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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.




Attacking employment rights is bad for safety

The Tory government’s plans for union ballots outlined by the chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on 23 September will undermine safety and working conditions, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea has warned. “Attempting to tie unions up in knots while pulling out all the stops for city elites just shows workers that the government is not on their side,” she said. “By threatening every employment right won through the membership of the EU, ministers are showing a blatant disregard for the health, safety and well-being of working people.”
UNISON news release. Kwasi Kwarteng speech.

Climate and safety complacency a threat to firefighting

A “horrible complacency” about the impact of the climate emergency on the fire service has left it under-funded and ill-prepared, the general secretary of the firefighters’ union FBU has warned. Matt Wrack said that while an “historic level of cuts since 2010” had angered and demoralised members, a below-inflation pay offer had brought the issue to a head and led the union’s executive committee to ballot for strike action. “It has become a case of what else can we do when they ignore us on staffing levels, ignore us on PPE equipment and then they ignore us on pay as well,” he said. “It is a very difficult one, and we don’t want to do it because we know it will have an impact on safety.”
FBU news release. The Guardian.

Labour backs action on violence against public workers

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed a decision at the Labour Party conference to support investment in improved protection for public-facing workers, who it says are suffering unprecedented levels of abuse. Speaking at the conference, Usdaw deputy general secretary Dave McCrossen said retail and other public service workers “are providing a service to our communities, and yet they are not safe within our communities.” He said Yvette Cooper’s 27 September speech to the conference “promising £360 million for community led policing is a real step forward to ensuring victims of crime get the justice they deserve.”
Usdaw news release. Yvette Cooper speech.

Workers' rights central to cleaning up shipping

Governments must incentivise employers to ensure workers are given appropriate time and financial support to retrain and develop their skills to meet zero carbon targets, seafarers’ union Nautilus has said.  “A sustainable future for the maritime industry cannot simply be about technological innovation,” the union’s general secretary Mark Dickinson said. “It must ensure jobs are protected, education and skills are accessible, safety is paramount, all while engaging an increasingly diverse and representative workforce.” Ensuring the health and safety of seafarers and others with exposure risks should also be considered as part of the research, development, and implementation of new fuel types, the union said.
Nautilus news release.



Tories bringing on the ‘death of decency’ at work

Decent work is the hallmark of a modern, progressive economy but the Conservative government doesn’t want it, won’t police it and thinks workers should not have the power to defend it, a new report has charged. The analysis in the workers’ safety journal Hazards presents evidence suggesting “new prime minister Liz Truss is planning for a low paid, lawless and disposable worker UK plc.” It points to declining enforcement and safety convictions, increasing work-related ill-health, a deregulation process and the removal of the TUC from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) board for the first time in its history. The Hazards report concludes with a stark warning: “Now the employment protections that allow workers to speak out about and challenge risks are under threat. Union influence over official safety decision-making is being eroded. Protective laws are up for the chop. A bad situation could quickly get worse. It is not just our liberties at stake. It’s our lives.”
Death of decency: Conservatives promise a deadly bonfire of rights, Hazards, number 159, September 2022.

Tory assault on workplace rights begins

The UK government’s push to removed EU-derived employment and safety rights is underway. On 22 September, the government published its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in the House of Commons. Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, said the bill “takes a hatchet to employment rights derived from the EU,” adding “unless preserved by specific regulations, protections such as TUPE, the Working Time Regulations, regulations protecting atypical workers (such as agency workers) and certain health and safety regulations, will potentially cease to apply.” He said the bill “abolishes EU-derived workplace rights, with salvation only available at the whim of the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jacob Rees-Mogg.” A total of 55 health and safety laws are on the government’s scrutiny list, including the ‘big six’ workplace safety laws introduced in response to EU directives.
Thompsons Solicitors news release and update. BEIS news story and retained EU law dashboard. Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

Seasonal worker visas could increase slavery risk

More people will be at risk of modern slavery on British farms if a cap on seasonal worker visas is lifted, labour rights experts have warned. Liz Truss has signalled that she intends to lift the cap on foreign workers in seasonal agriculture as part of a review of visas to tackle labour shortages. Andy Hall, a researcher who specialises in investigating forced labour in supply chains in Asia, said: “If the scheme is rapidly expanded, the modern slavery risk really increases, particularly the risk of debt bondage. There needs to be a simultaneous increase in regulation and enforcement if they’re going to increase the number of workers because even now the scheme is failing to protect them.” Kate Roberts, head of policy at Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), said: “Increasing the number of workers recruited on to the scheme without first addressing funding and resourcing issues within labour market enforcement will mean that even more workers are likely to be exploited.”
FLEX news release. The Guardian.

Directors get small fines for asbestos crimes

Two directors of a construction company have received small fines for their criminal failure to ensure the safe removal of asbestos from a plot of land. Anthony Sumner and Neil Brown, both directors of Waterbarn Limited, were involved in the uncontrolled removal of asbestos from the plot in Grasscroft, Oldham. Sumner and Brown both pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. Both directors were fined £1,400 and ordered to pay costs of £2,418.33. HSE inspector Matt Greenly said: “Asbestos is responsible for thousands of deaths in the UK every year,” adding: “There is ample free guidance available from HSE to make sure that people aren’t exposed to this dangerous material through a lack of knowledge or understanding.”
HSE news release.

Catalyst firm fined after motor blasts through roof

A chemical manufacturing company has been fined after an explosion led to a reactor bursting open and ejecting a motor through a roof. No-one was injured as a result of the incident at CatAlloy Limited in Widnes on 3 December 2015, which occurred during the manufacture of nickel catalyst. The lid of the reactor burst open and the gearbox and the electric drive motor, situated on top of it, were ejected through the roof of the building after breaking their mountings. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found a residual product had been left in the reactor which could ignite when exposed to air. CatAlloy Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000
HSE news release.

HSE campaign to combat site strains and pains

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning that construction workers are picking up injuries and conditions as a result of manual handling that can stop them working and leave them struggling to stand, walk or sit down. It says HSE inspectors will be carrying out 1,000 inspections in October and November checking how workers are moving heavy or bulky materials. HSE’s head of construction Sarah Jardine said: “Risks must be managed where they can’t be prevented, and risk management arrangements must be reviewed frequently to ensure they are effective.” She added: “Thankfully there are measures that can be taken to prevent injuries to muscles, bones, joints and nerves. Doing so is good for workers and good for the construction industry. It’s good for business.”
HSE news release and resources, Manual handling assessment charts (the MAC tool) and WorkRight Construction: Your health. Your future – Work Right to keep Britain safe.



Global: UN agencies back mental health at work action

The United Nations agencies with responsibility for employment and health – the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – have published their first ever joint policy brief on good practice on mental health at work. The new resource, which is strongly supportive of the union role in securing solutions, notes 11 per cent of depression worldwide is attributable to occupational risks, with 12 billion working days lost worldwide every year to depression and anxiety. “For all workers, safe and healthy working environments are not only a fundamental right, but are also more likely to improve work performance and productivity, improve staff retention and minimise tension and conflict,” it notes.
Mental health at work: Policy brief, ILO/WHO, 28 September 2022. Unravelling: Mental health at work is a trade union issue, Hazards, number 159, September 2022.

Global: Unions in action to stamp out harassment

The ground-breaking work of unions to secure the ratification and implementation of a key International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention to tackle violence and harassment in the world of work has been captured by a new ITUC survey and report, as part of the ITUC’s #RatifyC190 campaign. The survey of 107 ITUC-affiliated unions in 70 countries revealed that 97 per cent of trade unions surveyed have worked to secure the ratification and implementation of Convention 190. ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “We need to see governments and employers matching the activism of the trade unions. Governments must involve workers’ unions as social partners in social dialogue and collective bargaining and ratify and implement Convention 190 and Recommendation 206 as soon as possible. Employers must do the same by integrating C190 and R206 at sector and workplace level and ensure this happens throughout their supply chains.”
ITUC news release.

Argentina: Strike wins quick offshore safety deal

Unions representing thousands of striking Argentine oil workers called off a strike one day after it started after a meeting with business leaders produced a deal on greater safety measures and training for employees. The strike was triggered by a fire in a storage tank which caused an explosion at the New American Oil (NAO) refinery in the town of Plaza Huincul in western Neuquen province, leaving left three workers dead and one injured. Union leaders, representatives of oil companies, and local government officials signed the deal designed to improve “training programmes and prepare active personnel and future workers on issues of on-the-job safety.” Prior to reaching the agreement, Marcelo Rucci, secretary general of the Private Oil and Gas Union of Rio Negro, Neuquen and La Pampa, the country's largest oil union, said: “We can't continue to lose lives to satisfy unrealistic production targets.”

Europe: New EU asbestos limit leaves workers at risk

Responsible EU action on asbestos exposure could save up to 90,000 lives a year across Europe – but the European Commission has sided with business lobbyists who want to limit measures in order to save money. A new European Commission proposal says the asbestos exposure limit should be reduced to 0.01 fibres/cm3, a tenth the current limit. However, the European Parliament had called for a new limit of 0.001 fibres/cm3, based on the recommendation of the International Commission of Occupational Health. ETUC deputy general secretary Claes-Mikael Stahl said: “Unfortunately, the Commission have sided with business lobbyists over science in proposing a limit which would still leave many workers exposed to asbestos and at risk of developing cancer.” He added: “Trade unions will work with MEPs and ministers to improve this proposal and ensure workers, their families and taxpayers don’t have to keep paying the price for inaction over asbestos.”
ETUC news release. European Commission news release. Politico.

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