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UNION NEWS

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EVENTS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UNION NEWS

UNISON plan to improve work for menopausal women

Guidance aimed at improving workplace conditions for employees who are experiencing the menopause has been published by the public sector union UNISON. The union says its ‘Menopause is a workplace issue’ guide is aimed at supporting employers to create a working environment where female staff feel supported. The guide highlights how symptoms – from migraines to panic attacks – are an occupational health issue and can have a significant effect on staff.  The union says these effects are often ‘trivialised or treated as embarrassing’ by bosses and colleagues. The guide has been sent to UNISON branches and union reps and covers topics including awareness training for line managers, flexible procedures for sickness absence, and encouraging employers to introduce a workplace menopause policy. It gives examples including Norfolk and Suffolk police forces, which have developed a ‘menopause passport’. This helps staff identify their own symptoms. The union says the approach is useful for those who struggle to discuss the issue with line managers. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “For too long, talking about the menopause has been taboo, subject to jokes about hot flushes and whispers about competence.” She added: “Symptoms can force women out of the workforce and contributes to the gender pay gap. That's why it's a priority because women are working longer following the raising of the state pension age. The menopause is most definitely a workplace issue and should be taken more seriously by employers.” Separate new guidance on the menopause at work released by the conciliation service ACAS has been welcomed by the creative industries union BECTU, which said “is a great initiative to help break the taboos on the menopause which we hope will be implemented across the industry.” In 2003, the TUC’s groundbreaking ‘Working through the change’ report first raised the issue of the menopause as an important occupational health issue (Risks 96). In 2011, it produced the first edition of its now updated ‘Supporting working women through the menopause’ guide for union representatives (Risks 497). And the TUC has now produced a new interactive guide reiterating why ‘the menopause is a workplace issue.’
UNISON news release and Menopause is a workplace issue guide. BECTU news release. Prospect news release. NUJ news release. ACAS news release and Menopause at work guidance.
TUC menopause at work interactive guide, Supporting working women through the menopause: guidance for union representatives and details of TUC’s Working through the change report, 2003.
 

Union action call on violence as shop crime soars

Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has called for government action after official figures revealed a 15 per cent increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting in England and Wales over the last decade. The union said theft from shops is a main trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Usdaw said the ‘shocking statistics’ back up the findings of its own survey of 3,272 retail workers across England and Wales, which found almost two-thirds (62 per cent) had been the victim of verbal or physical abuse and four-in-five (80 per cent) believed that abuse and violence had increased in recent years. Almost a quarter described threats of physical violence, with over half of these involving threats with weapons – most commonly knives, syringes or bottles. Almost 1-in-6 (15 per cent) described actual physical violence, varying from workers being pushed, spat upon, punched or kicked or attacked with weapons. Usdaw’s Paddy Lillis said: “Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, with theft from shops often triggering violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. These statistics are extremely worrying for our members and we believe that police recorded incidents under-estimate the scale of the problem because of significant under-reporting of incidents.” He added: “The government now has the opportunity to deliver the protections shopworkers need through their violent crime bill. Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. Usdaw and many retailers continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals.”
Usdaw news release. Police recorded crimes in England and Wales, ONS, 17 October 2019. BBC News Online.
 

Unite spearheads campaign against hate crimes on buses

A powerful film promoting a zero tolerance approach to hate and racist crime on London’s buses has been launched by Unite. The transport union campaign comes as latest figures revealed hate crime on the capital’s buses rose by 9.3 per cent in the year to March 2019. Unite said its film, produced in collaboration with Transport for London (TfL), “celebrates the diversity of London’s bus drivers and the millions of passengers they carry each day.” Unite London and Eastern regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “Over 26,000 bus drivers from across the globe carry six million passengers from different backgrounds each day. This diversity makes London stronger and no one, either bus drivers or passengers, should be faced with racism or hate on our capital’s buses.” He added: “With hate crime on the rise nationally and London’s buses seeing a 9.3 per cent rise, we would urge all Londoners to join Unite and Transport for London in taking a zero tolerance stand to hate crime and reporting it. Together we are one London and together we can drive hate from London’s transport network.” Claire Mann, director of bus operations at TfL, said: “The capital’s bus drivers are fundamental to life in London. Our diverse driver workforce are critical to keeping millions of Londoners moving every day and are invaluable to the city’s transport network. Neither they, nor any customers, should be subjected to hate crime. We and Unite encourage all customers to stand together and report any crime that they witness or experience. This is why we are working closely with the police to tackle hate crime and support offenders being caught and brought to justice.”
Unite news release and Unite/TfL film.
 

RMT anger at government misses bus opportunity

The government has missed an opportunity to reverse the dangerous decline in the quality of jobs and services on England’s bus system, the transport union RMT has said. RMT was commenting after the government published its response to the Transport Select Committee’s ‘Health of the Bus Market’ inquiry on services outside the capital (Risks 902). RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union was “angry, frustrated and disappointed at this missed opportunity to take action to address the massive decline in the bus industry. Routes have been cut, thousands of bus drivers have lost their jobs and bus journeys have fallen by 300 million in five years as the private bus companies ‘cherry pick’ which routes to run and leave communities cut off and isolated.” He said the industry’s decline has seen the safety and quality of bus drivers’ jobs plummet, leaving services less safe. “Government has failed to take action to address the excessive and unsafe hours in the industry, which are exacerbated by low pay, by the failure to legislate to bring local bus driver hours in line with long distance drivers, with no loss of pay. This shows that the government cares more about the private bus companies’ profits than the safety of passengers.” The RMT leader added: “The government’s proposals for a national bus strategy aren’t going to deliver the necessary changes under deregulation and privatisation. This proves once and for all that the bus industry needs to be renationalised, and run as a public service, not for profit. Local authorities need national ring-fenced funding to enable them to run the bus services their communities require in the public sector.”
Transport Select Committee Health of the Bus Market inquiry and the government’s 18 October 2019 response and national bus strategy. RMT news release. Morning Star.
 

'Don't sack 12,000 Asda workers just before Christmas'

GMB has written to Asda bosses calling on them not to sack 12,000 workers just before Christmas. In an open letter to senior vice-president Hayley Tatum, GMB urges the company to withdraw its threat to sack all workers who don’t sign the controversial Contract 6 on 2 November (Risks 915). Last week Asda workers handed in a 23,000 strong petition opposing the contract to Asda’s Leeds HQ during a mass protest. Asda workers have been told to sign the contracts - which will see them lose all their paid breaks and forced to work bank holidays - or be sacked on 2 November. Actor Paul McGann, who starred in cult hit Withnail and I and Aliens 3, and comedian and actor Rob Delaney, who starred in Catastrophe and Deadpool 2, both lent their support to the Asda workers (Risks 919). GMB said latest Asda accounts show directors “trousered a whopping £12 million last year – and profits rocketed more than £92 million - at the same time Asda slashed 5,000 jobs.” GMB national officer Gary Carter said: “If Asda is serious about not wanting to sack thousands its employees on the run up to Christmas, they need to withdraw the dismissal notices and sit down with GMB to resolve this dispute.” He added: “Asda has served notice on up to 12,000 of its loyal employees – that cannot be right. The onus is now on them is save people’s jobs with a better deal that their employees can sign up to.”
GMB news release.
 

Safety week meeting marked Dutch worker’s death

UK construction union Unite has backed a memorial event held on 19 October to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Dutch construction worker Joop Vanbergh on Colchester’s Hythe Bridge bypass. The event organised by the Colchester Trades Council took place ahead of the annual European Health and Safety Week, which this year ran from 21-25 October. Speakers included Kitty Jong, vice-president of the Dutch construction union FNV, and Unite’s regional construction officer Guy Langston. Langston said: “Each and every construction death should be marked and remembered. In every case someone’s loved one, went to work one day and never came home again.” He added: “Twenty-five years after Joop Vanbergh was killed while building the Hythe Bridge bypass his family still feel that loss. Even 25 years later and despite advances in safety, the deaths of construction workers, remain far too common. One death is one too many.”
Unite news release. European Week for Safety and Health at Work.

 

OTHER NEWS

Government ditches binding workers’ rights commitments

Unions and the Labour Party have warned that Boris Johnson's reworked Brexit deal would threaten workers' rights and protections in the future. While the prime minister has insisted the UK will “maintain the highest possible standards in social protections and the environment”, he has removed the commitment from the legally-binding Brexit deal he says he will push through by 31 October. Instead it is relegated to the non-binding political declaration on the future relationship - as an aspiration that could be dropped or bargained away in future trade deals. EU safety regulations originating as EU directives include working time, chemical safety, maternity rights and the other key workplace health and safety rules. Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, accused the government of pursuing “a licence to deregulate” the economy in the future. He warned that after Brexit the UK might choose to follow other “economic models,” citing the United States where the holiday entitlement was 10 days a year and companies “had far more power than the workforce.” Laura Pidcock, Labour’s shadow employment rights secretary, commenting on an 18 October government announcement on workers’ rights and environmental standards post-Brexit, said: “This empty gesture is not worth the paper it’s written on. If Boris Johnson was committed to workers’ rights and environmental rights he wouldn’t have spent the last few weeks removing legally-binding commitments from the Withdrawal Agreement.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned: “Boris Johnson has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May.” She said: “This deal would be a disaster for working people. It would hammer the economy, cost jobs and sell workers’ rights down the river.” In a related blog posting, O’Grady noted “this deal gives no guarantee that workers’ rights will be protected or keep pace with improvements in the rights of workers across the EU.”
TUC news release and blog. Labour Party news release. Unite news release. GMB news release. Usdaw news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian. The Mirror.
 

Workers fear the sack for reporting sexual harassment

One in four young women are scared they will be sacked if they report sexual harassment at work, a study has found. The research by Young Women’s Trust found that just 6 per cent of young women who had been sexually harassed at work reported the misconduct. Sophie Walker, chief executive of the charity, said: “No woman should feel unsafe at work or put up with sexual harassment as something that's part of the day job - we've heard so many testimonies, read so many reports and yet it's still not mandatory to stop this from happening.” The trust’s research found 16 per cent of young women said they “know of cases of sexual harassment at work that have been reported and not dealt with properly”. Five per cent of young women said they have had to change job due to sexual harassment, assault or abuse. Eight per cent said they have been treated less well at work because they rejected sexual advances. Walker continued: “We’re calling on the government to make it mandatory for all employers to protect their workers and volunteers from harassment and victimisation. Alongside this, employers should make it easier to report abuse by customers and clients, as well as colleagues, and put in place unbiased reporting processes that do not penalise victims.” Earlier this month, in what the TUC described as a ‘significant advance’, revised Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance said the safety regulator may act where an employer fails to address workplace harassment risks (Risks 918). The HSE investigation policy change came three months after it was accused of having an ‘enforcement anomaly’ and a ‘prevention blindspot’ on workplace harassment (Risks 905).
Young Women’s Trust news release. The Independent.
 

Cabin fumes gave BA passengers breathing problems

Passengers on a British Airways flight to Valencia which filled with smoke mid-air two months ago have said they are still experiencing breathing difficulties.  Gayle Fitzpatrick, 40, told the BBC she is breathless walking up-hill. “I don't smoke, I've never had any health concerns. So I know [it] must be directly attributable to that flight and whatever I inhaled,” she said. British Airways said it could not comment for legal reasons. The airline said it was waiting for the outcome of a Spanish air accident investigation, which is examining why the cabin of flight BA422 to Valencia filled with smoke shortly before landing. Immediately after the August 2019 incident, UK cabin crew union Unite – which has introduced its own airline fume events register - repeated its call for an inquiry into toxic cabin air and fume events onboard jet airliners (Risks 910). Affected BA passenger Gayle Fitzpatrick has been referred by her doctor to a respiratory specialist, as has her fellow passenger on the Valencia flight, Stephen McConnon. He told the BBC he has sores in his throat and is often “struggling breathing.” His colleague, Frank Sweeney, who was with him on the flight and who is also suffering breathing difficulties after breathing the ‘acrid’ fumes, said he wants answers. “I want to know, first of all, what did we breathe in? Was the plane maintained properly? Should it have been in the air?” In a statement, British Airways said it would never operate an aircraft if it believed “it posed any health or safety risk to customers or crew.” Although it has not been confirmed officially, pilots and cabin crew have told the BBC they have no doubt that the incident on the flight to Valencia was a “fume event”. They said a number of less severe events on BA flights in recent weeks are also under investigation. Judith Anderson, who works in the safety department of the US flight attendants’ union AFA, said she gets a report of a fume event almost every day. After an incident on a flight with a US airline in July, one crew member was hospitalised for eight days and another for three days.  “The one that was hospitalised for eight days developed a speech impediment. She couldn't communicate properly, had severe headaches and cognitive issues,” she said.
BBC News Online.
Unite toxic cabin air factsheet, poster and campaign card. Unite fume event register. AFA fume event webpages.


Construction safety test cheats caught in police raids

Corrupt construction safety test centres have been caught selling answers to candidates seeking to obtain a safety qualification necessary to work on British construction sites. The illegal activities involving three centres was exposed during counter-fraud raids by the construction industry training board CITB, police and the Home Office. Three men involved in the delivery of CITB tests were arrested for Fraud Act offences while seven construction workers were detained on suspicion of working in Britain illegally. Staff at the safety test centres in Cheshire, Essex and London were found giving the answers to candidates. At the Cheshire centre a staff member admitted helping candidates choose correct answers, while a considerable amount of cash was found without a plausible explanation. In Essex, administrators were paid to give the right answers  to a large number of candidates during the test. Candidates admitted paying up to £500 to take the £21 CITB health, safety and environment test. In London, the Metropolitan Police arrested a man suspected of facilitating corrupt tests for other candidates. A quantity of fake documentation and card making equipment was seized from a number of locations. The man has been released under investigation pending further enquiries. CITB said it will now review just over 2,500 tests conducted by these centres in the past year and then decide whether or not to revoke them. CITB fraud manager Ian Sidney said: “CITB has considerable experience in auditing test centres all over the country, and works with the Home Office, police and other law enforcement agencies where necessary on behalf of the construction industry to ensure a safe working environment for all.” He said anyone with information about fraudulent testing can contact CITB anonymously. CITB said so far in 2019 it had ‘terminated’ 17 test centres involved in delivery of fraudulent tests or CITB qualifications.
CITB news release and health, safety and environment test. Construction Enquirer.

 

Director jailed after employee’s excavator death

Front Row Builders Ltd boss Robert Harvey has been jailed after an employee was crushed to death by an excavator bucket, which Harvey was operating. The employee, Nicholas Hall, was pinned against the wall of an excavation pit for a vehicle wash bay that was under construction for Peter Lawless Road Planing Limited in Blantyre, Scotland. Hamilton Sheriff Court heard that on 7 May 2016 work was being carried out by Front Row Builders Ltd employees to build a wall within an excavation. Robert Harvey, the company’s sole director, operated an excavator to lower cement and blocks down into the hole for three other men working in the hole to use. Robert Harvey tipped the bucket to empty the mortar contents and shouted to Nicholas Hall to ‘scrape the rest out with a shovel’. But the 32-year-old was pinned against the wall by the excavator bucket and died of blunt force injuries to his chest and abdomen. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Harvey had failed to undertake a sufficient assessment of the risks to those who had been instructed to work with him, he operated a long reach excavator without receiving the appropriate training or certification and he instructed Nicholas Hall, who was working within the excavation, to remove mortar from the bucket. Harvey pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was given a 10-month custodial sentence. HSE inspector Helen Diamond commented: “If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the death of this worker could have been prevented.”
HSE news release. BBC News Online.
 

EVENTS

Tackling toxic workplaces conference, Glasgow, 7 November

A ‘tackling toxic workplaces’ conference organised by campaign group Scottish Hazards is to be held on 7 November, in partnership with the Trade Union Education Centre at City of Glasgow College. The event, supported by the STUC, is aimed primarily at trade union health and safety reps. The agenda includes a presentation from Stirling University professor Andy Watterson, setting out how a toxics use reduction strategy could be introduced and implemented in Scotland. There are also workshops on issues including air pollution, ill-health/capability dismissals and toxic work environments.
Tackling toxic workplaces conference, Glasgow, 7 November 2019, 10:00am-4:00pm, City of Glasgow College, Riverside Campus, Glasgow, G5 9XB. Cost: £55 (waged) and £10 (unwaged). Booking form. For further information, email Scottish Hazards.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: Union exposes dangers to Deliveroo riders

Deliveroo Australia has set up a ride safety panel after a union revealed how the gig company’s under-pressure cyclists, who have no guaranteed income, were routinely 'doored' and injured on the job. Chief executive Ed McManus said the advisory panel of 10 riders would 'lead the way' on improving safety for the company's 8,000 local riders. “Today, Deliveroo is excited to announce the first rider-run advisory panel for the gig economy in Australia,” he said in a statement. “The advisory panel will regularly meet with Deliveroo's senior leadership to discuss challenges and concerns around rider safety, and advise on safety initiatives and activities to address the issues most important to them.” The safety advisory panel was established after Deliveroo drivers complained to the Transport Workers Union (TWU) about poor road safety. A union survey of 160 Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Foodora riders found 46.5 per cent of these gig economy workers had been injured at work or knew someone who had. TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said riders were routinely taking risks, like running red lights, to meet unreasonable deadlines as a result of being denied a guaranteed rate. “The result of these attacks on riders' take-home pay is to heap extra pressure on riders to make more deliveries as quickly as possible, forcing them to take safety risks,” he said. “Deliveroo riders aren't paid a guaranteed rate and they can work shifts for the company without any pay at all. The company has removed guaranteed hourly rates, increased delivery distances and slashed rates.”
Daily Mail. TWU on-demand delivery worker webpages. This is Money.
More on health and safety and insecure work and low pay.
 

Canada: Ontario premier’s office occupied over temp deaths

Community and labour leaders began an occupation of the office of Ontario premier Doug Ford’s constituency office on 16 October, demanding his signature on a law aimed at preventing further deaths in the province’s workplaces. Several protesters were subsequently arrested. Enacting section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) would ensure that companies using temp agency workers are held financially responsible for workplace deaths and injuries. The regulations were drafted in 2018 and have been awaiting the premier’s signature since. The occupation was prompted by the death of Enrico Miranda, a 57-year-old father-of-two killed on 25 September at Fiera Foods, one of North America’s major food firms. Miranda was the fifth temporary agency worker to die on the job at Fiera Foods, and the second since Doug Ford took office. “Premier Doug Ford has left us with no other choice, but to start this occupation today,” said Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). “Had Ford implemented Section 83(4) of WSIA, companies like Fiera Foods would be held fully financially responsible for the injuries to temp agency workers. This tragic death could have been prevented. It is time for companies like Fiera Foods to be held accountable. In Ontario, temp agency workers are twice as likely to get hurt on the job, compared to directly hired employees” OFL said currently a legal loophole shields companies from the cost of injuries suffered by the temp agency workers they hire. The union body teamed up with labour rights groups in a joint campaign for the law to be enacted. They say Ford’s refusal to take action to prevent further workplace deaths in Ontario has provoked this indefinite occupation, which is supported by unions in the province, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers, the Toronto York Region Labour Council and other community and labour groups.
OFL news release. Rank and File Canada. Rabble podcast.
 

Qatar: ITUC welcomes end of the kafala ‘slavery’ system

Qatar has dismantled the kafala system of modern slavery that has seen migrant workers abused and killed (Risks 866). In a move welcomed by the global union confederation ITUC, exit visas for workers – including domestic workers, those in government and public institutions, and workers employed at sea, in agriculture as well as casual workers – have been eliminated. These workers now have the same rights as all workers in Qatar. The abolition of no objection certificates (NOC) will allow workers to change their jobs without the permission of their employer, following normal contractual commitments. “Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to the kafala system of modern slavery: exit visas for all workers including domestic workers eliminated; a system of contracts that are transparent and labour courts to enforce them; the end to permission to leave a job, with criteria equivalent to any modern industrial relations system; and a government fund to ensure workers are not disadvantaged by exploitative employers, while the state pursues recovery of entitlements,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Workers want to work in the Gulf states, they want to support their families at home, but they also want decent work where they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. While we witness the changes in Qatar, sadly this is not the case in neighbouring countries where migrant workers are still treated as less than human with few rights and freedoms.” The union leader added: “The reforms need to become embedded in employment practice and strong legal compliance. But the partnership between the Qatar government and the ILO supported by the ITUC is working to change lives – to change a nation.” The new laws will be submitted to the Advisory (Shura) Council in November and are scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2020.
ITUC news release. ILO news release.
 

USA: Report exposes Amazon warehouse ‘pressure and pain’

A study has exposed unhealthy workplace practices at a major Amazon warehouse in New York. The report was timed to be released on the anniversary of the Staten Island facility's opening. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) research report, ‘Time off task: Pressure, pain, and productivity at Amazon’, reveals that 80 per cent of workers were pressured to work harder or faster at their facility, 66 per cent expressed experiencing physical pain while performing work duties, and 42 per cent continued to experience pain even when they weren't at work. The report notes “that workers experience harmful working conditions and a workplace culture that prioritises line speeds over human safety. Several workers expressed being evaluated and docked points for the amount of ‘time off task’ spend in a day. ‘Time off tasks’ refers to any break that a worker takes, excluding their legally required 30-minute lunch break. If a worker has too much time off task, they may be disciplined and are ultimately subject to termination for poor performance.” NYCOSH executive director and report co-author Charlene Obernauer said: “This report shows that Amazon, which has been criticised for its company culture in other cities, is running its Staten Island facility without regard for workers' need to be treated as people, not robots. You can't expect workers to work safely when they are going to be docked points if they take a break for a sip of water.” She added: “There is no reason - none - that a company like Amazon can't do more to prevent the pain and suffering experienced by workers in its warehouses. The injuries documented by NYCOSH researchers can be prevented through a worker-centred ergonomics programme, better staffing, and other measures that are well within reach for a company with billions in annual profits.”
NYCOSH news release and report, Time off task: Pressure, pain, and productivity at Amazon, NYCOSH, October 2019. The Guardian.
Amazon in the UK: GMB ‘Amazon workers are not robots’ campaign and petition. More on Amazon UK’s safety record and related That’s rich! poster.
 

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