Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
CORONAVIRUS NEWS AND ACTION The TUC is to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) by highlighting the preventable and wholly unacceptable risks to workers posed by the coronavirus. The annual 28 April event is when unions “renew our efforts to organise collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work,” the TUC’s dedicated webpages note. The union body adds the event is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK government. “This year we are all working in unique circumstances, as the coronavirus pandemic affects every worker regardless of sector or locality. Hundreds have lost their lives to the virus while working on the frontline, acting to protect the public and to keep society running. Workers are risking their lives every day, while many are still attending work ill-equipped and without necessary safety measures in place,” the TUC adds. “We could not have a starker reminder of the important role of trade union health and safety reps in saving and protecting workers’ lives. We remember those we have lost. We organise in their memory.” The national union centre adds that “we may not be able to attend the memorial events which usually take place on IWMD, as public gatherings around the world are not advised or allowed; there are many ways trade union members can take part in our collective day of remembrance and solidarity.” It says workers across the world will light a candle on the evening of Tuesday 28 April. “It may be for a loved one, a worker, a group of workers or for all those who have lost their lives from work. Take a photo of your candle, and with a caption about who you’re remembering, post it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using #IWMD20.” The TUC is also organising a national video call at 2pm on 28 April, “where you will be able to hear from speakers and submit questions and contributions in advance. Put the time in your diary and registration will be available soon.”
TUC to shine a light on coronavirus risks on 28 April
TUC, CBI and HSE issue joint coronavirus statement
Government must protect pregnant workers, says TUC
TUC calls for global response to coronavirus outbreak
Imperative bus driver safety action comes now
Bristol bus worker virus death strengthens resolve
Stop work if not protected, union tells transport workers
Call for non-essential public transport to stand down
Scandal as passport staff told to get back to work
Safety at the centre of Rolls-Royce coronavirus package
Work-related coronavirus cases must be reported – official
Work-related Covid-19 deaths ‘not a given’
Protection is more than just PPE, midwives warn
Health workers lose faith after PPE provision failures
Hospital staff 'left in tears' over lack of PPE
Care staff still not getting the safety kit they need
NHS hotline as staff face coronavirus PTSD risk
Zero PPE in schools equals danger, warns union
Half of teachers asked to break virus rules
Highways work warning after social distancing bypass
Campaigners hit out at Covid-19 work safety failings
Welsh police 'should not be used as factory inspectors'
Unions welcome Welsh rule on social distancing
Unite Scotland welcomes ‘stronger’ construction guidance
Prison union welcomes early release of inmates
INTERNATIONAL CORONAVIRUS NEWS
Global: Unions call for universal social protection fund
Global: Workers a critical link in the food supply chain
USA: The government safety inspectorate has gone missing
USA: Essential workers become disposable protection
Pakistan: Health workers beaten by police in pandemic protests
TUC 28 April 2020 news and resources webpage.
Global action and resources: ITUC/Hazards 28 April website. ITUC/Hazards coronavirus resource hub. ITUC Covid-19 resource pages – news, resources and publications from ITUC affiliates, Global Union Federations and LabourStart.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers’ group the CBI and the TUC have issued an unprecedented joint call for employers to ensure safe working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak. The statement says those companies remaining open must take practical steps to minimise the threat of workers being exposed to the virus wherever possible – including enabling social distancing. The statement warns that if employers do not comply with the latest Public Health England guidance they face being hit with enforcement notices and potential closure. The joint appeal also encourages workers to raise any concerns about working conditions first with their employer or trade union. It notes that if concerns can’t be resolved locally, workers can approach the Health and Safety Executive or their local authority for help. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want businesses to get through this crisis and keep people in their jobs. But this must not come at the cost of safe working conditions. Employers and unions have a crucial role to play in stopping the spread of the virus, protecting our NHS and saving lives.” The joint statement notes that “if it comes to the HSE’s attention that employers are not complying with the relevant Public Health England guidance (including enabling social distancing where it is practical to do so), HSE will consider a range of actions ranging from providing specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices, including prohibition notices.” TUC leader Frances O’Grady commented: “Many employers are doing the right thing. But no-one going into work should have to endanger their own health and put their families and the wider community at risk. Those companies who refuse to follow the rules must face the threat of closure.”
TUC news release. CBI news release. HSE news release.
The TUC has called on the government to protect the health, jobs and income of pregnant workers during the coronavirus outbreak. Employers already have a legal duty to keep their pregnant employees safe, says the TUC. Health and safety law says that if they can’t do that in their workplace, then they should allow pregnant staff to work from home. If pregnant women can’t work at home in their current role, bosses must offer them other suitable work for the same rate of pay that can be done safely or suspend them on full pay to protect their health – and that of their unborn baby. But the TUC is concerned employers do not understand their legal responsibilities and are putting pregnant workers who cannot work from home on sick pay, rather than suspending them on full pay. Moving pregnant workers on to statutory sick pay is not only legally wrong, says the TUC, but it has implications for maternity pay. The level of statutory sick pay is so low it means workers on it wouldn’t qualify for vital statutory maternity pay once their baby is born, it adds. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No pregnant woman should be treated unfairly or be left out of pocket – or even out of a job – for doing the right thing. Bosses need to comply with the law and protect the health and safety of pregnant women and their unborn baby.” She added: “Families with new babies can’t afford to lose out on vital cash. Ministers must protect working families, and that means acting fast to protect pregnant workers.”
TUC news release and blog.
An urgent global response is required to address massive job losses caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the TUC has said. Responding to a report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which this week predicted the equivalent of 195 million full-time job losses globally in the next three months, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs around the world every day. It’s vital they all have the support they need to make ends meet and are not thrown into poverty.” She added: “In Britain, that means an urgent boost to universal credit and scrapping the five-week wait for support. But a pandemic of this scale needs a global response. We need coordinated international action by governments to support health, protect jobs, give everyone access to social security and boost the economy when the recovery comes. Working together we can not only protect jobs but save lives.” An indication of the unanticipated extent of the crisis is revealed by ILO’s new estimate, which is almost eight times higher than the 25 million job losses it predicted on 18 March.
TUC news release and blog on the Job Retention Scheme. ILO report. BBC News Onlinev.
Unite has warned that there is “no time for trials” of new safety measures introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and has said that bus operators, regulators and the government must take immediate action to ensure bus worker safety. The union made its call following the 8 April announcement by Transport for London (TfL) that it is trialling closing the front door on buses on a limited number of routes. Unite said it believes that the front doors on London buses should be locked immediately and alternative arrangements should be made for payment during this time. For buses outside of London, Unite is demanding that all buses are fitted with a fully enclosed screen separating the driver from passengers and that cash payments are no longer accepted, to significantly reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. The union also wants the maximum number of passengers on a bus must be reduced to ensure that social distancing occurs, in order to further protect drivers and the travelling public. All transport workers, who are considered to be key workers, should be provided with adequate personal protective equipment, it adds. As of 8 April, nine bus workers have died in London and a number of bus workers in other parts of the UK have also fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic. Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said: “This is no time for trials. The coronavirus is a clear and imminent threat and tragically too many bus workers have already lost their lives.” Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “Bus drivers across the UK are becoming incredibly fearful for their safety. Most bus companies have introduced safety measures but clearly more needs to be done.” He added: “Bus drivers should no longer be handling cash payments and wherever possible entry to the bus should be by central doors where that is an option. The government must also step in to reduce the number of passengers on each bus to further improve social distancing and increase the safety of passengers and drivers alike.”
Unite news release, and earlier releases on the new safety measures and bus worker coronavirus crisis. TfL news release. Evening Standard. Morning Star. BBC News Online.
The death of Bristol bus worker as a result of coronavirus exposure reinforces a call for the most stringent hygiene regime the protect the UK bus industry’s workforce, a union has said. Unite regional secretary for the south west Steve Preddy paid tribute to Unite member Martin Egan, who died from Covid-19 after working for First Group in Bristol for 40 years. Following Unite’s strong representations, First Group in Bristol has now introduced a raft of safety measures, including the daily availability of gloves, sterilising solution, and face masks; completely sealed screens on buses to protect drivers; and social distancing for seating on buses. Unite is in discussions with other bus companies in the south west on the immediate introduction of a similar package of measures. Paying tribute to Martin Egan, Unite’s Steve Preddy added: “Unite continues to discuss with bus operators across the south west the issue of topping up furlough payments to 100 per cent. No worker should be disadvantaged as a result of measures taken to protect their health and well-being.” He added: “Our highest motivation as a union is the health safety and well-being of all workers and our communities. The government must do more to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and guarantee a safe working environment for all essential workers, of which bus drivers are a key category.” Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “The tragic and sad death of bus workers in London and Bristol reinforces the message for the need for the most stringent hygiene regime throughout the UK bus sector,” adding: “Our officers are working ceaselessly to ensure that their working environments are the safest humanly possible.”
Unite news release.
Transport union RMT has told it members in the rail and bus sectors they should stop work if employers do not provide protection from coronavirus exposures. The union’s message to members follows escalating concerns that many employers are not taking steps to protect transport workers despite rail and bus staff playing a key role in keeping people and goods moving in the fight against Covid-19. The RMT advice says rail and bus workers should stop work and invoke the “safe work procedure if employers do not follow key protection measures” including “only conducting activities and tasks that are necessary for running the essential services for key workers and movement of freight during the emergency.” The union also says it must be possible to maintain two metres of separation between workers and with the public, including when travelling in vehicles and trains. It adds that where the task is essential to the safe operation of the service, and cannot be performed with two metres of separation, then personal protective equipment such as gloves, eye defenders and masks must be utilised by all workers. If full appropriate PPE is not available, it says, then work should not commence. RMT also wants rail and bus companies to guarantee suitable and safe welfare facilities are available. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Today we have issued advice to our members in the rail and bus sectors that they should stop work on safety grounds if employers do not provide protection from Covid-19. That means that if they are not provided with PPE, including masks, eye defenders and gloves where necessary they should not be working.” He added: “Our members are increasingly concerned that many employers are not taking steps to protect transport workers despite rail and bus staff playing a key role in keeping people and goods moving in the fight against Covid-19.” In New York, subway and bus employees have been particularly badly affected by the disease, with at least 33 deaths. New York governor Andrew Cuomo commented: “They’re doing heroic work, very high rate of illness - that’s a problem.”
RMT news release. The City.
All non-essential public transport workers should be stood down, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has said. He was commenting after official figures revealed a dramatic change in the use of public transport since the coronavirus lockdown, with national rail usage dropping to below 20 per cent of previous levels across Britain. Cortes, the head of the transport and travel union, said: “We can clearly see numbers using public transport, and our railways in particular, have fallen dramatically.” He added: “Very sadly we have seen some deaths amongst public transport staff and I’m now urging the government to make it clear that all non-essential public transport workers should be stood down. This must be a matter of priority. We need a standard approach on this across our railways and the wider transport network. We know that some companies continue to have booking offices and gateline staff working at stations – this flies in the face of the government’s own advice.” The TSSA leader continued: “I’m happy to work with ministers at this time of crisis because we must all realise that this is a battle for lives not company profits. I hope they have the good sense to act so that no-one is working on public transport without due cause.” Tube train drivers’ union ASLEF has demanded that London Underground drivers be provided with masks and gloves to help protect them from contracting covid-19. “Our members are risking their own safety to provide a service for essential workers,” said Finn Brennan, ASLEF's organiser on London Underground. "But every day brings fresh news of friends, family members and colleagues being struck down by this terrible virus,” he said. “ASLEF has told London Underground that Tube drivers must be provided with masks, gloves and instructions on how to use them safely. We mourn those whose lives have already been lost. We have to stop unnecessarily risking the lives of others.”
TSSA news release and related news release. ASLEF news release.
Staff working for Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) believe their lives are being put at risk because of demands that they return to work. Civil service union PCS raised its concerns as it was revealed many passport office staff have been asked to go back next week, despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis. On 7 April, staff were told by a Home Office scientific adviser 80 per cent of people would get Covid-19 in the end and “we can't hide away from it forever.” HMPO has centres in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport and Peterborough. The news of the back to work order came in a zoom call. Myrtle Lloyd, the HMPO chief operating officer, said on the call that government health guidance did not mean that staff “should stay at home instead of delivering critical services. What is also critical for us as a business is to have a manageable level of work in the system, so that when we start our recovery we are not overwhelmed by our demands.” According to a transcript of the call, the Home Office deputy scientific adviser, Rupert Shute, told those listening that staying at home was important but “we also have to keep functioning our lives.” He said: “We are working on the assessment that 80 per cent of us, if we haven't already, will get the virus,” adding: “We cannot hide away from it forever.” PCS said his comments were “extremely irresponsible and totally contradicted current government guidance.” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is absolutely scandalous that HMPO are suggesting our members can go back into work during a pandemic to process routine passports. The cavalier approach to our members’ health and safety is shameful and ultimately puts them in greater danger of contracting Covid-19. We have already had members die as a result of contracting coronavirus and pressured civil service managers in other departments to shut offices so staff can work from home.” He added: “We call for an immediate investigation into these remarks by Rupert Shute and urge the Home Office to publicly distance themselves from his comments.” PCS survey findings released on 3 April revealed a third of government departments were still not observing social distancing measures.
PCS news release, survey on social distancing and PCS Coronavirus response team. BBC News Online. Morning Star.
Unite says it has hammered out a package, with health and safety at its heart, with engineering giant Rolls-Royce. The union says the new approach will also provide financial protection to the 20,000 UK workforce during the coronavirus emergency. Rolls-Royce has major plants in Derby, Bristol, Glasgow and Barnoldswick, Lancashire. Unite regional officer Tony Tinley, responsible for the union’s members at the 12,000-strong Derby workforce, said: “Our reps have worked really hard to achieve a stringent health and safety regime, with such features as a one-way system, which will enable the required employees to continue to work during the coronavirus emergency.” He added: “Throughout the constructive talks with management, Unite has adopted a three-pronged approach: the vital importance of health and safety; protecting the jobs and incomes of our members in the short-term; and securing the long-term employment future of our members and the prosperity of the company.” Rolls-Royce closed production at Derby last week, but is now re-opening gradually, under the new safety regime. Up to 60 per cent of the workforce could be employed on a rotation shift system. Tony Tinley said: “Airplanes are still flying bringing in medicines and other supplies, so there is a current demand for Rolls-Royce’s superb products. What we have achieved at Rolls-Royce is a template that other companies could follow in terms of workers’ incomes and safety protections.” Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands, Paresh Patel, said the agreement also protected the company’s extensive supply chain, adding: “Unite continues to make the case to government of the importance of the UK’s manufacturing base and the need to protect firms and their workforces at this exceptionally difficult time for the economy.”
Unite news release.
Dangerous occurrences and cases of actual ill-health related to coronavirus exposures have now to be reported, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The safety regulator said the new legal reporting requirement under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) applies “when an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.” Employers must also make a report when “a worker has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.” An update to the HSE reporting webpages advises employers: “If something happens at work which results in (or could result in) the release or escape of coronavirus you must report this as a dangerous occurrence. An example of a dangerous occurrence would be a lab worker accidentally smashing a glass vial containing coronavirus, leading to people being exposed.” HSE adds: “If there is reasonable evidence that someone diagnosed with Covid-19 was likely exposed because of their work you must report this as an exposure to a biological agent using the case of disease report. An example of a work-related exposure to coronavirus would be a health care professional who is diagnosed with Covid-19 after treating patients with Covid-19.” Incidents can be reported to HSE online.
HSE news release.
The UK Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has said it does not believe that work-related fatalities due to Covid-19 were inevitable. Saying cases were ‘not a given’, SOM said the UK should have aimed for a target of zero work caused fatalities in this pandemic within the NHS, essential services and UK business. It reiterated that with proper application of controls, no worker should die of work acquired Covid-19. SOM is campaigning to raise awareness of the risks facing healthcare and other workers in the UK and internationally. It is calling for personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used effectively during the Covid-19 pandemic, adding the use of appropriate PPE must be supported by training, fit testing and management of compliance. SOM says the new PPE guidance published by the government is an improvement “but the recommendations should be considered minimum protection. Where a higher level of protection is available, it should be used.” SOM noted: “Given that Covid-19 infections contracted through work are RIDDOR reportable it is necessary that all potential work caused fatalities are investigated and any breakdown of exposure control identified. This will allow correction and dissemination of learning.” It continued: “SOM is calling for robust and increasing access to occupational health (OH). The need for advice from OH doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, hygienists, and ergonomists amongst other professional groups is required. The need to protect our workers has never been greater; protecting the workforce is the core role of OH.”
SOM news release. Government/PHE/NHS England news release.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has called on NHS employers to provide better support to maternity staff after a survey revealed that nearly a third of midwives had received no advice or the training they need to care for women with coronavirus symptoms. The survey by the midwives’ union found that just over half (56 per cent) of midwives reported receiving some advice and training, but only 15 per cent said that they had received adequate support. The survey of RCM workplace representatives also found that there is significant disparity in the information being given by employers on what midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) should do if they or someone in their household displays symptoms of coronavirus infection. One in 10 of those responding to the survey had received no information from their employer at all. RCM’s Jon Skewes said: “Midwives and maternity support workers are doing all they can to continue to provide the safe care pregnant women want and need. However, we are concerned that their employers – the NHS Trusts and Boards – are not demonstrating that level of commitment to them. We fully acknowledge that they are working under extreme pressure, but this is when the duty of care to their staff is even more important.” He added: “Maternity services are the NHS frontline, and midwives and MSWs are willingly placing themselves on it. We welcome the clarity provided by the guidance on personal protective equipment issued last week, but protection goes beyond a mask and gloves. It means ensuring those frontline staff are adequately and appropriately supported to provide care and minimise risk, both to themselves and others. NHS Trusts and Boards must step up and make this happen.” Following the death from Covid-19 last week of Lynsay Coventry, a midwife at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, RCM general secretary Gill Walton said: “It’s important to remember that the NHS frontline doesn’t only apply to those working in intensive care or direct Covid support, but to midwives and others. Today we mourn the loss of Lynsay. Help us honour her life by doing what you can to reduce the impact of this pandemic and stay at home."
RCM news release and statement on the death of midwife Lynsay Coventry. Union News.
NHS employers and trusts must stop hiding behind bare minimum provision in their personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, the union GMB has said. The union has called on NHS bosses to instead ‘set the bar as high as they can’ in accessing and supplying PPE. This will allow staff to focus on providing their usual high standard of care whilst feeling safe, wearing the best PPE to protect them, GMB said. GMB Southern region organiser Gary Palmer said: “We have seen beyond doubt that the public holds an ever-increasing admiration, respect and love for NHS workers,” but added: “What I find astounding is that these key workers can’t get the most fundamental support they need from their employer - simply the best PPE available, and this is happening across all the NHS Hospital Trusts in the South East. These members on the frontline need this vital equipment to enable them to treat Covid patients whilst feeling as reasonably safe as they can.” He said nurses at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital (BSUH) had been driven to making their own safety visors from laminate sheets and elastic bands due to a lack of equipment. “BSUH staff or any NHS frontline health worker should never be put in a position where they feel their employer is prepared to sacrifice their own safety to keep the service running,” he said. He added: “It makes you wonder when employers will recognise the cost of the correct PPE against the cost for each member of staff being off sick for two weeks, or even worse. Surely soon this will swing in favour of those protecting us. NHS staff have and always will put patient care above their own, we know that, but I get the feeling that some employers are taking advantage of this. Our members are being sent into a battle against a deadly enemy that they simply cannot win without personal safeguards.” GMB members at Barnsley Hospital this week reported they had been provided masks that were up to 19 years out of date. A snapshot survey of almost 2,000 medics by the BMA this week showed more than half of doctors working in high risk environments said there were either shortages or no supply at all of appropriate face masks. “Alarmingly, 55 per cent said they felt pressurised to work in a high-risk area despite not having adequate PPE,” BMA said.
GMB news release and release on BSUH homemade visors and Barnsley Hospital old masks. BMA news release. Morning Star.
Workers at Great Western Hospital (GWH) are dealing directly with patients with diagnosed or suspected Covid-19 infections without being issued appropriate protective equipment, the union GMB has said. The union says ‘terrified’ NHS staff at the Swindon hospital report patients coughing uncontrollably on them, leaving droplets of spit on their hair, face, neck and arms. GMB is demanding all frontline healthcare staff are supplied with the correct PPE immediately. Asia Allison, GMB regional organiser, said: “GWH staff say they are terrified, working day-to-day knowing the chance of them catching coronavirus due to inadequate personal protective equipment becomes more likely on every shift. We are anxious the hospital is more concerned with creating what looks like a harmonious atmosphere rather than prioritising measures to protect patients and staff.” She added: “GMB members know and accept they have a responsibility to help patients, save lives and reduce suffering and they do so willingly. But at the very least they deserve fit and proper protection whilst at work in return. GMB will work tirelessly to ensure that PPE issues are sorted and we give those charged with our care the protection they deserve to do just that.” The union was commenting on 3 April, a day after the government and NHS leaders published new guidance on PPE for NHS teams who are likely to come into contact with patients with Covid-19. The updated guidance, which has been welcomed by physios’ union CSP, specifies the type of PPE that should be worn in different healthcare settings, advising that clinicians working in hospital, primary care or community settings who come within two metres of suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients should wear an apron, gloves, surgical mask and eye protection.
GMB news release. CSP news release.
Thousands of care workers are still lacking protection against coronavirus, the public sector union UNISON has said. Responding to a government announcement this week that nearly 8 million pieces of personal protective equipment have been delivered to care homes, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Thousands of care staff have contacted UNISON to say getting protective kit is still a real issue and they don’t have what they need.” She added: “Many are scared for themselves, their families and those they look after. Staff need to be protected otherwise the consequences don’t bear thinking about.”
UNISON news release.
The NHS has launched a mental health hotline to offer support to health workers after experts warned doctors and nurses on the frontline of the UK’s coronavirus epidemic could develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hundreds of thousands of workers who may need help will be able to call or text a free number staffed by more than 1,500 trained volunteers. The volunteers, from organisations such as Hospice UK, the Samaritans and Shout, will listen to NHS staff and give psychological support to those in need, as well as offering advice. Staff may also be signposted to further support, such as financial assistance or specialist bereavement and psychological services, if necessary. The hotline comes after health leaders warned that the strain on the mental and physical health of NHS staff during the Covid-19 crisis was already unprecedented, even though the epidemic has not yet reached its expected peak. Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, told The Independent some patients and staff would suffer “forms of PTSD” due to the intense workload brought on by the pandemic. She warned intensive care units were facing a huge surge in demand and staff were “already struggling physically and mentally”. Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “It’s extremely heartening to see this kind of support will be available to NHS teams, via phone, text and online. As the pandemic continues, our people will face new and growing challenges on a daily basis, and it’s therefore more important than ever that they are able to access resources to help them manage their wellbeing, in a way that suits their needs.”
NHS Employers news release and helpline details. The Independent.
The union GMB has hit out after new Department for Education guidelines said personal protective equipment (PPE) is not required in schools in England – and that cleaning equipment may be rationed. The 7 April guidance states that “some [cleaning equipment] items may be rationed in schools,” and adds: “Educational staff do not require personal protective equipment.” GMB says the guidance fails to reflect the realities of working in schools, including in special schools where contact between staff and pupils can be common. Karen Leonard, GMB national schools officer, said: “The suggestion that staff do not need personal protection equipment fails to understand the reality of the vital roles our members play in schools. Staff need to be available to provide first aid, administer medication and on occasions restrain pupils. These crucial roles in support of pupils cannot be performed at a distance – and the lack of support endangers lives.” She added: “We are not asking for the same level of equipment as hospitals - but to say none is needed puts staff and pupils at risk. A small supply, which has been decided through a risk assessment, protects everyone in schools. The combination of potential rationing of cleaning equipment, and the news that schools will not be fully refunded for coronavirus costs at a time when budgets are already at breaking point, is devastating for the sector. The government must reverse course because lives are at risk.”
GMB news release. Department for Education guidance.
Over half of teachers who should have been self-isolating due to coronavirus exposures have been asked to attend work, a survey by teaching union NASUWT has found. The snapshot survey of teachers revealed that 51 per cent of teachers who thought either they or someone in their household had Covid-19 were still asked to attend work for at least some time during the week beginning 23 March, the first week that schools were closed to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable children. A further 39 per cent who are classed as being in a vulnerable group due to underlying health conditions, pregnancy or age said they were also asked to attend for some or all of that week. Nearly a third (32 per cent) said there was not adequate provision of soap and hot water for handwashing in their school, and 39 per cent said they had not been provided with appropriate guidance on maintaining school distancing by their employer. Nearly half (48 per cent) reported a lack of adequate arrangements to frequently clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects in their school. Chris Keates, NASUWT acting general secretary, said: “Employers have a duty of care to do all that they can to keep workers safe, yet it seems that in too many cases too little protection is being put in place. She added that teachers were facing significant strain and worry about their families, their finances and their health. “One of the mantras to emerge from this period is that ‘we are all in this together’ but the callous and reckless actions of some employers demonstrate that this message is little more than an empty slogan for too many teachers.”
NASUWT news release.
Highways maintenance workers who are undertaking a crucial role keeping the UK’s road network open are being prevented from following social distancing guidelines, the union Unite has warned. It says the outsourced key workers have been told that the client, Highways England, has said that it should be ‘business as usual.’ Unite says that while in some depots, canteens and mess areas have been closed, workers are still operating in two and three person crews, travelling together in cabs and cannot social distance while on site. The union said it understands that it is essential emergency work such as repairing barrier damage, filling potholes, clearing up spillages and fixing boundary fences where there is nearby livestock needs to continue. But Unite says work such as cyclical maintenance and litter picking should be suspended until after the coronavirus crisis has ended. When concerns about this were raised on some contracts in northern England, workers were informed that Highways England had confirmed that “litter picking was a safety critical activity”. Unite said it believes that if work was reduced to emergency work-only workers could single crew and would be able to successfully socially distance. On some contracts Unite has secured agreement that there will only be two workers on sites and there will be no rotation in work gangs. Other measures secured include access to canteens and locker rooms on a coordinated basis and where workers raise health and safety issues, they will not be sent home without pay. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “Highways England is clearly at fault, this is not business as normal. Emergency work of course needs to be undertaken but workers should not be placed at risk undertaking non-essential maintenance work.” He added: “To suggest that collecting litter by the side of motorways and major roads is a safety critical activity demonstrates they have lost all perspective. The Department of Transport needs to intervene and ensure that its agency puts the safety of its workforce first.”
Unite news release.
Millions of lives have been needlessly put at risk by the government’s inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic, health and safety campaigners have warned. The Hazards Campaign’s analysis has identified a catalogue of government shortfalls, including its refusal to stop all non-essential work, an inability to supply health service staff with protective equipment and failure to introduce a comprehensive testing and tracking system to contain the virus. It has criticised in strong terms the workplace safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for inaction. “This must change. The HSE must enforce the law and protect vulnerable groups such as zero-hours workers and the bogus self-employed,” campaign spokesperson Janet Newsham said. “We need them to close down employers who are putting people’s lives at risk. Everyone needs to stand together in the fight to protect workers, not simply because it’s the right thing to do but because it affects us all. Workers’ health is public health.” She added: “When companies subject workers to dangerous conditions and cheat them out of wages, it’s taxpayers who foot the bill. The worst offenders will only change their behaviour when the cost of failing to protect workers outweighs the benefits.” Whistleblowers seeking to prevent bad practices at workplaces also need protection and support, the campaign added. It is urging the HSE to set up an anonymous hotline for workers to get advice and to report poor workplace hygiene and non-compliance of the two-metre social distancing rule. The campaign says an online HSE reporting concerns form requires the complainant to reveal personal details, which it says has in the past led to whistleblowers being victimised.
Hazards Campaign news release, full analysis and infographic. Morning Star. CIEH news report.
Police officers should not be used as ‘factory inspectors’ to enforce a new social distancing law introduced in Wales, the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has said. Regulations that came into force across Wales on 7 April allow police and councils to fine firms for not doing all they can to keep workers two metres apart. But Mr Jones said all four Welsh chief constables have objected to taking on the enforcement role. The Plaid Cymru politician, who otherwise supports the legislation, said: “The chief constables have urged the Welsh government to change their guidelines as a matter of urgency and I am standing shoulder to shoulder with them on this.” Under the law, police and councils have powers to issue fixed penalty notices ranging from £60 for a first offence, to £120 for a second and subsequent offence. There has been criticism that the fines are too low, and that the way the law was introduced has put companies into difficulty. First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh government had listened to workers’ fears, with the new law requiring employers to take “all reasonable actions” to comply with the 2-metre rule. Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said unions “strongly welcome the legislation”, but added: “The next step will be enforcing it – making sure that people know they’ve got a right to demand that their employer takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the 2-metre rule is being practised. It’s essential that this is communicated as widely as possible.” She added: “No one should have to endanger their own life and put their families and the wider community at risk of the virus spreading. That is why we’ve launched an online whistleblowing form for people who have health and safety concerns, so we can protect workers’ rights to safe workplaces.”
Wales TUC and whistleblowing hotline. BBC News Online. The Guardian.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.
Unions have welcomed the decision by the Welsh Assembly to enforce new social distancing rules at work. Peter Hughes, Unite Wales regional secretary, said: “Unite in Wales applauds this move. We have been repeatedly raising our members' safety concerns during this health crisis, and airing our fears that some employers are not respecting the two metres distance, so it is good that the Welsh government is listening.” He added: “We hope that employers will understand the intention behind this law and act now to take every possible step to keep workers safe at work, rather than wait to be hit by a fine. Unite will work with our members to promote this new law and with employers to ensure that they adhere to these new regulations.” Howard Beckett, Unite's assistant general secretary for legal affairs, added: “This law will send a clear signal to bosses that they are now required by law to put their workers’ safety first. Our members are putting themselves on the line to keep public services and businesses functioning during these extraordinary times, so we say to employers, keep them safe, provide them with the protective and sanitation equipment they need, or find yourselves in legal conflict with Unite because we have vowed to do whatever it takes to keep our members safe.” Dan Shears, GMB health, safety and environment director, said many employers have been ignoring the 2-metre stipulation. “Those companies will now need to fall into line or fear the consequences,” he said. Nick Ireland, a divisional officer with the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said: “Our communities need shops, but we need to keep all workers in the food supply chain safe so they can stay open. So we are pleased that the Welsh government recognises the heroic efforts our members are making and have introduced these new social distancing rules.” David Evans, Wales secretary for the teaching union NEU Cymru, said “we would urge our members to stick as closely as possible to the 2-metre rule where practicable. It will be difficult, but ultimately, we need to ensure educators and learners are as safe as possible, and of course we should continue to ensure that as few students and staff as possible are in school.”
Usdaw news release. Unite news release. NEU news release. UNISON news release.
Unite Scotland has welcomed the stronger guidance issued by the Scottish government to construction firms during the Covid-19 pandemic, which clarifies what is essential work. The guidance also confirms that where construction sites cease work, workers’ pay should be protected. Unite said it had been pressing the Scottish government to adopt clearer guidance and tougher measures to ensure firms comply with government instruction and advice in relation to non-essential work, social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE). The new guidance makes clear that work on construction projects should cease unless it is supporting crucial work during the pandemic. Any project deemed essential can also only continue operating if it can comply with guidance on social distancing, safety and welfare during the Covid-19 outbreak. Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary, said: “We welcome the new guidance issued which to a far greater degree provides this clarity and that there is a review process in place so if further measures are needed then they can be adopted swiftly.” He added: “Importantly from Unite’s perspective, the Scottish government have also stated that in the event where non-essential construction work ceases then those firms should do all that is humanly possible to make sure the jobs and incomes of those workers is protected.”
Unite Scotland news release. Scottish government construction sector guidance. Construction Enquirer.
Prison officers’ union POA has welcome a government decision to release thousands of low risk prisoners to reduce the health risk posed by coronavirus to prison inmates and staff. Secretary of state for justice Robert Buckland this week said he intends to begin the early release of low risk prisoners in the coming days. In a private meeting with the POA, the Lord Chancellor confirmed that up to 4,000 prisoners within the last two months of their Automatic Early Release date would be released from prisons under home detention curfew conditions. These would require them to wear an ankle tag and have stable accommodation in place. POA said the move would relieve the pressure on frontline staff and the prison system during the coronavirus outbreak. POA general secretary Steve Gillan commented: “This is a good decision by the Lord Chancellor and one in which I support. This is critical to free up spaces in our jails and could be the difference between life and death during this pandemic. This needs to be done quickly and effectively if it is to have any impact on our overcrowded prisons.” He added: “Safety of our members and those in our care are essential during this Covid-19 crisis. But there can be no delay in these executive releases as each day is critical to stopping the virus spreading in our prison system.”
POA news release.
The international trade union confederation ITUC has called for a global fund to protect public health, social protection and jobs in poor nations. The call came after the global union body’s survey found that while wage protection and income support are provided in many G20 and OECD countries, working people in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas have lost jobs and incomes and could face widespread famine unless there is urgent global co-ordination and fiscal stimulus measures. “While G20 governments have committed to a record stimulus of US$5 trillion, it risks excluding emerging and developing countries,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said. “We cannot just sit by and wait for the pandemic to attack countries in Africa and Latin America with the same ferocity that it has elsewhere without a plan of action. Fifty-seven per cent of governments surveyed in Africa and 35 per cent surveyed in the Americas are not providing wage protection and income support for workers. We must be prepared with all the tools at our disposal to support these countries – many of whom the world, including advanced economies, relies on for food and materials through global supply chains.” The ITUC is calling for support for a Global Fund for Universal Social Protection for the poorest countries to support health care and income support, and for the IMF to co-ordinate fiscal stimulus, issue additional special drawing rights (SDRs), set up a Trust Fund into which advanced economies can re-allocate their holdings of SDRs, and earmark the Trust Fund for public health, social protection and jobs. “Only by working together with social dialogue between unions, employers and governments and the commitment for global co-ordination will people retain trust in governments. This is the basis for a post-pandemic future that leaves no one behind,” said Sharan Burrow.
ITUC news release, ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey key findings and 7 April ITUC action round-up.
A 31 March World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) joint call for coordinated international action to keep international food supplies flowing ignored the welfare of workers in the sector, the global food and farming union IUF has said. The IUF has written to the three global bodies to highlight a ‘supremely irresponsible defect’ in their appeal for ‘responsibility’: the total absence of advocacy for action to protect the lives, safety and livelihoods of the agricultural workers on whose labour food security depends. In a letter to the FAO and WHO, the IUF emphasises that in the Covid-19 crisis “food security, worker health and safety and public health converge. With borders closing and markets collapsing, these agencies are now discovering that workers normally considered 'unskilled', exploitable and disposable are in fact essential,” IUF notes. “Protecting food security requires coordinated action to protect food workers, including the nearly 500 million women and men working for wages on farms of all sizes, plantations, in orchards, greenhouses and in livestock and dairy production.” The IUF letter asserts: “Substantial, open-ended funding from national governments and international institutions must be made immediately available to ensure adequate protection and safe work for agricultural workers as an elementary measure for saving lives and protecting public health and food security.”
IUF news release.
This year, a new crisis put workers in many US industries unexpectedly in harm’s way, but the official workplace safety watchdog has been conspicuously absent from the coronavirus response, a former top government safety official has charged. David Michaels, the Obama era head of the safety enforcer OSHA, said “the federal agency under the Department of Labor charged with protecting these workers, is almost completely missing from the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of pressing employers on worker safety, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and President Donald Trump’s political appointees at the Labor Department have decided to tell workers there is little OSHA can do because it has no standard covering airborne infectious diseases.” Michaels calls for a different approach. “OSHA can, and should, be front and centre in our efforts to protect these truly essential workers,” he writes in a Politico editorial. “The agency’s dedicated career staff has great expertise in worker protection, and the agency has issued useful guidance about Covid-19. But guidance is non-enforceable. This is simply shameful.” He said OSHA could start to put this right “by announcing that, using the general duty clause of the OSHA law, the agency will now issue citations against employers” ignoring official guidance. He added: “For health care workers, the most important single action OSHA could and should take right now is to issue an emergency temporary infectious disease standard”, requiring health care institutions to develop and implement infection control plans.
Politico. US Covid-19 Strike Wave Interactive Map.
The USA’s top public health agency has been criticised for treating millions of essential workers as disposable in the nation’s coronavirus response. New Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance covers ‘critical infrastructure workers’ – which includes workers in every essential job from police to agricultural workers and cleaners outside the health care sector - advises that workers who have had close contact with an individual infected with Covid-19 may continue to work if they remain asymptomatic, with certain conditions. These lean heavily on temperature screening, which has been proven to be an unreliable indicator of infection. The guidance was strongly criticised by workplace safety advocates. Peg Seminario, former safety director with the national union federation AFL-CIO, noted: “Given that it has been firmly established that there is significant transmission from asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals, these new guidelines pose a real risk of exposing others in the workplace to infection. The guidelines were not issued to protect workers but rather to ensure the continuity of essential functions.” Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) said the guidance was “outrageous.” Calling for action to get the guide removed, she said: “If you are in the public, and not at work, CDC guidelines have you quarantine for 14 days if you are exposed to Covid-19. But at work - you are expendable.” Seminario added: “With this action, the Trump administration has totally abdicated its responsibility to protect workers on the job from exposure to Covid-19.”
Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19, CDC, April 2020. The Hill. Science Magazine. EU screening guide.
Health workers in Pakistan have warned of “deplorable” conditions on the frontlines of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, describing the pandemic as untreatable in one region and accusing police of brutally suppressing protests over working conditions. One doctor who took part in a sit-in by health workers protesting at a lack of personal protective equipment said he had been “beaten and humiliated” by police, the Guardian reported. Across the whole of Balochistan, which has become the focus of Pakistan’s coronavirus outbreak, there are just 19 ventilators. The country has reported 4,000 cases of Covid-19, but testing rates are low and doctors believe the real figure is much higher. The Guardian reports that since 2010, healthcare in Pakistan has been devolved to provincial governments, where there has been rampant mismanagement and underfunding, leading to wildly varying standards across the country. It says the dysfunction in Pakistan’s coronavirus response also appears to go to the very top, played out in a public dispute between the federal government, provincial governments and the military over the decision whether or not to implement a full lockdown. Prime minister Imran Khan has been criticised for underplaying the impact of the virus, which doctors say is resulting in incidents such as one last week, when hundreds of thousands of people across Pakistan defied restrictions in order to attend prayers.
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