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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

UNION NEWS
Danger of 19th century working conditions, TUC warns
TUC calls for ban on class discrimination
Workers being pushed to exhaustion and beyond - Unite
Asda ‘punishing’ workers by taking away sick pay
RMT calls for safe staffing on trains and stations
Firefighter numbers crisis from ‘chronic underfunding’
Medical screening must be available in toxics linked schools
Shopworkers welcome insurer support on work compensation
OTHER NEWS
Calls for action on repeat retail crimes
Retail crime ‘epidemic’ leading to PTSD in shop staff
Rudd leaves Tories and cabinet work and pensions job
Council fined after seven get vibration disease
INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Australia: Inspection-by-phone will lead to site deaths - union
Global: Supply chain safety and rights abuses exposed
USA: Deadly meat industry could soon get deadlier

 

UNION NEWS

Danger of 19th century working conditions, TUC warns

Britain risks slipping back to 19th century working conditions, the TUC has warned. A new report from the union body says there are 3.7 million people in insecure work, nearly two million (1.85m) self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage and workers still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years.  It says that unless the balance of power is reset in the workplace, economic inequality and insecure work will continue to get worse. Increasing the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions, the report adds. It recommends “broadening the scope of collective bargaining rights to include all pay and conditions, including pay and pensions, working time and holidays, equality issues (including maternity and paternity rights), health and safety, grievance and disciplinary processes, training and development, work organisation, including the introduction of new technologies, and the nature and level of staffing.” The report notes: “Research shows that workplaces with collective bargaining have higher pay, more training days, more equal opportunities practices, better holiday and sick pay provision, more family-friendly measures, less long-hours working and better health and safety. Staff are much less likely to express job-related anxiety in unionised workplaces than comparable non-unionised workplaces; the difference is particularly striking for women with caring responsibilities.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We urgently need to reset the balance of power in our economy and give people more of a say about what happens to them at work. We know that collective bargaining is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions – so let’s expand it across the whole workforce.” In 2018, labour law expert John Hendy of the Institute of Employment Rights argued in the union-backed safety magazine Hazards: “Collective bargaining is the only way of giving workers an effective voice and power to prevent injustice in the workplace.”
TUC news release and report, A stronger voice for workers: how collective bargaining can deliver a better deal at work, TUC, September 2019. The Guardian.
Wage war: Delivering workplace justice through union collective bargaining, Hazards magazine, number 142, 2018.

TUC calls for ban on class discrimination  

The TUC has called for new legal measures to tackle class discrimination in the workplace. The call comes as a new TUC report revealed that graduates from wealthier backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be on a £30,000 starting salary than those from working class backgrounds. It also warned that public funding cuts disproportionately affect working class people, with related factors including a drop in regulatory oversight of workplace health and safety risks. The report notes: “Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 the total number of annual health and safety visits carried out in Great Britain declined by 59 per cent.” There is a marked social class gradient in work-related ill-health, with stress increasing the lower your pay grade and higher grades almost immune to occupational diseases including occupational cancer, work-related lung disease and the other common job-related conditions (Risks 855). The report repeats the TUC’s call for a broadening of “the scope of collective bargaining rights” to cover issues including health and safety, working hours, holidays, working time, work organisation and staffing levels. In 2017, University College London’s Institute for Health Equity warned a long time rise in life expectancy was grinding to a halt in England after more than 100 years of continuous progress, adding that poor living and working conditions could be among the factors responsible (Risks 809). Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show there is a wide disparity in healthy life expectancy (HLE) between the richest and poorest areas, noting “HLE at birth across local authority areas of the UK varies by 21.5 years for females and 15.8 years for males in 2015 to 2017” (Risks 911). The TUC wants the government to make discrimination on the basis of class unlawful, just like race, gender and disability. “If you’re from a working class family, the odds are still stacked against you,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said. “Let’s have a new duty on employers to stamp out class prejudice once and for all.”
TUC news release and report, Building working class power: how to address class inequality today, September 2019.
 

Workers being pushed to exhaustion and beyond - Unite

A survey of over 13,500 workers in the bus driving, construction and lorry driving sectors has revealed a ‘shocking’ level of tiredness and exhaustion which is dramatically affecting their physical and mental health, causing relationship breakdowns and compromising safety at work and in communities. Unite said its survey found over half (54 per cent) of lorry drivers work over 50 hours a week as do 28 per cent of construction workers. It noted 44 per cent of bus drivers work at least six days a week. The excessive hours being worked are damaging the long-term health of workers across the three sectors, the union said. Roughly threequarters of workers (74-76 per cent) report problems with their physical health due to long hours. Just over half of respondents (50-58 per cent) report mental health problems associated with long hours. Unite said tiredness and fatigue also had ‘a profound negative effect’ on workplace and community safety. A ‘very disturbing’ 79 per cent of bus drivers reported that in the past year they had made errors while driving due to tiredness, while 10 per cent had actually fallen asleep while driving. For lorry drivers during the same time period, 57 per cent had to stop driving due to excess tiredness, 31 per cent had made errors while driving and four per cent had fallen asleep at the wheel. Construction workers also reported that the safety of themselves and workmates is being affected due to excessive hours. Over a quarter (28 per cent) said in the last year they had made errors which resulted in an accident or a near miss due to excessive tiredness, while almost half (49 per cent) had been forced to stop work in the last 12 months due to exhaustion. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “It is clear that companies are pushing existing laws and regulations to their limits and beyond. Employers who are risking the safety of their employees and the general public should be prosecuted, named and shamed.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This abuse of workers cannot continue. Workers are being forced out of their jobs far too soon due to illness and injury and then facing years of poverty until they finally reach pension age.”
Unite news release.

Asda ‘punishing’ workers by taking away sick pay

Asda is ‘punishing’ workers who haven’t signed a controversial new contract by taking away their sick pay, the GMB has said. The union was commenting ahead of protests across the country by Asda workers angry at the imposition of the contract. The company has told workers they must sign the 'flexible' Contract 6 - which will see them lose all their paid breaks and forced to work bank holidays – or be sacked on 2 November. GMB said Asda has now told those who are yet to sign the contract they will not be paid for any sick leave until they do. GMB national officer Gary Carter said: “Asda workers already feel like they are being treated like dirt over this damaging new contract,” adding “if they stand up for their rights, do not sign up to the inferior terms, Asda have said they won't get their contractual sick pay.” He said the union is “calling on Asda to respect its workforce and offer dedicated, long-serving staff a better deal.”
GMB news release.

RMT calls for safe staffing on trains and stations

Rail union RMT has called for urgent action from Britain's ‘profit-driven’ train operators to reverse staffing rail cuts, as new figures from the British Transport Police (BTP) revealed a sharp increase in crime in the network. Crime recorded on British railways increased by 12 per cent last year, including a rise in the number of violent and sexual offences, new figures show. BTP recorded 68,313 crimes in 2018/19, up from 60,867 during the previous 12 months. Violent crime accounted for a fifth of all cases after a 17 per cent rise to 13,591, while sexual offences rose by 8 per cent over the same period to 2,635. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These are appalling and disgraceful figures and show that crime, and particularly violent crime, is spiralling out of control on our railways as staffing levels are hacked back to the bare bones in the drive for profits.” He added: “RMT has warned repeatedly that the all-out drive towards an automated and faceless railway would turn our trains and stations into a criminals’ paradise and those who have ignored those warnings should be hanging their heads in shame today. RMT will be stepping up the campaigning for a safe, secure and properly staffed railway where those paying the highest fares in Europe get the protection they deserve and where passenger safety comes before private profiteering.”
RMT news release. BTP news release and annual report. BBC News Online.

Firefighter numbers crisis from ‘chronic underfunding’

There UK has nearly 11,500 fewer firefighters than in 2010, the firefighters’ union FBU has warned. The union is calling for the government to fund firefighter recruitment as a matter of urgency and to reverse a decade of ‘severe’ cuts to fire and rescue services. FBU has warned repeatedly that the dramatic decline in firefighter numbers is placing both its members and the public at increased risk (Risks 910). Firefighter posts did increase by a ‘wholly insufficient’ 318 this year, the union said, but this comes against a backdrop of “a 19 per cent cut in frontline firefighters since the Tories took office, cutting firefighter numbers in every brigade in the UK.” It adds that in England, firefighter numbers have been cut by 21 per cent since 2010, despite a 1 per cent increase this year, with recruitment concentrated in London and the North West. Central government funding for English fire and rescue services has been cut by 30 per cent in cash terms between 2013 and 2020. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Fire and rescue services are in crisis after years of brutal cuts – and this year’s measly increase in posts is wholly insufficient to plug the gaps.” Demands on firefighters are increasing. As well as an increase in fires, non-fire incidents are now dominating rescue work. The FBU said 41,771 of the 45,653 people rescued by UK firefighters last year were from non-fire incidents, such as flooding, road traffic collisions, height rescues, lift rescues and hazardous chemical spillages. This year is the only net increase in UK firefighter numbers in a decade. Around 8,000 of the jobs cut since 2010 were wholetime firefighter posts, while 3,000 retained (on-call) firefighters have also been cut. Around a quarter of fire control staff, who take the emergency calls and mobilise fire crews, have been lost.
FBU news release.

Medical screening must be available in toxics linked schools

The EIS has repeated its call for medical screening to be implemented at Buchanan and St Ambrose High school in North Lanarkshire for staff and pupils who wish it. The Scottish teaching union said the medical screening is required in order to ‘start rebuilding trust’ between the school community and the local authority, and to examine all remaining health concerns associated with the site of the two schools (Risks 911). The union call came on the publication of an expert criticism of the Independent Review of the school campus. This raised concerns over the methodology adopted by the review group. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “It is essential that North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire work to rebuild trust with the school community, including the pupils and staff at Buchanan and St Ambrose high schools. The EIS calls upon the Site Recovery Group, established following the Independent Review, to move forward and facilitate medical screening for all pupils and staff who wish it in these two schools.” Professor Andrew Watterson of the University of Stirling, the author of the report raising concerns about the review, noted: “However disappointing it is, the conclusion at the moment must be that not all the key questions about the site have been fully answered and not all the key evidence required has been collected and made available.” EIS’s Larry Flanagan said in light of the Stirling University criticisms, “it is even more important that these screening tests should be undertaken to allay fears. The more obfuscation and delay from the authorities in North Lanarkshire, the more suspicious and anxious the community becomes. Medical screening can be undertaken fairly cheaply and could provide long-overdue reassurance to pupils and staff within these two schools, as well as identifying any possible issues which may require further medical investigation.”
EIS news release. STV News. The Times. Radio Clyde.
Andrew Watterson. Brownfields, contaminated land, blue water and broken bridges. Pollution, public health, trust and transparency: the communication and information gap and how to bridge it better. An analysis of the Buchanan High School/Ambrose High School Campus Independent Review and related issues at Coatbridge, Scotland. 2019

Shopworkers welcome insurer support on work compensation

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has welcomed an Association of British Insurers (ABI) statement which backs its view on fairness for ‘employer liability’ compensation claims for personal injury victims. In a blog posting James Dalton, ABI’s director of general insurance policy, said “not continuing to pursue the proposed increase” in the small claims threshold from claims worth £1,000 to £2,000 was the best way forward. In a statement Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Usdaw and our fellow trade unions have long argued that injured workers should be exempt from the increase in the small claims limit.” He added: “Access to justice for employees injured through no fault of their own would be significantly affected and there would be a detrimental impact on workplace health and safety if the proposals were implemented. We therefore welcome the statement from the Association of British Insurers that employers’ liability claims and public liability claims should not be caught up by the increase in the small claims limit.” Saying the legislation was intended to address a rise in road traffic accident whiplash claims, he added: “We have always maintained that employers’ liability claims have never formed part of the real objective of this legislation and they, like vulnerable road users and litigants under a disability, should be specifically excluded from the proposed reforms.”
Usdaw news release. ABI commentary.

OTHER NEWS

Calls for action on repeat retail crimes

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has called for government action as new evidence emerged that some retailers are being repeat victims of often violent criminals. It was speaking out after research from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) using Home Office figures showed that retailers who experience crime are being targeted more. The 2018 Commercial Victimisation Survey revealed that crimes against retailers and wholesalers have risen year on year. On premises that have experienced crime, the rate of repeat victimisation has risen from 32 incidents per premises in 2012 to 69 per premises. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “These findings show that businesses are being repeatedly targeted by criminals that are not only committing thefts, but are also being abusive and violent towards retailers and their staff. We need targeted action to deal with repeat offenders who are currently being all but ignored by the justice system.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Retail crime often triggers violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. The mounting evidence from retailers, police and our own survey of shopworkers all show a disturbing increase in retail crime and they are backed up by Home Office stats. This cannot be allowed to continue, action must be taken.” He added: “The police must have the resources from government to respond to incidents and investigate retail crime. We want the government to legislate for stiffer sentences for the thugs that attack shopworkers. We want to see retailers, police and the courts working in partnership to ensure better protection for shopworkers. Retail staff are an important part of our communities; their role must be valued, respected and protected.”
ACS news release, campaign and Commercial Victimisation Survey results.

Retail crime ‘epidemic’ leading to PTSD in shop staff

A hard-hitting report had called for action to stem the rising number of crimes against shopworkers and identifies widespread post-traumatic stress disorder affecting staff. Funded by The Co-op, the research undertaken by criminologist Dr Emmeline Taylor from City, University of London, uses data from the retail union Usdaw, industry bodies and government figures. Dr Taylor said she has for the first-time evidenced the impact and motivations of violence in the retail sector, which she describes as having “reached ‘epidemic’ proportions”. Her report calls on the government to urgently protect employees and to send a clear message that violence and verbal aggression will not be tolerated in shops. It says that shopworkers report severe mental health consequences from violence, including long-lasting anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The strain of constant abuse and fear of physical violence is causing some shopworkers to change their shift pattern, their place of work or, in the worst cases, terminate their employment entirely. Dr Taylor said: “Multiple data sources show that the frequency and severity of violence towards shopworkers is increasing. Often ignored as ‘retail crime’ and therefore somehow victimless, let’s not forget that behind each and every statistic is a person who has directly experienced violence or verbal abuse while simply doing their job.” She added: “There are several actionable recommendations for the industry, government and communities that, if implemented, I believe will begin to reverse the upsurge in violence occurring in our shops.” These recommendations include introducing new legislation which would carry higher penalties for attacks where the shopworker is enforcing the law on age-restricted sales, such as cigarettes or alcohol.
City, University of London news release and full report. BBC News Online.

Rudd leaves Tories and cabinet work and pensions job

Amber Rudd has resigned the Tory whip and her position as the work and pensions secretary in Boris Johnson’s cabinet. Rudd’s resignation came after 21 Tory rebels were thrown out of the Conservative Party. She called the expulsions an “assault on decency and democracy” and an “act of political vandalism.” Her replacement is Thérèse Coffey. The Suffolk Coastal MP takes up a cabinet post where her responsibilities overseeing the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) include workplace health, related benefits and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Justin Tomlinson remains as DWP minister of state for disabled people, health and work, with responsibilities including occupational health, the HSE and industrial injuries and disease benefits.
DWP webpage on Thérèse Coffey. Morning Star. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Employee seriously injured in fall from lorry
A manufacturer of steel water storage tanks and supporting towers has been fined after a worker suffered multiple fractures following a fall from height. Cwmbran Magistrates Court heard how, on 25 October 2017, a Braithwaite Engineers Limited employee was injured when he fell from a lorry bed whilst unloading the vehicle at their site in Risca, resulting in multiple fractures of his head, ribs, shoulder blade and fingers, causing him to miss over five months of work. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to provide employees with suitable and clear instructions and training so that employees did not access lorry beds in an unsafe manner. Braithwaite Engineers Limited pleaded guilty of a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £9,400 and ordered to pay costs of £1,680.75. HSE inspector Will Powell said: “Falls from vehicles can be overlooked by employers when considering risks from work at height. Simple measures would have prevented this accident.”
HSE news release.

Council fined after seven get vibration disease

Dacorum Borough Council has been fined after seven grounds maintenance workers developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) caused by excessive, poorly controlled use of power tools. Luton Magistrates’ Court heard how the council reported seven cases of HAVS between May 2015 and June 2016. The affected employees were all part of its grounds maintenance and street care team, looking after the public spaces in Hertfordshire. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the council had neither adequately planned its working methods nor trained or informed employees on the risks to their health. Furthermore, Dacorum Borough Council did not limit the duration or magnitude of exposure to vibration and failed to put in place suitable health surveillance to identify problems at any early stage. Dacorum Borough Council guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £28,672.62. HSE inspector Rubeena Surnam said: “This was a case of the council failing to identify the risk from hand arm vibration which is a recognised health risk with potentially disabling consequences. Unless vibration is identified and properly assessed, an employer won’t know the level of risk and whether action is needed to protect workers.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: Inspection-by-phone will lead to site deaths - union

South Australian (SA) construction workers are being put at risk by a toxic safety culture and a regulator that fails to seriously investigate safety breaches and “literally phones it in” rather than inspect unsafe sites, the construction union CFMEU has warned. “It is only a matter of time before there is another avoidable fatality at a construction site in SA,” said CFMEU national construction assistant secretary, Andrew Sutherland. “The union has raised repeated concerns with SafeWork SA over the regulator’s practice of ‘investigating’ safety breaches raised by union officials and workers by phoning the builder and asking if there is a problem.” He added: “It is outrageous that dodgy builders get to ‘phone a friend’ in the regulator and avoid acting to protect worker safety.” The union officer said the state’s regulator has taken only four prosecutions in 2019 and five in 2018. He contrasted this with the state of Victoria, “where the regulator has conducted 110 prosecutions in 2019 alone.” Sutherland said the union had been compelled to take legal action against builders where the regulator has failed to act. “Some union officials were now wearing recording devices such as GoPros when they go on worksites to document the bad behaviour of confrontational builders, who do not understand that they are required to allow lawful entry to conduct safety inspections,” he said. “South Australian construction workers deserve to have their health and safety taken seriously. They need a regulator that will act against the cowboy operators in South Australia who treat safety as a joke.”
Mirage News.

Global: Supply chain safety and rights abuses exposed

The business model and sourcing practices of the international brands that sell us our clothing, electronics, sports shoes and other products are the root cause of the unhealthy and illegal conditions in global supply chains, a top independent labour inspector has warned. Garrett Brown, who has worked worldwide on labour standards initiatives, reviewed a plethora of recent papers, concluding “it is the deliberate policies and practices of the major apparel, electronics, toys and other consumer goods that cause and enforce abusive working conditions for millions of workers in supply chain factories around the world.” Writing in the public health blog The Pump Handle, Brown criticises a succession of voluntary, company driven compliance systems, particularly ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) programmes. “The actual objective of CSR is to protect the brand image and corporate reputations of transnational corporations by generating the illusion that efforts are underway to protect the health, safety and rights of supply chain workers,” he notes. “CSR programmes are designed to assure brand customers, corporate investors, news media and their own employees that ‘something’ is being done to reduce sweatshops in global supply – even though these CSR programmes do not address the root causes of sweatshops and are simply incapable to eliminating them.” He concludes: “An effective alternative to CSR – worker-driven social responsibility [Risks 826] – is emerging and evolving with growing sophistication and applicability. The hope for the future of supply chain workers and their families lies with the flowering of WSR and its underlying principles of full transparency and corporate accountability.”
The Pump Handle. Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network.

USA: Deadly meat industry could soon get deadlier

Trump administration policies threaten to worsen the already dangerous conditions for meatpacking workers in the United States, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned. A new report from the group says the current administration is weakening oversight of slaughterhouses and lifting limits on production speeds. The 100-page HRW report, “‘When we’re dead and buried, our bones will keep hurting’: Workers’ rights under threat in US meat and poultry plants”, describes alarmingly high rates of serious injury and chronic illness among workers at chicken, pig, and cattle slaughtering and processing plants. Human Rights Watch interviewed workers who described serious job-related injuries or illnesses, and nearly all the interviewed workers identified production speed as the factor that made their job dangerous. “US meat and poultry workers are put under intense pressure to keep up with production, risking traumatic injury and disabling illness,” said Matt McConnell, research fellow in HRW’s business and human rights division. “By giving companies the green light to accelerate their production, the US government is putting workers’ health on the line.” He added: “The US government should not ignore the human impact of its policies. It has the power and the obligation to improve workers’ conditions, and should not make them worse.”
HRW news release and video. ‘When we’re dead and buried, our bones will keep hurting’: Workers’ rights under threat in US meat and poultry plants, HRW, September 2019.
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