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





Unionised workers more safe and secure - survey

A survey of over 1,500 workers in Scotland has revealed the advantages enjoyed by unionised workers over un-unionised workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) study revealed that unionised workers are half as likely to feel their job is at risk than those who are not in unions, and that almost two-thirds of un-unionised workers are worried about paying bills compared to a third of unionised workers. Unionised workers also feel safer, have some degree of better access to PPE, and are working in places with clearer policies on dealing with the virus. STUC general secretary designate, Rozanne Foyer, said “the results of this survey are clear. During exceptional times and periods of crisis, when the music stops, those who are in unions find they have the support, security and safety that many other workers can only dream about.” She added: “It is a hard time for all workers, but life is made a little easier when you know that you are part of a collective. The statistics speak for themselves. Now it’s time for people in unions to speak with friends and family about why it matters to get yourself in a union before you go back to work.” The survey found who aren’t members of a trade union are twice as likely to say their job is at risk than those in a trade union. Almost six in ten (59 per cent) of non-trade union members are worried about paying the bills compared to only a third (33 per cent) of trade union members. A similar proportion of non-trade union members (57 per cent) who are still working do not feel safe at work, compared to 48 per cent of trade union members. The survey found 44 per cent of non-trade union members reported not having access to PPE compared to 39 per cent of trade union members. Only a third (35 per cent) of non-trade union members had been told they will be paid in full if they are off-sick with Covid-19, compared to almost two-thirds 62 per cent) of trade union members.
Full STUC news release and survey findings.

RMT ‘stop work’ call to unprotected workers

Transport union RMT has advised tens of thousands of workers in the rail and bus sector to stop work on safety grounds if employers do not provide protection from Covid-19. It says the union’s message to members follows escalating concerns that many employers are not taking steps to protect transport workers. The 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 related to essential services, avoiding group and close proximity work and maintaining two metre separation of workers. Where this isn’t possible on essential jobs “then personal protective equipment such as gloves, eye defenders and masks [are] to be utilised by all workers in close proximity to provide mutual assurance and the time spent within two metres must be minimised and only for the purpose of the task. If full appropriate PPE is not available then work should not commence.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said “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.” Citing the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the union advice notes: “Employees are protected by law if they decide that their work situation represents a threat of ‘serious or imminent danger’ and as a result of this belief they remove themselves to a place of safety. Protection is also given to trade union appointed health and safety representatives. RMT believes the current coronavirus–Covid-19 pandemic represents a real threat to life that can be deemed as ‘serious and imminent’.”
RMT news release and advice for rail and bus members.

Busworker ‘protection scandal’ exposed

Bus union RMT says it has been alerted “to the most inept steps they have ever seen” by an employer to protect workers from Covid-19. The union was commenting after making ‘strenuous representation’ to First South West Buses to fit suitable perspex screens to its fleet of buses to provide a physical barrier between drivers and passengers. RMT says the company initially ignored the union’s representations then, in a video shared with the RMT, “what can best be described as a shower curtain has been screwed to the ceiling of the driver’s cab and hangs well short of the bus windscreen.” RMT said reports from drivers complain “the curtain is so flimsy members of the public have been pulling it to one side in order to speak to the driver. This brings passengers into even closer contact with the driver and puts them at still greater risk. RMT general secretary Mick Cash, in a letter to the company’s managing director, said: “I would urge you to reconsider your approach to this matter and show that you can step up to protect your staff in this time of national emergency.” The union leader added: “RMT also has other concerns about the bus industry including issues for engineering staff in depots and the facilities provided for employees in mess rooms. Many bus drivers on rural routes have no access to facilities to wash their hands – a key risk control measure as advised by Public Health England.”
RMT news release. Covid-19 – RMT advice and information. Morning Star.

Sick pay win for London's bus workers

London's 20,000 bus workers have secured company sick pay from day one following intense pressure from Unite on bus operators, Transport for London (TfL), the London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the national government. Commenting on 11 April, the union said in the preceding days there had been confirmation that 14 London transport workers had lost their lives to Covid-19, nine of them bus workers. The union said it is concerned that London's bus workers ‘are being hit disproportionately’ by the disease. The union added it was ‘appalled’ that because of the lack of company sick pay some bus workers may have felt that they had to go to work when exhibiting symptoms. Securing company sick pay from day one regardless of length of service, means that bus workers fearful of having contracted the illness can stay home safe in the knowledge that they will not be plunged into immediate hardship, the union said. Unite regional officer for the sector, John Murphy, said: “Unite has been putting immense pressure on bus operators and TfL,” adding: “If they fall victim to this virus, bus workers need to be able to go sick from day one, to isolate themselves and to recuperate. They should not face a terrible choice between health and hardship. So, we are extremely relieved to have secured company sick pay for all bus workers in London from day one.” The union officer concluded: “Unite is continuing to press for the best in PPE, masks and gloves to be available for bus workers, so they feel safe in their environment.” Bobby Morton, Unite's national officer for passenger transport, said bus workers were “terrified” after London mayor Sadiq Khan revised the deaths figure to 21 transport workers fatalities in the capital from Covid-19, including 15 bus workers. There have also been transport worker deaths elsewhere, including in Birmingham and Bristol.
Unite news release. BBC News Online. Evening Standard.

Unite cooks up furlough for fired Carluccio’s workers

In the first legal test of the government's job retention scheme (JRS), Unite has secured clarification that the scheme can be used by companies in administration during the Covid-19 crisis. Unite is now calling on Carluccio’s workers who were made jobless in March when the restaurant chain went into administration to respond to get in touch with their union so that they can access the scheme and establish some wage security. Insolvency laws mean that administrators normally have to dismiss workers within 14 days of their appointment in order to avoid liability for their employment and wages, but the court’s new direction means that the administrators can give more time for employees to respond. The union said this is the first litigation involving the JRS and provides the blueprint for administrators to make use of the scheme to protect jobs during the virus crisis. Unite’s assistant general secretary for legal affairs, Howard Beckett, said: “The new Job Retention Scheme was put together in record time and its interaction with other areas of law – in this case insolvency law – needed to be looked at by the High Court. This important decision ensures that no one is left behind in a hospitality sector reeling from the effects of the shutdown.” Richard Arthur, national coordinator for trade union strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm that acted for the union, said: “The government’s Job Retention Scheme applies to companies in administration, which is welcome. But it wasn’t clear how the scheme would work alongside strict insolvency law requirements, which often lead administrators to dismiss the workforce within 14 days. This judgment is a blueprint for how employees of companies in administration during the Covid-19 crisis should be treated, and means that jobs can be protected and 80 per cent of their wage costs paid from the scheme.”
Unite news release. Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Food supplier stopped from sacking workers

A Unite campaign has stopped a Cardiff-based food wholesaler from sacking over 100 low paid workers. Global Foods sacked all its 117 workers days after the government's job retention scheme was announced, leaving workers jobless in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. But after a handful of workers who belonged to Unite contacted the union, a ‘hard-hitting’ campaign succeeded in getting the workers furloughed. When Global Foods attempted to argue that workers with less than two years service should still lose their jobs, Unite intervened again and the company quickly reversed this decision. Unite regional officer Alan McCarthy said: “A hard-hitting campaign by Unite has stopped Global Foods in Cardiff from cruelly sacking workers in the middle of this unprecedented health crisis. Unite's influence in the workplace combined with political and community pressure ensured bosses at Global Foods reversed their decision and have now thankfully furloughed the workers.” He added: “Since the campaign began growing numbers of the workforce have been joining Unite. Our union is doing an extremely important job at this difficult time. This win for workers once again proves that Unite is on the frontline ready to fight for workers during this health crisis.”
Unite news release.

Union calls for cabinet minister for PPE

With workers across the country continuing to sound the alarm about the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers from the coronavirus, Unite has called for the ‘rapid appointment’ of a minister with responsibility for PPE delivery. The union’s call came amid mounting concerns that vital protective kit is not getting to the NHS and social care frontline. Unite has also demanded PPE for bus workers in the wake of severa transport worker deaths in the preceding days. The union played a key role in bringing manufacturers across the country together to build urgently needed ventilators but says the lack of central government coordination is hampering efforts to deliver safety equipment on the scale and with the urgency needed. Writing in Labourlist, Steve Turner, Unite's assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said:  “Hundreds of companies and thousands of workers are rising to the challenge to ensure that those risking their lives on a daily basis have the proper personal protective equipment they need to protect themselves.” But he added “as we hear daily, indeed hourly, workers are still not getting the protective equipment that they need.  Our posties, social care and NHS staff, construction and bus workers this week all sounded the alarm. They are on the frontline, keeping people safe and the country running, but where is the kit that they desperately need?” He said a dedicated cabinet minister with responsibility for PPE was necessary. “This minister – reporting directly to the PM – would have overarching responsibility for bringing together the ministries of government, to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape, a minister to join up the dots, make decisions with authority and clout. Above all, they must be someone who can simply get things done.”
Unite news release. Labourlist.

Unions secure PPE for Scotland’s care workers

Scotland’s care workers should get face masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus, according to new advice from the Scottish government issued after unions stepped in. The agreement means that the UK-wide guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) applies for Scotland’s care workers. An earlier letter from Scotland’s chief nursing officer said that masks were unnecessary, which would have meant home and social carers receiving less protection than colleagues in other parts of the UK, potentially putting them and those they were caring for at increased risk. After days of negotiation, the Scottish government and chief nursing officer amended their advice, now stating care workers can wear a fluid resistant face mask along with any other appropriate PPE that they feel is necessary in carrying out their work. The new Scottish government advice says it trusts the professional judgment of home and social carers in assessing the correct level of PPE they need for the tasks they are undertaking. UNISON Scotland’s Johanna Baxter says the union is “pleased that the Scottish government has responded positively to the concerns UNISON raised.” She added: “It is not acceptable that home and social care workers were put through this further anxiety. Their jobs are stressful enough.” UNISON Scotland local government chair Mark Ferguson added that the union is aware of issues around the supply of PPE and continues to raise that with the Scottish government.
UNISON news release.

Fear and mistrust blight call centres

A union-backed survey of over 2,000 call centre workers has revealed that while some call centres are getting it right, the majority are still getting coronavirus work practices dangerously wrong. Preliminary results of the survey conducted by call centre expert Professor Philip Taylor found pre-existing health and safety concerns were being exacerbating by the current coronavirus crisis. Scottish national union centre STUC, which supported the study, said union health and safety reps must be allowed immediate access to non-union call centres to conduct a full assessment of working conditions. The survey’s interim findings indicated that while 57.1 per cent of those workers still working had been designated as ‘essential’, only 17.9 per cent believed this to be the case. Half of all workers surveyed stated they are working face-to-face with a co-worker, the survey found. Over a third had been required to have face-to-face team meetings. A similar proportion describing being required to engage in team ‘huddles’. Only a third of workers reported that their employer was successfully implementing workplace distancing. Roz Foyer, STUC’s general secretary designate, said: “No one doubts that many call centre workers are essential, frontline workers, they provide important advice and keep whole parts of our infrastructure going. But many others are working despite not undertaking essential roles. This reveals just how many non-essential call centre workers are being forced to carry on at a risk to themselves and the wider public.” She added: “We call on every call centre in Scotland, unionised or not to offer immediate access to union health and safety reps to conduct a full assessment of working conditions in the sector.” Strathclyde University professor Phil Taylor said: “This survey lifts the lid on the nightmare being endured by many agents, with insufficient social distancing, multi-occupation workstations, over-crowded lifts, poor sanitation, re-used headsets, heating and ventilation systems spreading germs. Open plan office environments and face to face working will spread the virus and the evidence suggest that by and large home working is being denied.”
STUC news release.

Testing ‘fiasco’ condemns fire staff to isolation

Fire and rescue personnel urgently need coronavirus testing, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned, as services have lost up to 12 per cent of their firefighters and control staff to self-isolation. Commenting on 13 April, the FBU said nearly 3,000 fire and rescue staff are in self-isolation and unable to work, representing 5.1 per cent of the UK’s overall fire and rescue workforce. Just under 2,600 of them are operational firefighters and control staff, making up 5.3 per cent of the total. Emergency fire control rooms, which have fewer staff, have been worst hit in some areas, with some control rooms losing 15.9 per cent of their staff. The FBU has said that without urgent testing of frontline personnel, there will inevitably be an impact on brigades’ ability to provide fire cover and respond to other emergencies, including their work supporting the coronavirus response. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The Westminster government is playing with fire by not testing firefighters and control room staff for coronavirus.” He added: “There are already thousands of firefighters and control staff in self-isolation, only a fraction of which will have the disease. If we aren’t able to find out exactly who is infected, and more staff isolate unnecessarily, services will be put on a dangerous knife-edge. Of course testing of NHS staff has to be a priority, but firefighters and other emergency service personnel are also at serious risk. The very safety of the public relies on them being able to attend work. There needs to be a clear and deliverable testing strategy for all workers required to continue at work.”
FBU news release. BBC News Online.

Government must say no to work-related virus deaths

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has reiterated its call on the UK government to set a goal of ‘zero work caused fatalities’ from Covid-19 within the NHS, essential services and UK business. The organisation said its campaign is now being backed by the British Dental Association (BDA), the British Medical Association (BMA), the Doctors’ Association and many other organisations, stating “that work-related fatalities due to Covid-19 exposure is not a given.” SOM is also “calling for organisations and people to back its call on government to set a goal for zero workplace fatalities in health and social care due to Covid-19”. It noted: “The new PPE guidance published by the government is an improvement but should be minimum protection. Where a higher level of protection is available it should be used.” SOM added: “We are also pleased that dangerous occurrences and likely work caused fatalities for Covid-19 are now RIDDOR reportable. However, it is necessary that all potential work caused fatalities are investigated and any break down of exposure control identified. This will allow correction and dissemination of learning.” There must be “robust and increasing access to occupational health,” it added. SOM president Dr Will Ponsonby said: “The UK could and should have aimed for a target of Zero Work Caused Fatalities in this pandemic. The need to protect our workers has never been greater, and that goal must be put in place as the foundation for all future planning.” British Dental Association chair Mick Armstrong said: “Too many NHS workers are being sent to the frontline inadequately protected. We desperately need a joined-up approach to PPE. Irrespective of official guidelines, all health professionals should be able to access the best available kit.”
SOM news release.

NHS workers’ Covid-19 deaths ‘beyond heartbreaking'

The union GMB has expressed its deep concern after health secretary Matt Hancock’s devastating disclosure that at least 19 NHS workers have died of Covid-19. Commenting on 11 April, GMB criticised the government for “broken promises” over protective equipment. It added that ministers needed to release death figures for other frontline workers, including care home workers. Launching a ‘Get Me PPE’ toolkit to support key workers to get the personal protective equipment they need, GMB national secretary for public services, Rehana Azam, said: “This is beyond heartbreaking. Each of these frontline workers’ sacrifice to our NHS family must never be forgotten. Now this dark truth has been dragged out, we also need to know the number of other frontline workers, including in our care homes, who have died in the call of duty.” She added: “This shows why the government’s broken promises on proper protective equipment matter - it has exposed workers to increased risk. We urgently need to see ministers fulfil their obligations to provide PPE to the frontline. PPE is not just a precious resource - it is an absolute necessity to protect lives. GMB is deeply concerned about any inference that NHS workers are responsible for the failures of government to properly protect our protectors.”
GMB news release and Get Me PPE Toolkit. The Independent. The Guardian.

Nurses without right PPE ‘entitled to refuse to work’

Nurses without appropriate personal protective equipment, who have ‘exhausted all other measures’, can refuse to treat patients, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has advised. The RCN has urged nurses without adequate PPE to consider delaying treatment, using alternative practices and refusing to work if ‘escalation steps’, such as consulting a line manager and documenting concerns, do not resolve the situation. In guidance published on 9 April RCN advised: “Ultimately, if you have exhausted all other measures to reduce the risk and you have not been given appropriate PPE in line with the UK Infection Prevention and Control guidance, you are entitled to refuse to work. This will be a last resort and the RCN recognises what a difficult step this would be for nursing staff.” It said RCN would provide legal representation and other support where any member faced management action for a refusal to treat. It adds the RCN “can talk to you through these difficult judgment calls.” The Guardian this week reported that the government missed three opportunities to sign up to an EU scheme to bulk buy PPE. Commenting on a 10 April government promise that the PPE shortages were being resolved, Labour’s shadow health secretary John Ashworth said: “Staff have been raising the alarm over lack of PPE for weeks. We hope the government’s plans today deliver the adequate supplies of PPE our brave health care staff deserve.”
RCN news release and Refusal to treat guide. Labour Party news release. Department of Health news release. Nursing in Practice. The Guardian and related story. BBC News Online. Evening Standard.

NHS staff ‘face real disaster’ from low levels of PPE

The BMA has warned that personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies in two large areas of England are running at dangerously low levels, and that some pieces of equipment are no longer available – a problem it says is forcing doctors into impossible situations and ultimately, putting their lives at risk. Commenting on 10 April, the doctors’ group said current PPE supplies in London and Yorkshire are not sufficient to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. This means staff and patients are increasingly being placed in harm’s way as they battle against the virus. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “This is not the flu. We are dealing with an unknown, highly infectious, and potentially deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of several healthcare workers, including 11 doctors in the UK. It is absurd that the people trained to treat this disease are the ones who are not being appropriately protected – and without them, we face real disaster.” He added: “It’s unclear whether the lack of PPE is directly linked to the recorded deaths of doctors so far, but we know that no healthcare workers have been infected in a hospital in Italy precisely because their PPE supplies are sufficient and of high-quality. This must be replicated here, in every healthcare setting, as a matter of urgency. Without it, doctors are being forced into a corner, facing heart-breaking decisions over whether to carry on caring for patients without proper protection and put themselves and patients at risk.” Dr Nagpaul warned the situation “is ultimately down to the government’s chronic failure to supply us with the proper equipment. We cannot continue like this, and need to see enough, adequate PPE delivered to staff across the country as soon as possible, not just for our health, but also, and most importantly, our patients.” This week BMA Cymru and the Wales TUC issued a joint call for ‘clarity’ from the Welsh government about PPE.
BMA news release. The Guardian. The Independent. BBC News Online.

Hospital staff at risk as PPE fit-tests abandoned

Health workers are being put at risk of catching Covid-19 because hospitals are abandoning vital checks to see if their personal protective equipment (PPE) fits properly. Reports from frontline staff indicate hospitals are in breach of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) respiratory equipment guidelines, which specify that anyone using a disposable respirator such as an FFP3 facemask in the course of their work should always have a fit-test first. This sort of respirator is can be dangerously ineffective if not fit-tested by properly trained staff. The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) is warning that hospitals that no longer perform fit-tests are playing “Russian roulette with doctors’ lives” at a time when Covid-19 has already claimed the lives of at least 40 doctors, nurses, paramedics, midwives and porters. Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, DAUK’s president and an intensive care specialist, said: “This is a scandal which shows a flagrant disregard for the safety of frontline NHS staff. Many doctors will ‘fail’ a fit-test on certain brands of mask, which means it will not work for them.” She added: “With mask brands and types regularly changing due to shortages, sometimes shift to shift, doctors are now going in blind, with no way of knowing whether a particular mask will give them any protection whatsover. It is simply unacceptable to play Russian roulette with doctors’ lives. This flagrant disregard for the safety of dedicated NHS staff must be addressed as a matter of urgency.” Prof Neil Mortensen, the president-elect of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “Respiratory protective equipment needs to fit the wearer’s face and must be tested before it is used to ensure it is effective. Surgeons who responded to our survey said they have been told to ‘fit-test themselves’, highlighted mask shortages and mentioned shortages of the testing solution.”
RCS news release. DAUK UK news release. HSE respirator guidelines. The Guardian.

Hotline exposes government’s PPE failures

NHS, care and other frontline staff whose lives are on the line need immediate government action to fix inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, UNISON has said. The public services union said government apologies and assurances the UK has all the PPE it needs are of no comfort to staff whose workplaces are running low. The union said workers from hospitals, care homes and local council-run services expressed fear and anger to UNISON’s PPE alert hotline about the absence of gowns, masks and visors where they work. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “No-one doubts the pressures the government is under. But the time for excuses has passed. Ministers have been saying for weeks that the PPE situation is in hand. That there’s enough to go around and it’s just a matter of logistics. But it isn’t good enough” He added: “NHS, care and other key workers are falling ill in huge numbers. Some have already died – including nurses, doctors, care workers, healthcare assistants and porters. Staff fear for their own health, that of their families and those they care for and look after… Getting the necessary PPE to every workplace in the country that needs it – and ensuring the supplies keep coming so staff aren’t filled with dread as they watch stocks run low – must be the number one priority.” Thousands of people working in the NHS, social care and local services contacted the UNISON hotline in a single week, expressing anxiety at the lack of gloves, masks, eye protectors and gowns where they work. UNISON last week passed the testimonies from staff working in hospitals, schools, care homes and out in the community, including social workers, teaching assistants, refuse collectors and police staff, to health secretary Matt Hancock.
UNISON news release and earlier release. BBC News Online.

Community calls for more prison staff protection

Following the deaths of two prison staff from HMP Pentonville from Covid-19, the justice services trade union Community has called for urgent action from government to improve prison staff safety. In addition to provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) the union, which represents private sector prison officers, is calling for government to enable prison contractors to change the daily prison regime without fear of financial penalty. Roy Rickhuss, Community general secretary, said: “Prison staff play a vital role protecting the public, and during this outbreak they have done their duty at additional risk. This unprecedented challenge requires an immediate and unprecedented response to protect the safety of all prison staff and prisoners. Their safety must be the priority.” He stated: “Community are calling for adequate personal protective equipment for all staff across the estate and for prisons to continue to monitor the prison regime with local trade union officials, ensuring that safety is the primary consideration in this process. Furthermore, those private contractors making changes to their regime in the interests of the safety of prison staff and prisoners should not be subject to financial penalty for doing so.” The union leader said: “We will continue to work to evaluate the situation across the estate and to ensure our members are as safe as possible while doing their frontline jobs keeping the public safe. To do this we have requested regular meetings with the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland QC MP.”
Community news release and petition calling for PPE for all.

End VAT for care home PPE

The government must immediately suspend VAT duties payable by care homes for safety equipment during the pandemic, UNISON has said. Care providers, some of whom are struggling with the financial pressures of the outbreak, are being charged VAT for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves needed to keep the workforce safe. This is driving up costs and doesn’t apply to the NHS or to people buying PPE for their own personal use, said UNISON. The union is also calling on the government to clamp down on PPE profiteering to stop some firms inflating prices for life-saving kit. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “No social care employer should be paying VAT for what has clearly become essential equipment. This is a national emergency. The virus is tearing through care homes and everything possible must be done to stop it. That means cutting the costs of PPE from today.” He added: “Care workers are worried sick about the people they look after and also fear for their own health. Suspending VAT immediately for the duration of the crisis will make a huge difference. The government must also send a clear directive to suppliers and retailers not to hike the cost of life-saving safety equipment. No one should be trying to make a quick buck from people’s desperation to stay well during the pandemic.”
UNISON news release. Morning Star. The Guardian.

PCS slams lack of PPE for border force staff

All Border Force staff need to be equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) as a matter of urgency, the union PCS has said. The union’s call came after a second death at Heathrow reportedly from Covid-19. It said the union member who died last week is the second PCS member employed by Border Force to reportedly die from Covid-19, following the death of Sudhir Sharma who contracted the virus outside of work. PCS, which represents border force staff in customs and passport control, has demanded management take action to protect members from the coronavirus and has slammed a ‘lax attitude’ to safety. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is a disgrace that management are refusing to provide PPE equipment to all Border Force staff who take risks every day dealing with the travelling public and keeping airports and planes safe. Worse still, bosses have refused to even allow PCS members to wear face masks at passport control because it gives the 'wrong impression' and have minimised the obvious risks staff take every day at work.” The PCS leader added: “The impression Border Force bosses are giving is that they do not care about the safety of their staff, despite 10,000 people in the UK dying from Covid-19 so far… The Home Secretary must intervene and ensure our members can go to work fully protected from corona.”
PCS news release. MyLondon. Liverpool Echo.

Construction protest over coronavirus risks

Two socially distanced campaigners laid flowers at 11am at Tower Hill in London on Easter Sunday in protest at the ‘hundreds’ of construction workers who will lose their lives unnecessarily during the pandemic unless urgent action is taken. Concern has been growing that non-essential sites – including construction of luxury hotels and infrastructure not due to open for years – are still being allowed to operate, and that social distancing measures are impossible to adhere to in this industry. A campaign across social media, #ShutTheSites, is calling for the government to shut all sites that are not essential. Flowers were laid at the union-commissioned ‘Building Worker’ bronze statue commemorating those who have died within the industry. A statement issued by the campaign said: “If construction workers are building a Nightingale Hospital or carrying out emergency maintenance on vital infrastructure, that's clearly crucial to fight this pandemic. But hundreds of thousands of building workers are being forced to continue working on building sites by greedy developers and employers in order to build luxury flats, hotels and powers stations that will not be completed for at least another five years. None of these are essential.” The statement added: “Construction workers often travel on packed public transport or in shared minibuses, eat together in site canteens, live in huge site accommodation blocks and generally work in close proximity. No building worker in the country believes that construction can continue in any meaningful manner while complying with the two-metre social distancing rules.” The campaign is being backed by unions, including the GMB and Unite, as well as the Blacklist Support Group.
Reel News video report. ITUC/Hazards news. CIEH news report.

Covid-19 mobile phone mast ‘madness’ must stop

The communication workers’ union CWU has thrown its weight behind a chorus of protest against Covid-19 ‘fake news’ which has resulted in mobile phone masts being vandalised and some telecoms engineers abused by members of the public. Following the reports of some of the union’s field engineering members having been verbally abused as a result of what the union said is ‘an absurd conspiracy theory’ that 5G networks are responsible for the spread of coronavirus, the union commended the swift action taken by major social media networks to quash the groundless rumour. CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “It really does defy belief that, in this day and age, a groundless and obviously stupid conspiracy theory can trigger a hue and cry that results in ill-informed and frankly idiotic individuals taking ridiculous actions that have the potential to disrupt crucial information flows at time of national crisis.” He added: “Mercifully it would seem that the damage caused was not widespread – but, for the sakes of all our field engineering members in Openreach and across the wider telecommunications sector, it’s vitally important that dangerous fake news of this type is well and truly quashed.” The Metro newspaper this week reported that 39 BT engineers had been attacked or abused in related incidents.
CWU news release. The Metro.

PCS pressure stalls dangerous passport office plan

Pressure from the civil service union PCS has led to a temporary halt on HM Passport Office (HMPO) staff being forced back into their offices to do routine work. A leaked transcript of a video conference meeting involving top HMPO bosses suggested up to 2,000 members of staff could return to work on ‘routine’ passport applications despite a ban on international travel and a rising Covid-19 death toll in the UK (Risks 942). The union said it subsequently pressed hard for the Home Office and HMPO to ensure staff are kept safe at home during the coronavirus pandemic. “Our pressure has begun to have an effect as HMPO has called a temporary halt to bringing more staff back into offices this week,” the union said. “This is a welcome move. But this would not have come about had it not been for the pressure from our union. PCS puts members’ health, safety and wellbeing as our absolute priority. We hope further talks demonstrate HMPO's commitment to members’ safety as their number one priority too, and limit the numbers of staff expected in offices to an absolute bare minimum going forward.”
PCS news release.

Calls for Covid-19 workers’ compensation scheme

A cross-party group of MPs in calling for the introduction of a Coronavirus Compensation Scheme for frontline workers. The proposal would mirror the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme to include a lump sum up front, a guaranteed income for their family and child payments to eligible children under 18 for any frontline staff who die from Covid-19. The proposed scheme would apply to essential workers including NHS and social care staff as well as school teachers. The letter reads: “Those on the frontline of this battle against coronavirus are heroes. However the risks to themselves and their families that they are taking on a daily basis are not recognised.” It adds: “They are putting their lives on the line, and they deserve to be protected. Just like members of the armed forces they should know that if the worst happens, the state will help their families.” Given the “extraordinary nature of this crisis”, the group of 50 MPs also said the state should contribute to funeral costs, adding that while money could not be compensation for loss of life, the scheme could provide security and comfort for those risking their lives. It concludes: “Our gratitude is limitless, and this small show of recognition is the very least we should do.” Labour MP Rosie Cooper, a signatory to the letter, said: “As we make clear in our letter, those on the frontline of this battle against coronavirus are heroes, and we need to ensure that for anyone whose life is lost in this battle that their family is supported as much as they can possibly be. We are calling on the government to replicate the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme and create this Coronavirus Compensation Scheme for the assistance of those frontline staff and their families should they have to experience the worst.” Malaysia has already created a compensation scheme for workers developing work-related Covid-19.
Letter from MPs to the prime minister. LancsLive. HRM Asia.

Home Office urged to prevent abuse of shopworkers

Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has written to the Home Secretary requesting progress on the government’s own ‘call for evidence’ on violence and abuse toward shop staff. The union has warned the problem has become more acute during the coronavirus crisis. The government’s call for evidence was published over a year ago and attracted thousands of responses from shopworkers and retailers. But the union says despite repeated assurances to former MP David Hanson, Alex Norris MP and Mike Amesbury MP the government is yet to respond. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “We obviously appreciate the difficulties posed by the current crisis and all that the government is dealing with. However the abuse shopworkers are facing has become more severe during the coronavirus emergency, as they make heroic efforts to feed our communities while keeping customers and themselves safe.” He added: “Now more than ever, our members need to know that their work is appreciated, that the government is on their side and that abuse is not part of the job. Shopworkers urgently need specific protection from abuse and violence, the current legal framework does not work. Therefore we are seeking to work together to provide our members with the protection they need, but that is not helped by the government’s delayed response to their own call for evidence.”
Usdaw news release.


28 April: Hazards Campaign call to action

As normal public events for 28 April won’t be possible because of measures to contain coronavirus/Covid-19, the Hazards Campaign has published its own 10-point plan for mostly virtual action. The national campaign says marking International Workers’ Memorial Day has never been more important. “Some workplace events may still go ahead but we are taking #iwmd20 online, developing a social media campaign that we want everyone to join in,” The campaign says. “This will keep the day and its perennial aims on the public and political agenda with the slogan to ‘Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living’. This year’s international theme has been changed by the global union confederation ITUC to ‘Stop the pandemic at work’.” The campaign’s 10-point plan includes displaying a series of print-off-or-order posters and other graphics in your window, posting selfies with the hashtag #iwmd20 and telling the campaign what you are doing and where. The Hazards Campaign poster message is: “Whether the threat at work is another new virus, dangerous substances or heartbreaking demands, your life should not be on the line. Unions can make it better.” Tag lines for the union-led event, which has become the world’s biggest health and safety campaign day, include ‘Unions - Fighting for your life’. The campaign is also supporting the TUC’s call for people to light a candle (safely) in their window on the evening of 28 April (Risks 942).
Hazards Campaign 28 April call to action. Print versions of the posters in A3 and A4 versions are free, but postage has to be paid on larger orders. As a guide 25 x A4 posters or 12 x A3 posters will cost £1.70 first class postage. Email or call the campaign for a price: 0161 636 7558. Send orders to: Hazards Campaign, c/o GMHC, Windrush Millennium Centre, 70 Alexandra Road, Manchester M16 7WD. Materials can also be downloaded for free, printed off, used online and in social media campaigns, as can a series of Hazards Campaign display boards.
TUC 28 April 2020 news and resources webpage.
Global action and resources: ITUC/Hazards 28 April website.


Australia: Qantas 'knowingly exposed' airport workers

Qantas staff at Adelaide Airport in South Australia were directed to continue working after it was discovered they had been exposed to the coronavirus, the transport union TWU has charged. SA Health ordered 750 employees to self-isolate in an attempt to contain a cluster of cases linked to the airport, including 18 baggage handlers, three other workers and 13 close contacts. TWU said it is compiling evidence Qantas “knowingly exposed” workers to the virus after it was made aware of the first confirmed case. Union bosses claim the company was late to act, downplayed the risk to staff and failed to implement proper safety measures. “We're being told Qantas staff were directed to attend work, [they] were concerned about their health and safety, but they went to work,” South Australian branch secretary Ian Smith said. “Some of them have become infected and they've infected their families — that's disastrous and totally unsatisfactory and that could have been stopped.” He said SA Health stepped in after Qantas took a ‘blasé’ approach to managing the issue. The quarantine order applies to employees who have worked in certain areas of the airport since 17 March, and affects cabin crew, pilots, customer service staff, engineers and baggage handlers.
SA Health news release. ABC News.

Canada: Union’s 'invisible to essential' cleaners’ campaign

A Canadian union has launched an ‘Invisible to Essential’ campaign, calling on property owners, managers and cleaning contractors to work together to make immediate improvements to cleaners’ working conditions. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2 represents more than 10,000 janitors across Canada. The union said the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many ‘invisible’ service workers being thrust into the spotlight. Despite this, janitors continue to be amongst the lowest paid and most underappreciated workers in our society, it says. The campaign demands include an immediate Can$2 per hour raise; keeping cleaners employed during the crisis; and ensuring all cleaners are working safely with the required training and personal protective equipment (PPE). Local 2 represents janitors in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
SEIU news release and Invisible to Essential campaign.

USA: Union slams needless transport worker deaths

The Covid-19-linked deaths of dozens of Transport Workers Union Local 100 members who worked for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have been linked to their working conditions. As of 13 April, more than 30 members of Local 100 and 11 transit supervisors were among 50-plus MTA deaths. John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union International, asserted that the most important factor responsible is the serious occupational issues related to workplace air quality for transit workers that make them especially vulnerable to the infection. “We breathe in diesel [fumes] every day,” he said. “We breathe in steel dust every single day. We breathe in manganese from all the welding that goes on in the subway.” He continued: “We breathe in creosote that they soak the railroad ties in to preserve them. These are carcinogens and they directly affect the lungs, and this is why so many transit workers die of lung disorders. And Covid-19 attacks the lungs. It is more the work environment than it has to do with any demographics of the workforce." The union leader said that the Covid-19 death toll for transit workers raised the question of whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's workforce should have been wearing masks even before the crisis. Both the union and management officials believe the “new normal” must include a heightened awareness of the risks essential workers take every day. Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit, said: “The goal has to be keeping workers safe. That includes now, in the short term, in the long term, and for the rest of their lives.” She added: “Any potential risk factor that impacts our workforce is worth exploring and understanding to the fullest.”
Chief Leader.


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