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

Union News

TUC slams ‘flimsy’ AI white paper

The TUC has criticised the government’s ‘flimsy’ and ‘vague’ Artificial Intelligence (AI) white paper. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “To ensure AI is used ethically - and in a way that benefits working people - we need proper regulation.” But he warned the white paper instead “is vague and fails to offer any clear guidance to regulators. Instead, we have a series of flimsy commitments.” Responsibility for AI governance will not be given to a new regulator, with the government saying it wants existing regulators - such as the Health and Safety Executive, Equality and Human Rights Commission and Competition and Markets Authority - to come up with their own approaches. These regulators would have to use existing laws rather than being given new powers.
Department for Science, Innovation and Technology news release and white paper, AI regulation: a pro-innovation approach, 29 March 2023. BBC News Online.
Register for the TUC AI summit, 8:30-12:30, Tuesday 18 April, TUC Congress House London.

Migration Bill is ‘a gift’ to dodgy employers

The government’s Illegal Migration Bill is “a gift to dodgy employers” who are looking to exploit migrant workers, the TUC has warned. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak, commenting on the ‘deplorable and very likely unlawful’ proposals, said: “Exploitation of migrant workers is already rampant – but this Bill will make a bad situation much, much worse. From unpaid wages, to debt traps and forced labour, to being sacked without notice – this Bill will give rogue employers the green light to exploit migrant workers without fear of repercussion. This will create a race to the bottom for everyone.” Nowak concluded: “It’s time for the government to drop this nasty Bill and give all asylum seekers the right to work to clamp down on rogue employers who are looking to profit from exploitation.”
TUC news release.

Workers with Long Covid need protection

UK ministers should act to ensure Long Covid sufferers receive the support they need from employers, with as many as two-thirds claiming they have been unfairly treated at work, a new report from the TUC and the charity Long Covid Support has warned. It says that failing to accommodate the 2 million people who, according to ONS data, may be suffering from long Covid in the UK will create, “new, long-lasting inequalities”. The report makes 19 recommendations, including more resources for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), universal access to occupational health services and a change in reporting requirements for work-related Covid infections so “where a worker is exposed to Covid-19 in the workplace due to lack of effective risk controls, for example, poor ventilation” it becomes reportable, and not just in relation to health and care work.
TUC news release, summary and full report, Workers' experience of Long Covid, Joint report by the TUC and Long Covid Support, 27 March 2023. The Guardian.

Covid death families still owed millions

Millions of pounds of compensation promised by ministers to relatives of frontline health and social care workers who died during the pandemic remains unclaimed, UNISON has said. Fewer than 800 families across England have received the £60,000 payouts from the government’s life assurance scheme. The health union said official figures show more than 2,000 deaths involving Covid occurred among health and care staff, including porters, nurses and care home employees. There is a 31 March deadline for applications to the scheme. The union says grieving next of kin could be left without the money to which they are entitled, unless they apply right away.
UNISON news release.

Head teachers call for Ofsted to be replaced

Teachers and headteachers have handed a petition to the government calling for Ofsted to be replaced. The petition was started before headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report she knew would downgrade her outstanding school to ‘inadequate’. Teaching union NEU, which is leading the group, wants Ofsted, England's schools' watchdog, replaced with a “supportive, effective and fair” accountability system. The petition, signed by 45,000 people, also calls on the government to work with teachers and leaders to look at how these systems work in other high-performing education nations. Some headteachers have removed references to Ofsted from websites, job adverts and letters, in tribute to Ms Perry.
BBC News Online.

Ofsted inspections a factor in 10 teacher suicides

Stress caused by Ofsted inspections was cited in coroners’ reports on the deaths of 10 teachers over the past 25 years. The Observer reported the research, by the Hazards Campaign and the University of Leeds, will intensify what Ofsted has called the “outpouring of anger” in the sector over the death of Berkshire headteacher Ruth Perry, who killed herself in January. Her family have attributed her death to the inspectorate having downgraded her school. Education unions called last week for all Ofsted inspections to be suspended.
The Observer.

Unite member ‘vindicated’ on Crossrail blacklisting

An electrician who exposed contemporary “blacklisting” on the flagship Crossrail project has said he feels ‘fully vindicated’. Unite member Daniel Collins took a case for blacklisting, breaches of data protection and misuse of private information against construction companies Crossrail, Costain, Skanska, T Clarke and NG Bailey. Daniel, who was fired and then blacklisted after raising safety concerns, has since received compensation and last week had his damning statement detailing the allegations read out in London’s Royal Courts of Justice.  Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This was a hugely significant case and demonstrates how Unite will back its members to the hilt.”
Unite news release. The full statement in open court. Blacklist blog. Construction News. Personnel Today.

New railway work life and death project

RMT has launched a joint health and safety data initiative with the University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum (NRM) and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick (MRC). The union says it provides a “fascinating insight into the past health and safety experiences of RMT members, including risk posed by their jobs and any accidents they were involved in.” Around 25,000 records from the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) and National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) – the predecessor unions of the RMT - will be released. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This project is an important opportunity for RMT members and the wider public to learn about their rail history. RMT industrial disputes this year have been about maintaining rail safety practices and we will not allow standards to slip.”
RMT news release.

Freeports must not undermine rights and safety

Maritime union RMT has warned that new freeports must not undermine the working conditions and safety standards for seafarers in Holyhead, Milford Haven and Port Talbot. The union was reacting to news that two sites in Wales will gain Freeport status, meaning there will be special exemption from tax rates, customs rules and other regulations. RMT warned that this must not lead to the exploitation of cheap labour, deregulation and a reduction in safety standards. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said workers at the freeports must be covered by collective agreements and added: “Our union welcomes job creation in port towns but it cannot be done on the cheap, through lowering standards around safety, pay and conditions.”
RMT news release.

Wales TUC action on sexual harassment

A new toolkit on tackling sexual harassment in the workplace has been launched by Wales TUC. The union body said the resource, co-authored with Welsh Women’s Aid, will give workers in Wales the information they need to tackle this problem in the workplace. Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC general secretary, said, “No one should go to work fearing they may be the victim of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is part of a wider, relentless culture of sexual violence and misogyny. It is not a low-level act that should be accepted as an inevitable part of everyday life.” She added: Unions, our reps and members are key to holding employers to account and making sure that bosses are doing everything they can to prevent sexual harassment.”
Wales TUC news release.

Union alarm at ‘disturbing’ rise in shoplifting

Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is deeply concerned by new figures revealing record levels of shop theft in convenience stores last year. Its says the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) findings add to evidence from police recorded crime statistics showing increases in shoplifting over the last year, ending a decade-long downward trend. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “Theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers.” He added: “The government must provide the coordination needed to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safe places for our members to work and for customers to shop.”
ACS news release. Usdaw news release.

Extreme audience behaviour hitting UK theatres

A new survey from theatre union Bectu has uncovered the extent of anti-social behaviour from theatre audiences. Based on responses from over 1,500 workers in the sector, the union found 90 per cent had directly experienced or witnessed poor audience behaviour, and more than 70 per cent felt that the problem is worse post-pandemic. Nearly half of respondents said they had thought about leaving the industry as a result. Overwhelmingly, the survey found bullying, violence, intimidation, harassment or abuse of staff is the most common form of poor audience behaviour – over 90 per cent reported personal experience of this type of behaviour.
Bectu news release.


Other News

Stress could cause NHS staff exodus

More than threequarters of NHS staff are considering quitting due to stress, burnout and anxiety, according to new figures. A survey of 2,500 NHS workers by campaign group Organise found 78 per cent reported experiencing stress and over half (55 per cent) had taken time off because of stress, anxiety or burnout as the crisis in the NHS deepens, with 25 per cent staying away from work for more than a month. Organise head Nat Whalley said: “We don’t need empty promises, we need tangible investment in the NHS that allow workers to thrive in their roles without suffering from stress, anxiety and burnout. Listen to us, invest in the wellbeing of our NHS workforce and ensure the future of the NHS.”
Morning Star.

Ministers put off state pension age change

Ministers have reportedly delayed plans to bring forward a rise in the state pension age. State pensions are currently payable at age 66, but this was due to rise to 68 after 2044. However, reports earlier this year suggested ministers had planned to bring the increase forward to between 2037 and 2039. The Financial Times has now reported ministers have decided to delay making a decision until after the next general election because of fears about a revolt by middle-aged voters, in the wake of Jeremy Hunt’s budget tax break for those with the largest pension pots. However, government sources say the rethink is because of a drop in life expectancy. The pension age is still due to rise to 67 by the end of 2028.
Financial Times. The Guardian.

Ikea UK deal with EHRC on sexual harassment

Ikea UK has made an agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to improve its sexual harassment policies and practices after a complaint by a former employee. The agreement comes after the EHRC was made aware of an allegation of sexual assault and harassment at the home furnishings retailer and reports that these allegations were not appropriately handled by management at one of the company’s stores. As part of the agreement, Ikea UK – which 22 stores in the UK and more than 11,700 staff - has committed to reviewing the way it deals with sexual harassment and meeting its responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, the EHRC said in a statement.
EHRC news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Over 20 hospitalised after ship tips at dockyard

Thirty-five people have been injured after a ship tipped over at an Edinburgh dockyard. The Scottish Ambulance Service said 23 people had been taken to hospital, many said to have serious injuries, and 12 people were treated at the scene of the incident at Imperial Dock, Leith. A major incident was declared after research vessel RV Petrel became dislodged from its holding on a dry dock on the morning of 22 March. The 76m (250ft) ship, which was owned by the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, was placed into long-term moorage in 2020. Before this, it had been used for deep water searches for shipwrecks and war graves at sea.
BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Firms fined over asbestos removal cartel

Ten construction firms have been fined by Britain's competition regulator after they were found to have engaged in bid rigging. The companies have been ordered to cough up a combined £59.3 million after an investigation by the UK Competition and Markets Authority saw them charged with unlawfully colluding on prices through cartel agreements when tendering for demolition and asbestos removal work. The 10 groups fined by the regulator were Squibb; Brown and Mason; John F Hunt; Cantillon; McGee; Scudder; Erith; Clifford Devlin; Keltbray, and DSM. The collusion can give the impression of a competitive bidding process but gives an unfair advantage to a particular supplier, and often results in poorer quality services and higher prices for customers.
CMA news release. This is Money. The Guardian.

International news

Alarm at single pilot commercial flights move

A move to reduce the size of crews on commercial flights, including a shift to single pilot operation, have been condemned as a ‘threat to safety’ by pilots’ unions. The warning comes from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the Air Line Pilots Association, International (US-ALPA), who described single pilot operations as a “threat to safety”. Global transport unions’ federation ITF and its European equaivalent ETF have echoed the warning, calling the push to reduce the number of crew members in the cockpit as “a profit-driven scheme that poses a significant safety risk.”
ITF news release.

USA: Workers' physical and mental health declining

Three out of four US employees have reported that their physical and mental health either declined or stagnated in 2022, a recent study has found, and this has impacted their productivity. One of the underlying issues found to be perpetuating workers’ stress is the nature of the US healthcare system. Fortune magazine reports that although many employers have taken strides to provide mental health benefits, especially post-pandemic, workers are being deterred from utilising these benefits because they are overwhelmed by how to navigate the USA’s private health insurance and healthcare system.
Fortune magazine.
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