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Health and safety issues affecting women are either ignored, under-researched or unrecognised, problems that must be addressed by unions, Unite has said. According to the union, which has just published online its negotiators' guide to raising the issue: 'Working women's health and safety at work is a major priority for Unite. In workplaces where mainly or only women work, hazards are often unrecognised or under-researched. In workplaces where mainly men work, women are often expected to wear inappropriate safety clothes, and differences between workplace health issues for men and women are insufficiently addressed. Health issues that only affect women need to be central to the agenda alongside those that only affect men. And above all, prevention is better than cure - we want healthy, safe workplaces and working lives for all.' The guide is not about 'women's issues', it is about attitudes to health and safety and how to ensure all the relevant issues - from the menopause to cancer - are dealt with by unions to protect everyone in the workplace. This includes the use of worker-friendly research techniques, including body- and risk-mapping.
Unions have taken their campaign for better protection against blacklisting to this week's Labour Party conference in Manchester. Speaking in a 1 October debate on employment rights, UCATT delegate Terry Renshaw called for a public inquiry into the role of the state in blacklisting construction workers and said the next Labour government should outlaw the 'nasty, deceitful, vindictive activity' which targeted union reps for their safety and other workplace activities. 'We must have a public inquiry into the role of the state in wrecking the lives of trade unionists. We need to stamp out blacklisting once and for all,' he said. 'And we need the next Labour government to make sure that this happens.' Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'UCATT is totally committed to winning justice for blacklisted workers. It is vital that Labour demonstrates its fundamental belief in social justice by eradicating blacklisting once and for all.' Outside the event, GMB members - one dressed as Death - protested against Carillion. The construction giant, which had a stall at the Labour conference, is one of more than 40 firms targeted by unions over the blacklisting of workers. GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: 'For far too long, vested interests have sought to ignore these discriminatory activities. We will campaign to expose these activities and call on politicians to bring social justice to the victims. Firms should apologise and compensate victims who have fallen foul of their illegal activities.' GMB says it is set to go to court for blacklisted workers and wants the firms involved to be barred from public work until they say sorry and pay up.
Transport union RMT has confirmed that security and safety staff employed by STM Security Group on London Overground services will be balloted for both strike action and action short of a strike in a dispute over bullying and an attempt to impose new terms and conditions. STM is contracted to provide safety and security services on London Overground stations. RMT says that despite several warnings from the union, 'management at STM Security Group have continued to bully and intimidate our Travel Safe Officer members and union representatives.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The bullying and intimidation of our members' representatives by STM Security is utterly deplorable and represents a pre-meditated assault on this trade union in a desperate attempt to try and undermine RMT's growing strength on this contract. The attempted imposition of new terms and conditions is just another element contributing to the picture of a company that is hell bent on confrontation with its workforce and their union.' He added: 'We are urging members to return an overwhelming 'yes' vote in favour of strike action and industrial action short of a strike in the ballot that kicks off this week with voting closing on Thursday 18 October. RMT remains available for talks aimed at resolving this dispute.'
Rail union RMT has announced strike action and action short of a strike by rail members working on the Mitie contract on First Great Western over the 'blatant victimisation' of union representative Sharon Petrie, who had raised safety and other concerns. It said a ballot gave an 'overwhelming mandate' for action by more than a hundred staff, ranging from on-train cleaners to the crew emptying the sewage tanks. RMT representative Sharon Petrie was suspended by Mitie after what the union describes as 'baseless and unsubstantiated allegations' made against her by the firm. These included encouraging staff to put in collective grievances over their treatment in the workplace. RMT said these activities are the 'core business' of a union rep. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The allegations made against our representative Sharon Petrie are unfounded, spurious and discriminatory and it is crystal clear that she is being targeted due to her trade union activities. Sharon has shown enormous courage in the past by standing up to the union-bashing outfit Mitie over pay problems and staff welfare; she has also assisted her colleagues with getting warm clothing for the winter months, helped to alleviate excess work expectations and always tried to achieve fairness at work.' The RMT leader added: 'RMT will not stand by while our reps are attacked in this fashion and we are have called this industrial action as part of the fight for reinstatement and an end to victimisation as we take Sharon Petrie's campaign for justice forwards.'
Two bus drivers threatened with the sack for being union reps have won £16,000 in compensation from transport giant Arriva. The RMT pair was awarded the cash after an employment tribunal ruled the bus and train company unlawfully discriminated against them, reports the Daily Mirror. Management targeted Marcus Farr and Len Graves for wearing 'unauthorised' high visibility safety vests displaying the union logo. The pair said the vests made them recognisable so RMT members could seek their help. Both were disciplined and Mr Graves became ill after suffering stress when he was suspended and given only statutory sick pay. Yet the Mirror reports other drivers who wore their own vests at South Croydon garage, London - including one with 'Himmler' on the back and one with his initials in a swastika - were not subject to action. A London employment tribunal ruled Arriva acted unlawfully 'to penalise the claimants for being RMT members and/or deter them from its activities.' It awarded compensation of £9,000 to Mr Graves, 57, and £7,000 to Mr Farr, 41. Both are back at work. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The firm tolerated fascist messages but not the letters RMT. This decision shows we will not accept workers being singled out over union membership.' Arriva said: 'We do not condone any form of discrimination and will abide by the tribunal's decision.'
Retail union Usdaw has expressed concern at a second attempt by the government to force through cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The proposed cuts mean 90 per cent of the 30,000 injured crime victims currently helped each year would see their compensation slashed or axed completely. The revised scheme was due to come into force on 1 October, but new justice minister Helen Grant was forced to withdraw it on 10 September when it was savaged in committee by both Tory and Labour MPs (Risks 573). However, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now re-listed the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme as legislation to be taken before 22 October. This means the scheme and any revisions that ministers choose to make, could only be reconsidered in the week commencing 15 October, when parliament returns after the conference season. A revised law could take effect before 5 November. John Hannett, Usdaw's general secretary said: 'Despite the government continuing to suggest otherwise, the current scheme is already on a sustainable financial footing and not even the most seriously affected victims would receive a penny more from the revised scheme. On the contrary, half of victims would receive nothing in future and almost 90 per cent will lose out, including those most seriously injured and the children of murder victims.' He added: 'We now fear any amendments to the revised scheme will be purely cosmetic changes designed to help ministers avoid future political embarrassment, rather than assist the thousands of innocent victims of violent crime who rely on it as a last resort for financial recompense.' The thousands of workers hurt in violent assaults or savaged by dogs while working would be among those likely to lose out.
A Bradford woman who has won a six-year compensation battle over her husband's death from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma says no amount of money will ever repay her for the toll it has taken on her own health. Margaret Cooper, who suffered a nervous breakdown after dealing with her husband's illness and death, will find out in November from the High Court exactly how much she will be awarded in a legal case backed by the construction union UCATT. She has been told to expect more than £100,000 and has already had an interim payment in the case. However, she said the grief of losing husband Kenneth aged 62 in November 2007 and the anxiety of fighting to get justice for him had 'shattered' her life - driving her to the nervous breakdown. But the 65-year-old said despite her struggle she was still proof that other families making similar claims should never give up. According to her lawyer, Paul Meehan from trade union law firm OH Parsons, Kenneth was never warned of the dangers of asbestos and was not provided with a mask. But it was only after Margaret contacted local paper the Telegraph & Argus, making a desperate plea for her husband's old workmates at the now-defunct Woolcombers Ltd to get in touch, that the law firm obtained the evidence needed to support the claim. UCATT member Kenneth Cooper had carried out maintenance work on pipework lagged with asbestos at Woolcombers factories in the city. 'I fought this for him and to get the justice he deserved,' she said. 'No one understands the human toll of this disease caused by working conditions unless they have lived through it. You have to walk a mile in someone's shoes to truly understand and no one would have wanted to walk in mine. Every time I've had a letter or a call about this I've had to relive my husband's death over and over again. I've panicked, suffered depression and it led to a nervous breakdown.'
A Unite member was left with a three inch scar after he was hit in the face by a high pressure hose. The 60-year-old from Dagenham, whose name has not been released, needed three operations, including reconstructive surgery. He was using the hose to unblock a sewer at a council house in Hornchurch as part of his role on a drainage team for Morrisons Facilities Services, owned by Anglian Water Services. The hose lifted off the ground when it was switched on, striking his left cheek and leaving a huge hole. His back teeth were also damaged. The psychological effects led to post traumatic stress disorder and he was medically retired. He and his colleagues had never received training on how to use the hose safely. Faced with a union-backed compensation case, Anglian Water Services admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for more than £145,000. Since the incident his colleagues have been given training on using the pressure hoses. They have also been provided with hard hats and full face visors. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: 'This accident could have been avoided had Anglian Water Services ensured all its staff members were trained on using the pressure hose. In his four years with the company he'd never been told the way he was using the hose was dangerous. This is an example of how important it is for employers to train their staff and then make regular checks on the way their employees are handling equipment.'
A GMB member who was exposed to dangerous levels of noise by his former employer has been compensated. GMB member David Neall, 61, received £10,000 in damages after developing occupational tinnitus and hearing loss. His hearing became damaged while working for JB Weightmans, a vehicle body builders in Scunthorpe, from 1966 to 2005. His job included building platforms for trailers and the unsafe noise levels came from various tools being used. Hearing protection was provided in the 1980s but it wasn't always available and use of it was not enforced until some years later. Mr Neall was diagnosed with deafness and tinnitus in both ears after going to his GP in March 2010. He had become concerned as he was no longer able to hear conversations and he had to have the television turned up loud. He now wears a hearing aid in his left ear. In a union-backed compensation case, Weightmans' insurers admitted liability and Thompsons secured the £10,000 settlement out of court. Mr Neall, who now works for a different employer, said: 'We were never warned about the dangers of noise at the time. We just got on with our work and took the loud noise as part of the job. We never imagined what damage we were doing to our hearing. Being hard of hearing really does affect everyday life and I wish more had been done by my employers to make sure I was protected.' Andy Worth, GMB regional secretary, said: 'Industrial deafness is a condition associated with heavy industry but it is nothing new. Mr Neall's ex-employers admitted they were at fault for failing to provide suitable hearing protection and to make sure it was used.'
A dispute over the Health and Safety Executive's perceived inability to oversee effectively workplace health issues looks set to escalate. A 2 October article in the Daily Mirror, headlined 'Will work be the death of you?' and based on a head count of HSE's rapidly disappearing complement of occupational health staff undertaken by the HSE union Prospect (Risks 573), warned: 'Workers are being exposed to dangers because of savage health inspectors cuts.' It said the impact of a dramatic decline in the number of occupational physicians and specialist occupational health inspectors employed by HSE would be compounded as 'the Tory-led Coalition wants to free employers of their responsibility to record workers' absences due to industrial diseases' (Risks 568). In an online response to the article, HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger said 'it is wrong to claim' occupational health is not an 'important part of HSE's work' anymore. He wrote: 'The number of Occupational Physicians and Inspectors quoted by Prospect also does not take into consideration HSE's use of external specialists, nor the fact that HSE has changed the way it carries out its duties in relation to occupational health issues.' A Hazards Campaign spokesperson, however, commenting on Geoffrey Podger's rebuttal, said the HSE's chief's comments 'did not stand up to scrutiny.' He pointed to a September 2012 report from Stirling University (Risks 575) which warned of 'the impending death of enforcement', particularly on workplace health issues. This highlighted instances of HSE presenting the government's deregulatory, resource-slashing plans as evidence-based policy changes, adding it was not just that 'HSE obeyed the government's command - it did it in an extremely partial fashion.'
The work of frontline Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been backed by the chief executive of the Department for Business's Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO). Graham Russell, BRDO chief executive, wrote in his online column this week: 'Not everything gets the publicity it deserves, particularly when it's about regulatory inspectors contributing to business growth as well as ensuring protection.' But he said a series of 'powerful stories' compiled by HSE inspectors' and specialists' union Prospect (Risks 566) 'caught my eye because it perfectly illustrated how a regulator's approach can make such a huge difference,' adding 'I thought it could do with a wider airing.' The BRDO chief, whose unit is based in Vince Cable's business, innovation and skills department (BIS), said the HSE case histories illustrated 'the impact that inspection can make' and 'there were a number that explained how good protection also supports growth.' He concluded: 'Most good regulatory delivery stems simply from having a positive attitude to business; a partnership approach that helps businesses to comply rather than seeks to catch them out. However, the overall impact of a regulatory system that works well has got to be good for everyone.'
The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) new £124-per-hour cost recovery scheme came into force 1 October. Under The Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012, those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE's related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action. Businesses that comply with their legal obligations will continue to pay nothing under the Fee for Intervention (FFI) system, but those in 'material breach' of the law could face a hefty bill for HSE's time sorting things out. HSE chief executive, Geoffrey Podger, said: 'The most basic safety mistakes in the workplace can devastate lives and result in real costs to industry. It is right that those who fail to meet their legal obligations should pay HSE's costs rather than the public purse having to do so.' HSE says FFI provides a further incentive for businesses to manage health and safety effectively and to operate within the law. It adds it should also help level the playing field between those who comply and those who don't.
Family doctors are missing the link between work and asthma in threequarters of patients visiting them suffering from the serious breathing disorder caused by their job, a new study has found. The research published this week in the journal Occupational Medicine found occupation was only recorded in 14 per cent of the cases and in nearly all cases (98 per cent) GPs failed to record if they had asked simple screening questions about whether a patient's asthma symptoms improved at weekends and on holiday - an indicator the problem is work-related. Researchers at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine uncovered the problem of poor recognition by GPs in an audit of the electronic patient records of working age asthmatics. Dr Gareth Walters, the lead author, said: 'Most workers with new asthma symptoms present to their GPs first, so it is important for health care professionals working in primary care to recognise when these symptoms might be caused by or related to work. Currently occupational asthma is very costly to the NHS and to society - and an early diagnosis can prevent on-going debilitating symptoms, time off work and financial loss for the worker.'
A plastic recycling company has been ordered to pay £240,000 in fines and costs after a worker was killed at a St Helens factory. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted JFC Plastics Ltd, previously known as Delleve Plastics Ltd, after Steven Bennett died at the company's former premises in Bold. Liverpool Crown Court heard that Mr Bennett, 31, was last seen alive by his colleagues in the early hours of the morning on 24 November 2005. The HSE investigation concluded that the most likely cause of his death was that he fell into a machine, used to break apart bales of plastic bottles, while checking to see if it was running smoothly. The court was told JFC Plastics failed to take steps to prevent access to the machine while it was operating, and failed to ensure power to the machine was cut before maintenance work was carried out. The company also had an inadequate risk assessment in place and its training, supervision and monitoring of the work did not meet acceptable standards. JFC Plastics Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal failure to ensure the safety of employees operating the machine. The company was sentenced following a Newton hearing - a hearing before a judge but without a jury on a disputed point from a legal case - in which the judge found that the failings of JFC Plastics were a significant cause of Mr Bennett's death. JFC Plastics was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £100,000 in prosecution costs on 28 September 2012. Speaking after the hearing, HSE principal inspector Tanya Stewart said: 'This was a tragic death that could have been prevented if JFC Plastics had put more thought into the safety of its employees and the adequacy of its working practices. Employees regularly entered the machine to remove entangled wire, but there were no safeguards in place to prevent them carrying out this work while the machine's parts were still moving.'
An epidemic of 'survivor syndrome' is affecting overworked and demoralised workers in workplaces shedding staff as job fear grips the working population, a Canadian public sector union has warned. In a blog posting commenting on the knock-on effects of redundancies, PSAC national president Robyn Benson said: 'An insidious phenomenon then takes root in the organisation - employees are overworked, work excessive amounts of overtime, are absent more often and end up unmotivated, morose and even depressed. Those left behind are often forgotten and considered lucky and privileged to still have their jobs. But those people are really suffering from what is known as the 'survivor syndrome'.' She added: 'Racked by fear of losing their jobs, the 'survivors' work harder to prove they are competent. However, the fatigue and stress that come over them sometimes lead them to make more errors, which reduce productivity. Others become unmotivated and abandon all expectations of the organisation. Excessive stress can cause physical problems ranging from occupational accidents, to back pain, to burnout. Psychological problems - anxiety, insomnia, drug abuse, psychological distress and depression - also surface.' The Canadian union leader concluded: 'The federal government, with its austerity agenda will jeopardise the health and safety of our members... Our health and safety activists will face many challenges in representing the vital interest of 'survivors'. We must mobilise to better resist these governmental neo-liberal policies designed to attack public services and, more specifically, federal public services workers. It's a matter of health and 'survival'...'
The 'massive expansion' of insecure agency work is undermining employment and safety standards and should be reversed, unions worldwide have warned. 'Employment via agencies, labour brokers, dispatchers and contractors is being used to wholesale replace permanent, direct employment. Its use goes way beyond any legitimate need to fill genuinely temporary vacancies,' said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of body IndustriALL. The global union body's new report, 'The Triangular Trap' cites industry figures showing both the annual sales revenue of employment agencies worldwide and the total number of agency workers more than doubled between 1996 and 2009. According to IndustriALL, a 'triangular relationship' between the user of agency labour, the agency and the worker isolates the worker from the business 'that effectively controls their work, their pay and their conditions so that the worker has no say in any of them and has no mechanism to negotiate improvements. The result is agency workers typically receive lower wages than directly hired workers performing the same work and they are excluded from numerous benefits and face higher health and safety risks.' Jyrki Raina said: 'Employers all over the world are taking advantage of laws which allow them to replace their permanent workforces with agency workers in order to avoid their employment obligations.' He added: 'With 'The Triangular Trap' IndustriALL is sending a message to business and governments worldwide that we will not sit quietly while workers' rights and the labour standards and protections that have been achieved through union struggle are undermined by agency work.' On 7 October, the World Day for Decent Work, IndustriALL affiliates worldwide are being encouraged to take action against the spread of agency work and other forms of precarious employment.
Watching people lose their jobs all around you will make you sick, even if you hold onto your own job, new research has found. Researchers from the University of Michigan examined the impact of the 'Great Recession' on a group of 440 over-25 workers in south Michigan in 2009-10. They found perceived job insecurity 'was associated with significantly higher odds of reporting fair or poor self-rated health at the time of interview, symptoms over the past 2 weeks suggesting major or minor depression, and an anxiety attack in the past 4 weeks, even after adjustment for workers' socio-demographic characteristics and previous health problems.' Writing in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they note: 'The associations held after further adjustment for temporary employee status and recent unemployment as well. Perceived job insecurity was significantly associated with probable depression and anxiety even when we compared insecure respondents with no recent unemployment experience with their secure counterparts with no recent unemployment.' Sarah Burgard, a professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, told The Pump Handle blog: 'It's a growing problem in the United States over the last several decades because a lot of job creation has been in insecure jobs and jobs without benefits. It's hard to care about people who are still employed when you're in a recession.' The paper concludes: 'Individuals who lost their jobs in the Great Recession may be the 'tip of the iceberg' of a larger group of workers who think that their job may be terminated soon but have not lost it yet. Perceived job insecurity is not a socially visible event like unemployment, and those worried about job loss have limited possibilities for action because of uncertainty about whether job loss will occur. Labour market programmes like unemployment insurance were not designed for the insecure worker.' They add: 'Developing appropriate interventions is important because the consequences of the Great Recession are receding slowly, and perceptions of job insecurity may persist for some time.'
The massive global call centre industry would benefit from a shake-up, with a global union is demanding these urgent reforms. A new UNI report, 'Making the right call - redesigning call centres from the bottom up', points to negative psychological and physical impacts on the world's call centre workers of poor management practices. The report says the call centre companies would also be more profitable if they took more account and care of workers. Counterproductive practices identified in the report include intensive monitoring of calls and linking punishment or dismissal for failure to meet performance targets. UNI says as a result of these management techniques, workers suffer from repetitive strain injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, stress, anxiety and burnout. 'Call centre workers are part of the new communications workforce that represents millions of jobs in every region of the globe,' said Marcus Courtney, who is the head of ICTS, the UNI section that coordinates its call centre activities. 'This reports illustrates why we need to change the rules of the game by giving call centre workers a voice on the job so they can not only improve their physical and mental health, but also deliver improved customer service that is good for a company's bottom line.' The report was released on 1 October to mark the start of UNI's Centre Action Month (CCAM).
The World Bank has released the jobs-themed 2013 edition its World Development Report, its flagship annual policy research publication. According to the global union confederation ITUC, for the World Bank to emphasise the jobs topic 'is in itself a sign of progress considering that it is an institution where, for a long time, the dominant thinking was that as long as policies support economic growth, job creation would automatically follow (not that, by any means, the Bank had a sure-fire growth formula).' In a further surprising development, the World Bank's new grasp of real life problems extends to recognising that bad health and safety at work is a bad idea too, but can be sorted out by informed worker participation and proper enforcement of standards. The report notes: 'An institutional environment that respects rights is another integral part of the rule of law... Health and safety at work also necessitate attention by governments and employers. Ensuring that standards are enforced in practice requires providing access to information to workers and employers. Information can increase the extent to which workers are able and willing to hold employers and intermediaries accountable. It can also help ensure that all parties involved are aware of their obligations. Strengthening institutions for enforcement and grievance redress is another necessary building block.' It adds: 'Occupational accidents and work-related diseases can undermine workers' health, are an important source of mortality, and can have high costs to society.'
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (5,300 words) issued 5 Oct 2012
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