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






Unions ensure outbreak action works at work

The TUC says union reps should ensure employers assess risks posed by the coronavirus outbreak and their workplace and take the necessary preventive action in consultation with their staff. A new TUC coronavirus guide for unions reps says they “should ensure their employer has in place either a separate policy for dealing with Covid-19, or a general policy covering public health emergencies, major disasters or incidents. It should not be left to employers alone to decide on what is an appropriate response - unions must also be involved, as any effective policy must have the confidence of the whole workforce.” Employers should risk assess all the potential impacts on their operations and staff, the TUC states, “right up to the worst likely situation of workplace closure, disruption to transport, and the disruptions to other services such as banking, the internet and supply chains.” Management must have received any necessary training on understanding Covid-19 and the measures necessary should an outbreak be suspected, the guide says, adding union safety reps should be consulted about and made aware of any policies or measures taken, and clear lines of reporting to managers should be established. According to the TUC: “Safety representatives are urged to ensure that their employer notifies all their staff of what arrangements they have made to prepare for an outbreak of pandemic Covid-19, including what role they expect individual staff to take.” The guide includes information on workplace hygiene, personal protective equipment and on transmission of the coronavirus.
Coronavirus/Covid-19 Guidance to Unions, TUC, March 2020.
RESOURCES: Thompsons Solicitors briefing on coronavirus and the law at work. Labourstart Unions and Covid-19 news service. HSE coronavirus webpages. Covid-19 and the world of work, ILO.  WHO worker protection and Covid-19 resources.

New TUC advice for people now working at home

TUC has published new advice on home working. The move follows the prime minister’s call this week for people to work at home during the coronavirus outbreak if they can. More than 1.7 million people already work from home on a regular basis in the UK, but millions of people are likely to be home working for the first time this week, the TUC says. The union body says it is vital that staff have access to safe working conditions in their own home. It says workers should also take regular breaks and follow their usual working hours if possible. The TUC adds that it is important to keep in contact with colleagues – by email, Skype, phone and chat for example – to avoid the mental health effects of isolation. The TUC is calling for protection of those unable to take the work from home option, especially frontline workers in public services. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s essential for those people who can work from home to do so during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s important to have a safe place to work and to keep in regular contact with colleagues. But not everyone has the option of working from home, especially those running our vital public services at this difficult time.” She added: “The rest of us working from home, not making unnecessary journeys and avoiding social contact will help keep them safe. And no one should be left out of pocket because they can’t get into their workplace or work from home.” Costs that should be covered by the employer could include paying for necessary work equipment or improved wi-fi provision.
TUC news release. Prime minister’s statement, 16 March 2020 and PM’s statement, 17 March 2020. Acas guidance on working at home. Prospect top 10 tips on working from home.

Government must protect jobs and livelihoods, says TUC

TUC is calling on the government to follow other countries and introduce wage subsidies to protect working families and save jobs. A new TUC report, published following the chancellor’s 17 March statement, sets out proposals that will build on the Rishi Sunak’s announcements to protect business and the economy by guaranteeing all families an income and protecting jobs from being lost. The TUC says these additional measures will also help slow down the spread of the infection by ensuring people can afford social distancing and self-isolation. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The chancellor’s announcements so far will help protect businesses. But he must now urgently step up the protections that workers need too. Many other countries are using government wage subsidies to stop job losses and keep up economic activity. We need it too. And government support to businesses must be conditional on them producing a plan to protect jobs and wages.” The TUC leader added: “Unions and business want to fully play their part in protecting the nation. The government must urgently bring them together a national taskforce, so we can put these measures into action in the best way for working people and our economy.” The TUC’s report calls for wage subsidies for short-time working, sick pay for all and parental leave support. It also says the government should provide further significant economic stimulus and must help people meet their rent, mortgage and debt payments, give people living on benefits and pensions a significant bump in income. Ministers need to pull together a national taskforce involving employers, unions and government agencies, the TUC says, to make sure coronavirus doesn’t lead to a recession and mass unemployment.
TUC news release. Protecting workers’ jobs and livelihoods: The economic response to coronavirus, TUC report, 18 March 2020. ETUC trade unions and the coronavirus resources webpages, including details of national agreements. GMB news release



Unions will work with ministers on virus crisis

The chancellor’s statement that he “will do whatever it takes” to protect business and “people’s financial security” and will work with unions to do it, has been welcomed by unions. In his 17 March speech outlining the government’s plans, Rishi Sunak said: “In particular, I will work with trade unions and business groups to urgently develop new forms of employment support to help protect people’s jobs and incomes through this period.” He added: “We have never faced an economic fight like this one. But we are well prepared. We will get through this. And we will do whatever it takes.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis responded: “The government needs to give people certainty in this rapidly changing situation. Easing the anxiety many people have over their jobs and livelihoods is crucial.” He said: “Unions want to work with ministers in the interests of the country at this unprecedented time. But making sure that all workers off ill with the virus or isolated at home have enough money to pay their rent and bills is essential. Raising statutory sick pay to minimum wage rates could happen quickly and have an instant effect.” The UNISON leader added: “The government has promised the NHS everything it needs. Ministers must give councils the necessary funding and powers to ensure social care can be delivered safely and give the utmost support to all public sector workers battling at the forefront of this crisis.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The chancellor’s commitment to work with trade unions to look at employment support is helpful and we look forward to an early invitation to high-level talks.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 17 March 2020 speech. HM Treasury news report. UNISON news release. Usdaw news release.

Chancellor must support workers as well as business

The government must provide workers as well as businesses protection during the coronavirus crisis, unions have said. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, commenting after Rishi Sunak said he would work with unions to help address workplace issues, said: “The chancellor is right that we need to work together to get through this, and GMB is willing to play our part. It’s crucial the government acts urgently to secure jobs, wages and living standards while keeping workers on the frontline safe.” He added: “Support for business is welcome, but we need support for workers too because bills won’t go away while people self-isolate. We need a sector by sector approach to securing the economy, mitigating losses now and crucially planning now for investment in recovery.” Len McCluskey, Unite's general secretary, said “we remain extremely concerned that workers' and individuals' own capacity to act on the public health advice will remain seriously compromised because the direct economic support has not yet been provided by government. This must change and urgently. Providing wage support and covering rents must be a priority.” He added: “We urgently need for the government to introduce now the sort of measures that we have seen implemented in our competitor nations, including paying workers 75 per cent plus of their salary while they are forced to be at home as has been introduced in Denmark and Holland. UK workers deserve the same efforts and assistance.”
GMB news release. Unite news release. HM Treasury news release. The Guardian. Personnel Today.

Sick pay reality for gig worker couriers

The ‘paltry’ sick pay for delivery couriers affected by coronavirus could push them to keep working to stay financially afloat rather than self-isolate, critics have warned. Hermes, which has around 15,000 self-employed parcel couriers, will only pay £20 a day to drivers if they need to self-isolate and only if they typically earn less than £90 a day. It means that almost half its workers will receive nothing and those who do will see payments capped at £280 because they are effectively limited to 14 days. DPD is offering the equivalent of statutory sick pay, or £94.25 a week. DPD Group UK made £118m in profit in 2018 and Hermes made £29m over a similar period. GMB said it was irresponsible that companies that use the gig economy model “put courier safety and public health at risk by creating disincentives to self-isolation.” Mick Rix, national officer at the GMB, said: “Paltry statutory sick pay for those who have to self-isolate is a financial punishment simply for doing the right thing, flies in the face of advice to employers, and exposes people to harm and hardship. Ministers can and should use the emergency powers already available to them to ensure employers are no longer able to act in bad faith and place a requirement on them to support their people through self-isolation.”
The Guardian. Business and Human Rights resource centre.

Tube cleaners to get full sick pay

Rail union RMT has welcomed the news that a union campaign to get Tube cleaners ‘in the frontline of the fight to contain the coronavirus on London Underground’ full sick pay has been successful. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The union has been demanding that all privatised staff on the transport network get full sick pay in light of the coronavirus outbreak and the news that Tube cleaners working for ABM are to get just that is a welcome breakthrough others must now follow.” He added: “Transport workers in all grades are being exposed to high levels of social contact across the board and the idea that any of these essential staff should be financially penalised if they are forced to self-isolate remains a scandal. They cannot opt to work from home and they come into contact with a damn sight more people than you encounter on a visit to the pub. Transport bosses and the government must recognise that fact.” The union leader concluded: “RMT wants all these services brought in house but the very least that should happen in the interim is that these key staff are fully protected both financially and in the workplace at this time.”
RMT news release.

Media owners should follow official advice

Journalists’ union NUJ has called on media employers to follow UK government advice to facilitate home working to the greatest extent possible, stop unessential travel and avoid unnecessary social contact in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The union has also reminded journalists covering the Covid-19 pandemic to exercise ‘maximum care’ in their public interactions. The NUJ says while the press has a clear duty to continue to work and report news and advice on the pandemic, it needs to do so in safety. Employers must put in place technological and other solutions to enable this, the union says. Séamus Dooley, the NUJ’s assistant general secretary, said: “At a time when the public needs verifiable, reliable information journalists play a critical role. It is important that media organisations have plans in place to minimise risks, maintain production and allow workers to protect themselves and their families.” Laura Davison, the NUJ’s national organiser, said: “Employers must safeguard their staff and follow the government’s advice in response to the Covid-19 situation. Journalists are already contracting the virus and their health and the health of their families and community must be paramount. Home working must be allowed where practicable and otherwise all safeguards must be put in place. It is times like this we need a responsible and healthy staff to report on the unfolding situation and as an important source of advice, acting as a bulwark to rumour and false stories. The NUJ will be doing all it can to help members during this time.”
NUJ news release and advice on Covid-19.

Unite warning on relaxation of lorry driving regulations

Commercial drivers’ union Unite has warned that the decision by the Department for Transport (DfT) to relax the regulations on lorry drivers’ driving hours from 18 March to 16 April must not affect driver welfare and road safety. The union, which represents over 50,000 lorry drivers in the UK, said it understands that the decision to relax the regulations which govern for how long HGV drivers can drive for as well as ensuring they take sufficient breaks, was a result of a request from retailers to the department for the environment and rural affairs (DEFRA), in order to ensure deliveries of ‘essential’ supplies. The relaxation of the regulations applies only to certain deliveries and is currently time limited. The DfT have confirmed the regulation changes are: “for the drivers of vehicles involved in the delivery of food, non-food (personal care and household paper and cleaning) and over the counter pharmaceuticals” on specified journeys between manufacturers, distribution centres and stores. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “It had been hoped that any lifting of the regulations would have been via negotiations in order to fully protect drivers’ welfare and well-being. Any further changes must be through negotiations to ensure the welfare of drivers. Unite is continuing to work with the major retailers to ensure that food supplies are fully maintained.” He added: “The driving regulations are the only measures which ensure that lorry drivers don’t become exhausted and make mistakes, placing themselves and other road users in danger. Every worker has a right to refuse to work if they believe that their safety is being endangered and if a driver believes they are not safe to drive they should refuse to do so and get further advice from Unite.”
Unite news release and Coronavirus/Covid-19 advice and guide for union officers. DfT guidance. Related HSE guidance on welfare facilities for delivery drivers.

Hospital union slams ‘dangerous’ infection PPE advice

GMB has said it is ‘very concerned’ after porters at a coronavirus-hit hospital were told they should only wear personal protection equipment (PPE) on the ‘advice of a clinical colleague’. The union was commenting on guidance given to staff working for Mitie at Epsom and St Helier hospital. The union is demanding frontline health service workers are issued with the appropriate PPE at all times to protect themselves and patients and to help prevent the spread of this virus. It said advice given to frontline health service workers has to be consistent, with health and safety the first priority. GMB organiser Helen O’ Connor said: “This advice is wrong, potentially dangerous and does nothing to protect staff or patients. If there is one thing to be learnt from this pandemic is that outsourcing companies are simply not up to the job of keeping their own staff and the public safe.” She added: “All NHS frontline services need to be brought back in-house as a matter of priority.”
GMB news release. GMB coronavirus advice.

UK ambulance workers left unprotected

The ambulance workers dealing with the coronavirus epidemic are turned up for shifts to find no hand sanitiser, face masks or wipes and faulty testing equipment, the union GMB has warned. Paramedics and ambulance workers across the UK are also being forced to deal with inconsistent guidance and fatigue due to increased workloads as colleagues self-isolate, it said. GMB has published key demands the government must meet to keep emergency workers - and the British public – safe. It wants priority testing for ‘vital workers’, and full pay for those who have to self-isolate. It adds the government should ‘underwrite any employers who can't afford it.’ The union wants emergency PPE given as a priority to these health workers, including goggles, thermometers, masks and hand sanitisers. It is also seeking paid-time childcare or care support for essential health workers. GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “The stories we are getting from the frontline are obscene. How can you expect our emergency workers to deal with the Covid-19 crisis without hand sanitiser, wipes or masks? Our hardworking ambulance members will always put the patients first - but they shouldn’t have to unnecessarily risk their lives to do so.” She added: “This terrible situation is the direct result of ten years of crushing cuts to our NHS. Managers of ambulance services are at a loss as to what to do - they want to protect staff but are unable to.” She said the government and Public Health England can take steps to put things right, starting by meeting GMB’s “key demands to keep the country safe.”
GMB news release.

More NHS firms agree full pay for self-isolated

Private company Medirest has become the latest to promise full pay for all health workers self-isolating due to coronavirus. GMB said following pressure from the union, the company joined NHS ‘outsourcers’ ISS, Sodexo, Interserve and Mitie in guaranteeing full pay. The union is seeking similar urgent commitments from other private firms operating in the NHS, including transport firms and social care providers. GMB organiser Lola McEvoy said the Medirest agreement is “another fantastic GMB win for workers. Tens of thousands of outsourced workers across the NHS will not be left to suffer on poverty sick pay while this crisis unfolds - the direct result of GMB members hard fought campaign.” She added: “Almost all major NHS contractors have now agreed to do the decent thing and help keep the British public safe by giving full pay from day on for anyone self-isolating.”
GMB news release.

Unions worldwide demand Amazon addresses virus safety

In the wake of coronavirus outbreaks in Amazon warehouses, a global alliance of unions is calling on the company to take urgent measures to protect workers and communities. The alliance, coordinated by the global UNI and which includes the UK union GMB, is making its demands as workers in Italy are striking and workers in Spain are filing complaints to make the company fulfil its legal obligations to provide a safe workplace. Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI, said: “Amazon workers are on the frontlines of this crisis. Amazon is facing increased demand as families around the world prepare to stay home, and with that increased demand comes increase risk for workers. Workers are doing their part, but Amazon is failing to abide by safety rules set by governments in Spain and Italy once again putting profits over people. Amazon needs to negotiate with unions to ensure worker safety and smoothly functioning supply chains.” Italian Amazon workers are on strike in Castel San Giovanni (Piacenza) and announced a “state of agitation” in facilities in Piedmont and Passo Corese near Rome over unsafe conditions. Already, Amazon warehouse employees have tested positive for the infection. After confirmed coronavirus cases in Amazon warehouses in Barcelona and Madrid, Spanish union Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) has filed a complaint with authorities in Barcelona over Amazon’s response to the outbreak. In the UK, workers are being forced to work overtime to keep up with demand. GMB national officer Mick Rix said that the reports were “extremely concerning” and accused Amazon of “imposing its demands on workers without any regard for their safety.” He expressed particular concern that overworked, fatigued staff could be made more susceptible to the virus.

UNI news release. BBC News Online. Morning Star.

Unions call for special measures for seafarers

Seafarers should be treated as key workers and provided with special measures and exemptions from the travel and other restrictions being imposed for Covid-19 containment, according to the London-based maritime professionals’ union Nautilus. It says in the United Kingdom, 95 per cent of all trade into and out of the country moves by sea. Globally that figure is 90 per cent. “We call for special measures and exemptions for seafarers, otherwise world trade will grind to a halt,” Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said. The union is recommending preventive measures to protect the health and safety of seafarers including, where necessary, screening and testing for Covid-19. “Ships crews need to be provided with medical kits for protection and priority medical treatment if found to be infected in order to allow them get back to work quickly,” the Nautilus leader said. The union also wants an end to travel restrictions on seafarers, to allow crew changes and avoid unnecessary fatigue and exhaustion for those whose tours of duty and work patterns are being impacted due to the current containment strategies being imposed by many governments. Transport union RMT has called for specific measures to preserve seafarers’ jobs, skills and livelihoods “in light of Covid-19's devastating impact on shipping activity to and from UK ports.” General secretary Mick Cash said: “It doesn't take a genius to work out that this crisis could quickly turn into a disaster for our embattled maritime workers, the shipping industry and UK society. We rely on maritime transport to deliver half of the food [30 per cent EU, 20 per cent non-EU] we consume and the government needs to intervene to re-balance the shipping industry and prevent this crisis from extinguishing our members' jobs, their livelihoods or the country's maritime skills’ base.”
Nautilus news release and FAQs for seafarers on coronavirus. RMT news release.

Government should be ‘ashamed’ of unsafe budget

The firefighters’ union FBU has condemned chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 11 March budget for “failing to recognise the role of firefighters in responding to flooding, for failing to provide building safety funding for buildings under 18m and for promising a ‘pittance’ to fund firefighters’ crucial fire safety work.” Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This budget once again fails to end a decade of pay restraint for firefighters and the chronic underfunding of the fire and rescue service.” He noted that funding allocated for the replacement of flammable cladding ignores “those at risk in buildings under 18m, such as the Bolton Cube. This is not good enough and won't keep people safe.” The union was equally scathing about the government’s refusal to fund properly the nation’s emergency response capacity. “After the devastating floods, firefighters pleaded with the government to provide the dramatic funding increase they need to keep people and communities safe, but once again, these pleas fell on deaf ears,” Matt Wrack said. “When flooding or wildfires inevitably hit again with more intensity, the chancellor will have to live with knowing that he failed to properly resource the response. He should be ashamed. A decade of drastic funding cuts and unfair pay restraint has resulted in the loss of a fifth of our firefighters and a quarter of our fire safety officers - it’s about time that the government recognised and reversed the damage they have done. But, frankly, the £20 million promised to fund fire safety is a pittance compared to the £141.5 million cut since 2013 in England – and it’s utterly insufficient.”
FBU news release and related release. HM Treasury news release and Budget 2020.

Europe: Outbreak exposes danger of sick pay cuts
Europe’s trade union federation ETUC is calling for paid sick leave for all workers across Europe, warning the coronavirus exposes the danger to public health posed by the cuts made to sick pay by member states. European Commission figures show the majority of member states have reduced spending on sickness benefits since the 2008 financial crisis. ETUC says the cuts to sick pay across Europe mean more people go to work when they are ill because they can’t afford to lose income or risk losing their job. It adds this presents a risk to public health, particularly in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.  The ETUC’s executive has adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission and national governments to ensure all workers, included the self-employed and those in precarious employment, can take leave without fear of losing their jobs or income. The resolution adds any workers who lose income during quarantine, or who are suspended or made redundant, receive financial support. ETUC general secretary Luca Visentini said: “The coronavirus outbreak has shown how workers’ rights like decent sick pay is not only important to individuals but everyone around them. Millions of workers have lost out on sick pay since the financial crisis, which is forcing them to go to work when they’re ill.” He added: “It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to show that’s a bad idea, but the EU and member states now need to ensure that all workers have the right to paid sick leave and free health care.”
ETUC news release, resolution on coronavirus and Trade unions and the coronavirus resources webpages. GMB news release.

Global: Crew and passengers can’t be abandoned at sea

The refusal of ports to allow the crew and passengers of ships affected by the coronavirus to disembark is “insane and unsustainable”, the global transport union ITF has warned. In one incident last week, the Grand Princess cruise ship was refused permission to dock in California amid speculation that some passengers and crew had tested positive for Covid-19. The move was supported by President Trump, but critics warned the refusal to allow those onboard to disembark was treating the ship like a disease breeding ‘petri dish’. Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section, condemned the failure of flag states to protect seafarers’ and passengers’ health during “this humanitarian crisis.” ITF says under international law, the onus for the health and safety of the crew and passengers, and for the wider public that could be impacted, is on the flag state governments, the nations where ships are registered. It asserts flag states should ensure that companies whose vessels fly their flag abide by national and international legislation. “Flag states have sovereignty over their vessels, but for the coronavirus-affected cruise ships responsibility has fallen on the port states, national governments of the passengers and crew or even a third country,” said Heindel. “This is simply insane and unsustainable. If the world continues to accept the Flag of Convenience system in its current form, it should be pointed out for its failures. The world should be concerned about the lack of policies and inability of flag states to react and enact measures in line with their responsibility to protect workers and tackle the transmission of the Covid-19 virus.” He said: “Protecting the health of transport workers is our first priority. The ITF will continue to advocate for the health and safety of crews on ships, port workers, along with passengers, and that they are protected from any potential risks of Covid-19 as well as ensuring that flags states are adhering to their duty of care to their health and safety.”
ITF news release. CBS News. MSN News.

India: Saint-Gobain worker dismissed for occupational illness

An employee of the global building materials giant Saint-Gobain in Bangalore, India, was fired for absenteeism after exposure to the highly toxic chemical cadmium left him with severe health problems, the global union IndustriALL has said. Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors fired Jayaraj Mathangi in 2016 after years of service. The 35-year-old is demanding reinstatement and compensation for lost health. Jayaraj, who joined the company in August 2008, was required to check some 300-400 cadmium crystals per day. Transparent under normal conditions, cadmium tungstate crystals emit light when exposed to gamma rays and x-rays, and are used to make scintillation detectors. To test and calibrate the detectors, workers used Caesium-137, a radioactive element. Cadmium and caesium are both extremely hazardous. From 2012 onwards, Jayaraj noticed a serious deterioration in his health. He suffered headaches, pain and numbness in his legs. He informed management of his health problems but no action was taken. After he sought medical treatment, tests revealed the cadmium level in his blood was up to four times the acceptable limit. He had a high red blood count, high lymphocytes, abnormal glucose levels, and low levels of vitamin D and calcium. The doctors also found he suffered from bronchitis, muscle cramps and bone softening. Following official safety inspections, company managers were convicted by the Bangalore court and fined, with excess cadmium found in the blood of many workers in the cadmium processing department. Separately, an Atomic Energy Regulatory Board inspector noticed that workers were handling sealed lead containers of radioactive materials with their bare hands. Many of the individuals who tried to form a union to address the safety problems were victimised, with the company engaging in union-busting techniques. Valter Sanches, general secretary of the global union IndustriALL, has now written to the multinational demanding a proper investigation into the problems and measures to remedy the situation. The letter demands the reinstatement of Jayaraj Mathangi, with payment of lost income and compensation. IndustriALL is also calling for an investigation into health and safety conditions and a plan to eliminate health hazards related to exposure to cadmium and radioactive materials. It adds that workers must be allowed to organise, form and join the union of their choice.
IndustriALL news release.

Myanmar: Growing union pushes for mine safety

A mining union is Myanmar is calling on the government and employers to improve health and safety in mines, demanding measures including emergency exits, clean drinking water and fire extinguishers at the worksites. The Mining Workers Federation of Myanmar (MWFM), which is affiliated to the global union IndustriALL, has said there can be no compromise when it comes to health and safety, stating that authorities and employers must put human lives before profit. MWFM president Thaung Nyunt said: “Through IndustriALL's project activities we have been able to successfully lobby employers to implement safety guidelines and appoint safety supervisors. Joint investigation committees with workers and employers were also set up in accordance to the law.” He added: “Mining companies should welcome our organising drive, as union representatives will oversee implementation of safety and health measures in mines. Good practice will be realised through continuous social dialogue.” He said MWFM’s position paper on the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines identified gaps in the country’s legal protections that should be remedied. MWFM membership is now almost 7,500, up 57 per cent since 2018.
IndustriALL news release.



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