Issue date
24 Jul 2017
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 809 - 24 July 2017
 
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

UNION NEWS

·         TUC concern at ‘Downing Street power grab’

·         Tory pledge to ‘destroy regulations’ undermines trust

·         TUC Stronger Unions blog. Hospital workers protest over ‘callous’ sick policy

·         Response to tower block fires is ‘a postcode lottery’

OTHER NEWS

·         Grenfell Tower disaster was 'social murder'

·         MP calls for ‘urgent action’ on school asbestos

·         Austerity implicated as life expectancy rise stalls

·         Agency worker injured in first week on site

·         Engineering firm gave workers vibration disease

·         HSE safety clampdown on Orkney scallop boats

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

·         Australia: 'Dodgy' safety certificates rife on building sites

·         Bangladesh: Accord redux is good news for garment sector

·         Global: Ivanka Trump criticised on factory conditions

·         USA: Court OK with firing workers exposing sick abuse

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

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UNION NEWS

TUC concern at ‘Downing Street power grab’

The government’s draft plan to repeal European Union laws is a ‘power grab’ that could put workers’ rights in jeopardy, the TUC has warned. Commenting on the publication of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which brings EU laws — including workers’ rights and the major safety regulations — into UK law, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a Downing Street power grab. The PM promised to protect all workers’ rights after Brexit. But there is nothing in this Bill to stop politicians shredding or watering down our rights in the future.” She added: “Nobody voted for Brexit to make life harder for working people. That’s why any deal with the EU must ensure that workers’ rights in Britain don’t fall behind the rest of Europe.” On proposals for the UK to be no longer subject to European Court of Justice rulings from the day the UK leaves the EU, the TUC leader said: “An early commitment to walk away from the ECJ will tie our hands in Brexit negotiations. The government should leave all options on the table, instead of creating yet more inflexible red lines.” The repeal bill will give the government powers to repeal and amend existing rules – powers which will apply to employment, safety and equality laws. The TUC says there is a risk the government could seek to scrap or water down key workers’ rights. It argues the Bill should include non-regression clauses guaranteeing that the new powers cannot be used to repeal or dilute legal protections.

TUC news release and Touchstone blog. DEXEU news release, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and guidance on the Bill. Morning Star.

Tory pledge to ‘destroy regulations’ undermines trust

Unions have echoed TUC concerns about workers’ rights being vulnerable as the government dismantles European laws and have said this concern is amplified by the Conservative’s determination to ‘destroy regulations’, including safety laws. Unite is calling for Theresa May to “reassure the UK's workers that their rights will not be savaged” by hardline deregulators on the Tory benches and the party’s manifesto pledge to further reduce red tape. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said “we start this process with little faith that the Tory party can be trusted with our rights and living standards. That is why prime minister Theresa May must state what comes first; her party's dogmatic determination to destroy regulations, as restated in the manifesto on which she recently stood, or her earlier pledge to protect workers' rights? We urge her to make it abundantly clear today that it is the latter.” He added: “We were promised that coming out of the EU would mean taking back control. Instead it looks like it is the government who will be taking all the control, taking unprecedented powers to sweep away vital laws and protections at a whim.” The Unite leader said “there are too many on the Conservative benches itching to use Brexit to destroy a whole raft of protections and who will waste no time in attacking vital laws like the working time directive. A measure that is not ‘red tape’, but essential protection for workers and the public alike. Our roads are safer, for example, because under EU law lorry drivers must rest.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The rights of people at work must stay protected. It’s not enough to safeguard them until Brexit, when all bets are off.” He added: “Parliament – not the government – should decide how EU regulations are transferred into UK law and preserved for the future.”

Unite news release. UNISON news release.
TUC call to bin pre-employment health screening

Pre-employment screening is unlawful and unnecessary and should be ‘binned’, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after Iberian Airlines, part of the same company as British Airways, was fined after it was discovered that medical screening by its recruitment company of prospective cabin crew included checking whether female applicants were pregnant (Risks 808). TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said pre-employment screen is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 in almost all circumstances, but hundreds of companies in the UK still offer the service. “In fact a number of providers stress that employers have to do it to protect the safety of both the other workers and the applicant,” he notes in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog. He said screening was bad news for workers, and unions should look to stop it. “If you are asked to undertake any kind of pre-employment screening, challenging it can be very difficult. When you are applying for a new job you are very vulnerable as if you refuse screening it is unlikely that you will be employed. If you agree to the assessment and do not get the job you could have a claim for unlawful discrimination if the employer uses any information about your health to make their decision, but it is very difficult to prove. That’s why it is really important that unions challenge any practices that may be in any way discriminatory before an incident arises.” He says all doctors are covered by GMC ethics codes and cannot do anything unlawful and reputable occupational health providers who are members of the SEQHOS accreditisation scheme “should know better. In both cases a formal complaint to SEQHOS or the GMC is likely to put an end to the practice.”

TUC Stronger Unions blog.
Hospital workers protest over ‘callous’ sick policy

Hospital workers in Liverpool are calling for public support in their campaign against a ‘callous’ sick pay policy, which is forcing them to work while seriously ill or face financial hardship. Unite says health workers, porters and caterers employed by ISS at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen hospitals have seen their sick pay massively reduced to just 12 days a year since being transferred over to the private company from the NHS. Under the policy, ISS workers only receive sick pay for 12 days a year in contrast to other workers at the same hospitals who receive six months full pay and six months half pay. According to Unite, the policy has led to terminally ill workers losing their homes and those with long-term illnesses facing financial ruin. Unite has lodged a grievance on behalf of over 270 ISS workers at the two hospitals, but calls for the facilities management company to improve the policy have so far been met with what the union describes as ‘callous indifference’. Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “When our members become ill with a serious or terminal illness they may have just 12 days’ or less paid leave per year. Recently one of our members was diagnosed with cancer and had her left lung removed. No one should have to worry about work and finances at such a time, or feel pressurised into returning to work.” He added: “It’s high time ISS behaved in an honourable way towards its workers and engaged in meaningful talks with Unite about changing this callous and unfair sick pay policy.” Union members were joined by last week by members of the public in a protest outside Liverpool hospital.

Unite news release.

Response to tower block fires is ‘a postcode lottery’

The ability of fire crews to respond promptly and professionally to life-threatening tower block fires is a postcode lottery, according to new research from the firefighters’ union FBU. Differing levels of resources around the country mean that the ‘pre-determined attendance’ (PDA) to a fire – the numbers of fire engines that should automatically be sent to a fire or other incident - varies greatly according to its location, the union found. It said its research also shows that although there are 125 aerial ladder/platform vehicles in England, only 26 per cent (33) are available 24/7 due to a lack of fire crews. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “These new findings are extremely concerning. In the light of the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, this situation is utterly unacceptable. We find it staggering that nothing has been done to address this grossly unjust postcode lottery of resources, and the fact that governments in all parts of the UK appear not to have even considered it is a disgrace.” He added: “They now need to urgently instruct fire services to improve their fire and rescue planning to ensure a full and professional response to such incidents all over the UK. Citizens everywhere need to feel safe and confident that those in authority are taking their safety seriously. Anything less is, frankly, obscene.” The union has written to the prime minister spelling out the implications of cutbacks on the ability of the service to respond effectively to fires, and calling on her to “address this matter with urgency.”

FBU news release, PDA statistics, ALP statistics and letter to the PM. The Guardian.

OTHER NEWS

Grenfell Tower disaster was 'social murder'

John McDonnell has said the people responsible for “social murder” at Grenfell Tower should be held to account. The shadow chancellor said the disaster in west London was a consequence of political decisions taken over recent decades. At least 80 people are thought to have died in last month’s devastating fire at Grenfell Tower. Questioned on BBC 1’s Andrew Marr show, McDonnell, asked if he regretted saying people were murdered by political decisions, replied: “No, I don’t regret that. I was extremely angry with what went on. I’m a west London MP, this site is not far from me. Political decisions were made which resulted in the deaths of these people. That’s a scandal.” He added: “There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder where decisions are made with no regard to consequences of that, and as a result of that people have suffered. That’s what’s happened here, and I’m angry.” He continued: “I believe social murder has occurred in this incidence and I believe people should be accountable.” He said the deaths were the result of multiple factors. “I think there’s been a consequence of political decisions over years that have not addressed the housing crisis that we’ve had, that have cut back on local government so proper inspections have not been made, 11,000 firefighter jobs have been cut as well – even the investment in aerial ladders, and things like that in our country.” He concluded: “I believe politicians have to be held to account. I remain angry at how many people have lost their lives as a result of political decisions made over years.” The national Hazards Campaign has called for ministers whose actions or inaction prior to the Grenfell Tower fire have been called into question to “be interviewed under caution” as part of the Metropolitan Police investigation.

The Guardian. Morning Star. Sky News. Evening Standard. BBC News Online. Hazards Campaign. House of Lords debate on regulation, 13 June 2017.
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies briefing explaining the concept of ‘social murder’, April 2016.

MP calls for ‘urgent action’ on school asbestos

A Labour MP has condemned government complacency on the ‘undeniable’ asbestos risk in the country’s schools, and has called for urgent action. Rachel Reeves said the lives of children and staff are being put at risk by the failure to remove the potentially deadly substance from schools. She said a BBC report in December last year warned that in the last five years there had been 99 disturbances of asbestos in schools across England. In an article on the GMB’s politics blog, the Leeds West MP wrote: “It could not be any clearer now that there is an undeniable problem with asbestos in schools. It’s not going to simply disappear, the lives of staff, pupils and others are being put at risk and so why is the government continuing to ignore this issue? Alongside a phased removal, we need centrally funded, mandatory audits in every school built before 1999, with results published or at least stored centrally.” She added: “The government’s complacent attitude is entirely wrong. Their red tape is another person’s crucial protections. The evidence is there. It now needs to be acted on.” GMB national health and safety officer Dan Shears backed the MP’s call. “The idea that asbestos is safe if encapsulated denies the reality of years of damage by both pupils and staff,” he said. “It has posed a danger for decades, whilst governments have crossed fingers and hoped for the best.” He added: “We can no longer sit idle while the lives of our children - and our school staff members - are put at risk. We need a phased removal programme to commence as soon as possible.”

GMB Politics blog. GMB news release.

Austerity implicated as life expectancy rise stalls

Rising rates of life expectancy are grinding to a halt in England after more than 100 years of continuous progress, a leading health expert has said, adding that poor living and working conditions could be among the factors responsible. University College London (UCL) expert Sir Michael Marmot said he was “deeply concerned” by the situation, calling it “historically highly unusual”. He said it was “entirely possible” austerity was to blame and said the issue needed looking at urgently. Using Office for National Statistics projections for babies born since 2000, Sir Michael, who has advised both the government and World Health Organisation on health inequalities, showed the rate of increase in life expectancy had nearly halved since 2010 in England. Between 2000 and 2015, life expectancy at birth increased by one year every five years for women and by one year every 3.5 years for men. But this compares to one year every 10 years for women and one for every six for men post-2010. Sir Michael, who is director of the Institute of Health Equity at UCL, said this showed the growth in life expectancy was “pretty close to having ground to a halt”. He explained social factors such as education, employment and working conditions and poverty all affected life expectancy by influencing lifestyles. And as austerity was placing pressures on these factors, they may in turn be influencing life expectancy – something reflected in the large gulf between how long the richest and the poorest can expect to live. The health consequences of the sharp growth in insecure work were highlighted last week with the publication of the government commissioned Taylor Report (Risks 808). More unions have added their voice to the TUC’s call for “a proper crackdown on bad bosses who treat their staff like disposable labour” going beyond the Taylor Report’s recommendations, adding ‘good work’ couldn’t be left employer goodwill.

Marmot Indicators 2017, Institute of Health Equity, 18 July 2017. BBC News Online. The Independent. The Guardian. The Telegraph.
Usdaw news release. UNISON news release. Prospect news release. STUC news release. Prime minister Theresa May’s speech at the launch of the Taylor Review.

Agency worker injured in first week on site

An engineering firm has been fined for safety criminal breaches after an agency worker suffered injuries to his hand. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard the worker employed by The Works agency had only working at the Dinnington site of Hallamshire Engineering Service Ltd for four days when he was injured in September 2014. He was polishing a metal shaft on a lathe using an emery cloth while wearing gloves. But the glove snagged, dragging his hand towards the rotating shaft. He suffered a cut to the hand requiring stitches and a broken wrist. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that no suitable and sufficient assessments had been carried out to determine control measures for polishing. There were no clear guidelines for employees and others, such as agency workers, on safe ways to polish. Hallamshire Engineering Service Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of safety law and was fined £5,000 with £2,763.40 costs. HSE inspector Laura Hunter commented: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in the safe system of working. This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.”

HSE news release.

Engineering firm gave workers vibration disease

An engineering firm has been fined for failing to control the risk of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), with workers using vibrating tools developing the debilitating occupational disease as a result. Manchester and Salford Magistrates heard how Newfield Fabrications Co Ltd (NFCL) failed to ensure the risks to its employees from exposure was adequately controlled. The company also failed to ensure its employees were given sufficient information, instruction and training on the effects of working with vibrating hand tools. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that towards the end of 2015 a welder who had been working at the company for a number of years had been given a job that involved a significant amount of grinding and polishing. After a number of hours on the task, the worker began to experience numbness and tingling. He asked to swap with another worker but was told to carry on. Despite his symptoms continuing, he was told by his supervisor to carry on using vibrating tools. A few weeks later, a 20-year-old apprentice welder also began to suffer from vibration-related symptoms from using similar tools. Newfield Fabrications Co Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £7,241 costs. HSE inspector Helen Jones said: “This is a case of the company failing to protect workers using vibrating tools. Exposure to hand arm vibration is a well-known risk which the company failed to adequately control. The company also failed to ensure workers were looked after when symptoms did arise leading to further exposure. This was wholly inadequate, and led to two employees suffering significant health effects.”

HSE news release.

HSE safety clampdown on Orkney scallop boats

Safety standards on some scallop dive boats in Orkney are unacceptably low, according to the Health and Safety Executive. The watchdog is planning an inspection blitz over the coming month, with both announced and unannounced visits. Inspectors will look at crewing levels, risk assessment and emergency plans, and the maintenance of equipment. HSE lead inspector for commercial shellfish diving, Aberdeen-based Alan Keith, told BBC Radio Orkney: “We regard this as a high-hazard industry. It's a dangerous job to do. And historically we've found that people who have been found guilty of breaches of the Diving at Work Regulations have had custodial sentences, they've been fined thousands of pounds. Which just shows how seriously we, and the courts, take such breaches.” He added: “We are not trying to stop anybody diving and earning a living. Our main priority is to keep the diving safe, for all concerned.” He also pointed out that safety is not just the responsibility of skippers and dive teams. “There's also a bit of responsibility on those who have control over any diving project - potentially shellfish buyers, for example. They have responsibility to make sure that the regulations are complied with by the divers that they are employing.” Three scallop workers died when their dredger capsized off the Scotland’s west coast in 2009 (Risks 416).

BBC News Online.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: 'Dodgy' safety certificates rife on building sites

Fraudsters are making fake safety certificates for building products, an Australian Senate inquiry has been told. The inquiry into non-conforming building products has gathered pace since the Grenfell Tower fire in London last month, in which 80 people are thought to have died. Travis Wacey, national policy research officer at the construction union CFMEU, told the inquiry that dodgy certificates pretending building products comply with local safety rules were rife on Australian building sites. He said site workers “can't have confidence in some of the declarations that are being made about products... due to the prevalence of fraudulent behaviour.” He told the inquiry that thousands of buildings in Australia are potentially a high fire risk due to non-compliant, highly flammable combustible cladding, adding: “It needs to be looked at, whether they're dangerous or not.” The Australian authorities were criticised for their inaction since a November 2014 fire in the Lacrosse tower block in Melbourne's Docklands. The non-fatal fire was caused by a cigarette butt but fuelled by flammable cladding. Adam Dalrymple, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade's acting executive director for emergency management, expressed his disappointment at the “apparent lack of movement by regulators” since the Lacrosse fire. “Lacrosse for us was a bit of a wake-up call,” he said. “Grenfell and Lacrosse aren't isolated incidents: There's been 19 fires involving cladding worldwide since 2005. The death tolls run from none to 80.” Travis Wacey of CFMEU said the union has urged its members not to install products they believed were non-conforming.

Sydney Morning Herald.

Bangladesh: Accord redux is good news for garment sector

Global union federation ITUC has welcomed the signing of the new Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, as a further step towards protection of workers and a means to improve Bangladesh’s garment industry (Risks 807). ITUC says the economically crucial industry suffered massive reputational damage in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory building collapse that killed over 1,100 workers. The new Accord, which will come into effect at the expiry of the current Bangladesh Accord in May 2018, includes global union federations IndustriALL and UNI and leading fashion brands. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said “this new Accord underlines the successes already achieved under the existing 2013 Accord, and will provide vital protections for workers who, while producing vast export wealth for Bangladesh, are at risk of workplace injury and death.” She warned: “Local factory owners are putting pressure on the government of Bangladesh to turn back the clock to the days of Rana Plaza, and we urge the government to give its full support to the tens of thousands of workers who produce that wealth, by backing the new Accord.” ITUC says the magnitude of the garment industry safety problem in Bangladesh was underlined by the deaths of 11 workers and injury to more than 50 others in a 3 July boiler explosion near the capital Dhaka. Trade union signatories to the Accord are demanding that its scope be extended to cover boilers as well as the existing checklist, to avoid further such incidents (Risks 807). Under the current system, boiler safety is overseen by the Bangladesh authorities, who have blamed the deceased workers for the disaster. The Clean Clothes Campaign has criticised the hasty move by the police to ‘scapegoat’ victims, noting that there are “early, though not conclusive, indications that the boiler itself was defective.”

ITUC news release. The Pump Handle blog. Clean Clothes Campaign news release. Dawn.

Global: Ivanka Trump criticised on factory conditions

On Inauguration Day in January, President Trump stood in front of the US Capitol and vowed that his “America First” agenda would bring jobs back to the United States. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he declared, adding: “We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.” Looking on from the front of the stage was Trump’s daughter Ivanka, the fashion entrepreneur who would soon join him in the White House. But critics say her decision to outsource her fashion range to low wage countries in factories with substandard working conditions, sits uneasily with the president’s declaration. For example, Chinese factories that make his daughter’s products have gained public attention in recent weeks after the detention of three activists from China Labor Watch (CLW), who were investigating the facilities. The group said it found evidence at one facility of labourers working 18-hour days and enduring verbal abuse from managers. Chinese authorities accused the activists of using illegal surveillance equipment and suggested they might have been selling commercial secrets to foreign entities. The three activists were released on bail in late June. A trial is pending. The US State Department denounced the arrests, saying that labour rights activists “have been instrumental in helping… American companies understand the conditions involving their supply chains. Li Qiang, CWL’s executive director, said it had never faced such police pressure in nearly two decades of investigating factories and said he believes this case was handled differently because “this is Ivanka Trump’s factory.”

Washington Post. China Labor Watch news release.

USA: Court OK with firing workers exposing sick abuse

A US federal appeals court in St Louis has ruled that it is acceptable for the boss of a fast-food chain to fire workers for being “disloyal.” The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a ruling issued by the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a case rooted in a union organising drive at the Jimmy John’s fast-food chain. The court held that Miklin Enterprises, the owner of Jimmy John’s franchises in Minneapolis, had the right to fire six pro-union advocates because they demonstrated “disloyalty” by distributing flyers in 2011 that implied the company was selling unsafe food contaminated by employees forced to work while sick. The organisers designed and distributed memes that showed images of identical Jimmy John's sandwiches. One was “made by a healthy Jimmy John’s worker,” the other by a “sick” worker. “Can’t tell the difference?” the poster continued. “That’s too bad because Jimmy John’s workers don’t get paid sick days. Shoot, we can’t even call in sick. We hope your immune system is ready because you’re about to take the sandwich test.” William B Gould IV, a labour law professor at Stanford University and former chair of the federal labour board, said the court decision is an unwarranted attack on workers’ rights. “This case comes from the 8th Circuit which is the most conservative in the country,” he said. “It’s the worst circuit in the country for a labour union, or for labour rights.” US magazine ‘In The Times’ noted: “The reversal of the Obama-era NLRB decision mirrors action in Congress, where several measures are under consideration to roll back pro-worker measures adopted by the labour board during Obama’s tenure.” This includes stacking the NLRB with Trump nominees who have been criticised as anti-worker by the national union federation AFL-CIO.

In These Times.

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