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Issue date

Number 1074 *11 January 2023

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

Union News

Countdown to saving vital work rights 

A Bill being considered by the British parliament could see a swathe of protections swept away, the TUC has warned. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill could see health and safety rights derived from, or reinforced by, EU law, erased. According to the TUC “significant health and safety rights, notably the so-called ‘six pack’ set of regulations including the main set of regulations in this area, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and others covering the likes of manual handling and the use of protective equipment, would be at risk.” The union body said it “is working closely with a broad coalition… and even employer groups to get across our message that this Bill needs to be withdrawn.”
TUC blog. Make sure you have your say - write to your MP.

Reject cynical ‘sack key workers bill’ - TUC

The TUC has called on MPs of all parties to reject the government’s “latest attack on the right to strike.” The union body was commenting as the minimum service levels bill came before parliament for its first reading on 10 January 2023. The proposed law – dubbed the “sack key workers bill” – would mean that when workers democratically and lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply, despite have legitimate and pressing concerns over working conditions or safety.
TUC news release. BBC News Online.

Pension age plan fails sick and injured workers

The government is failing to take account of workers being forced out of their profession due to ill-health and injury, as it prepares to increase the state pension age, research by the union Unite has revealed. A review of the state pension age is expected to report in early 2023. However, following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Unite has discovered the government is failing to monitor or record the number of workers being forced to or choosing to leave their profession early. Warning against increasing the pension age, Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “Even more workers will find themselves in a cruel limbo world where they are too sick to work but too young to receive their pension.”
Unite news release.

Unite members protest at blacklisting

Electricians are demanding energy firms SSE and Scottish Power intervene after one of their contractors sacked and allegedly blacklisted three colleagues when they sought recognition for their union Unite. Greig McArthur, one of the workers fired by Kirby Group Engineering, said the dismissals came as the company was about to enter discussions at Acas over a recognition agreement with Unite. McArthur, who joined a 5 January 2023 protest outside SSE’s Glasgow HQ, said union members were calling on SSE and Scottish Power to “take some responsibility for their subcontractor firms behaving like this.” He said it was critical the “booming” high voltage energy sector had a “healthy trade union influence” so projects “can benefit from the on-site effects of having union safety representatives.”
Blacklist blog Morning Star.

Firefighters hit by cancer, strokes and heart problems

Firefighters are far more likely to die from cancer, heart attacks and strokes than the general public, a new FBU backed study has found. Their mortality rate from all cancers is 1.6 times higher than the rest of the population, according to the research, conducted by the University of Central Lancashire for the union. The workers are also five times more likely to die from a heart attack and three times more susceptible to strokes, the paper revealed. Firefighters’ greater exposure to contaminants and fire toxins are almost certainly the cause, the union warned, calling for immediate preventive action.
FBU news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online.

Heads ‘at risk of heart attacks and strokes’

Headteachers are breaking down in tears, suffering migraines and even passing out, with 60 per cent admitting they have considered changing jobs in the past year because of increased level of stress, education sector experts have warned. Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), told the Observer: “The anger and even despair we are hearing from our members right now is unprecedented. School leaders are telling me they cannot continue to run their schools in the current circumstances.”
The Observer. Education Support Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022.

Reform needed to protect parliament workers

Pressure is growing for third parties to be allowed to make complaints to Westminster’s sexual misconduct watchdog, after concerns were reignited about parliament’s culture by Labour MP Charlotte Nichols, who privately shared a list of 20 ‘sex-pest’ MPs to avoid. Mike Clancy, General Secretary of the civil service union Prospect, said: “Trade unions and others in parliament have been warning for many years about a dangerous culture which fails to address sexual misconduct. It is abundantly clear that further reform is needed to protect those working there. This must include excluding MPs under investigation for sexual misconduct and must also include allowing third parties to report complaints to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Service.”
Prospect news release. The Guardian. Daily Mail.

Payouts for teachers injured in Scotland's schools

Scottish teaching union EIS last year secured £295,597 for members who were injured or assaulted at their workplace. The union said the settlements show that “the employer has failed in their duty of care” to their employees. EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said: “While the EIS will always be diligent in pursuing appropriate compensation for our members, our clear preference would be for this area of our work to be unnecessary. If workplaces are properly maintained and safe, the chances of any employee suffering injury are substantially reduced.”
EIS news release. Scottish Daily Express.

Filled in the TUC safety reps’ survey yet?

The TUC’s latest survey of union health and safety representatives is online and waiting for you to spend just five minutes sharing your experiences. The TUC says responses from safety reps are “valuable to us, they let us know the issues safety reps are dealing with, and what work the TUC and our member unions should prioritise and campaign on in the years ahead.” It adds responses will be anonymised in the survey report. There will be a prize draw when the survey closes on Monday 2 February.
First prize is a £200 supermarket voucher, with £100 and £50 vouchers for 2nd and 3rd winners. The first four winners will all receive a year’s subscription to Hazards Magazine.
TUC alert. Take the survey - it should take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

Other News

Older workers not returning after ill-health

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show economic inactivity due to long-term sickness has increased most among 50- to 64-year-olds outside the capital since the Covid pandemic. Rates of economic inactivity – when working-age adults are neither employed nor looking for a job – have ballooned since the health emergency spread to Britain nearly three years ago, in an exodus from the workforce fuelled by rising ill-health and older workers retiring early. The analysis of the ONS figures by Labour shows inactivity among 50 to 64-year-olds for reasons of ill-health has increased in every part of the UK other than London. Figures show the number of working-age adults out of the labour force due to long-term ill-health has risen to a record of almost 2.5 million.
The Guardian.

Soaring levels of zero hours contracts in over-50s

Zero hours contracts among the over-50s have reached their highest level since records began, according to new analysis of official government statistics. There are nearly 300,000 people aged 50 and older with zero hours contracts, the highest number for this age group since records began. More than a quarter of the total number of zero hours contracts are held by workers aged 50+, according to the analysis of Office of National Statistics (ONS) data. Insecure work has been linked to worse health and more injuries and work-related illnesses.
Rest Less news release. The Guardian. More on the hazards of insecure work.

Asbestos cancers are rising in women

Cases of the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma are rising in women who joined the workforce decades ago, latest statistics show. While men account for most cases of mesothelioma, cases among women rose by 93 per cent between 1993 and 2018, compared with 47 per cent in men. “The proportion of women being diagnosed with mesothelioma has never been higher,” commented Dean Fennell, a Professor of Thoracic Medical Oncology at the University of Leicester. “Given the disease can take decades to develop, this rise seems to coincide with when more women joined the workforce from the 1950s onwards.” There are over 2,500 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain every year.
Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2022, HSE, November 2022. Daily Mail.

Peers concerned over plan to scrap EU laws

Members of the House of Lords are preparing to slow down attempts to axe thousands of pieces of European Union legislation, with some warning there is no chance of the bill passing by the end of 2023 as promised. Peers and experts from business groups, trade unions and environmental campaigns have all warned that such a deadline is impractical. Robin Hodgson, the Conservative chair of the Lords secondary legislation scrutiny Committee, said: “We are quite concerned about what this is going to mean in terms of workload and practicability.” TUC policy officer Tim Sharp said: “We are worried about maternity rights, holiday pay, health and safety legislation. It is a massive job to figure out which regulations they want to keep, which they want to change and which they want to ditch.”
The Guardian.

PM’s ethics adviser risks ‘being fig leaf’

The Prime Minister’s appointment of a new ethics adviser in late December 2022 risks being a ‘fig leaf’ for bad behaviour by ministers, civil servants’ union Prospect has warned. General Secretary Mike Clancy said the selection of investment banker Sir Laurie Magnus as the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests came after a catalogue of alleged misbehaviour by ministers, including bullying and harassment of staff.
Prospect news release.

Appeal court blow on right to refuse

The Court of Appeal has upheld an employment judge’s decision that an employee who was dismissed after he refused to return to the workplace until the Covid-19 lockdown eased was not automatically unfairly dismissed for leaving or refusing to return to the workplace because of what he believed was an imminent risk. Supporting earlier employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal rulings in the case of Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd, the court said the right to refuse provisions of section 100(1)(d) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 did not protect the worker as there were no circumstances of danger that he could not otherwise “reasonably avert” through social distancing, use of PPE and other measures.
Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd, the Court of Appeal, Case No: CA-2022-001244, 20 December 2022.

Admin assistant unfair dismissal for pregnancy

A recently appointed admin assistant whose post was terminated after she told the company she was pregnant has received a £14,884.90 payout for unfair dismissal. Charlotte Leitch joined CIS Services Limited on 21 May 2021. On 23 June, Ms Leitch – who had yet to complete and sign her contract – told her supervisor she was unable to work because she needed to attend hospital as she was pregnant. The next day, at an informal meeting with the firm’s head of compliance Nicola Calder she had not signed her contract of employment and so “we have no obligation to keep you on,” the tribunal heard. Ruling in Charlotte Leitch’s favour, the tribunal said: “Suddenly without warning on June 24, 2021, the claimant was without a job. She felt worthless, she was worried about the effect on her unborn child. The claimant was hurt and distressed by the decision to dismiss.”
Miss C Leitch v CIS Services Limited, The HR Director.

Firm fined after employee badly injured in fall

A property management company has been fined after an employee was left in a wheelchair as a result of falling eight metres through a rooflight. Robin Williamson, an asbestos surveyor employed by City Property (Glasgow) LLP, suffered severe injuries after he fell while carrying out a survey on the roof of Netherton Community Centre, Glasgow on 5 April 2018. He suffered skull fractures as well as a bleed to the brain and multiple spine and rib fractures. He now uses a wheelchair. City Property (Glasgow) LLP pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £200,000 at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 21 December 2022.
HSE news release.


Union safety and asbestos support jobs
The Trade Union Safety Team (TRUST), which works closely with Chesterfield Trade Union Council, is seeking a coordinator based at their site in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. The job involves coordinating the day-to-day work of the organisation, setting and monitoring budgets and producing monitoring and evaluation reports for stakeholders. TRUST’s sister organisation, Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DAST), is seeking a funding development worker and a bereavement support assistant.
Job descriptions for the TRUST coordinator (deadline 13 Feb), DAST funding development worker (deadline 15 Feb), DAST bereavement support assistant jobs (deadline 5 Feb).

International News

Global: Pope praises unions on rights and safety

Pope Francis has praised the role played by unions in protecting workers.  Addressing members of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), the head of the Catholic church called on union members to be “sentinels” of the world of labour, adding: “There is no union without workers, and there are no free workers without a union.” He emphasised the need for unions to educate people in a “sense of work,” building fraternity among workers and emphasising that people are more important than profits. The pontiff also expressed his concerns for worker safety and the exploitation of workers. “There are still too many deaths, mutilations, and injuries in the workplace!”, he said.
Vatican News.

Canada: The ‘top employer’ that kept on killing

On 7 July 2022, a 26-year-old worker was killed at Suncor Energy’s oilsands plant, one of five deaths at the company’s Alberta, Canada, worksites in just two years. Suncor’s poor safety record led to its CEO Mark Little resigning in July 2022. Four months later, on 18 November 2022, the national Globe and Mail newspaper published a report naming Suncor as one of Canada’s top 100 employers 2023, prompting a backlash from occupational health and safety experts.  
The Tyee. Globe and Mail: Canada’s Top 100 Employers 2023.

Europe: Progress on platform workers’ rights

The European Parliament has fought off platform industry attempts to weaken a proposed law giving their workers decent rights. The December 2022 vote in favour of keeping a strong presumption of employment in the Platform Work Directive by the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee was whole-heartedly welcomed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
ITF news release.

USA: Extreme weather a threat to essential workers

As storms hit vast parts of the US over the Christmas holiday, outdoor workers warned they are facing unacceptable risk from extreme weather. Having suffered through a summer of blistering heat, essential workers now face an even more dangerous foe in the cold. According to a report from the government health agency CDC, extreme cold is responsible for more than twice as many deaths as extreme heat. Mikki Siegel de Hernandez of the union CWA said the extreme temperatures highlighted issues like educating the workforce around job protections, rights of workers in refusing to work in dangerous conditions, and proper staffing.
The Guardian. US NIOSH cold stress guide. HSE temperature in the workplace webpages.

USA: Union action stopped tragic NFL game

After Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of a tackle in a Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals American football game on 2 January 2023 – requiring nine minutes of CPR, an hour-long stoppage and leaving the Bills player in a critical condition and other players visibly distressed – game administrators gave the teams five minutes to warm up and restart the game. The league only called off the game after player reps from both teams contacted their union, the NFLPA, which informed the league that the game was over. It took the players’ walking off the field before Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, announced the game would be postponed and late abandoned.
The Nation. BBC News Online.
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