Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
CORONAVIRUS NEWS AND ACTION In response to the worldwide coronavirus crisis, the global union confederation ITUC has announced unions are to make ‘Stop the pandemic at work’ a major campaign focus. The union has produced a series of posters and resources to kick off the campaign, which will build to a day of ‘virtual’ action on 28 April 2020, International Workers’ Memorial Day. ITUC says while everyone is affected by the crisis, workers are on the frontline. “Healthcare workers in particular are risking their lives doing their job to take care of the sick,” noted ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “There are people working in aged care facilities looking after the most vulnerable group of people. But then we also need transport, supermarket workers, and providers of for essential services, to keep the economy going. People should thank these workers because if you can’t buy food, then you can’t keep your family sustained and healthy.” ITUC said International Workers’ Memorial Day 2020 “will be held in support of all these courageous workers and in remembrance of the people who have died or become sick or injured while doing their job.” It added that social distancing and lockdown measures most likely mean that physical meetings and events will not be possible, and is developing ideas for online and other safe activities.
Stop the pandemic at work
HSE unions demand virus action as the watchdog goes missing
Essential role of low paid workers deserves recognition
Unions call for urgent government action on PPE
Promises of PPE won’t keep ‘forgotten’ workers safe
Gagging NHS workers could cost lives
Care workers put at risk by lack of basic safety kit
Home-visiting health workers need PPE urgently
‘Brave’ education staff need extra protection
Union calls for agreement to protect civil servants
Unite forces Norse Medway to act on virus risks
‘Inconsistent action in Scotland, public sector unions warn
M&S workers walk out over coronavirus safety fears
ASOS warehouse a 'cradle of disease' say workers
Next mothballing of warehouses welcomed by union
Amey agrees to full pay for self-isolating workers
Food processing workers forced to work in close proximity
Construction workers welcome shutdown of Scottish sites
‘Shocking’ risks at crowded Tyneside factory
Criticism as safety skills card firms cash in on coronavirus
Risk of lorry driver shortage unless medical rules are relaxed
Delivery giant UPS told ‘clean up your act’
All delivery drivers need health protection
Employers need to step up mental health support
Worker health is public health
ITUC news release. ITUC/Hazards 28 April website, including news on activities and resources. ITUC/Hazards coronavirus resource hub. ITUC Covid-19 resource pages – news, resources and publications from ITUC affiliates, Global Union Federations and LabourStart. Unions representing staff at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have written to the regulator for the second time in a week asking management to intervene directly with the government on behalf of the public and their members. Prospect, the FDA and PCS have written a joint letter to HSE Gold Command asking them to fulfil their duty as the independent regulator in charge of enforcing health and safety at work. The action on 31 March came after a letter sent a week earlier to the HSE chair and chief executive went unanswered. The unions said that despite guidance from the government that only essential workers should be going to work, some employers are stretching the interpretation of this to keep as many people as they can working. They said this is putting workers in danger, potentially putting HSE inspectors at risk if they have to visit a workplace, and increasing the likelihood of insurmountable pressures on the NHS. The letter calls on HSE’s Gold Command take its regulatory duties seriously, adding: “There is significant disquiet on social media about HSE’s apparent silence on what is clearly a workplace issue. We are further aware that a cross-party group of 128 MPs have written to government asking for them to act. We are concerned not only by the apparent inaction but also by the potential reputational damage this will cause to HSE as an independent regulator in the longer-term.” Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: “The government remains behind the curve on its response to the epidemic in its advice to workers and employers. We are a week into lockdown but every day Prospect receives more concerns from members. They are either having to go to work despite not being key workers, or they are key workers and are worried about the number of non-key workers they are forced to encounter.” He added: “The HSE has a regulatory duty to protect health and safety at work. We call upon HSE to pressurise the government to provide clarity on who should be going out to work, and who should not. If you leave things open to interpretation, some employers will inevitably take advantage and put workers and the capacity of the NHS at risk.” A letter this week from the national Hazards Campaign to the HSE leadership was also critical of inaction by the safety regulator. “Workers are justifiably feeling abandoned, anxious and their physical and mental health is deteriorating leaving them more likely to be at risk from contracting the virus.” it noted.
Prospect news release and earlier release. Hazards Campaign letter to HSE.
Thompsons Solicitors’ updated briefing on coronavirus and the law.
The critical role played by low paid workers in combating the coronavirus threat to public health deserves much greater recognition, the TUC has said. Commenting on the new national minimum wage rates which come into force on 1 April, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain is indebted to its army of minimum wage heroes. Many – including care workers and supermarket staff – are currently on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus. They deserve every penny of this increase, and more.” She added: “The best way to show our respect is to get the minimum wage up to a real living wage as soon as possible. Millions of low-paid workers are struggling to make ends meet. That’s not right during a pandemic – or at any time.” The minimum wage is now £8.72 an hour for workers age 25 or above, but is lower for younger workers, and goes down to £4.15 an hour for apprentices. A call by the TUC and unions for coronavirus wage protection for employees to be extended to self-employed workers (Risks 940) led to action by the government on 26 March. Commenting on the chancellor’s announcement of a new income support scheme for self-employed workers, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a welcome step forward for self-employed and freelance workers across the economy, from construction to the creative industries. It’s vital that support reaches workers as soon as possible. Many are already dealing with severe hardship. Unions look forward to being consulted on how this scheme is rolled out.”
TUC news release and news release on income protection for the self-employed. Coronavirus/COVID-19 Guidance to Unions, TUC, March 2020.
The government must ensure essential workers get access to live-saving protective equipment, an open letter to ministers from unions has said. The letter, signed by the TUC, UNISON, RCM, GMB, Unite, BDA and CSP, notes: “Our members care for the sick and the elderly, they look after our children and keep them safe, they make sure there is food on the supermarket shelves, they keep the lights on and the water running. We are weeks into fighting Covid-19. It is now clear that the lack of personal protective equipment for frontline workers has become a crisis within a crisis.” The letter adds: “Workers are being exposed to unreasonable and unnecessary risk by the ongoing failure to provide key workers with adequate PPE. Every day we hear from our members that despite repeated assurances from government, people are being asked to work with inadequate or out of date protective equipment – and that is where PPE is being provided at all.” The letter states starkly the risks faced by key workers. “They are risking their own health and safety for us. We must be clear what that means, those who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus – such as health and social care professionals – are risking their lives.” Calling for urgent government action to increase PPE supply, the letter adds there must be “transparency on procurement, distribution, timescales and exactly how and when workers can expect to get the protection they need and deserve,” adding “we call on the government and employers to guarantee that no member of staff will be put under pressure to perform tasks without adequate protective equipment.” The call was backed by Labour health spokesperson John Ashworth. “Labour calls on ministers to abandon attempts to gag staff and instead work closely with trade unions to ensure staff get the PPE that is so crucial to keeping them and patients safe,” he said.
TUC news release Labour Party news release. Labourlist.
Promises of personal protective equipment (PPE) alone won’t keep NHS, care, police and other essential workers safe, public sector union UNISON has said. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis has written to Boris Johnson demanding he takes action to ensure all hospitals, care homes, police forces and council services have the sanitiser, gowns, masks and gloves needed to keep staff safe. While supplies of PPE have clearly got through to parts of the UK’s public services, UNISON is concerned there are still many workers who have little or no PPE at all. The union leader’s letter to the prime minister noted: “Public service workers are particularly affected as they seek to keep the country running, ensure our loved ones are cared for and our communities are clean and safe. As you have repeatedly said, the value of public service workers has never been clearer. UNISON is demanding you provide them with protection, as they seek to protect us all.” The letter added: “Public service employees are still in their workplaces because they need and want to be. But their selfless acts must not place them at risk. Too many feel like they’ve been forgotten – their safety a mere afterthought, despite the critical work they continue to do. Many promises have been made by your government, but promises don’t protect people. Every public service worker without adequate PPE is a potential spreader of this deadly virus, or even a future patient.” The letter continued: “Every public service worker who catches the virus is another vital cog removed from the machinery of a society already struggling to cope. UNISON will continue to work with you to tackle this unprecedented crisis and ensure public service employees can continue to work safely. But we can only do this if all public service workers can be assured they’re not putting themselves, their family members or those they care for and support at risk through a lack of necessary protective equipment.” UNISON said a new hotline will allow public service workers to share their concerns about PPE, so the ‘critical issues’ can be raised with ministers.
UNISON news release.
UNISON coronavirus Q&A and guidance on Personal Protective Equipment and coronavirus.
Public Service International (PSI) resources and Safe Workers Save Lives campaign.
Prevented NHS workers from speaking out over chronic personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages could put further lives at risk, the union GMB has said. Frontline doctors have said they have been gagged from speaking out about shortages of protective equipment as they treat coronavirus patients – with some claiming managers have threatened their careers. GMB organiser Helen O Connor commented: “Just as it seemed that the widespread and dangerous culture of gagging clauses and supressing the voices of NHS workers might be coming to an end it is now intensifying. Accurate and honest information about what is happening inside the NHS is key to getting to grips with this pandemic.” She added: “It is a fact that this virus is causing the untimely deaths of NHS staff and patients. It is scandalous that hospital staff speaking out publicly face being sacked by ruthless NHS bosses who do not want failings in their leadership to be exposed. Suppression of information is not just a matter of democracy it is now a major public health issue. GMB union will continue to protect and defend all of our NHS members and the voices of our members will be heard.” Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the journalists’ union NUJ, criticised attempts to silence whistleblowers. She said: “At a time when accurate information and quality journalism is more vital than ever, it is outrageous that brave healthcare workers are being threatened with disciplinary action if they speak out to journalists. It is particularly disgraceful to gag workers who are rightly speaking out to highlight the shortage of critical protective equipment.” It is illegal to victimise workers for raising workplace and public health concerns.
GMB news release. NUJ news release. The Independent. The Lancet. British Medical Journal.
Worksmart guidance on the Employment Relations Act and Pubic Interest Disclosure Act.
Social care workers across the country are at breaking point with many being given just plastic aprons and gloves to protect against coronavirus as they support the vulnerable and elderly, public sector union UNISON has said. Care workers have told the union some managers are either refusing to issue face masks or not providing training in how to use them, and not supplying hand sanitiser. This has triggered widespread anxiety among staff that they and their families may become infected or they may spread the virus among the people they care for, said UNISON. The union has also received reports of some employees being asked to work even if they have underlying health issues, and to bring their children in if they cannot get childcare. Local councils commission home and residential care from thousands of different private and not-for-profit providers. The concern is this fragmented, understaffed and underfunded system is struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis, said UNISON. The union’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said: “Care workers are being treated as though their safety and that of their loved ones doesn’t matter. They feel they’ve been forgotten about and are at the bottom of the pile despite doing a vital job. Many are being denied access to vital protective kit that helps prevent the spread of the virus to them, their families and the people they look after.” She added: “A more co-ordinated approach is needed desperately, with managers all following official guidance. Every care worker who needs masks and other safety gear must be supplied with it as a matter of urgency.”
UNISON news release. Morning Star.
Health visitors and community nurses going into the homes of families with children and babies urgently require personal protective equipment (PPE), Unite has said. The union also wants PPE to go to the thousands of staff working in social care settings, such as care homes, who it says feel forgotten by ministers. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Health visitors and community nurses need PPE equipment today as they offer high-level professional advice on home visits to the parents of tomorrow’s generation of adults.” Unite said it has joined ‘the chorus of frustration’ from unions and professional organisations over the slow roll-out of PPE to NHS staff. Gail Cartmail said: “The government needs to provide urgently an immediate, adequate and free-flowing supply of PPE to the hospital and community sectors of the NHS. And ministers should not ignore the forgotten army of thousands of dedicated workers employed in social care settings, who are often low-paid. We urge a redoubled effort by ministers to cut through the logistics logjams and get this equipment to the frontline where our brave doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are risking their health to save others.” Unite lead professional officer for health visiting Obi Amadi said: “Our community practitioner members are working really hard to provide services in the community. In many areas, they have been struggling to keep themselves and those they are visiting safe because of the lack of PPE. There is also a reported lack of hand sanitisers. The health and care staff working in the community play a vitally important role, but feel they have not had access to enough PPE, nor been sufficiently recognised for their tireless below-the radar efforts at this time of national emergency.”
Unite news release.
Teaching union NEU has called on the government to put measures in place to protect the students and education staff in schools that remain open for the children of frontline workers. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “We are concerned that government advice for schools is not currently strong enough. We have got to get on the front foot if we are to slow transmission and flatten the curve.” The NEU is demanding that urgent measures be taken to ensure the safety of students and staff, including testing of all education staff. It says no staff at heightened risk should attend schools and colleges and rotas should be introduced for those who continue to go to their place of work. “We are liaising with the Department for Education to ensure action is taken on all of these points,” Bousted said. “If we are to help the community, which we should, we need maximum protection from the government. Our members are doing enormously brave work right now. As with NHS workers, they are putting themselves at risk. Our ethical responsibility is to them.”
Civil service union PCS is calling the Cabinet Office to agree measures to guarantee the safety of civil servants during the coronavirus crisis. The union says the current outbreak will have a significant impact on the work of public bodies across the civil service and its related areas. PCS said: “The agreement we are looking to finalise, during regular discussions with the Cabinet Office, sets out some measures to assist the fight against the outbreak and to enable the employer and employees to focus their efforts on that fight with the minimum of distractions.” It says the underlying principle of is that “civil servants, agency staff or staff working on government contracts do not lose out in any way as a result of following government guidance on dealing with Covid-19, nor will they be discouraged from following government guidance fully.” PCS wants agreement that workplaces affected by the virus close immediately, homework is ‘facilitated’ where possible, there is no detriment for any member of staff who stays away from work as a result of contracting coronavirus, and all staff classed as key workers are provided with “all necessary safety equipment and safeguards to enable them to perform the duties in the safest possible environment.” PCS is also demanding that “union health and safety reps are granted as much time off as they need to carry out their legal functions.”
PCS news release.
Council outsourcer Norse Medway has been forced to implement coronavirus safety measures for refuse workers and other staff following action by Unite (Risks 940). The company, which operates refuse collection, street cleaning and other services for Medway council in Kent, was forced to introduce social distancing and hygiene measures after Unite exposed the firm’s disregard for the health of key workers, who also walked out in protest over serious health and safety concerns. Norse Medway’s decision came after Unite action secured the introduction of social distancing measures for waste collection workers at Thurrock Council, in Essex. After the company was named and shamed for making refuse staff sit four to a cab with insufficient personal protection equipment (PPE), a number of safety measures were agreed with Unite. These include not insisting on workers sitting more than two to a vehicle cab, provision of PPE, including hand sanitiser, gloves, masks and wipes, and changes to toilet access and other measures to ensure a safer workplace. Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said: “These measures should have been introduced immediately but it was only because our members, with help from the union’s organising department, stood firm on these issues that they have been resolved.” He added: “‘It is now imperative that Norse grants medical suspensions on full pay to staff with underlying health conditions or allows them to be furloughed under the government’s pay scheme to provide 80 per cent of their wages. Those that need to self-isolate also need to be granted medical suspensions on full pay.” The union officer said: “These measures need to be implemented so workers do not risk coming into work and potentially spreading the disease because they don't want their incomes plummeting on statutory sick pay. Medway council is granting medical suspensions on full pay to at-risk and self-isolating staff and there is no reason why Norse shouldn’t follow suit.”
Unite news release and earlier release.
Unite Coronavirus/Covid-19 advice and guide for union officers.
The leading trade unions in local government in Scotland have written to first minister Nicola Sturgeon to highlight ‘major inconsistencies’ in action to reduce coronavirus risk they say are putting workers and the general public at risk. Unite, GMB and UNISON have been involved in ongoing discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on its response to this crisis. The unions say they are ‘increasingly concerned that the lack of urgency and consistency’ is now putting service users and workers at risk, and that the problem now requires the first minister’s direct intervention. Key concerns include shortcomings in the availability and quality of personal protective equipment (PPE), achieving self-isolation of potentially exposed workers and difficulties for workers in observing social distancing requirements. The unions also want coronavirus testing for key workers, ‘in line with WHO guidance’. A statement from the unions notes: “We are on the brink of the peak of the pandemic and still there exist major concerns over social distancing, personal protective equipment, the definition of who is a key worker and the availability of testing for those workers in local authorities and those providing services on behalf of them, particularly in the home care sector.” It adds: “The trade unions appreciate that this is an unprecedented time but the flimsy and inconsistent guidance that is currently being issued by local authorities is putting lives at risk. We need a national response and this must come from the first minister’s lead to ensure that the advice is clear, consistent and comprehensive.”
Unite news release.
The union GMB has called on Marks and Spencer to protect workers from coronavirus exposures after distribution staff staged two walk outs over safety fears. The union has condemned DHL, which runs the affected Swindon warehouse on behalf of M&S, for its ‘cavalier attitude’ to health and safety. Around 80 GMB members downed tools on 28 March and 26 March to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions, concern about a lack of precautions over coronavirus. GMB branch secretary Andy Newman said: “Our members are extremely frightened. GMB shop stewards challenged managers about the impossibility of maintaining a two metre distance, the lack of hand sanitiser and PPE and the practice of passing equipment between staff without hygiene precautions. Sadly, they were shouted down.” He added: “One DHL manager agreed if staff didn’t feel safe they could leave the site - this led to a walk out. But now DHL are saying that they will not pay staff who don’t turn up for work, even though the staff don’t feel safe. Workers then removed themselves from what they saw as a dangerous situation, as they’re entitled to do under the Employment Relations Act.” The branch secretary added: “GMB demands Marks and Spencer steps in to ensure safe social distancing is enforced, and work practices are modified to meet government guidelines to prevent virus contagion.”
GMB news release.
Worksmart guidance on Employment Relations Act protection from victimisation over safety.
Almost all of the thousands of workers at an Asos warehouse in Grimethorpe, Barnsley, feel unsafe at work, a GMB survey has found. The union research confirmed 98 per cent of the warehouse staff feel unsafe at work amid the coronavirus crisis. While competitors have closed down to keep the British public safe, Asos – which employs around 4,000 workers at the site - has ramped up its operations. The warehouse is now processing orders from the company’s German warehouse - which has closed – and hundreds of extra staff have been drafted in to deal with the million online orders Asos received last weekend. Workers report no social distancing measures, a complicated clocking in system which means large numbers of people gather in a small area, and hundreds of workers all breaking for lunch at the same time. Almost 500 Asos workers responded to the survey. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “Conditions at ASOS are scarcely believable – workers we’ve spoken to describe it as a ‘cradle of disease’. It’s absolutely horrifying, a real catalogue of shame. Here you’ve got people packed onto public transport, a lack of social distancing, thousands of workers going into one warehouse then back to their families - it’s only going to get worse with a huge sale promoted over the weekend.” He added: “The government’s scheme for furloughed workers is there to support employers to do the right thing and keep people safe. ASOS can more than afford to pay the extra 20 per cent to help stop the spread. We no longer believe ASOS can keep their workplace safe – they need to shut it down.”
GMB news release. Sign the GMB letter to the ASOS CEO. GMB coronavirus hub and GMB Coronavirus Briefing on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
BBC News Online. Personnel Today. Morning Star.
Retail union Usdaw has welcomed the decision by fashion retailer Next to close its warehouse and distribution operations until further notice. The union said it believes the government should be agreeing that non-essential online retail should cease trading in the same way that it told high street non-food shops to close. Usdaw national officer Mark Todd said: “Online retail relies on people working in warehouses, distribution centres and delivering to residential addresses. Social distancing is very difficult in all these situations and yet many non-food purchases will not be essential. We called on the government to ensure that workers are protected and the risks are minimised by restricting non-essential online retail.” He said the union welcomed Next’s lead, “doing the right thing by their staff and the wider community. Our members were increasingly worried about going into work and risking contracting coronavirus and then putting family at home at risk.” The Usdaw official concluded: “The government’s announcement that non-essential retail shops must close does not currently extend to online and home delivery. In fact, they have actually said that ‘online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal’. Usdaw believes this guidance needs to change. Online retail should not be operating ‘business as usual’ - instead the government should be advising workers in the non-food non-essential parts of online retail to ‘stay at home’.” Calling for a government crackdown on companies requiring workers in non-essential jobs requiring staff to go in to work, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said on 25 March: “To end any confusion, government should provide specific instruction on what jobs fall into the essential services category. And if companies continue to flout the rules, they shouldn’t just be held accountable in the court of public opinion. Government must intervene to make them close their doors.”
Usdaw news release. TUC news release.
Outsourcing giant Amey has agreed that all its workers in the UK will receive their full pay if required to self-isolate due to the coronavirus. The move came after intense lobbying by unions. The commitment to pay staff full wages will apply to those who are required to self-isolate for seven days, for 14 days and for those who for health reasons have to self-isolate for 12 weeks. The commitment to fully pay affected staff will also be backdated. Welcoming the move, Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said: “There are many companies that should take a leaf out of Amey’s book and also pay staff fully to ensure that workers are not penalised during the coronavirus crisis. Workers should not be put into a position where they feel that they have to break self-isolation rules for financial reasons.” He added: “Amey, and all employers for that matter, should be aware that if they fail to meet the public health guidance on social distancing, Unite will not hesitate to take further action to ensure that the health of our members is not endangered.” Commenting on the company’s policy rethink after the union raised its ‘grave concerns’ about Amey work practices in refuse collection, Keith Williams, GMB London region senior organiser, said: “GMB welcome this decision to pay full pay for staff either off sick with the virus or for those absent from work due to the self-isolating requirements currently in force.” This week GMB also negotiated safe working practices, including social distancing and enhanced vehicle cleaning, for bin workers employed by Thurrock Council.
Unite news release. GMB news release and news release on the Thurrock Council agreement. Construction Enquirer. The Guardian.
The two-metre social distancing guideline for food industry workers on production lines now needs to be made mandatory by the government, Unite has said. The union said that the mandatory enforcement by ministers should also encompass retails outlets, such as supermarkets, during the coronavirus emergency. Commenting on Unite’s call to George Eustice, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Unite national officer for the food industry Bev Clarkson said: “The lack of the mandatory imposition of the two-metre rule by government is a problem currently nationwide. Ministers need to make the two-metre rule mandatory, as matter of urgency, across food processing, and also in the retail sector.” She added: “I have been in contact with all the meat suppliers where we have union recognition. Some of the employers are introducing social distancing wherever possible, however they are saying that because the government has not stated that it is mandatory within the sector then they are not implementing it on production lines. We have strenuously put it to them that if they do not implement it on production lines then the virus could spread rapidly throughout the factories.” The union officer said: “I have put a number of proposals forward, such as slowing the lines down enabling them to pull people off the lines and do it on a rotation, as well as putting perplex screens up. I have been informed that production is up by at least 40 per cent on all meat poultry sites because of the increase in demand, however, I pointed out that if the virus spreads in the factories then they won’t have enough staff to continue the production.” Unite called last week for distillery giant Diageo to close its UK factories in Scotland “in light of workplace safety concerns and rising levels of stress.” Unite representatives reported ongoing safety concerns including the communal use of workplace canteens and toilets. with up to 200 workers based at some plants.
Unite news release and news release on Diageo. New Food Magazine. The Drinks Business. Morning Star.
Unite has welcomed a 27 March instruction by the Scottish government demanding the closure of construction sites not linked to the health service. The union had been demanding construction sites across Scotland should stop with immediate effect or lives would be put at risk. Unite said it had been inundated by reports that construction workers were having to use public transport or shared transport in order to comply with employer requests to get to work or face losing wages. It said it had also warned the government repeatedly over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that workers are often only inches away from each other during a time when individuals are meant to be maintaining social distancing and strict hygiene measures. Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary, said: “Unite has been demanding that construction workers should not be on sites unless they are expressly linked to the health service as the first minister advised. We are now being told that construction companies are closing down sites following instruction by the Scottish government, which is very welcome.” But he added it was “extremely disappointing that many construction firms continued to put profit ahead of people and did not act responsibly at an early stage.” On 30 March, the union called for ‘tougher measures’ after it confirmed some non-essential site work was continuing. A day later, the union criticised Balfour Beatty, which it said was continuing road works on major carriageways for Transport Scotland. Safety professionals’ organisation IOSH has said “to best protect the safety, health and wellbeing of workers and the wider public, only essential construction work designed to help save lives should continue at this time.”
Unite news release, call for tougher measures and related release on Balfour Beatty. IOSH news release. Construction Enquirer.
A shocking image of workers crowded together shows a Tyneside company is ‘putting workers and their families at risk,’ GMB has said. The union said the image, reproduced on its website, shows staff at Smulders, a steel construction company in Newcastle upon Tyne, ‘packed together like sardines’ in the company canteen last week. The union said if the company cannot keep workers safe it should furlough until the crisis is over. It added workers appear to have been drafted in from London – where the coronavirus crisis is more severe – to cover for local staff who are staying at home because they don’t feel safe. GMB organiser Etain Stobbart said: “Our members are being asked to work, without the ability to socially distance themselves properly and are clearly being put at risk - they’re packed in like sardines. It took social media posts by workers and questions by GMB for the company to react.” The union official added: “If people were to gather in this way outside or at a supermarket the police would attend. Putting people’s lives and those of their families and the community they live in at risk is not acceptable. Our members face the choice between health and income, as Smulders continue to carry on with no regard for their employee’s safety. If the company can’t keep their workers safe, they must take up the government’s positive announcements over furlough until this crisis is over.”
GMB news release. Northern Echo.
Unite is informing members it is not necessary to obtain a temporary Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) Emergency Covid-19 Card to gain access to building sites during the coronavirus outbreak. Because of the lockdown some workers have been unable to renew a recently expired CPCS card, which is normally required to for certain work on sites. Unite and site firms said the temporary card’s introduction amounts to 'profiteering’. Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “It is not necessary to pay for an Emergency Covid-19 CPCS card and its introduction is being seen across the construction sector as profiteering. Those responsible for this crass idea should hang their heads in shame.” He added: “Industry in the main is initially excepting a six-month grace period on recently expired CPCS cards or until health and safety testing resumes. If any company requests confirmation of this, they can contact the National Open College Network (NOCN) who will confirm this stance from many trade associations. There are, however, some companies who believe that this temporary card should be in place. If this is the case then they should be bearing the costs and not our members.”
Unite news release.
Unite has warned that 10 to 20 per cent of drivers could be forced off the road unless the government relaxes the requirement for HGV drivers to have a medical. The union says there is already a shortage of HGV drivers, who are playing a ‘crucial’ role during the coronavirus crisis in maintaining the supply of food and medicines. As part of the conditions of holding an HGV licence, drivers are required to undergo regular medicals to ensure they are fit to drive. Drivers are required to undergo an initial medical and after the age 45 to have one every five years until the age of 65, when they are renewed annually without an upper age limit. Shorter licences may be issued for medical reasons. Unite says the government is rightly insisting that doctors do not undertake private medicals during the crisis, but says professional drivers should not be prevented from working as result. After making no progress with transport officials, Unite has appealed directly to the secretary of state Grant Shapps to intervene. Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said: “The government needs to take a sensible decision that will allow drivers to continue to work without a current medical certificate. Grant Shapps needs to directly intervene to ensure that potentially thousands of lorry drivers are not marooned at home without pay, when they could be helping the fight against coronavirus.” He added: “At a time when we urgently need qualified drivers it would be wrong and deeply unfair to force experienced drivers off the road because the doctors who would normally perform the medicals are full focused on fighting coronavirus,” noting: “If medicals are suspended then drivers and employers have to be responsible and ensure that if anyone is unwell or unfit they do not drive, to ensure road safety is not compromised.”
Unite news release.
Logistics giant UPS has been told to ‘massively improve its cleaning regime’ at its depots and in the interiors of vehicles, after drivers expressed concern about the threat of coronavirus as they deliver vital supplies, such as medicines. Unite said it had been telling UPS management consistently throughout last week that when feeder drivers arrive at site they have to use equipment that has not been properly sanitised. The union said it wants this practice stopped and replaced with high-standard alternatives. The feeder drivers move goods, such as medicines, to the depots which are then delivered by the package car drivers to their final destination. The drivers are also concerned that the vehicles’ interiors have not been cleaned sufficiently. Unite national officer Matt Draper said: “Delivering vital supplies, such as medicines, falls into the key worker category and therefore UPS bosses need to listen to our serious concerns. The hygiene regime at UPS depots needs to be massively ramped up and the risk to the drivers reduced as much as humanely possible.” He added: “The same issues are also facing our delivery drivers, who are keen to contribute at this time and understand that essential medicines and similar products need to continue to be delivered. However, they do have concerns about the delivery of non-essential goods, but while these deliveries are allowed to continue, UPS must ensure that our members’ legitimate concerns about lack of hand sanitisers are addressed and the cleaning of vehicles needs to focus on the inside, as well as the exterior, to ensure the safety of the drivers. If ever there was a time for a company ‘to clean up its act’ – that time is now.”
Unite news release.
Urgent action is needed to prevent delivery drivers placing their health and that of their customers at risk during the coronavirus crisis, Unite has said. The union said it has been inundated with calls from drivers worried about their health as they are still being required to undertake non-essential deliveries to domestic premises, including barbecues, table tennis tables, trampolines, musical equipment, flat screen TVs, cross trainers and treadmills. Due to the size of the items being delivered, cabs are double crewed, meaning workers cannot observe social distancing during travel and delivery. They are also often required to enter customers’ homes to the deliver the goods. Unite is calling on the government to immediately introduce strict guidance to ensure that social distancing is maintained at all times during such deliveries. It says this must include the journey to the property and during the delivery itself, with extra checks in place if the goods have to be taken inside a domestic property. Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said: “The government has to get a grip of this situation. Drivers are rightly worried that the health of their customers, their family and themselves is being put at risk if social distancing policies are not adhered to.” He added: “Unite is absolutely committed to working with the government and with employers to ensure that social distancing measures are established and adhered to at all times,” adding the union “would also ask the public to think very carefully before ordering large items and ask themselves can a driver deliver it to them safely by themselves.”
Unite news release.
Only 31 per cent of managers would feel confident to have sensitive discussions around mental health with workers, new figures from human resources body CIPD have revealed. CIPD is warning that employers need to act now to help prevent their employees from being at serious risk of mental ill-health during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. It says fear of infection and feeling isolated, along with concerns about job or income loss are just some of the knock-on effects from the pandemic that are likely to increase the pressure and stress on employees. CIPD’s Health and Well-being Survey at Work 2020 report, which surveyed 1,018 human resources professionals representing 4.5 million employees, found the majority of managers were falling short on this front even before the crisis started. Only 31 per cent of respondents say managers are confident to have sensitive discussions around mental health and to signpost staff to expert sources of help if needed. Rachel Suff, wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is putting a huge strain on employers and individuals – and it’s completely understandable that for some, this situation is proving challenging for their mental health.” She added employers “need to remember that their duty of care for people’s health and safety carries on no matter where staff are based. These findings show that while more managers are being trained to help colleagues with their mental health, it doesn’t always seem to be translating into better support for staff. This pandemic presents a real threat to people's mental, as well as physical, health and employers need to think about both when putting in place plans to protect their workforce.”
CIPD news release.
Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the Covid-19 outbreak, WHO, March 2020.
In the Covid-19 pandemic, worker health is public health - but worker safety and health is in crisis, a top US safety law expert has said. Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) said the US federal government “is failing to ensure the safety and health of workers - including those most at risk, health care workers. The government has also abandoned its role in keeping all other essential workers safe - those in supermarkets, delivery, warehouses, factories, public transportation and sanitation.” But she added: “As the federal government walks away from its responsibility to protect workers in this crisis, unions and worker activism are helping to fill the vacuum.” In a blog posting in OnLabor she noted dangerous shortages of protective gear were being compounded by a lack of official oversight of working conditions. She criticised the lack of action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “the government agency responsible for protecting worker’s health and safety on the job. In a sharp departure from previous pandemics and crises, OSHA is not conducting any Covid-19 enforcement—even for health care workers at risk. This kind of ‘dereliction’ is unprecedented, she wrote, adding: “It’s the unions and an amazing exercise of worker power and activism that have come to the rescue.” The safety law expert concluded: “It is stunning for most of us to realise the weakness of the legal protections for worker safety and health. It is amazing to see the incredible efforts of the unions and rank and file workers – both unorganised and organised – to stand up and demand protections from employers.” Bianca Frogner, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington medical school, warned this week of “the urgency to screen all health care workers, ensure distribution of PPE across a broad range of health care settings and occupations, and track this unfortunate occupational hazard. I find that nearly one in six health care workers may be at risk of testing positive for Covid-19 and up to 380,000 deaths if we emulate the experience of Italy.”
OnLabor. Frogner BK. How many health care workers are at risk of being sacrificed to COVID-19 in the US?, Center for Health Workforce Studies, University of Washington, Mar 31 2020.
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