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MPs aren’t the only ones feeling insecure in their jobs right now, according to the TUC. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the union body, says if nothing changes, by the 2022 election hundreds of thousands more workers could end up stuck in insecure work, being treated like disposable labour. “We’ve done the calculations and the number of people trapped in insecure work is likely to rise by 290,000 over the course of the next parliament,” she noted. Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, she added: “This will take the total of those on contracts such as zero hours, temp or agency work, and low-paid self-employment to 3.5 million people.” She said every party manifesto in the forthcoming general election must have real commitments to crack down on zero hours contracts and bogus self-employment, with proper pay and employment rights part of the package. “For too many people in Britain, work feels like standing for election every week,” O’Grady notes. “Our MP candidates should use this chance to put themselves in the shoes of more than 3 million voters, and plan how they’re going to help build a new deal for working people after the election.” Journalists’ union NUJ last week called for an “end to unsafe precarious work.” Séamus Dooley, the union’s acting general secretary, said: “Precarious working conditions take a heavy emotional and physical toll on workers; uncertainty about income, about working hours and contracts all diminish well-being. Precarious workers are frequently expected to operate under unbearable conditions, to take risks and short cuts in order to get tasks finished quicker.” A 1 May report from parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee called for an end to ‘bogus’ self-employment in the gig economy.
TUC Stronger Unions blog. TUC Touchstone blog. NUJ news release. Work and Pensions committee report. BBC News Online. The Guardian. More on health and safety and insecure work.
Up to 50,000 work-related deaths may go unreported each year, according to GMB estimates. The union says that the forthcoming official fatality figures recorded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) look set to be significantly lower than last year’s total of 144. But it says these falling fatalities figures, recorded under the RIDDOR regulations, reflect a change in work patterns towards a more service sector workforce, and are only “the tip of the iceberg”. According to GMB national safety officer Dan Shears: “Official work-related deaths look like they will be down for 2016/17 - and clearly that's good news. But it does not tell the whole story. UK workers are moving away from industries like construction and agriculture, where deaths are easily recorded into RIDDOR categories, into service industries. These figures do not include occupational disease - primarily lung disease and heart disease; workers killed in road traffic accidents; workers killed at sea; and work-related suicides.” He added: “GMB estimates up to 50,000 workers or ex-workers are killed in these ways each year. As you can see the official figures are the tip of the iceberg.”
A major gas leak at the giant Grangemouth petrochemical plant reaffirms the need for site owner Ineos to work constructively on its industrial and community relations, Unite has said. Speaking after the 2 May leak at the Kinneil Gas manufacturing plant, the union said Ineos has previously attracted the attention of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has criticised the company’s health and safety record. It added that despite ongoing concerns, Ineos has taken steps to 'derecognise’ the union in the chemical and infrastructure sections of the Grangemouth plants “meaning, among other things, that the union’s expertise in health and safety matters would be lost.” Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “The leak reported at Ineos Grangemouth is a very concerning development. Unite has written to the company requesting an urgent meeting in order to ascertain the cause of the leak.” He added: “I urge the managers now to accept that cooperation is the best policy when it comes to ensuring that Grangemouth stays safe, and drop this damaging and needless effort to break the union. The public needs to have confidence that this site is being run on cooperation, not confrontation.” Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett added: “Ineos must now think again about its plans to derecognise Unite. It is sensible and responsible to keep positive industrial relations at any workplace but in Scotland’s biggest site and with such a volatile commodity, it is beholden on Ineos to work with Unite to ensure the safety for those working on and around the site. Public safety, not union-busting, has to be the company’s priority. Therefore, we repeat our call for Ineos to get back round the negotiating table to make sure the site is as productive, safe and successful as it can be.” Up to eight appliances and 40 firefighters attended this week’s incident.
The union GMB is looking to extend union protection to a north-west food firm fined £2 million after a worker was crushed to death. On 4 February 2015, 29-year-old father of one Jacek Adamowicz was sweeping a storage yard when waste plastic bales weighing 703kg fell towards him, trapping him against the ground and causing fatal injuries. Manchester Crown Court heard Hitchen Foods in Wigan, owned by the multinational Bakkavor Group, had failed to implement properly planned safe systems of work for their employees. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no formal training in stacking bales and a lack of monitoring. Bakkavor Foods Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £2 million with £32,595.10 costs. HSE inspector Ian Betley said: “Bakkavor Foods Limited fell far short of the required standard expected.” The same site was fined £10,000 in 2011 for a criminal health and safety offence. GMB national officer Eamon O'Hearn Large commented: “GMB are deeply upset for Jacek Adamowicz's family and colleagues. We are recognised throughout Bakkavor in the UK, though not in Hitchen Foods. It is an exception we are looking to address, because our experience shows that where unions are recognised, health and safety standards are higher and accident rates lower.” He added: “This will be cold comfort to Jacek's family, but we owe it to him and workers throughout Bakkavor UK to ensure that we reach the highest standards to protect workers.”
A 28 April strike by RMT members at Arriva Rail North has driven home the message that private profit must not come before public safety, the union has said. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “If the German state-owned Arriva get away with their plans we will end up with a toxic combination of de-staffed trains and stations where safety and access are compromised while fat profits are shipped across the Channel to subsidise rail operations in Germany. That is a national scandal and the government should be hanging their heads in shame.” The union leader added: “The public support for our members fighting for safe trains for all has been fantastic and the company should take note of what their own customers and staff are saying about their plans and sit down with the union to negotiate a safe and sustainable solution to this dispute.” Speaking ahead of the industrial action, he warned: “Removing staff from trains, which will travel through over 300 unstaffed stations, is a toxic combination that will increase anti-social behaviour and unleash a surge in crime which will see Northern Rail becoming a muggers' paradise. The public are right to be concerned and that is why they are backing RMT's fight for the guarantee of a guard on Northern trains.”
Nearly one-third of teachers report being abused online over the past 12 months, with half of those targeted saying parents, not just pupils, were behind the abuse. A UK-wide survey of over 1,500 teachers conducted by teaching union NASUWT found 31 per cent of teachers reported being abused online over the last year, of which 50 per cent said they had been abused by a parent. One in five (20 per cent) of the messages posted by parents included explicit threats, said the union. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, commented: “The findings of this survey paint a shocking picture of what is happening in our schools, where on a day-to-day basis teachers are getting no support despite being subjected to appalling levels of online abuse. Most worryingly it appears that rather than setting a good example to their children, even some parents think it is acceptable to abuse and threaten teachers online.” The union leader said: “This has to stop. Being a victim of online abuse can be a very traumatic experience, which can potentially ruin lives and careers. Government must act to put more safeguards in place to protect teachers and pupils alike and ensure our classrooms remain a safe and secure environment for all.”
A major new initiative to protect workers from the ‘ticking time bomb’ caused by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes has been launched by Unite. The union’s new diesel emissions register allows Unite members to record when they have been exposed to excessive diesel exhaust fumes. The union says the information will be used “to report accidents, force employers to clean up their workplaces and could be the basis of future legal claims.” Diesel exhaust fumes exposure has been linked to cancer, respiratory disease and other chronic and acute health effects. The union initiative comes in the wake of a court case last month where the government was told it must publish its overdue revised plan to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere by a 9 May deadline. Diesel engines are a major source of the gas. Unite’s register has already been trialled across the transport sectors where the union says the issue is a priority. It says the trial “has already produced disturbing results”. The trial found affected workers reported short-term health concerns including wheezing (55 per cent), other respiratory problems (55 per cent), eye irritation (45 per cent), lightheadness (36 per cent), chest tightness (36 per cent), headache (36 per cent), nausea (27 per cent) and heartburn (18 per cent). Long term problems recorded by Unite members included effects on lung capacity, breathlessness, asthma, being more prone to colds and flu and sinusitis. Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland said: “Unite is acting to protect our members from the ticking time bomb of being needlessly exposed to poisonous diesel fumes.” She added “where it is clear that employers are ignoring their legal duties, information from the register will be used to force employers who are making our members sick and ill to clean up their acts. If it can be proved that the health of workers has been damaged due to exposure to diesel fumes, Unite will consider taking legal action on behalf of our members.”
The punishing long hours culture in many professional kitchens is putting the mental and physical health of chefs in London at risk, a snapshot survey by Unite has revealed. Almost half (44 per cent) of chefs responding to the union’s survey said they worked between 48 and 60 hours each week, with it now standard practice for employers to include an automatic ‘opt-out’ from the 48-hour a week ceiling under the Working Time Regulations in workers’ contracts. The union said the clause is often hidden, with workers unaware that they have signed away this protection. Unite added a ‘staggering’ 79 per cent said they have had an accident or near miss due to fatigue, with 51 per cent saying that they suffer from depression due to overwork. Sixty-nine per cent reported their hours impact on their health, while nearly a third (27 per cent) said they drink alcohol to see them through their shift. The union points to the case of Nathan Laity, a chef who died in March 2010 from blood poisoning, caused by an untreated case of tonsillitis (Risks 452). The 23-year-old had worked 14 hours a day for 27 days without a break. Unite is calling on the industry to end ‘the work until you drop’, long hours’ culture in the industry. It said it can start by encouraging employers to fully comply with the Working Time Regulations, including the right to 11 hours rest a day and one day off a week. Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said: “The industry needs to change, the excessive working hours and brutal kitchen culture are harming real people and driving talented chefs out of the profession. It can start by encouraging employers to apply the Working Time Regulations in full, including dropping the automatic opt-out of the 48 hour a week limit in workers’ contracts.” He added: “After the general election, the next government must commit to carrying out an immediate review into the 86 per cent cut in health and safety inspections by local authorities since 2013, because without inspections there is no one asking these questions.”
Civilian police staff are struggling to cope with low wages and soaring workloads, a union survey has found. The poll, conducted by the GMB, revealed 70 per cent are stressed at work, while 75 per cent are unhappy at the government pay cap. More than half of the GMB members responding to the survey blamed their stress on poor management and an absence of leadership. The union is calling for the recruitment of additional staff, a pay increase, training for managers, and action to identify the causes of stress together with action to eliminate it. Kevin Brandstatter, GMB lead officer for police staff, said: “This report is an utterly damning indictment of the way our members working for the police are being treated by their managers, many of whom are uniformed officers, and the way that austerity has hit them in the pocket.” He added: “The levels of stress felt by these hardworking public service workers are not acceptable and we want senior managers of the police forces to address this now. Negotiations on pay begin soon. GMB will work hard to secure a decent outcome for members.”
Labour’s 20-point plan to end the ‘rigged economy’ in work has been welcomed by the TUC, which has challenged the Conservatives to say what they would do to improve the lot of workers. The Labour plan includes equal rights for all workers, regardless of their employment status. Other commitments include abolition of employment tribunal fees, a public inquiry into blacklisting, guaranteed of trade union rights and the reinstatement of protection at work from ‘third party harassment’. Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow business secretary, said: “Labour’s 20-point plan on employment rights seeks not only to extend the rights of workers but enforce them too. For too long people have fallen through the gaps in the law or suffered because the law is simply inadequate, we intend to stop this. This election offers a clear choice: do you want a labour market run for the many or the few.” TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady commented: “This is an impressive set of commitments from the Labour Party, many of which have long been advocated by the TUC. Making these ideas a reality would make a real difference for millions of hard-working Brits.” She added: “All eyes are now turned to the Conservative Party to see what they are offering people at work. Theresa May's manifesto will be a real test of her promise to do more for working people.”
The organisation representing the local authority environmental health inspectors responsible for safety inspections in many workplace has backed a union call for more resources for enforcement. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) was commenting on statistics released last week by Unite that revealed a dramatic fall the number of frontline Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors (Risks 797). Tony Lewis, head of policy at CIEH, said: “These statistics albeit alarming are not exactly a surprise as they mirror what is happening to local authority-based health and safety officers. Something we were at pains to highlight in our workforce survey almost two years ago now.” He added: “Government agencies at every level, including the HSE, have been required to cut costs and reducing headcount is an obvious tactic. The problem is that when you reduce the number of health and safety inspections, you are putting lives at risk. Workers are less protected and this approach has the potential to be counter-intuitive because if things go wrong, a business will be saddled with unnecessary costs to fix the problems.” Lewis concluded: “Health and safety is not a burden on business but protects workers and increases productivity in the long-run, which is good for the economy. Along with Unite, we would like to see all the political parties pledge to make workplace safety a priority.”
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has started a consultation on changes to the appeals process against charges made under its Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme. Firms are currently charged £124-an-hour for visits by HSE inspectors when they are found to be in ‘material breach’ of safety laws. But after a legal challenge was started against HSE’s appeals system, which involved disputed cases been heard by a committee of HSE staff, the watchdog opted to consult on the introduction of a new, independent appeals system. HSE said: “HSE is consulting on a revised and fully independent process for considering disputes in relation to FFI. We are consulting on the details of how the process should operate. In particular, we recognise the need to ensure that the process is accessible to all types and sizes of business and is proportionate to the issues involved and amount of the fees.” The consultation runs until 2 June.
A woman who washed her husband's work overalls has developed an incurable cancer brought on by inhaling asbestos dust from the clothes. Linda Coates, 64, from Newcastle has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Electrician David Coates died in 2002 after almost 30 years of marriage. In February medics told Mrs Coates in February 2016 she has the terminal disease. She said: “My mesothelioma diagnosis came completely out of the blue for me and I was even more shocked when I found out it may have been caused by inhaling asbestos dust and fibres my husband brought home on his overalls.” She added: “I remember how dusty and dirty the overalls used to be when he came home and I used to get annoyed when he sat on the sofa with the overalls on. I always used to wash his overalls when he was working, but I never knew the dust and fibres might have been asbestos.” Her husband was employed as an electrical contractor and worked for a number of firms during his career, including Woolman Ltd, NG Bailey and Co Ltd and NEI Parsons Ltd. He also worked on a number of large industrial sites across the country, including at Didcot Power Station in Oxfordshire. Roger Maddocks of law firm Irwin Mitchell, who is representing Mrs Coates in a compensation claim, said: “We are looking for people who worked with David Coates at various contractors or on a number of industrial sites across the UK, including the Didcot Power Station, as they may be able to help provide vital information so that we can move Mrs Coates's case forward.”
Irwin Mitchell news release. Daily Mail.
Specialist fabricator and installer CMF Ltd has been fined £185,000 after worker Richard Laco died on the £650m Francis Crick Institute job in London, where construction giant Laing O’Rourke was the main contractor (Risks 631). Southwark Crown Court heard the 31-year-old, who had been contracted by CMF to work on the project, was fatally crushed on 6 November 2013 by a concrete staircase as it was being installed. The death prompted protests by construction unions at Laing-run sites, where there had been a number of fatalities (Risks 631). An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into Richard Laco’s death found there was no safe system of work in place for the installation of the staircases throughout the project. It also found the company failed to appropriately supervise this work activity. CMF Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £185,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,606.14. HSE inspector Stephen Farthing said: “This incident could have been prevented if the company had properly planned the lifting process before work had begun. Duty holders have the responsibility of ensuring that safe and suitable lifting plans are in place before carrying out any work involved with heavy loads.”
A London academy school has been fined after a teacher suffered serious injuries in a fall. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that on 9 May 2016 a teacher was installing spotlights and cabling in the school drama studio when he fell from a stepladder. Another teacher present in the room turned to find her colleague unconscious on the drama studio floor. He had sustained multiple fractures to the skull, wrist and elbow. The court heard that the defendant, Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School in Barnet, North London, had inadequately risk assessed work at height and had failed to provide the teachers with sufficient training. Both measures were requirements of the school’s own health and safety policy. A health and safety e-learning tool for teachers and other staff, which included a module on work at height, was only made mandatory after the incident. Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School, the legal entity controlling the Academy converter school, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay full prosecution costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector John Spence commented: “If the school had conducted a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the light rigging task and ensured that employees undertook the appropriate information, training and instruction available this incident could have been prevented.”
Divisive employment practices and increasing insecurity at work are fuelling a worldwide epidemic of work-related ’diseases of distress’, the global union body ITUC has warned. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Who lives and who dies at work is not an accident of chance. The emergence of increasingly precarious forms of employment is as deliberate as it is deadly.” She added: “We are seeing unscrupulous employers increasingly pitting worker against worker, segregating them by gender, race or class, using feudal management practices and modern social engineering to meet production goals which are pushing workers over the edge. This is causing deadly accidents and leaving workers exposed to occupational hazards, as well as huge stress which itself can be a killer.” She said unions were already challenging successfully the treatment of workers as a ‘disposable commodity’. Marking Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, she said: “Unions mean less inequality, more sustainable work practices and economic security. The same collective strength that delivers better wages also makes work safer and healthier. The attack on employment protections, driven by corporate-dominated globalisation, is putting short-term profit taking over the long-term economic and social benefits of decent work. It’s time to re-write the rules of the global economy so that the rule of law, respect for rights and human dignity are at the centre rather than treated as an impediment to doing business.” She said insecure, ‘unfair’ work was leading to a sharp increase in the ‘diseases of distress’, including rising work-related suicides.
German airlines are dropping safety rules brought in after the 2015 Germanwings plane crash which require two people in the cockpit at all times. It is thought co-pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed the plane on purpose, killing 150 people, after the captain left the cockpit to use the toilet. Eurowings, which merged with the Germanwings brand, is one of the airlines now dropping the requirement. The German airline association BDL announced the change, which will come into effect by 1 June, on its website. It said its airlines will be re-introducing their original cockpit safety procedures. The European Aviation Safety Agency, which was behind the original rule change, relaxed the requirements last year to allow individual airlines to evaluate their own safety needs. Lufthansa, the country's biggest airline, is one of the groups removing the requirement. Its airlines include Austrian Airlines, Swiss Airlines, and Eurowings - which was merged with Germanwings in 2015, a process which had begun before the company's high-profile crash. However, other airlines in Europe have said they will be maintaining the two-person rule. The investigation into the 2015 Germanwings crash found that co-pilot Lubitz locked the plane’s captain out of the cockpit when he left to use the toilet, before putting the plane into a dive. Investigators later discovered he had been suffering from psychiatric issues he had hidden from his colleagues. He believed he was losing his sight - although he was not - and had been taking psychotropic medication which made him unfit to fly. Since the Germanwings crash, additional mental health screening has been introduced for pilots.
Guatemalan immigrant Osiel López Pérez was just 17-years-old when he lost his leg working at a Case Farms chicken plant in Canton, Ohio. He was sanitising a chicken liver giblet chiller when he slipped and fell into the machine. Paddles in the machine grabbed and grotesquely twisted his leg, leaving it attached only by a ligament and a strip of skin. Case Farms plants, which supply major names including KFC and Taco Bell as well as the US government, are among the most dangerous workplaces in America. In 2015 alone, federal workplace safety inspectors fined the company nearly $2 million, and in the past seven years it has been cited for 240 violations. That’s more than any other company in the poultry industry except Tyson Foods, which has more than 30 times as many employees. David Michaels, the head of the federal workplace safety regulator OHSA during the Obama administration, called Case Farms “an outrageously dangerous place to work.” Four years before Osiel lost his leg, Michaels’s inspectors had seen Case Farms employees standing on top of machines to sanitise them and warned the company that someone would get hurt. Just a week before Osiel’s accident, an inspector noted in a report that Case Farms had repeatedly taken advantage of loopholes in the law and given the agency false information. “The company has a 25-year track record of failing to comply with federal workplace safety standards,” Michaels said. According to a report in The New Yorker: “Case Farms has built its business by recruiting some of the world’s most vulnerable immigrants, who endure harsh and at times illegal conditions that few Americans would put up with. When these workers have fought for higher pay and better conditions, the company has used their immigration status to get rid of vocal workers, avoid paying for injuries and quash dissent.” Immigrants aren’t the only exploited workers at Case Farms plants. Some use local prisons as a source of cheap labour.
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