dead, injuring more than 50 and destroying 32 homes. In October 2007, 21 Pemex workers died during a gas leak on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Most drowned when they jumped into the sea.
New Zealand's workplace injury record is a 'disgrace' and would be improved dramatically by beefed up enforcement, worker participation and union representation, the country's top union body has said. The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) was commenting as a government commissioned Taskforce published a consultation on how to reduce the toll. Rob Jager, who chairs the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety which will make recommendations to government, said: 'New Zealand's workplace injury rates are about twice that of Australia and almost six times that of the UK.' He added: 'Simply put, the Taskforce's recommendations need to change New Zealand's poor track record. Achieving the required step-change will take the combined efforts of government, businesses, workers, unions and society as a whole.' Welcoming the Taskforce consultation, CTU president Helen Kelly, said: 'It's a disgrace that on average 100 people per year are killed at work. If there is something all New Zealanders would agree on it is that every worker who leaves home at the start of their working day should return home safe and healthy. This is a fundamental starting point.' She added the review 'must lead to improvements in the size, skills and powers of labour inspectors alongside improved regulatory powers and increased worker participation. Any reform of the health and safety system must be bold enough to bolster the inspectorate and tackle the real issues of work arrangements, the structure of work, the regulatory framework, and proper employee participation.' She added: 'The Taskforce, and ultimately the government, needs to make recommendations that rebalance the system so that health and safety is a priority within business and those that take it seriously are not undermined by those that take risks to gain competitive advantage. This will require strong regulations, standard setting and enforcement and decent investment in the people on whom health and safety depends - the workers.'
The latest issue of the workers' health magazine Hazards is out now. Check it out for latest news and resources on issues ranging from job insecurity, to Legionnaires' disease and whistleblowing rights at work. Hazards magazine is the only surviving independent workers' health and safety magazine in the world. To keep this unique resource requires union subscriptions and support.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (5,400 words) issued 21 Sep 2012
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