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The TUC has warned companies there will be “no hiding place” if they exploit their workers. General secretary Frances O'Grady told delegates at TUC’s annual conference in Brighton that mistreatment of the workforce is becoming more widespread in the UK. She warned “greedy” businesses that the TUC would “shine a light on you”. The union leader told delegates: “Sports Direct may be in the spotlight now, but they are not the only ones. There are other big companies that bring shame on our country. So let me give fair warning to any greedy business that treats its workers like animals - we will shine a light on you.” She added: “Run a big brand with a dirty little secret? A warehouse of people paid less than the minimum wage? A fleet of couriers who are slaves to an app? Let me put you on notice. There will be no hiding place. We will organise and we will win.” A union-led campaign succeeded this month in getting commitments from sportswear chain Sports Direct to improve employment conditions, including a step back from zero hours contracts and a revision of its highly criticised disciplinary policy (Risks 767). The TUC leader said the firm's promise to abolish zero-hours contracts for its directly employed, casual retail staff - and to make sure all staff were paid above the national minimum wage - was down to “trade union shareholder power”, adding: "Britain's unions will not rest until every worker gets the fair treatment they deserve.” She said the decision by pub chain Wetherspoons to allow all staff on zero hours contracts to move to guaranteed minimum hours after trialling the idea in parts of the business “proves that businesses can be successful without zero hours contracts”. Unite this week called for a ban on zero hours contracts after new official statistics showed a 21 per cent increase in the number of people saying they work on a zero hours basis as their main job. Lecturers’ union UCU said its figures suggested half (49 per cent) of teaching staff in UK universities are employed on some form of insecure contract. “People would be shocked to learn that the types of contracts they associate with Sports Direct are being used to employ the people who teach their children,” said UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.
TUC news releases on holding firms to account and the Wetherspoons zero hours move and new report, Taking the temperature of the post-Brexit economy. Unite news release. UCU news release. Office for National Statistics figures. BBC News Online. The Guardian.
‘Ridiculous’ dress codes imposed by some employers are both sexist and bad for women’s health, unions have warned. Commenting on a resolution agreed at this week’s TUC conference, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We need common sense when it comes to dress codes, not outdated sexist policies. It is ridiculous that so many employers still insist their female staff wear high heels and make-up in 2016.” She added: “Regularly wearing high heels increases wear and tear on knee joints and can lead to back problems. They should be a choice, not a condition of the job.” A motion from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCP) noted the issue of sexist dress codes had been a long-time concern to unions, with a requirement to wear high heels a particular bugbear. Union delegates agreed the law should “be changed to enable people to not be compelled to wear high heels at work.” The TUC last month initiated its own investigation into ‘blatant sexism’ related to work clothing (Risks 764), including stipulations to wear high heels or lose your pay (Risks 751) and the provision of ill-fitting, unsuitable person protective equipment (PPE) for women workers (Risks 757).
Sexual harassment at work is a major under-reported problem in Britain’s workplaces, the TUC’s annual conference has heard. Delegated agreed unanimously an emergency motion calling for measures to stamp out sexual harassment at work after hearing two-thirds of young women had been directly affected. Prospect deputy general secretary Sue Ferns, who moved the motion prompted by the TUC’s August 2016 report ‘Still Just a Bit of Banter?’, highlighted the ‘everyday nature’ of the harassment, and cited her union’s campaign (Risks 757) to address the problem of women being required to wear ill-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE). Women frequently receive derogatory comments simply for wearing required work-wear, she said. Shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett, who seconded the motion, said despite an ‘unequivocal message’ from union reps that harassment has no place whatsoever in the 21st century workplace, “sexual harassment persists and continues to damage the working lives of most women workers. So we fully support the call for urgent action to promote respect and dignity, ridding every workplace of violence, abuse and harassment.” The ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ study published in August by the TUC in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project found more than half (52 per cent) of women - and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of women aged 18-24 years old - report experiencing sexual harassment at work (Risks 764).
Prospect news release. Usdaw news release. TUC guide to your rights on sexual harassment, union reps’ guide to addressing sexual harassment and report, Still just a bit of banter? Everyday Sexism Project and ‘shouting back’ platform.
A longstanding PCS activist who was fired by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in February 2013 ostensibly on the grounds of his sickness record, has returned to work following his reinstatement. Lee Rock, who has ongoing health conditions, was fired three and a half years ago, after 27 years' service for DWP and its predecessors, following a final written warning issued because of his underlying health problems. At the time of his dismissal for 'unsatisfactory attendance' Lee had taken only one sick day in the previous six months. After exhausting internal DWP review procedures, Lee was dismissed. A PCS-backed employment tribunal case was then lodged, citing grounds of unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and discrimination for trade union activity. Members who had worked alongside Lee at Sheffield Contact Centre also took official strike action in protest at his sacking. According to PCS: “We are clear that Lee would not have been dismissed for his level of sickness if he was not a well-known rep. He remained an elected officer of the DWP Sheffield Branch throughout his period of dismissal. Our concerns were supported by the fact that his trade union activity was unnecessarily and inappropriately referred to in the department's recommendation for dismissal.” The tribunal found that Lee had been unfairly dismissed and upheld, in part, the claim of disability discrimination. Although the union victimisation element of the claim was not upheld the judgment accepted this aspect of the claim was “not without merit.” Following the ruling, DWP agreed to reinstate Lee, who this month returned to work. The union anticipates a compensation payment will follow. “This is a victory for all PCS members, and will be welcomed by members, not just in Sheffield, or DWP, but throughout our union,” PCS said.
The collapse this month of a huge steel structure on a prestigious road building project and another incident where a mechanical roadworking machine overturned has raised serious safety concerns, the construction union UCATT has warned. The union said ‘such huge breaches of health and safety’ on the high profile £750m Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) project ‘are deeply worrying as they threaten workers’ lives.’ The AWPR consortium of contractors which includes Carillion, Galliford Try and Balfour Beatty appear to have tried to hush up the incidents, the union claimed. It said the UCATT convenor on site was not informed of the incidents, with the human resources department claiming this was an oversight. UCATT said ‘scared’ workers brought the accidents to the attention of local media, which has reported that some workers have quit for fear of their lives. UCATT regional secretary Steve Dillon, said: “I’m shocked, not only at the scale of the accidents but the behaviour of the contractor.” He added: “You would imagine that not only safety would be top notch but that the behaviour of such eminent contractors would be commensurate with the prestige of the project. We want answers to not only why our members’ lives were put in jeopardy but why our convenor was kept completely in the dark. These constructors know how the industry works – and currently both health and safety, and industry protocol on the AWPR are being flouted. This must be rectified.” The UCATT official said: “One of the major problems is that there is a safety committee but it’s not being used in compliance with health and safety regulation. It was not informed of these events. Therefore the committee is not carrying out its function properly – and the result is serious accidents.”
A Nottinghamshire rail worker who suffered a hand injury while working on railway repairs has received a £15,000 payout in a union-backed claim. Unite member Trevor Allen, 65, was attempting to use a planing machine, which is used to shape a rail track, when he was injured. The weight of the rail was too heavy for him to place it safely onto the machine, so he was using a strap to help position it and a clip to hold it in place once the strap was removed. However, as he placed his hand under the rail to remove the strap, the clip slipped, causing the rail to tilt and hit Trevor’s left hand. He was taken to hospital with cuts to his fingers, with further examination establishing he had suffered a fracture to his hand that needed surgery. The injury meant he had to have more than three months off work and he continues to suffer pain in his hand even though he retired 18 months ago. Trevor said: “My hand continues to cause me issues, which is upsetting but the compensation will help pay for any treatments I might need going forward.” Unite legal officer Kevin Hepworth said: “Trevor was an experienced member of staff who had worked on the railway from a very young age, so it’s hugely disappointing that the final years of his career were blighted by an avoidable injury. When working with heavy objects, employees should be provided with adequate equipment to make sure they’re protected from harm, but clearly in this instance that wasn’t the case.” He added: “As a member of the union, Trevor was fully covered for us to have experts step in and fight for him to be properly compensated.”
The last body missing in the rubble of Didcot Power Station has been removed from the site. A guard of honour was formed as the body of John Shaw, 61, was taken away early on the morning of 11 September. He is the last of four victims to be located under the rubble after the power station’s boiler house collapsed on 23 February. Members of the emergency services, and representatives of site owners RWE and the four workers’ employer, contractor Coleman and Company, were in the guard of honour. It followed the recovery of the bodies of Ken Cresswell, 57, on 8 September, and Christopher Huxtable, 34, on 31 August. The three men had been missing since the partial collapse of the structure almost seven months ago, when it was due for demolition. The death of a fourth man, Michael Collings, 53, was confirmed shortly after a major incident was declared at the site. After the final body was recovered, Thames Valley Police said: “His family has been informed and are being supported by specially trained police Family Liaison Officers. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time. A joint Thames Valley Police and Health Safety Executive (HSE) investigation is ongoing to establish the circumstances of his death.”
A powerful UK government committee is to hold an inquiry into the grounding of the Transocean Winner rig which hit rocks in the Western Isles in August (Risks 764). Representatives of Transocean could be hauled before the Transport Select Committee after it agreed to look into the incident. The move came the day after the UK government confirmed that it would not be carrying out a risk assessment into the need for a second emergency tug to cover the west coast of Scotland. Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf branded the decision “disappointing and frustrating”. Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, who wrote to Transport Select Committee chair Louise Ellman following the grounding to request that Transocean be called before a committee hearing, said: “I also hope that the Transport Select Committee will focus on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) refusing to have another tug in Stornoway, and I will be writing to them to ask that, as part of this hearing, they examine the MCA, who seem to be playing ‘King Canute’ to the Transocean Winner being washed up on Dalmore Beach.” Until 2012, Scotland had two Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) available to help ships in trouble off the north and west coasts, with two more patrolling other parts of the UK coast. Speaking immediately after the grounding of the Transocean Winner, which was assisted by the UK’s last operational ETV, Mark Dickinson, general secretary of the seafarers’ union Nautilus, said: “If the ETV had not been available then lives would have been at risk and the chances of environmental damage would have been greatly increased” (Risks 761). The union leader added: “I hope the government looks closely at this incident and reconsiders the risk for other coastal areas of the UK not served by government-funded ETVs.” The union has run a lengthy campaign highlighting the crucial safety role provided by these vessels (Risks 587). The four ETVs were introduced after the Braer and Sea Empress tanker disasters, but three were withdrawn following the 2010 public spending review.
A new study could pave the way for significant improvements in the health, safety and welfare of workers in the global container port industry. The Cardiff University research, commissioned the global transport unions’ federation ITF and UK safety professionals’ organisation IOSH, identifies continuing dangers, causes for concern, and flaws in the behavioural management systems commonly employed by operators. The researchers were granted unique workplace access by six major port and global network terminal operators. ITF president and chair of its dockers’ section, Paddy Crumlin, said the study identified key challenges, including “differences between the perception of workers and management over the implementation of OHS [occupational health and safety] policies, as well as the significant value of worker and union participation in the development and implementation of those policies.” Welcoming the participation of major container companies in the study, he added: “We will actively seek the industry’s cooperation in tackling these problems. The simple fact is that you can’t put a price on dockworkers’ lives. We also strongly recommend that these significant findings are taken into consideration by the ILO (International Labour Organisation) Meeting of Technical Experts that will work on the revision of the ILO Code of Practice on Safety and Heath in Ports in Geneva this November.” He concluded: “This major, collaborative research project points the way to what can be a safer future for container port workers. We invite all companies to walk that route together.” Report co-author David Walters, professor of work environment at Cardiff University, said the report “shows in particular that there remain very different levels of protection of workers in different jobs, under different employment arrangements and in different terminals in different countries.” He added: “Unsurprisingly, it shows that the national regulatory and labour relations contexts in which the terminals are situated also play a significant role in determining workers’ experiences of occupational safety and health.”
ITF news release. Experiences of arrangements for health, safety and welfare in the global container terminal industry, full report and summary, Cardiff University, IOSH/ITF, September 2016. IOSH container terminals webpage.
MPs could move out of the Houses of Parliament for six years if they back a parliamentary committee's recommendation to temporarily decant so restoration work can take place. The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster has recommended that MPs move into the nearby Department of Health with peers going to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. The move, which is thought to have the support of the prime minister, will be subject to a parliamentary vote. A study by Deloitte last year highlighted the appalling condition of the Palace of Westminster, with potentially deadly fire risks, collapsing roofs, crumbling walls, leaking pipes and large quantities of asbestos. The committee report noted restoration work “is further complicated by the significant amount of asbestos present throughout the Palace. Asbestos is believed to be in almost every vertical riser, as well as in many plant rooms, corridors and under-floor voids. This adds greatly to the complexity, cost and timetable of much of the necessary work.” The committee said the costs of doing this work would be considerably lower if the premises were vacated. Responding to the report, Harminder Bains of law firm Leigh Day said the government should give the same priority to the removal of asbestos in schools and workplaces.
G4S Cash Solutions (UK) Limited has been fined £1.8 million for failing to protect workers from the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. In June, the firm pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court to two related criminal safety offences. It was fined at a September sentencing hearing, where it was also ordered to pay costs of around £34,000. Harlow Council environmental health officers inspected G4S's Harlow site in October 2013 after receiving a report that a Harlow resident had contracted Legionellosis, a pneumonia-type condition. The resident worked at the site and although it was never confirmed that the disease was contracted from the site, a serious lack of compliance with the legally required level of water system maintenance was apparent. The council inspection found that the monitoring and testing of systems was erratic, staff had received inadequate training, and there were no up-to-date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building's water systems. G4S did not take the steps required to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems and this was despite a long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from their own consultants and advice from Harlow Council. Following the court sentencing, Harlow councillor Danny Purton, who holds the environment portfolio, said: “The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority and the council will always encourage employers to make improvements that protect their workers.” He added: “Although some improvements were made eventually, it had taken G4S almost three years from the date of a risk assessment in 2012 to reach minimum standards to protect its staff and visitors from exposure to Legionella bacteria.”
Valero Energy UK Limited has been fined £400,000 following a serious injury at its Pembroke Refinery. Judge Peter Heywood sitting at Swansea Crown Court heard the access tower walkway that provided gangway access to a stationary oil tanker on 5 March 2012 had dropped 3.5 metres, causing operator David Thomas to be trapped by a slack wire rope. The 55-year-old was left dangling over the side of the walkway but used his experience as a rock climber to grab a cross beam to take the weight from his legs. He was rescued by his fellow workers and was later flown to Swansea's Morriston hospital where he spent 17 days. He suffered fractures and lacerations to both legs and a dislocated knee, requiring a knee replacement. Rupert Lowe, prosecuting, said the poor design of the access walkway had caused the incident. He said a maintenance firm employed by Valero had reported various issues and had warned of “a potentially fatal accident waiting to happen.” An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found multiple failings leading up to the incident. Among the list of criminal shortcomings, the company had failed to carry out adequate investigations into previous related incidents in September 2011, February 2011 and August 2010. Valero Energy UK Limited - previously known as Chevron - pleaded guilty to a single criminal safety charge at an earlier hearing. It was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £60,614. Judge Peter Heywood said while the equipment had significant design problems, Valero had failed to act after a series of incidents, adding the “strident” warning from the maintenance firm had proved to be true. HSE inspector Andrew Knowles said: “It was particularly disappointing to find that although the company knew there had been problems with the operation of the access tower the company had failed to investigate these properly and had relied on changes to instructions, rather than taking action to modify the defective hardware, as required by the hierarchy of risk control.” He added: “This was even more surprising in view of the fact that the company operates a major hazard refinery site where you would expect such problems to be taken more seriously and effectively investigated, with suitable corrective actions implemented.”
The firefighters’ union FBU says occupational cancer is a ‘serious threat’ for firefighters. In response, the union has produced an initial guidance document which highlights the basic principles to follow to prevent unnecessary contamination with smoke, fumes, chemicals and other hazardous substances before, during and after incidents. The union says FBU officials will be asked to raise these issues with management and at health and safety committee meetings. It adds that some fire and rescue authorities have already taken steps to address the problem, but says ‘our aim is that it will soon be on the agenda in every brigade.’ The union says its publication, which includes a 10-point action plan, is only initial advice. “The FBU is looking at medium and longer term options,” it notes. “As a member you can start to make a difference today by adopting the principles suggested in this document.”
Public Health England has published what the TUC describes as a ‘really useful set of health and work infographics’, in collaboration with The Work Foundation. Most of the statistics are for the UK, rather than England only. The new resources include several mentions of ‘presenteeism’, with Britain’s working wounded coming at an annual cost to the economy estimated at £30 billion. The focus of the PHE infographics is primarily on the impact of health on work, with far less emphasis given to the impact of work on health, with no mention of big work-related killers like occupational cancer and occupational lung disease.
Pressure on West Australia’s state government to take the mental health dangers to the army of fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) miners has escalated as family members of two workers who took their own lives presented a 4,800-signature petition demanding action. The union AMWU supported Sharon Johnson and Peter Miller when they went to the West Australia (WA) parliament to hand the petition to MP Graham Jacobs, who led the parliamentary inquiry into FIFO mental health that reported more than a year ago and that was prompted by a spate of suicides. AMWU state secretary Steve McCartney condemned the WA government’s “negligent failure to implement any of the key recommendations of its own FIFO committee”, which called for a new FIFO code of practice to be adopted by all WA mine operators. Sharon Johnson, whose husband Anthony died last year, urged the state administration to force mining companies to adopt a code that addressed rosters, fatigue, depression, workplace culture and improved accommodation with good communications with the outside world. “Nothing has been done and these corporations aren’t going to go out of their way to make these changes unless it’s legislated and they are made to do it,” she said. “We have a blueprint, a solution, so why is nothing happening? How many more do we have to lose?” Last year’s report recommended the state government change the law to ensure health and safety requirement apply to workers while off-duty at FIFO camps, not just on the job. AMWU’s Steve McCartney said rosters forcing employees to stay away from home too long were still used despite roster reform being the first recommendation of the inquiry. He said: “Reform is desperately needed in the FIFO sector, and yet the state government has abandoned hard working Western Australians and continues to put the big end of town first.” He said workers with depression didn’t own up for fear of the sack, with some not taking prescribed anti-depressants because they might be detected in workplace drug testing.
The deaths of at least 31 workers in a 10 September fire at the Tampoco Foil factory in Bangladesh shows the ‘callous disregard’ of the Bangladesh government for workers’ safety, the global union confederation ITUC has charged. It added that also to blame for the tragedy was the failure of multinational companies doing business with the factory to take responsibility for the lives of workers in their supply chains. The workers died when a boiler exploded in the factory building, an old structure to which extra floors had been added, spreading fire and eventually causing the building to collapse. The cramped building, full of flammable materials, was entirely unsuitable for a factory, and according to information received by the ITUC, had only one working exit. Factory owner Syed Mokbul Hussain, a former member of parliament, is being sued by the parents of one of the deceased, for culpable homicide. Major multinational companies, including British American Tobacco, Mondelez and Nestlé have been publicly named as using the factory in their supply chains. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “These global brands all claim to have strict supplier standards to protect workers from just this kind of tragedy. When companies make bogus claims to regulators and shareholders there are real sanctions, but when it comes to protecting workers’ lives there are no legal consequences.” She added: “There is no substitute for the rule of law; however, even the most basic right for workers to form unions to protect their rights and safety is routinely suppressed by the Bangladesh government. Yet again, the need for legal accountability and compliance across global supply chains is evident and we call on governments, starting with the G20, to make this a reality as a matter of urgency.”
After four years of campaigning and protracted negotiations, an agreement has been reached to pay compensation in excess of US$5 million to the survivors and families of workers killed in Pakistan’s worst industrial disaster. On 11 September 2012, more than 250 workers lost their lives and over 50 were injured in a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi. Workers were burned to death trapped behind barred windows and locked doors. Others jumped for their lives from the upper floors, sustaining permanent disabilities. German retailer KiK, Ali Enterprises’ only known buyer, has now agreed to pay an additional US$5.15 million to fund loss of earnings, medical and allied care, and rehabilitation costs to the injured survivors and dependants of those killed. Previously KiK paid US$1 million to a relief fund after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pakistani labour organisation PILER in December 2012 (Risks 590). In the MoU, KiK also committed to funding long-term compensation for victims. However, it has taken joint campaigning by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), PILER, the global union IndustriALL, Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and other allies including the global union UNI, to secure proper compensation. The talks were facilitated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at the request of the German government. Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the NTUF, said: “After four years of struggle the victims of this tragedy get justice and their pain and suffering are acknowledged internationally. We are thankful to IndustriALL and CCC who represented the workers’ case successfully. The ILO has also played a vital role to make this landmark agreement possible. Let it remind us that safety in the workplace is a right, not a privilege.”
A new US chemical safety law has triggered an immediate response from chemical producers – a helter-skelter rush to ensure their favourites are the back of the queue for official scrutiny. The Frank R Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century, passed into law in June this year, gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority needed to evaluate and regulate the tens of thousands of commercial chemicals it oversees in the US. The new law was hailed as a more transparent ‘new risk-based safety standard’, replacing the Toxic Substances Control Act’s (TSCA) cost-benefit analysis that required EPA to include commercial considerations when deciding on chemical restrictions. “But many industry group comments suggest we’ve not heard the last of the old argument,” writes chemical safety journalist Elizabeth Grossman. She says on the ‘keep off’ list are top causes of occupational cancer, including asbestos, benzidine dyes and vinyl chloride monomer. While industry groups are actively defending the toxic substances they produce or use, other stakeholders are calling on EPA to make these high risk substances a priority. Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking Democrat, has written to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy asking that asbestos be among the first 10 chemicals the Lautenberg Act considers. “The EPA’s proposed choices are due by mid-December,” writes Grossman. “They will reveal whether the Lautenberg Act will move to restrict hazardous chemicals of great concern to workers and work sites.”
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