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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

Working people ‘pushed to breaking point’ 

Working people are being “pushed to breaking point”, the TUC has said, as latest ONS labour market figures show that real weekly wages are down £19 per week over the past year. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak commented: “Workers have lost more than £1,000 from their pay over the last year. But there’s still no end in sight for the longest wages slump in modern history… They have been pushed to breaking point.” Commenting on the number of people on zero hours contracts – now 1.13 million, up from 1.02 million this time last year – the TUC leader added: “Zero hours contracts don’t belong in modern Britain. They should be banned along with other outdated and exploitative working practices like fire and rehire.” There is a clear link between both low paid and insecure work and increased levels of workplace injuries and ill-health. 

TUC news release. ONS labour market figures. More on the hazards of low pay and insecure work

Record numbers not working due to ill-health 

The number of people not working in the UK due to long-term sickness has risen to a new record, official figures have revealed. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) show more than two and half million people were not working because of health problems. The figures came as the latest jobs statistics showed an increase in part-time and self-employed workers helped to push up the UK’s employment rate. Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Darren Morgan of the ONS said: “We saw another increase in those exits in the labour market due to becoming long term sick, and that means that it all started with a pandemic.”  He added: “There are well over 400,000 more people outside of the labour market due to ill-health and that means we are now at a new record level of comfortably over two and a half million.” 

BBC News Online.  

Government retreats from EU law axe 

The government has announced it is scrapping the Retained EU Law Bill ‘sunset clause’, reducing the number of EU-derived law set to be axed on 31 December from over 4,000 to 600. Commenting on the government retreat, spelled out in a ‘Smarter regulation to grow the economy’ report, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “After countless warnings from unions, business and environmental groups – the government is finally stepping back from its disastrous plan to rip up every single piece of EU-retained law by the end of the year. But with 600 laws still being scrapped at the end of the 2023, ministers must now come clean on their plans on workers’ rights and publish the full list of regulations set to be axed.” A further concern is the government announcement it will be scrapping the rule that sets out how laws are interpreted, effectively voiding precedents set by courts and tribunals up and down the country over the past 47 years. 

Statement from Kemi Badenoch, secretary of state for business and trade, written statement to parliament, and report, Smarter regulation to grow the economy, 10 May 2023. Bectu news release. Prospect news release. The Telegraph. BBC News Online and commentary.  

TUC slams plan to scrap working hours rules 

Workers’ rights and safety will be put at risk by plan to scrap EU working hours rules, the TUC has said. Commenting on the measures, included in the Department for Business and Trade’s ‘Smarter regulation to grow the economy’ report and one of the exceptions from the government’s REUL rowback, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Loosening rules on recording hours is undermining working time protections by stealth. It is a gift to rogue employers looking to exploit workers and put them through long, gruelling shifts without enough rest.” On changes to holiday pay, which will be calculated differently from current EU law, he added: “The current law ensures that most holiday is paid in line with workers' normal earnings, including regular overtime. Ministers shouldn’t be meddling with this.”  

The Guardian. Morning Star. Lexology

Red tape cut means misery for workers 

The government’s announcement that it is removing the requirement on employers to record how many hours employees work has been branded a “boost for bad bosses” by Unite. Under the changes, employers will no longer be required to keep records to ensure that the 48 hours working time ceiling is adhered to and that limits on how many hours workers can operate at night are being followed. Unite said lifting the duty on employers to record night work is ‘especially worrying’ as working excessive periods at night has been linked with an increased risk of developing cancer and diabetes. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The government so-called attack on red tape is nothing more than a boost for bad bosses and will pile more misery on workers. Removing the requirement for employers to record workers’ hours, means that the regulations effectively become unenforceable.” Commenting on the ‘emasculated regulations’, she added: “Cutting red tape? More like a playbook for profiteering.” 

Unite news release. Morning Star

Pared-back plans are still reckless, say lawyers 

The Conservative government decision to water down proposed legislation to remove 4,000 EU laws from the statute books is still a “reckless” and “irresponsible” project, leading barristers have said. While the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, was accused of “a massive climbdown”, barristers say the retention of sweeping “undemocratic” ministerial powers and the removal of the “interpretive effect” of EU law will blow up decades of legal precedent set by courts in Britain and makes for legislation like that found in authoritarian states. “You might know the laws that remain on the statute books but you won’t know how to interpret them,” said George Peretz KC, an expert on the issue. It will mean “the clock starts again” in courts and tribunals up and down the country. 

The Guardian and related story

Safety body warns plan will harm growth 

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has warned that the government’s amended plans to scrap EU laws don’t go far enough and will continue to harm economic growth, as a new survey of its members reveals concerns about the impact on businesses and inward investment. The workplace safety body added investment into the UK could be jeopardised, with companies already looking to move out of the UK because of the uncertainty which has arisen due to the Bill. It said while health and safety standards are no longer up for review before the end of the year, the Bill gives ministers power to remove legislation they deem unfit and this uncertainty will continue to cause chaos for UK businesses. Over half of the 330 health and safety professionals surveyed by IOSH said the Bill will cost business more (55 per cent) and almost two-thirds (63 per cent) anticipate it will increase costs to government. Eight in ten (79 per cent) are opposed to the Bill. 

IOSH news release.  

Most young women sexually harassed at work 

Almost two in three young women have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work, according to a TUC poll. However, most victims do not report it for fear of not being believed or of damaging their relationships at work or their career prospects, the union body said. Overall, almost three in five women (58 per cent) have experienced harassment at work. The figure rose to 62 per cent of women aged between 25 and 34. Most of these cases were not isolated incidents, with 57 per cent of women saying they had experienced three or more incidents of bullying at work. More than two in five (43 per cent) had experienced at least three incidents of sexual harassment. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said ministers had promised a low to tackle abuse from clients and customers, but warned “they are now backsliding under pressure from their own backbenchers who are trying to delay and derail these vital new protections.” 

TUC news release. The Guardian.  

FBU drive to tackle harassment and bullying  

Firefighters’ union FBU has launched a major drive to tackle discrimination in the fire service. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said that firefighters had been “repeatedly failed” and that some are “scared to speak out.” He said that firefighters had lost faith in Chief Fire Officers or the government ending the abuse, after decades of failure on the issue. Instead, the FBU unveiled plans to investigate the sector itself, and to tackle discrimination, harassment and bullying of firefighters. At the FBU annual conference, the FBU leader set out the union's plan to create its own set of reforms for the sector, and a strategy to fight for their implementation. “The Fire Brigades Union will launch its own set of standards on equalities, and will hold fire services to account against these,” he said. “We will also look to change behaviour directly in the fire service, and are launching a nationwide poster campaign in fire stations.” 

FBU news release

Physios urged to ‘call out microaggressions’ 

A new campaign by the physiotherapists’ union CSP is aiming ‘to reduce microaggressions faced by CSP members in order to improve their working lives.’  The union says microaggressions are the most common form of discrimination. “Our insight showed CSP members face microaggressions regularly, with around a third experiencing them on a weekly basis. We know they create an ongoing feeling of being regarded as a second-class citizen or inferior,” the union said. “Members said while the source of these behaviours was often patients, 75 per cent of incidences were from fellow colleagues.” 

CSP microaggressions campaign webpage.  

Stop insulting civil servants, union tells ministers  

The head of the union for senior civil servants has urged Rishi Sunak to stop insulting officials or accusing them of trying to unseat the government. David Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, also accused the prime minister of treating civil servants like “second-class public sector workers” after the government offered them a worse pay deal than teachers and health staff. “Now, having been told you’re a lazy, woke, inefficient, remainer activist snowflake, you are also now a machiavellian genius, able to unseat ministers and undermine the settled will of government,” he told delegates to the union’s annual conference, in an apparent reference to former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab’s claims of activist civil servants trying to get rid of him. “I don’t know about you, conference, but I’ve had enough of this. At some point we need to say, ‘Enough is enough’.” 

FDA news release. The Guardian.  

MoD worker wins stress claim 

An MoD cryptographic auditor who developed severe depression and anxiety when her employer suspended her and charged her with a disciplinary offence has secured compensation for disability discrimination and personal injury. Prospect member Dawn Malloy had to wait 18 months on suspension before the MoD issued her a first written warning. During that time, occupational health reports consistently advised that she would only start to recover her mental health once the MoD resolved the disciplinary issue. The delay meant her vetting lapsed, her ill-health was exacerbated and she was unable to return to her original role. She subsequently resigned. After Prospect brought in law firm Thompsons Solicitors to advise on a personal injury case and initiated a disability discrimination employment tribunal case, both cases were settled by the MoD for ‘significant’ sums in compensation. 

Prospect news release.  

Autism worker gets payout after attack 

A UNISON member who suffered permanent arm injuries after being pushed over by a care home resident, has secured £30,000 in compensation. Elizabeth ‘Bet’ Hoyles, a 70-year-old former autism support worker, was attacked by a resident at Autism Hampshire care home in August 2018. The resulting fall left the 23-year veteran with ongoing pain in her arm and struggling with ‘debilitating psychological issues’. Prior warnings she gave management about the increased volatility of the resident’s behaviour, such as lashing out and hitting people, had gone unheeded. Mrs Hoyles, who had to take early retirement as a result of the incident, said: “I’m disgusted with how I was treated by Autism Hampshire. I received no care and support from them.” 

Thompsons Solicitors news release

Parliamentary staff at risk in crumbling buildings 

Parliamentary staff are being put at risk from crumbling buildings and need protection, Prospect has warned. Responding to the Public Accounts Committee report on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, Prospect union general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Parliament is the workplace for thousands of people, who - as the report makes clear, and as unions have warned for years - face an increasing risk of ‘catastrophic consequences’ if those in charge continue to delay vital repair work.” He said the inaction “is reckless, hazardous and a failure in the employer's duty of care,” adding: “If MPs will not seek to protect the staff of the House - on whom they depend to properly represent their constituents - they can rest assured that the trade unions will. We will not hesitate to act to protect our members in parliament if they are asked to work in a potentially unsafe building, or to continue to accept unreasonable working facilities.” 

PAC news release and report. Sky News

Teachers walk out over ‘adverse management’ 

Teachers at Gendros Primary School in Swansea walked out on 17 May, on the first of eleven planned days of strike action over ‘adverse management practices’ the union says are affecting teachers’ health and working conditions. NASUWT members say the local authority and school governors have failed to adequately address ‘management incompetence’ at the school. Neil Butler, NASUWT national official for Wales, said the union discovered an independent report following the “collapse of a botched disciplinary process” had remained unactioned for six months. “There has been an attempt to bury it. That is not acceptable,” he said. “Through NASUWT pressure the report has now finally gone to the governing body and the union calls upon governors to bring those guilty of serious failings to account.”  

NASUWT news release. Wales Online.  

RMT slams government plans for longer lorries 

Logistics union RMT has criticised government plans to permit longer lorries on UK roads. The unions comments came amid widespread warnings that the move will increase the number of fatal road accidents. Under government plans to take effect on 31 May, lorries can be a maximum of 2.05 metres longer than the current standard-sized trailer, giving a green light to lorries over 18.5 metres in length. Mirroring comments from the train drivers’ union Aslef, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was completely baffling that the government had made the announcement on longer lorries despite the fact that the climate emergency was accelerating alongside the ‘increasingly obvious managed decline’ of the rail system, including the freight sector.  

RMT news release

Two poultry workers test positive for bird flu 

Two poultry workers on the same farm in England have tested positive for bird flu after coming into contact with infected birds, according to the UK Health Security Agency. The cases were picked up through a screening programme for people who have come into close contact with the virus, though neither individual suffered symptoms and both have since tested negative. Prof Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said “we know already that the virus can spread to people following close contact with infected birds and this is why, through screening programmes like this one, we are monitoring people who have been exposed, to learn more about this risk.” The UKHSA said it believed one of the cases was not infected with avian flu, but had inhaled virus-containing material into their nose and throat that triggered a positive result on a nasal swab. 

HSA news release. The Guardian. Hazards guide to biohazards

Support the Covid safety pledge! 

Unions at all levels are being asked to work with employers to sign up to a Covid Safety Pledge. The initiative, which has strong backing from national trade union organisations, wants employers to reduce airborne transmission by: Cleaning the air through improved ventilation and the use of HEPA air filters; wearing of FFP2/FFP3 respirator masks in shared indoor air, especially necessary in badly ventilated areas and those used by infectious and vulnerable people (notably healthcare settings); and ensuring that when employees are sick they are encouraged and supported to stay at home. Trade unions, local authorities and employers are among those already signed up. 

Covid Safety Pledge and signatories.  

Directors jailed after five workers lost their lives 

Two directors of a Birmingham metal recycling firm have been jailed after five men died when a 45-tonne wall fell on them. Wayne Hawkeswood and Graham Woodhouse denied risking workers’ safety when the wall overloaded with 263 tonnes of briquettes collapsed at Shredmet. Both men were jailed for nine months and their firms fined £1.6m in total. Agency workers Almamo Jammeh, 45, Ousmane Diaby, 39, Bangally Dukureh, 55, Saibo Sillah, 42, and Mahamadou Jagana, 49, died as they cleared a bay at the recycling plant in Nechells when a 3.6m (11ft 10in) adjacent wall collapsed, burying them in hundreds of tonnes of metal. Investigators from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who brought the prosecution, described the scene in July 2016 as one of the worst they had encountered. 

HSE news release. BBC News Online.  

Company convicted after impaled worker dies 

Sheffield-based Linbrooke Services Limited has been fined £550,000 over the "foreseeable and avoidable death" of a worker who was impaled on metal piping. Matthew Mason, 20, was working at Bearsden train station in East Dunbartonshire to install a PA system when he fell to his death. The worker was attempting to free cabling which had become stuck when he fell backwards from a step ladder and was impaled on a section of piping being used as the handle on a cable drum. He was pronounced dead at the scene after the pipe pierced his side. The firm had failed to identify the risks of pulling cabling through a conduit at height, despite previously having been alerted to the issues by a subcontractor. In addition to the fine, the company was ordered to Mr Mason's family in compensation.  

COPFS news release. Daily Record. Sheffield Star


HSE site inspection blitz to target lung health  

Failure to prevent life-threatening diseases caused by dust at work is unacceptable, the the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The regulator said an inspection initiative across Great Britain, which kicked off on 15 May, will involve inspections throughout May, June and July and will focus on respiratory risks from exposure to dust. It added inspectors will be checking the control measures in place to protect workers from inhaling construction dusts including silica (Respirable Crystalline Silica/RCS), asbestos and wood dust. HSE has faced criticism for refusing to introduce a more protective standard for silica, one of the most commonly encountered and deadly site dusts. 

HSE news release.  
ACTION! Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica workplace exposure limit. 


Boss escapes jail after roof horror 

A Bradford man has been given a suspended prison sentence after an employee sustained life-threatening injuries when he fell 30-feet through a fragile roof. Fazal Subkhan, 57, was given the nine-month sentence, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to criminal health and safety breaches. It related to an incident on 25 March 2020 when Uzaifa Khan, 34, suffered a number of significant injuries including  broken ribs, wrist, elbow and pelvis and a partially collapsed lung. Father-of-two Mr Khan said the incident at a unit in Shipley, left him unable to do 95 per cent of things he did before. There was no risk assessment or safe means of access to the roof. 

HSE news release

Seafarers urged to complete port welfare survey 

Seafarers are being urged to give their views on the services and support available during visits to UK ports, in a new survey aimed at improving future maritime welfare provision. The UK Port Welfare Seafarers' Survey aims to shine a light on improvements needed to enhance seafarers' welfare. It was launched by maritime charity the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) – the umbrella charity for the UK Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. The survey focuses on gaining an insight in three main areas: shore leave, connectivity and mental health and wellbeing support. MNWB chief executive Stuart Rivers said: “Findings from the survey will be instrumental in helping to design and deliver future welfare provision for seafarers.” 

MNWB news release and welfare survey. Nautilus news release.  

International news

Australia: Sydney at a standstill as truckies protest deaths 

Sydney’s central business district was brought to a standstill on 16 May as union protesters demanded action over 301 truck driver deaths on Australia’s roads since 2016. The “unauthorised public gathering” began at about 11am, when about 100 members of the union TWU sat in the road, blocking a busy intersection. Speaking at the protest, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said: “We’re going to fight to remember the 301. For the families, for the work colleagues – we’re going to fight. This is literally life and death.” Amid the beeps and horns from the stopped traffic, the union members took a 30-second silence “in memory of the fallen”.  


Global: Narrow defeat in bid for global right to know 

Efforts supported by unions and public interest groups to reform a UN right to know treaty on the export of the most hazardous substances has narrowly failed. In total 92 governments supported the proposal to amend the Rotterdam Treaty, with only 32 voting against – but this fell just seven votes shy of the 75 per cent threshold for a rule change. The failure of the proposal, led by the Australian and Swiss governments and co-sponsored by several nations including the UK, means the Rotterdam Convention again remains paralysed by the tactics of industry and a small group of countries, that block the listing of highly hazardous substances, including chrysotile asbestos and paraquat. The proposal would have introduced a new annex allowing listing of chemicals where 75 per cent of voting countries expressed support. The current system requires ‘consensus’, which means a single nation can keep a deadly substance off the right to know list. 

ACTU news release. BWI news release.  

North Macedonia: Dangerous work hours plan condemned 

A proposed labour law amendment in North Macedonia would dramatically and dangerously increase working hours, global union confederation ITUC has warned. The rule change submitted to the Assembly of North Macedonia on 8 May would allow employers to increase working hours to 60 or even 72-hours per week. ‘Foreign, private sector actors’ are suspected of pressuring the government to make the changes, which are contrary to international labour standards, the union body said. ITUC acting general Secretary Luc Triangle, condemning the proposal in a letter to the government, said: “This legislation is dangerous. The ILO has emphasised the importance of an eight-hour day and a 48-hour week to protect workers health and safety.” He added: “The government of North Macedonia has a duty to uphold this and immediately withdraw this dangerous legislation.” 

ITUC news release and letter to the government of North Macedonia


Qatar: Unions central to World Cup stadium protections 

Union-negotiated worker representation and inspections during the construction of the Qatar World Cup facilities were key factors in protecting the migrant workforce, a report from the global construction union federation BWI has concluded. ‘Decent work for migrant workers in Qatar’ details BWI’s engagement in joint health and safety inspections on stadium and related infrastructure projects with Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC). BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson said FIFA, football’s global governing body, “should build upon these results to institutionalise joint inspection mechanisms by BWI in partnership with the host countries in future tournaments. This will help to guarantee that national and international labour standards are fully respected.”  

BWI news release and report.  

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