Proposals from ministers on zero hours contracts will fail to stem the widespread exploitation of workers, the TUC has said in its response to a government consultation. The TUC submission highlights how zero hours work is dogged by low pay, under-employment, and job and income insecurity. Half of all zero hours workers earn less than £15,000 a year, compared to 6 per cent of other employees. Threequarters of zero hours workers report that their hours change each week. These varying hours – and the unstable, irregular income they provide – make it hard for staff to organise childcare, pay monthly bills and plan ahead, says the TUC. The TUC is concerned that zero hours contracts allow employers to evade basic employment rights, while some companies pressure workers to remain available on the off-chance they will be offered work. None of the proposals contained in the government’s consultation deal with any of these problems, warns the TUC. The union body wants the government to introduce compensation, including travel costs, where shifts for zero hours workers are cancelled at short notice, as well as written contracts with guaranteed hours where a zero hours worker does regular shifts. The TUC would also like to see the government simplify employment law so that all workers get the same basic employment rights. The submission supports the government’s proposal to ban exclusivity clauses – which prevent people from working for anyone else – in employment contracts, though this recommendation on its own will fail to meet the government’s stated aim of ending the abuse of zero hours contracts. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The growth of zero hours contracts, along with other forms of precarious employment, is a key reason why working people have seen their living standards worsen significantly in recent years. These contracts are commonly associated with poverty pay, poor terms and conditions, and leave staff vulnerable to exploitation from bad bosses.” Figures released this month by the Office for National Statistics found that 582,935 workers were on the contracts in 2013 – more than double the government’s estimate. Reports have linked “precarious work” to higher rates of sickness and work-related diseases and injuries.
Ÿ More on the health and safety risks of insecure employment.
Ÿ The TUC is organising Fair Pay Fortnight from Monday 24 March to Sunday 6 April. It will be a series of events across England and Wales to raise awareness about falling living standards.
Unite has called for an urgent meeting with Crossrail contractor BFK so the company can explain the circumstances surrounding the first fatality on the £15 billion construction project. The Metropolitan Police Service confirmed the worker who died on Friday 7 March was 43-year-old Slovakian national Rene Tkacik, who was employed by a Crossrail subcontractor. He was fatally injured when he was hit by a piece of falling concrete while spraying concrete onto excavated ground to build a new crossover tunnel. Unite regional officer for Crossrail, Guy Langston, said: “Crossrail’s contractor BFK has some serious questions to answer. Unite is particularly concerned about health and safety at the site because this is not the first serious incident.” He added: “We now expect BFK to meet with Unite as a matter of urgency. The contractor must explain how it intends to do everything in its power to ensure that a tragic incident like this does not happen again.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “We expect the coalition government to pay special attention to this tragic incident. Since the Tory-led government took power there have been constant attacks on safety laws and regulations. The government should be strengthening health and safety laws, not weakening them.”
The rail union RMT has stepped up its demands for urgent government action to end the dumping human sewage on the railway tracks, saying it has the extent of the practice by train companies was unknown by ministers. Questions tabled by members of the union’s parliamentary group revealed a quarter of trains with toilets on board do have retention tanks and are discharging raw sewage. The union says the government has admitted there is no statutory protection for track workers or passengers from these discharges. According to RMT: “Track workers have repeatedly pointed out that some sections of the rail infrastructure are like an open sewer and that the human waste doesn’t simply hit the track bed, it sprays out when trains are travelling at speed posing a serious and disgusting health risk to track-based staff. Rail works have been delayed because staff have been confronted with pools of raw sewage.” The union adds: “Not only is this a filthy way of disposing of human waste, but it also poses real health risks and dangers for RMT members out there working on the tracks and in the depots.” The union says the “rotten practice should be stopped once and for all” and the train companies should be forced by the government to pay the price for upgrading the trains and employing staff to empty the tanks.
Petrochemicals giant Ineos needs to start treating its workforce with respect and ensuring no trade union officials are victimised, the union Unite has said. The union call came after an interim employment tribunal last week ruled in favour of sacked Grangemouth convenor Mark Lyon. The tribunal ruled that it was ‘likely’ that Mr Lyon, who had been a high profile union voice at the plant and advocate for improved safety, will win his case for unfair dismissal when it goes to a full tribunal. It ordered Ineos to pay his wages until the full hearing in a number of months. According to Unite, the 25-year veteran was “tried and dismissed in his absence by Ineos managers for not stopping the union commenting on media reports about fears of job losses at the plant.” Unite legal director Howard Beckett said: “We welcome this interim finding which gives Mr Lyon some financial security until the full tribunal where all the evidence will be heard. It is a shot in the arm for workers across the country and sends out a clear message that they can be a member of a trade union and represent other workers without fear of victimisation.” He added: “Ineos needs to drop its hostility to the workforce and ensure there is no victimisation of workplace representatives before the brain drain of skills at the site becomes a flood that threatens the site’s survival.”
An employee at a Tata Steel plant in Wales has secured £235,000 in compensation after a serious incident at work which almost cost him his leg. The 54-year-old Unite member was called to an area of the factory where containers of molten steel were moved short distances along miniature rail tracks, in order to right a container which had derailed. Working with colleagues, four jacks - each weighing around 400kg - were placed under the container to raise it back onto its rungs, but one of them wasn't properly fastened and slipped from under the loaded container and struck the man, fracturing his lower leg. He was unable to work for a year and has since been seconded into a different, less physically demanding position within the company. A union-backed compensation claim secured the six figure payout. Andy Richards, Wales regional secretary for Unite, said: “There were steps that could and should have been taken by Tata Steel to prevent this accident. And, what is more, a series of similar, but thankfully less serious, accidents before this one were ignored by Tata Steel which meant their workers’ lives were being put at risk,” adding he hoped the case “will help spur Tata Steel and others who think they can ignore warning signs to take health and safety much more seriously.”
A call from MPs for an end to Network Rail’s bonus culture has been welcomed by rail union TSSA. The House of Commons transport select committee last week also condemned the rail giant’s deadly blame the victim approach on level crossing safety, an observation that prompted an apology from Network Rail for its “past failings in managing public safety at level crossings and for its past behaviour towards bereaved families.” Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “We welcome the apology being offered by Network Rail and will be watching closely to see that they now deliver on their pledges in substance. In future when tragedies occur there should be no heavy handed representation at inquests, and there will need to be much better use of language so that accident victims are not branded as being responsible for their own deaths.” She added: “Risk assessments will need to be more robust and fully transparent as part of efforts by the sector and the regulator to adopt and work hard to deliver a zero fatalities target by 2020.” Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union which led the campaign for the Commons Transport select committee to set up the enquiry, said: “We wholeheartedly back the committee's demand that the six figure annual and long term bonuses should now be cancelled but we would also ask the transport secretary to go further and also cancel three £300,000 retention bonuses due to paid on April 1 on top of those bonuses.” TSSA also welcomed the committee’s demand for stronger action from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), with the union accusing ORR of “treating Network Rail with kid gloves.” Manuel Cortes said: “Only three prosecutions in the past ten years for level crossing failures is simply not tough enough or robust enough if the rail regulator is serious about wanting to radically change this poor safety culture then the regulation of safety and finance need to be separated.”
Ÿ ITV News.
Fire authorities across England and Wales are at “crisis point” as government funding cuts have left them unable to respond to national emergencies, local authorities have warned. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said fire authorities are starting the new financial year with a third less cash from central government than four years ago. And a further 10 per cent cut has been earmarked for 2015/16 - forcing councils to make more “tough decisions.” LGA's fire services management committee chair Kay Hammond warned that further funding cuts could impact heavily on the ability of the 46 fire services in England and Wales to perform effectively. She said LGA’s modelling “shows that further funding cuts in 2015/16 and beyond could start to impact on their ability to deliver this effective firefighting, rescue operations and community safety. The reality is that fire services are reaching the limit of efficiency savings and the next few years will be very challenging for them all.” She said: “If fire and rescue services are expected to keep playing a key role in national resilience, then they must be given the funding to do so effectively.” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack commented: “The LGA are right to say that fire and rescue services must be given the funding to play a key, continued role in national resilience. But it’s clear that across the country cuts are already slowing emergency response times, impacting on critical services and endangering lives.” He added: “All of us working in fire and rescue and local government must stand together to save fire and rescue services and convince central government to provide adequate funding for brigades.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
Victims of the fatal asbestos-induced cancer mesothelioma who can’t trace a liable employer or an employers’ liability insurer will from April be able to apply for compensation packages worth an average of £123,000. The government last week increased the average payout from the initial £115,000 debated in the House of Commons in January “after making savings in the administration costs of the scheme.” It says around 3,500 victims of the incurable cancer or their families can apply for compensation from next month. Work and pensions minister Mike Penning said: “This will end years of injustice for mesothelioma victims and their families – who have had to endure this terrible disease with little hope of any compensation from the insurance industry. We have made it an absolute priority to bring in the scheme as soon as legislation will allow, so I am pleased to announce that victims will be able to apply for payments from next month.” However, the payouts are still 20 per cent short of the average from a normal civil claim. Adrian Budgen, head of the asbestos team at personal injury law from Irwin Mitchell, said “whilst we welcome the increase there is still a significant shortfall from what victims would be entitled to receive in a civil compensation settlement. The cap is particularly hard to understand when the Financial Services Compensation Scheme provides 90 per cent compensation, where the insurer is in liquidation.” When the mesothelioma scheme was discussed by MPs earlier this year, Labour MP Nick Brown commented: “Compensation should be 100 per cent of what is due. Victims, within a few months, are going to be 100 per cent dead, so 100 per cent compensation does not seem unreasonable” (Risks 637).
A man from who spent years working as a caretaker in schools across Hampshire died as a result of asbestos exposure, an inquest has fund. Graham Gale died aged 62 on 24 November last year. He had been suffering from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. In his statement read out at the hearing Mr Gale gave a long and detailed description of his years working with asbestos materials while working for Hampshire County Council, Southampton City Council and Eastleigh Borough Council. “I recall rubbing down guttering and pipes in preparation for them to be repainted,” he wrote. “The majority of council homes had asbestos and a great deal of dust was created. I was never provided with a mask.” He added he was also exposed while at Mountbatten School in Romsey. “I was responsible for making sure the ceiling tiles were cleaned or fixed if they were broken,” he noted. “It had a great deal of asbestos within it; the boilers were lined with asbestos as was the water tank.” Recording a verdict of death from industrial disease, assistant coroner Sarah Whitby, said: “I have no doubt Mr Gale died as a result of industrial disease.”
Ÿ Daily Echo.
An investigation has been launched following the death of a young bar worker after an incident at a pub in Swansea. The 20-year-old male member of staff at the Walkabout pub was seriously injured the incident, which took place in the early hours Monday, 24 February. He died in hospital on 28 February. Press reports say the incident took place in the area of the premise’s lift. A Walkabout spokesperson said: “Our biggest concern is always for the safety of all our customers and staff and we are working with the emergency services and Swansea Council to find out exactly what happened.” A spokesperson for South Wales Police said: “We are working with Swansea Council to jointly investigate the circumstances of a work-related death at the Walkabout bar in Wind Street, Swansea. A 20-year-old male member of staff sustained serious injuries in an incident during February, 24, and died in hospital on Friday, February 28. Next of kin and HM Coroner have been informed.” Bars are not subject to preventive unannounced health and safety inspections under the government’s deregulatory plans.
A Midlands heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer has been fined £150,000 after a worker was crushed to death while working in its warehouse. Ronald Meese, 58, a production supervisor for Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd, had been stacking three-metre-long metal tubes in the warehouse in Wednesbury, when the incident happened on 27 July 2011. With the aid of a forklift truck, he had created several stacks, but as he left his cab to set down timber pieces for the next bundle of tubes to rest on, one of the stacks, weighing a tonne, collapsed onto him. Paramedics were called but Mr Meese was pronounced dead at the scene. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that there were no restraints nor any racking to support the tube stacks and the timber used to separate them were not a standard size. The source of the timber used for the task was not controlled by the company. Mr Meese, who had been with the company for 34 years, was a trained forklift truck driver but neither he nor his colleagues had been given specific training or instruction on stacking the tube bundles. There was also no risk assessment in relation to the task. At Wolverhampton Crown Court, Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd was fined £150,000 for a criminal safety offence and ordered to pay £33,000 costs. Speaking after the hearing, Mr Meese’s sister Valerie Whitehouse said: “Our grief is exacerbated by the fact that we would still have Ronnie if safety standards had been implemented and adhered to at Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd. We cannot ever forgive them for allowing the circumstances to exist which resulted in the death of our much loved Ronnie and denying him and our family the happy future we were all looking forward to, but is no longer possible.” HSE inspector Carol Southerd added: “Had storage racks been in use in this instance, Mr Meese would still be alive today.”
A Preston building firm has been convicted of criminal safety offences and fined £130,000 over the death of a worker outside a cinema in Ashton-on-Ribble. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted EMC Contracts Ltd after father-of-one Carl Green was struck by a reversing van in a paved area outside the entrance to the Odeon Cinema on 27 July 2010. The 45-year-old painter from Chorley had been working on a project to fit out a new coffee shop in the cinema when the incident happened. He died from his injuries on the way to hospital. During an eight-day-trial, Preston Crown Court was told EMC Contracts had been hired for a five-week project to fit a coffee shop in the foyer area of the cinema. One of EMC’s employees had unloaded his van of construction materials and was reversing it to park up outside the cinema when it struck Mr Green, who was crossing behind it. An HSE investigation found the company did not have any control measures in place to keep vehicles involved in the construction work away from pedestrians outside the cinema. The company had written a method statement for the work, which identified the risk of pedestrians being injured by vehicles as a main hazard. However, they failed to state what measures should be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk. Emma Prescott, the mother of Mr Green’s teenage daughter, Morgan, said: “She should be doing all the lovely things children do with their dads but she can’t. Both our lives have been turned upside down and they will never be the same again.” EMC Contracts Ltd, which is in voluntary liquidation, was found guilty of two criminal safety offences and fined £130,000 and ordered to pay £52,790 in prosecution costs.
A builder has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after two labourers sustained second degree chemical burns after working knee-deep in wet concrete for more than four hours at a development in south-west London. One of the workers, who does not wish to be named, required skin grafts to both ankles as a result of his prolonged contact with the material at the site in East Sheen on 6 October 2010. He and his colleague were left in severe discomfort after working as casual labourers for principal contractor Geoffrey Cinko, 55, on a project to demolish five garages and erect two semi-detached homes in their place. Mr Cinko was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found he failed in his duty of care as an employer to ensure suitable instructions, personal protective equipment and welfare facilities were provided. The wet concrete was poured into an excavation and the labourers had to wade in it to evenly distribute and smooth the material before it was left to set. Some three hours into the work one of the workers complained of severe pain to his legs, exited the concrete, and attempted to find welfare facilities to wash the concrete off his legs. However, no adequate welfare facilities were available. The labourers continued working in varying depths of concrete up to just below their knees for at least another hour before they finished. Both had to seek hospital treatment that evening after experiencing painful burning sensations around their ankles and lower legs. They were diagnosed with chemical burns and were unable to return to work. Geoffrey Cinko was convicted of a criminal safety offence and fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector James Hickman commented: “He fell well short of the required standards expected of a competent principal contractor, and I hope his conviction sends a clear message to others.”
Before you buy a new laptop, phone or tablet you should think about the effect on those who make them. In Europe regulation has given workers some level of protection against hazards and stronger unions help stop some of the worst health and safety abuses. But overwhelmingly your electronic gizmos are not produced in well-regulated economies with strong unions; the risks in their manufacture have been exported. A short film has been produced that outlines the human cost of a mobile phone. The main characters in ‘Who pays the price?’ are young workers, many of them teenagers in China’s electronics factories who are struggling to get compensation after being injured or poisoned. The workers are filmed in hospitals, hotel rooms and at home in their villages where they often return after being discarded by their employers. In some cases these debilitating incidents have happened after the workers – who receive virtually no training regarding the hazards – have only been in their jobs for days or weeks.
An Australian power company is being urged to roll out lifesaving defibrillators immediately, bringing safety standards for their predominantly rural and regional workforce in line with urban power companies. The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in New South Wales commissioned independent research that found portable defibrillators provide an effective, affordable, reliable method to prevent accidental deaths among the thousands of workers who carry out dangerous maintenance and repair work on the state’s electricity poles and wires. While power companies Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy both responded with an immediate move towards rolling out of the devices across their entire service area, another company, Essential Energy - which operates the electricity network across 95 per cent of NSW - only agreed to trial 20 defibrillators. ETU NSW assistant secretary Neville Betts said staff were furious that, despite regional power workers being at greater risk of preventable deaths caused by electric shocks, Essential Energy was continuing to drag its heels. “This is a company that has thousands of employees maintaining more than 200,000 kilometres of powerlines across the state - often in places far from emergency services - yet they are being denied a lifesaving device that has already been provided to their city counterparts,” he said. “It’s time Essential Energy ended this farcical trial and committed to an immediate and full rollout of this proven safety equipment across their network.” The union leader said that of all the electricity distribution companies in NSW, Essential Energy had the worst fatality rate.
Garment factories in Bangladesh have faced their first independent safety audits since the union-brokered safety accord took effect. The Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was signed on 13 May 2013, in response to the Rana Plaza factory building collapse on 24 April 2013, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 workers. Signatories agreed to independent structural, fire and electrical inspections and to implement the safety improvements identified by the inspections. The newly published reports of the first inspections identified widespread safety shortcomings in garment factories, including the need to reduce the total load in certain areas through moving material, stock, or supplies and improvements to electrical safety and maintenance procedures. Head of UNI Commerce Alke Boessiger, a member of the Bangladesh Accord Steering Committee, said: “Since UNI and IndustriALL challenged brands eleven months ago to sign an agreement that would improve safety and sustainability in Bangladesh’s garment industry, we’ve recruited more than 150 brands, set up an entire management structure, employed the necessary staff and begun inspecting factories.” She added: “The detailed reports published today are designed to help owners and workers alike. They are the first of their kind and will improve a worker’s ability to be informed about safety at their workplace.” Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, added: “The inspection reports contain an unprecedented level of detail and sets a new standard in transparency and credibility. The reports provide the necessary measures for the continuous work to make the Bangladesh garment industry safe and sustainable.” Signatories to the legally binding accord include global brands and retailers from 20 countries.
A leaked document from the December 2013 round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations exposes the extent of chemical industry influence over secretive ongoing US-EU trade negotiations, independent researchers have found. Their report says chemical industry proposals to TTIP would have a ‘chilling effect’ on the regulatory environment, slowing down the implementation of precautionary decisions on toxic chemicals, undermining democratic decision-making and stifling the innovation of safer alternatives. The report published this week by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and ClientEarth says the leaked proposal from two chemical industry lobby groups, the American Chemistry Council and the European Chemical Industry Council, would damage future protective legislation on toxic chemicals. “This proposal illustrates two huge and interrelated problems with TTIP,” said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney for the CIEL, “the privileged position of industry to craft language in the trade agreement without public input, and the unlimited potential of TTIP to affect the ability of countries to regulate on toxic chemicals, energy and climate change, food and agriculture, and other critical issues.” ClientEarth lawyer Vito Buonsante warned: “The overriding theme of the proposals is secrecy. The industry wants to restrict the transparency of information, which is essential if people are to make choices about what they expose themselves to. They also want to undermine the democratic process by putting decision making in the hands of industry dominated committees.” The report says the leaked chemical industry proposals would have a particularly damaging effect on legislation concerning chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
Ÿ Toxic partnership: A critique of the ACC-CEFIC proposal for trans-Atlantic cooperation on chemicals, ClientEarth/CIEL’s joint report, March 2014.
Ÿ Leaked document from the December 2013 round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.
Ÿ The Guardian.
The selective promotion of scientific research to steer policy-making is a murky business, particularly as “the battle for the ear of the piper between big business and the ‘little guy’, who is often affected by pollution or hazardous substances, is so asymmetric,” a Nature editorial has warned. The article cites the ongoing controversy in the US over a much delayed occupational silica dust exposure standard. As part of a consultation, US safety regulator OSHA asked that people submitting scientific comments to the agency should declare financial conflicts of interest. According to OSHA head David Michaels, this might be the first time that any federal agency has made such a request. “There is a broad consensus in favour of transparency about funding sources,” he said. However, a group of powerful US senators has come out against the idea that such a declaration should be part of federal rule-making. They suggest that OSHA might “prejudge the substance” of comments on the basis of such disclosures. It is not a view accepted by Nature, the editorial noting: “Transparency is the best defence against the purchase of undue influence by those with the most financial clout. In areas where tough standards are needed to protect public health, and powerful and wealthy interests have a financial incentive to water down these standards, such transparency is more than desirable - it is essential, and history demonstrates that.” It adds: “Rather than challenging OSHA for requesting conflict-of-interest disclosures, US politicians should be asking why all federal agencies do not require them. After all, it is easier to the follow the money, and to make the proper decision, when all details are on full show.”
Ÿ Full disclosure: Regulatory agencies must demand conflict-of-interest statements for the research they use. Editorial, Nature, 507, issue 7490, page 8, 6 March 2014.
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