Toggle high contrast
Issue date

Number 1069 * 23 November 2022

Risks is the TUC’s weekly Union Health & Safety newsletter for union members, reps and activists. 

Union News

P&O chief named ‘Worst Boss in the World’

P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite has been named the world’s worst boss in a global poll after illegally firing almost 800 UK workers in a pre-recorded Zoom call. His award was announced at the World Congress of the global union confederation ITUC in Melbourne, Australia. Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the global transport union federation ITF, said: “First, Hebblethwaite became Britain’s most hated boss when he illegally sacked 786 seafarers… His disgrace has reached international heights now that he has been voted the Worst Boss in the World.” He said transport bosses had “been put on notice – if you fail to uphold workers’ rights and provide workers with decent jobs, safe working conditions, respect and dignity, the global union movement will be there to hold you to account. We will do this through national and international laws, using the power of worker representatives on pension funds to uphold human and labour rights principles and by organising transport workers to demand change.”
ITUC news release. ITF news release.

Do not abandon workers with Long Covid  

The UK government must act now on an official recommendation from its experts that persistent ill-health related to Covid-19 infection be recognised as an occupational disease. Commenting on a report from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) – the body advising government on which diseases should be classified as work-related – which recommends that health and social care workers experiencing long term symptoms following Covid infection should be able to claim industrial injuries benefit, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Workers in health and social care are among the most likely to be infected with Covid-19 while doing their job, and many are still suffering the consequences of long-term ill health effects. It’s time to recognise this condition as occupational, and make sure workers who are living with post-Covid symptoms get the support they need.”
TUC news release. Covid-19 and Occupational Impacts, the report from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, 16 November 2022.  

TUC: Workers’ rights ‘illusory’ in Qatar - TUC

The TUC has warned that Qatar’s World Cup legacy risks being left “in tatters” without wholesale changes to protect workers. The warning came as the union body published a new report detailing widespread labour abuses in Qatar, ahead of the kick off of the World Cup on 20 November. The TUC said ‘significant improvements’ as a result of union campaigning had included the introduction of the minimum wage, vital health and safety protections and the removal of the need for permission to leave a job - effectively abolishing the kafala system which trapped workers in jobs. But the TUC says the country’s feeble enforcement regime leaves workers’ rights “illusory” and allows rogue employers to ride roughshod over any existing worker protections.
TUC news release and report, “I have nothing" - Workers' rights and the Qatar 2022 World Cup,18 November 2022.  The Guardian.

Government fails to spend a penny on driver toilets

The government’s much heralded multi-million pound budget to improve toilet facilities for lorry drivers has been entirely unspent after a year, research by Unite has found. In the October 2021 budget the then chancellor, now prime minister, Rishi Sunak allocated £32.5 million to the Department of Transport (DfT) to match fund improvements for roadside facilities at service stations and truck stops for lorry drivers. But following a freedom of information request made by Unite, DfT – which is responsible for administering the funding - has admitted that a year after Sunak made the funding commitment: “No companies have as yet received funding from the £32.5 million match funding scheme.” The FOI further revealed that despite the government promising to spend £32.5 million, this was actually over a three-year period and that only £5 million was allocated for the current financial year.
Unite news release, FOI findings and Toilet Dignity campaign.

Lack of toilets makes lorry drivers sick

Lorry drivers are leaving the job and even becoming ill because of a shameful lack of toilet facilities they can use during work, according to new research by Unite.  One in 10 of the 1,700 drivers surveyed by the union said a lack of toilets on the roads resulted in them developing a medical condition. The majority said they had needed to urgently use the toilet in the past year but none were available. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Toilet dignity is a fundamental union demand — no worker should be routinely denied access to a clean toilet. Unite has a zero-tolerance approach to any employer denying workers toilet dignity.” Two in five lorry drivers questioned said that since the Covid pandemic began, access to toilets had worsened.
Unite news release. Morning Star.

Unite protest at MoD toilet shame

Members of Unite marked the UN-recognised World Toilet Day on Saturday 19 November with a protest outside RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire, to highlight the Ministry of Defence’s failure to provide decent toilets for workers. The problem initially arose when the first female civilian firefighters were recruited to the base in 2014, where ageing facilities were not fit for purpose or suitable for unisex use. Unite regional officer Paula Stephens said: “The failure to provide decent toilets is an attack on our members’ basic human rights. The MoD should be ashamed of its actions and immediately remove the blockage which is preventing adequate facilities being provided at RAF Cranwell. The MoD also needs to ensure that similar problems at other bases are also rapidly resolved.” Across the UK, other female civilian MoD workers, especially those working as firefighters, have reported similar problems.
Unite news release. World Toilet Day.

Toilet facilities ‘essential’ on railways

Staff and passengers working and travelling on Britain’s railways deserve decent toilet facilities, ASLEF has said. Marking World Toilet Day on 19 November, the train drivers’ union said it would “again lobby the government, train companies and industry groups on the need for access to clean, safe, and appropriate toilets.” The union said the need was thrown into sharp focus on 1 February 2022 when, in a tragic incident at West Worthing in West Sussex, a train driver was killed when he stepped down from his cab to relieve himself and was struck by a passing train. Class 313 trains, the type he was driving, have no toilets.
ASLEF news release.

Tram workers defend terminally ill colleagues

GMB members on Nottingham’s tram network have backed strike action in defence of two terminally ill colleagues. The union said 94 per cent of the city’s tram workers have voted in favour of action over threats from company management to cut the pay of Robert Currie and David Brown as they battle life-threatening conditions. GMB organiser Colin Whyatt said: “For Keolis to threaten to cut the pay of loyal workers facing a terminal illness in their life has been shocking and disappointing for so many GMB members. The company now need to act urgently to avoid tram chaos over the Christmas shopping period.”
GMB news release.

Don’t repeat deadly King’s Cross mistakes - RMT

Rail union RMT has marked the 35-year anniversary of the King’s Cross Underground fire by calling for an end to job cuts on the Tube. A disastrous fire broke out on 18 November 1987 that claimed the lives of 31 people, with 100 more treated in hospital for their injuries. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said “in the wake of the disaster, a completely new safety critical culture was built in which the vital role that staff play was fully recognised, on the basis that such a thing should never happen again.” But he warned: “In pressing on with their plans to cut more station staff jobs, London Underground’s managers are making an historic error and unpicking the work that dates back to 1987.” He said the union would “vigorously stand up against job cuts, taking strike action where we need to.”
RMT news releaseOther News

Highest ever levels of work-related ill health

The number of workers in Great Britain suffering work-related ill-health has increased again to a new all-time high. Latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures put the total reporting work-related ill-health at 1.8 million in 2021/22, up from 1.7 million in 2020/21 (Risks 1027). The figure is now almost 40 per cent higher than when the Tories came to power. The safety regulator said 8 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2021/22. The figures also show that 123 workers were killed in work-related accidents in 2021/22 and a further 565,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury. Of the 1.8 million suffering a work-related illness, an estimated 585,000 reported it was caused or made worse by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, HSE said. Only a pared down statistical summary was published by HSE on 23 November, with even this less complete than the 2020/21 summary which also included enforcement data.
HSE news release and statistics, Health and safety statistics 2021/22, HSE, 23 November 2022.

Workplace stress soars to a new record high

A record number of stress, depression and anxiety cases now makes up around half of the total work-related ill-health in Great Britain, new official figures show. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics on work-related ill health and workplace injuries reveal there were an estimated 914,000 cases of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021/22. This is over 10 per cent up on the previous all-time high of 828,000 cases in 2019/20. The last three years have seen far and away the highest levels on record of reported stress-related ill-health at work. HSE’s chief executive, Sarah Albon, said: “Britain is one of the safest places in the world to work but we need all employers to do more and take seriously their responsibilities to support good mental health at work.”
HSE news release and statistics, Health and safety statistics 2021/22, HSE, 23 November 2022. HSE Working Minds campaign.
RESOURCES: TUC guide to responding to harmful work-related stress. Tackling workplace stress using the HSE Stress Management Standards, TUC and HSE guidance for health and safety representatives. TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace.

Severely ill can’t afford to go sick, say GPs

Ill patients are refusing sicknotes from their GP because they cannot afford time off work, while physicians suffer “moral distress” at their powerlessness to do more to help the most vulnerable, the new leader of Britain’s family doctors has said. Dr Kamila Hawthorne, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Recently I’ve had patients refusing sicknotes because they can’t afford not to work. Quite often, when it’s clear that somebody needs some time off, they won’t take it.” She added: “These are people who ideally, medically, should not be at work [because] they have a chronic condition such as asthma or diabetes, but quite often mental health problems, quite severe mental health problems, I [see] some cases that really do require a bit of sicknote peace and quiet to try and help them get better.”
The Guardian.

Bid to delay deletion of 4,000 EU laws

The UK government is to face attempts to delay the deletion of up to 4,000 EU laws from UK statute books and stop the scrapping of key workers’ rights, with opposition parties set to table dozens of amendments next week. The retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill has been described as “reckless” by legal experts, who say it is badly designed and gives unprecedented powers to ministers to personally decide which laws stay and which go. Key workplace health and safety laws are on the government’s hit list. A key SNP amendment, believed to be supported by several Conservative backbenchers, is to extend the date for deletion from the end of 2023 to 2026. Clause 1 of the bill sets a deadline of December next year for all EU laws to be expunged unless they have been actively saved by a minister. Labour has tabled proposals to retain key workers’ rights covering health and safety law, annual leave and maternity rights, as well as some environmental laws, rather than seeing them scrapped and replaced with new versions.
The Guardian. BEIS retained EU law dashboard. Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

NHS England workforce to get menopause rights

Menopausal women working in NHS England will be able to work flexibly should they need to under new guidance. Launching the first national NHS guidance on menopause, the NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, called on other employers to follow suit to help “break the stigma”. Writing in the Telegraph, Pritchard said she wanted to make sure that anyone working in the NHS should have access to the right support “to stay and thrive at work” during the menopause. The guidance aims to boost awareness as well as support the introduction of practical measures and flexible working patterns – including lighter duties, fans to make temperatures more comfortable, cooler uniforms and staff training. “Our guidance has been intentionally designed to be transferable to other workplaces too, so I hope organisations and women beyond the NHS can also benefit,” Pritchard said.
Supporting our NHS people through menopause: guidance for line managers and colleagues, NHS England, 22 November 2022. The Telegraph. The Guardian.

Recycling wall deaths directors convicted

Two directors of a multi-million pound Birmingham metal recycling firm have been convicted of criminal health and safety breaches after five men died when a 45-tonne wall fell on them in 2016. The wall was overloaded with 263 tonnes of briquettes and so close to toppling a gust of wind could have brought it down, Birmingham Crown Court heard. Wayne Hawkeswood and Graham Woodhouse, directors of Hawkeswood Metal Recycling and Shredmet, now known as ENSCO101, denied risking workers’ safety. A jury convicted them and their companies of all 12 criminal safety counts after a trial which lasted six weeks. The directors will be sentenced at a later date. The dead men's families described the failures of Shredmet and Hawkeswood Metal Recycling as “scandalous and inexcusable” and criticised the delay in bringing the case to court. Almamo Jammeh, Ousmane Diaby, Bangally Dukureh, Saibo Sillah and Mahamadou Jagana died on 7 July 2016 when the overloaded wall gave way as they cleared a metal storage bay.
BBC News Online. Birmingham Mail.

Suspended sentence for fall death roofing boss

A Wakefield roofing company has been fined and its sole director given a suspended prison sentence after a father-of-two was killed when he fell 12 metres through a skylight. Jonathan May, 39, a subcontractor for Davis Industrial Roofing Limited, was working on a storm-damaged warehouse roof at F&G Commercials Limited in Barnsley with two others on 18 December 2016, when he fell. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Davis Industrial Roofing Limited had failed to provide an appropriate risk assessment, method statement, and suitable and sufficient fall protection measures for the roof work to be carried out safely. Melvyn Davis, the director of the company, pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was sentenced to eight weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months and was ordered to do 15 days of rehabilitation activity. Davis Industrial Roofing Limited also pleaded guilty and was fined £20,000 plus £12,557 costs.
HSE news release. Construction EnquirerInternational News

Asia: Work safety is a strategic organising tool

Unions in South East Asia are looking to use occupational health and safety (OHS) strategically to organise workers and build strong unions. “IndustriALL adopts a rights-based approach on OHS. Every worker has the right to know, participate and refuse, and that cannot be bargained with,” said Glen Mpufane, OHS director for IndustriALL, the global union that organised the meeting of its affiliates across the region. “When employers deny trade unions entry in the area of OHS, it is the duty of unions to regain control to save workers’ lives.” In total, 65 unionists from Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Philippines attended the October meeting and agreed to set up a regional cross sector occupational health and safety platform.
IndustriALL news release and manual for health and safety activists, Saving ourselves.

Global: Twitter locks staff out of offices

Social media giant Twitter locked workers out of the company's office buildings with immediate effect on 18 November, saying they would not reopen until 21 November. The move came amid rumours of a staff exodus as new owner Elon Musk demanded workers sign up for “long hours at high intensity” or leave. In an email to staff, Musk said those who had not signed up by Thursday 17 November would be given three months' severance pay. He told Twitter staff that they had to commit to working long hours and would “need to be extremely hardcore” or leave the company. Employees have been tweeting using the hashtag #LoveWhereYouWorked and a saluting emoji to show they are leaving the firm. Musk, the world's richest person, became Twitter's chief executive after buying the firm last month in a $44bn (£37bn) deal.
BBC News Online.

Global: Decent sanitation ‘a vital right’ for workers

Across the world, millions of transport workers - and women transport workers in particular - face the indignity of workplaces where it is nearly impossible to do something as simple as go to the toilet, ITF has said. The global transport union noted that whether it’s sanitation facilities that aren’t clean, that aren’t safe, that aren’t accessible, or that simply don’t exist, workers are subjected to conditions that put their health at serious risk. But it said in workplaces in every corner of the globe, transport unions and ITF-affiliates are leading the struggle for the right to decent sanitation facilities, with the help of the ITF Sanitation Toolkit. The toolkit is a comprehensive and interactive resource for transport unions to lead the campaign for better sanitation facilities for workers. It is designed to equip unions with everything they need to win better conditions, and highlights success stories from unions already engaged in the struggle.
ITF news release and case history. Sanitation rights are human rights: public transport worker voices , ITF, November 2022
Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now