Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
The TUC has produced the guide Coronavirus/ COVID-19 Guidance to Unions for union reps. It is designed to give reps an understanding of the workplace issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide support in being effective at negotiating with employers steps that can be taken to best protect the health and safety of the workforce.
The TUC will also be running a Webinar: Coronavirus at work for union reps on Monday 16th March at 2pm – 3pm. Open to all union members to register in advance.
The government must set up an emergency taskforce to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, the TUC has said. The union body said ministers should urgently pull together unions, employers and government agencies to come up with a plan for minimising the economic and health impacts of the virus. It added the taskforce’s main priorities should be: Designing an emergency support package to prevent businesses from folding and workers losing jobs and pay; ensuring public services are kept running and public sector workers are protected from the virus; and fixing the UK’s sick pay rules so that every worker has financial support regardless of how much they earn. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We urgently need a national task force to deal with coronavirus. This requires a joint approach.” She added: “Getting unions, employers and government agencies around the table will help contain the damage to the public health and our economy. Ministers must do all they can to protect public services, workers and businesses.” Currently, nearly 2 million of the lowest-paid workers don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. To address the issue the TUC is calling for government to introduce an emergency support package for workers affected by the virus, including emergency legislation to ensure Statutory Sick Pay coverage for all workers from the first day of sickness, regardless of how much they earn. It also wants an emergency fund to assist employers with the cost and to cover workers not currently eligible for Statutory Sick Pay. Commenting on the prime minister’s 4 March statement that sick pay would kick in from day one for those already eligible, Frances O’Grady said: “Two million workers still don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. They can’t afford not to work. And statutory sick pay still isn’t enough to live on. Government must go further to ensure that no one is penalised for doing the right thing.” TUC news release
. Prime minister’s statement on the coronavirus
and DWP statement
, 9 March 2020. Thompsons Solicitors SSP briefing
. BBC News Online
. Morning Star
RESOURCES: EU-OSHA coronavirus and the workplace resources guide
. BMJ news and resources
. JAMA Coronavirus Resource Center.
GMB has praised courier company Hermes for pledging £1 million to support self-employed drivers if they need to self-isolate as a result of the coronavirus. The company said it will help find someone to deliver on behalf of affected workers and guarantee that their rounds will be kept open for them for when they return. The move follows warnings from unions that a lack of sick pay for the more than 1 million gig economy workers could accelerate the spread of the virus, as workers would face financial difficulties if they did not carry on regardless of the risk to their health or that of others. GMB said the Hermes announcement is the latest win in its battle to protect workers and the British public from COVID-19. It followed NHS contractor ISS announcing all staff would receive full pay in cases of coronavirus self-isolation (Risks 937
), with contractor Sodexo following suit shortly after. GMB national officer Mick Rix commented: “Hermes have once again taken the industry lead and shown the gig economy how things should be done. By setting up this fund to assist those couriers they are not just protecting people who deliver for them, they are helping to keep the British public safe.” He added: “This is a very welcome step in the right direction, and all employers across the UK should follow their example.” GMB news release
. The Guardian
. Yahoo Finance
Construction employers should relax sick pay rules immediately to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus, the union Unite has said. The union’s call follows the 4 March announcement that the government has relaxed the rules on statutory sick pay (SSP) so that it is paid immediately if a worker is on sick leave rather, than on the fourth day which is the usual rule. Workers in the construction industry operating under a collective industrial agreement as well as SSP - worth just £94.25 a week – are also entitled to industry sick pay, which can be up to an additional £180 a week. However, there is a delay of up to two weeks before the industry sick pay is paid, with Unite concerned that construction workers who may be displaying symptoms of coronavirus will not self-isolate to avoid a drop in income. The union has written to several industry bodies signed up to industrial agreements asking that industry the sick pay is also paid from day one. Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “The custodians of the construction industry, who talk about the need for social responsibility must demonstrate they will do the right thing. There is a great deal of worry and fear about the coronavirus and it would be perverse if action was not taken to ensure that construction workers can take the appropriate measures to protect fellow workers and local communities from potentially being infected.” Ian Woodland, the Unite national officer for the mechanical and electrical sectors of the industry, said: “Construction employers must step up to the plate and take the responsible decision to start paying industry sick pay from day one. A failure to do so would demonstrate that construction employers are not genuine when they suggest they are serious in tackling coronavirus.” Unite news release
. Personnel Today
. Construction Enquirer
Transport union Unite has said lorry drivers are willing to be flexible to meet increased demands in the retail sector as a result of the coronavirus, but has said safety must not be compromised. The government announced this week it is relaxing restrictions on delivery hours for shops to make sure they remain stocked with basic items. Shelves have been emptied of certain commodities, as nervous shoppers stockpiled ‘essentials’. The environment department Defra said it would work with local councils to increase the frequency of deliveries. Environment secretary George Eustice said by allowing night-time deliveries, stock would be able to move more quickly from warehouses to shelves. Unite national officer Adrian Jones commented: “In order to meet the increased demand as a result of the coronavirus, many lorry drivers are being asked to work long hours. While Unite recognises that increased flexibility is required to cope with this increased demand, it must not be allowed to compromise drivers’ safety.” He added: “If changes in normal working practices are required then Unite believes that employers should enter into negotiations with Unite, to reassure drivers their safety is not being compromised.” The Unite officer, whose union represents over 50,000 lorry drivers, warned: “Drivers already report high levels of fatigue and exhaustion during their normal working time, which affects their physical and mental health as well as their family life and relationships. Lifting the regulations, without proper safeguards, will put more strain on them which could result in them being a danger to other road users and themselves.” Unite news release
. Defra news release
. BBC News Online
Transport union RMT has written to employers across the industry setting out ‘core demands’ designed to protect the safety of both staff and the public and the rights and livelihoods of the transport workforce. The union has also written to the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments and the Mayor of London, who are all responsible for overseeing transport services, asking that they support the union demands. RMT wants assurances that workers absent due to the virus should receive full pay on day one, and that related absences should not trigger absence procedures. It adds that contractors should be required to operate the same protective system. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Nowhere is more critical in terms of delaying the spread of the coronavirus than the transport network and the union is setting out a clear set of demands designed to protect staff and passenger safety as well as the rights and livelihoods of all staff – both directly employed and contracted out.” He added: “RMT is monitoring the situation but of course we recognise that vast numbers of our members are in constant contact with the public, often in a confined environment, and the union will take whatever action is required to protect them.” Rail union TSSA has said it is ‘vital’ the government convene an urgent summit looking at measures to stop the spread of coronavirus across public transport networks. RMT news release
. TSSA news release
Tube union RMT has written to the London mayor Sadiq Khan, calling for the privatised cleaning regime on London Underground to be ended and brought in-house. The union demand came after the Evening Standard reported that New York’s transport authorities were taking measures to meet the public health threats posed by coronavirus by imposing an enhanced cleaning regime in the subway system. The city’s network is to be deep cleaned every three days as part of the strategy. RMT says by contrast the latest publicly available information on London Underground’s cleaning regime indicates that most lines are only deep cleaned every 21 to 23 days. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is clear that the privatised cleaning operation on London Underground will not allow a quick and solely public interest response to the coronavirus. Unlike London Underground, cleaning on the New York subway is not privatised and benefits from being directly controlled by the public sector. This is why they are able to deep clean the subway every three days, compared to every 21-23 days on the Underground.” The union leader added: “We are in no doubt, as has been shown by research in the healthcare system that outsourced cleaning contracts lead to significantly greater incidents of infection. TfL need to take back control and bring cleaning back in-house and into direct London Underground employment.” RMT news release
. Evening Standard
Bus drivers employed by Konectbus are demanding action to end a long hours culture of 14-hour days and short breaks, causing fatigue and exhaustion. Their union Unite is calling on the company’s management to enter into meaningful negotiations on working hours, and to reach an agreement to secure union representation for the workforce. It notes many drivers work 14-hour days, often driving for five and a half hours before getting just the legal minimum break of 30 minutes. The union says it has been calling on Konectbus for many months to work with the union to address long hours. It adds some workers have reported that the long hours culture has been taking a toll on their physical and mental health, as well as their work life balance. Konectbus is owned by the Go Ahead Group PLC which had a turnover of £3.8 billion last year, with profits after tax of £75.1 million. Speaking ahead of a 10 March union protest outside Norwich Bus Station, Unite regional officer Mark Walker said: “Hardworking bus drivers providing an essential service to the people of Norfolk face long hours behind the wheel with very short breaks. This protest is taking place because it’s time for Konectbus to respect the driver and address the problems of fatigue and exhaustion.” He added: “Konect’s parent company Go Ahead made £75.1 million last year, so clearly the funds are available to invest in better working conditions for staff. It’s time for the company to sit down with the union to agree union recognition and negotiate working time which respects the driver and is in the interests of passengers.” Eastern Daily Press
. Norwich Evening News
. OTHER NEWS ‘Massive backlash’ against Wilko plans to slash sick pay
Wilko must listen to the public and workers and cancel their ‘ill thought out’ plans to cut sick pay for tens of thousands of staff, the union GMB has said. The company has announced plans to cut sick pay entitlement for all 21,000 members of staff in stores and distribution centres. Under the changes, which are set to take effect on 1 April, there will be no company sick pay after the first occasion of sickness. Anyone who has been with the company for less than a year is entitled to no sick pay at all from Wilko. The plan means even long-standing staff will only be eligible for sick pay on one occasion per year. GMB national officer Gary Carter said: “There has been massive public backlash over Wilko’s plan to slash sick pay for tens of thousands of workers – the company needs to listen. On social media there is talk of store boycotts and Wilko is now facing potential strike action by GMB members in distribution centres and stores.” He added: “Wilko needs to recognise the public and their employees are horrified by these plans to cut sick pay - especially with the threat of coronavirus. At a time when other employers and government are extending sick pay, Wilko cutting back is out of step and socially irresponsible. GMB is calling on Wilko to do the right thing by their employees and customers and withdraw the cuts to sick pay.” GMB news release
and earlier release
. Retail Gazette
. The Mirror
. The Sun
. The Express
. Morning Star
The casual contracts having a detrimental effect on the physical and mental health of university staff (Risks 905
) is also causing ‘reputational damage’ to the institutions themselves, according to a secret report from the Russell Group. Leaked minutes of a virtual meeting of the high status Russell Group universities said the group needed to 'show leadership' to 'avoid further reputational damage'. The report warned that politicians and others are starting to express concerns about the casualisation of university teaching and research, as well as a lack of support for staff. The lecturers’ union UCU said the document showed again how divided universities are over the issues at the heart of strikes currently affecting 74 UK universities. The union urged all university heads to speak out and get their negotiators to back to the table to talk seriously about how to resolve the disputes. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This secret report shows some universities do understand the extent of casualisation in our institutions, and the serious damage it does to the health of staff and education of students. Sadly, it looks like it is fear of reputational damage, rather than concern for staff or students, that has prompted universities to act on casualisation.” The union leader added: “Our message to all university vice-chancellors is simple: speak out. Make it clear to the people negotiating on your behalf that you want them to do more to deal with the key issues in these disputes. We are ready for serious negotiations to try and stop the strikes and end the disruption at our universities.” A UCU-commissioned report earlier this year found that staff on stress-inducing casual contracts are vulnerable and invisible “second-class academic citizens” in the university system (Risks 931
). UCU news release
and leaked minutes of the Russell Group meeting
Latest industry figures reinforce the message from shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw that workers in the retail sector need urgent government action to protect them from violence at work. The union said it is ‘deeply concerned about shocking statistics’ released by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS). Its annual crime survey, ‘Evidence for Action’, shows that over 50,000 convenience store workers were assaulted last year, with 25 per cent of incidents resulting in injury. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “When retail employers and the shopworkers’ trade union jointly call for action to stem this growing epidemic of violence against shop staff, it’s time for ministers to sit up and take notice.” He added: “All too often criminals feel they can get away with assaulting shop staff and are not punished. That’s why we need government action to help protect staff through the creation of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.” ACS 2020 Crime Report
. Usdaw news release
. Morning Star
A shipping company has been fined £120,000 over the death of a ship’s cook at a Norfolk port more than two years ago. Marine accident investigators described the incident in which Alfred Ismaili was killed as ‘entirely avoidable’. Mr Ismaili, who was 36, was crushed to death by a falling hatch cover during a lifting operation aboard general cargo vessel SMN Explorer at Alexandra Dock in King’s Lynn on 1 February 2018. The Sky Mare Navigation Company, the Greek firm which managed the ship, pleaded guilty to charges of failing to comply with the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment) Regulations 2006 during a hearing before magistrates in Chelmsford. The charges were brought by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), after investigations revealed that, without a formal operating procedure being in place for opening and closing the heavy hatch cover, Mr Ismaili had attempted to climb up the inside of the cover to access the equipment needed to secure it to a crane. The cover fell and crushed the Albanian national. The MCA inquiry identified evidence of a tolerance of poor safety practice and clear evidence of a failure to take the necessary precautions with the lifting equipment. An earlier probe by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch concluded the incident "was the result of procedural inadequacies and a lapse of supervision.” The company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £23,973. Dee Upshall, lead maritime investigator for the MCA, commented: “This tragedy was entirely avoidable. If a risk assessment had been carried out, or if Mr Ismaili had been given instruction or properly supervised as should have been the case, this death could have been prevented.” Deaths investigated and prosecuted by MCA are not included in the official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) annual workplace fatalities totals. Lynn News
. Eastern Daily Press. INTERNATIONAL NEWS Global: Workers need coronavirus health, pay and job protection
Global union confederation ITUC is calling for urgent measures to ensure workers who show possible coronavirus symptoms have access to free health care and can take sick leave without fear of losing their jobs or their incomes. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning of a “very high risk of global spread and impact” of the disease, the union body says workplaces are ‘frontlines’ in combatting the infection’s proliferation. “The WHO is warning of very high risk of global spread and impact of the virus, and workplaces are at the centre of containment and mitigation efforts. Many millions of people around the world have no right to take sick leave or face financial ruin if they have to go into isolation. That exposes them, their colleagues and the public to the risk of serious disease and can only accelerate its spread,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Along with all the other urgent measures required, governments need to ensure that employers provide time off without penalty for people who have symptoms, and to fill the gaps in social protection that make it difficult for people to stop work when they are sick. Never has the need for paid sick leave been more evident.” ITUC said that while the infection risk is highest for health workers, especially where protective equipment and facilities are lacking or sub-standard, other sectors - in particular where large numbers of people gather or are in transit - can also be major vectors for transmission. Global union UNI also warned that “workers are in the frontlines of the fight” against the virus. An editorial in the journal Occupational Medicine noted that a wide-range of workers had ‘probable occupationally-acquired’ coronavirus, with 17 of the first 25 locally transmitted cases in Singapore (68 per cent) “probably related to occupational exposure. They included staff in the tourism, retail and hospitality industry, transport and security workers, and construction workers.” ITUC news release
. UNI news release
David Koh. Editorial: Occupational risks for COVID-19
, Occupational Medicine, published online 28 February 2020.
Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that workers’ right to life was violated in the 2014 mine explosion in Soma where 301 workers lost their lives and 162 were injured. Relatives of 11 killed workers made an individual application to the court on 12 August 2016. The top court's ruling was published in the Official Gazette on 9 March. While the Constitutional Court rejected the applicants' request for compensation, it sent a copy of the decision to the Council of State with the direction that the consequences of the violation should be eliminated. The court ruling cited an expert report that blamed the explosion on negligence and errors. This report also stated that the ministry inspectors who inspected Soma Coal Inc. from 2014 until the date of the incident were also responsible as they did not reveal deficiencies and failures. The court concluded that the right to life, guaranteed under Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution, was violated. A criminal prosecution following the disaster saw Soma Coal Enterprises Inc. board chair Can Gürkan sentenced to 15 years in prison for “killing by negligence” (Risks 858
). The company’s general director Ramazan Doğru, mining engineer and deputy operations manager İsmail Adalı, operations manager Akın Çelik and mining engineer Ertan Arsoy were handed prison terms ranging from 15 years to 22 years and 6 months. İzmir Regional Court of Justice upheld the prison sentences in April 2019. Can Gürkan was released from prison on the same day, with the case now being considered at the Court of Cassation. Bianet
Online retailer Amazon relies on an extreme high-churn model, continually replacing workers in order to sustain a dangerous and gruelling work pace, new research has concluded. The report from the US National Employment Law Project (NELP) cites data from the company’s own records which reveal ‘stunningly high injury rates’ in the retailer’s warehouses. “Our analysis of California county-level census data shows that when Amazon opens a fulfillment center, warehouse worker turnover in that county skyrockets,” the authors add. “The average turnover rate for warehouse workers in counties with Amazon fulfillment centers was 100.9 percent in 2017, the latest year for which data are available. In other words, more workers leave their warehouse jobs each year than the total number of warehouse workers employed in those counties. This is substantially higher than the turnover rates for warehouse workers overall in California and in the US, which are 83.0 percent and 69.8 percent, respectively.” They conclude: “Beyond the negative effects on workers’ health and safety, Amazon’s high-churn system creates other costs that are not borne by the company, potentially putting a strain on public services such as unemployment insurance, public assistance and public health insurance programmes and creating instability for workers, their families, and their communities. Policymakers should act immediately to ensure reasonable and sustainable workload expectations for California’s warehouse workers, who are overwhelmingly people of colour. Taking action on this issue is a crucial step towards providing healthy and safe working conditions for workers in an important and growing industry in California.”
Amazon’s disposable workers: High injury and turnover rates at fulfillment centers in California, executive summary
and full report
, National Employment Law Project, March 2020.
As more than 100 hospital workers remained in self-imposed quarantine in California, a proposed regulation designed to protect them from infectious diseases such as the coronavirus languished inside a US federal agency. The draft regulation would require employers to provide protective gear for health care workers and to create infection-control plans, which could include building isolation rooms. The Obama administration was working to adopt the regulation, but the Trump administration in 2017 moved it to a less urgent, long-term agenda and work on it stopped. Now, members of Congress, unions representing health care workers, and the former head of the US government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are calling for the proposal to be expedited. They are petitioning the Labor Department, which oversees OSHA, to turn to a little-used federal law that allows the agency to issue a temporary emergency standard when a “grave danger” or “new hazards” emerge in the workplace. Several unions are asking that any emergency regulations also include people working for airlines, mass transit systems, prisons or in other workplaces where labourers may be exposed to the coronavirus. The former head of OSHA in the Obama administration said years of work have gone into the draft regulation, which included seeking and including advice from the health care industry. That could allow OSHA to move quickly. “The framework is there. If OSHA wanted to modify the standard, it could put it out tomorrow,” said David Michaels, who now works as an environmental and occupational health professor at George Washington University. National union federation AFL-CIO and several unions have backed the call for an emergency standard. The petition to labour secretary Eugene Scalia identifies 14 public and private “high-risk” industries - including firefighters and cruise ship workers — and asks that the standard apply to all 42 million workers employed by those industries.
Washington Post. The Atlantic.
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