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





No return to work without ‘tough’ safety measures

The TUC is calling on the government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks to staff returning to their workplace. In a new report, the TUC outlines what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need. The union body is demanding that every employer in the UK be required to carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment, developed in consultation with unions and workers. The assessment must identify the risks in the workplace and set out specific steps to mitigate them, including through social distancing. The TUC guide adds the assessment must be agreed with the trade union, where there is one, and be signed off by union health and safety reps, or by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, to make sure that it is robust. It must also be completed and communicated to workers before they are expected to return to their normal place of work. The TUC insists this means employers should start work on their assessments now. Employers who fail to complete their risk assessments or put the appropriate safety measures in place should face serious penalties, including prosecution, it adds. New TUC polling shows that 2 in 5 (40 per cent) of workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49 per cent) of women. A similar proportion (39 per cent) said they are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work, and over a quarter (28 per cent) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from customers or clients. Nearly 1 in 6 (17 per cent) are concerned about not having access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We need tough new measures from government to reassure working people that their health and safety is a priority.” She added: “Government must ensure that every employer performs a comprehensive risk assessment before asking staff to return to work. And bosses who don’t take steps to protect workers should be prosecuted. If workers are asked to work in conditions they think are unsafe, they can refuse. And they should know that their unions will have their back.” 
TUC news release and report, Preparing for the return to work outside the home: A trade union approach, TUC, April 2020.

Covid-19 is an occupational disease, everywhere

Unions worldwide are calling for Covid-19 to be classified as an occupational disease in all affected groups of workers, to guarantee stronger workplace protections and access to compensation. The call from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and its global union partners came on 28 April, International Workers’ Memorial Day. “While there are many aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which are yet unclear, one thing that is clear is that most transmission is occurring in workplaces such as hospitals and care facilities, as well as in workplaces where transmission can occur in workers engaging with the public. There is already evidence that in numerous countries, protective workplace measures such as distancing and personal equipment are insufficient or even absent,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Workers are being made to take risks that shouldn’t be taken, and in some cases, such as in Amazon warehouses, they face sanctions or dismissal for raising safety concerns. Bringing Covid-19 into occupational disease classification is crucial to stopping this and reducing the spread of the virus. This is becoming even more urgent as countries begin to relax restrictions on economic sectors and public spaces.” The global unions say there must be a “presumption” cases are work-related unless conclusive evidence is presented to the contrary, and includes a lengthy lists of jobs where presumption should occur. “We are also calling for occupational health and safety to be given the status of a fundamental right at the International Labour Organisation,” said Burrow. “This is a long-overdue measure which would give workers’ protection from death and disease the same priority as freedom of association, collective bargaining and protection from discrimination, forced labour and child labour.” ITUC survey results released on 28 April revealed that in over half (51 per cent) of countries PPE supplies are sometimes, rarely or never adequate, putting at risk the millions of frontline health and care workers responding to the pandemic.
ITUC news release and Council of Global Unions Statement on Recognition of COVID-19 as an Occupational Disease.
BWI news release. Education International news release. IndustriALL news release. ITF news release. PSI news release. UNI news release. TUC Workers’ Memorial Day news release. STUC news release.
Third ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey Key Findings and related ITUC news release.
Global trade union action on 28 April – check out the International Workers’ Memorial Day events map, events by country and video reports.

All Covid-19 key worker deaths must be recognised

Firefighters’ union FBU is demanding that the government issue guidance to employers stating that the death of firefighters and key workers as a result of Covid-19 should be automatically recognised as work-related, allowing their families to receive compensation. In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson and devolved administrations, the FBU says that the guidance must cover all of those officially recognised as key workers as well as those who have been required to continue to work by their employer. The Westminster government announced a life assurance scheme for the families of NHS and care staff, but the FBU says thousands of families of firefighters and other key workers are still at risk of financial harm should they die from the virus. The FBU says that any compensation scheme should not preclude employees’ families from taking legal action against employers who may have jeopardised the safety of their workers, such as by failing to provide protective equipment. The FBU says that employers need to be given clear and unambiguous instruction to automatically consider all Covid-19 deaths as having been caused by the performance of their employees’ duties. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “There is sadly a real chance that firefighters will die, and that’s why we are calling on the government to urgently instruct all fire and rescue services to treat any death from Covid-19 as being caused by their work, making families automatically eligible for a payment under the firefighters’ compensation scheme.” He added: “This instruction must also be broadened out to include all key workers, both in the public and private sector.” The FBU leader concluded: “This crisis has demonstrated clearly who the key workers are in our society. And there can be no doubt that nurses, doctors, refuse collectors, bus drivers, firefighters, carers, and many more, have gone over and above to keep all of us safe - and the country running. The government must now promise to do its bit to keep all of their families safe and secure into the future.”
FBU news release.

NHS death payouts to all healthcare victims

NHS death-in-service benefits are to be extended to all health and care staff in England who die from contracting Covid-19, the government has said. It added funding would also be provided to devolved administrations to support similar schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Commenting on the government’s 27 April announcement, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “It’s only right the families of all those who worked for the NHS or in social care, and who’ve sadly lost their lives to the virus, are properly provided for. Until now, the relatives of any low-paid health worker who died and had opted out of the NHS pension scheme would’ve received nothing. Nor would the families of care workers on precarious contracts. Thankfully now that wrong has been put right.” He added: “Until their untimely deaths, all were looking after patients, saving lives, caring for the elderly and the vulnerable in our hospitals and care homes. Putting themselves in harm’s way, while most of us were safe at home. All the money in the world can’t replace a loved one. Nor can it lessen the deep grief relatives are experiencing. But providing financial security for the families of all those who’ve paid the ultimate price for their professionalism and dedication is the very least we can do.” The government said bereaved family members will receive a £60,000 lump sum worth roughly twice the average pensionable pay for NHS staff, with the cost met by the government. This will cover full, part-time or locum NHS and public health workers, including GPs, dentists, retired staff and second and final year students taking up paid frontline roles. Within social care, the scheme will cover employees of publicly funded care homes, home care, directly employed carers including personal assistants and frontline child and family social workers.
UNISON news release. Department of Health news release. BBC News Online.

Lives will be lost if NHS used as an ‘economic punch-bag’

New research by the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) shows the government’s 4th test for lifting lockdown isn’t yet being met, because surgeons aren’t yet getting the PPE or tests that they require. The survey of 1,263 surgeons and surgical trainees found almost a third (32.8 per cent) of respondents do not believe there is an adequate supply of PPE in their workplace. More than eight out of ten (82.4 per cent) surgeons and surgical trainees said tests were being reserved for staff with symptoms - just 7.5 per cent said there was testing for asymptomatic staff in their workplace. President-elect of the RCS, Professor Neil Mortensen, said: “Just because the NHS has not been overwhelmed so far, it does not mean the government can use the health service as its economic punch-bag.” He added: “Our survey shows the government’s fourth test for lifting lockdown has not yet been met. Surgeons still lack PPE, and we need to be sure that the welcome recent announcements to extend testing mean all hospital workers can get tested quickly, whether or not they are symptomatic. Having so recently experienced first-hand the support of the NHS, I hope the prime minister will not listen to those urging relaxation of the government’s position, on the flawed premise that the NHS ‘can cope’.” Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “The PPE issue has not been resolved,” adding “confidence remains an issue and it is incumbent on government to provide accurate and measured statements about supply and how it can be improved. There are also significant PPE supply issues in care homes, and in some GP and community services. It is unacceptable that any frontline staff should have to work with fear and uncertainty about the equipment they’ll receive.”
RCS news release. NHS Confederation news release.

UK’s failure to stockpile crucial PPE exposed

The government failed to buy crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) to cope with a pandemic, a BBC investigation has found. There were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government's pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK. The investigation by BBC Panorama found that vital items were left out of the stockpile when it was set up in 2009 and that the government subsequently ignored a warning from its own advisers to buy missing equipment. The expert committee that advises the government on pandemics, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), recommended the purchase of gowns last June. Gowns are currently one of the items in shortest supply in the UK and they are now difficult to source because of the global shortage of PPE. Doctors and nurses have complained that there are also shortages of essential FFP3 respirator masks. Panorama has discovered that millions of FFP3 respirator masks are unaccounted for. There were 33 million on the original 2009 procurement list for the stockpile, but only 12 million have been handed out. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) evaluation of PPE published in 2019 had already recommended that all healthcare workers should wear a gown, FFP3 respirator mask and visor when dealing with HCIDs. Those recommendations were in line with existing UK guidance. But on 13 March this year, the government downgraded its guidance on PPE and told NHS staff they were safe to wear less protective aprons and basic surgical masks in all but the most high risk circumstances. The same day, the government took steps to remove Covid-19 from the list of HCIDs, Panorama reported, a move accounted by Public Health England six days later. Research by Hazards magazine identified an HSE study from 2008 that concluded FFP3 style masks were required in coronavirus-like exposures at work.
BBC News Online. Has the Government Failed the NHS?, Panorama, BBC One, 27 April 2020. Evening Standard.
Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols: Gross protection of surgical masks compared to filtering facepiece respirators, HSE research report number 619, 2008.

PPE still not right for women

Personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied to women in the coronavirus frontline is not designed for them and puts their health at risk and is causing injuries, research by the union Prospect has confirmed. In a blog posting, Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns noted: “Personal protective equipment will never be the right fit if manufacturers or employers make decisions without taking the diversity of the workforce into account, and ill-considered remarks by government ministers seeking to explain current unavailability of much-needed PPE do not help.” She added: “The images of healthcare workers with scars and blisters because of badly fitting masks has brought home the reality that ‘one size fits all’ is not the right approach to personal protective equipment. While the NHS workforce is largely female, there is a shortage of PPE appropriately fitted for women across all industries.” The results of Prospect’s latest PPE survey show that overalls, jackets and trousers are where the problem is most evident. It found “a shocking 48.5 per cent of our female respondents told us that their PPE trousers fit poorly, compared to 16.6 per cent of male respondents.” The union added that “44.7 per cent of female respondents and just 15.3 per cent of male respondents said that their overalls fit poorly.” Prospect added that face masks and safety glasses “are a raw nerve for many of the women who responded to our PPE survey.” Emphasising the union role in ensuring safety for all workers, Sue Ferns noted: “Health and safety-critical decisions must reflect the experience of the full, diverse workforce if we are to protect women and minorities in all workplaces. Union health and safety reps have a key role to play. We hold employers to account when needed, but we would much rather they worked proactively with us to avoid such failures in the first place.” Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow women’s and equalities secretary, said: “It is scandalous that they are not given the right PPE to keep themselves and their loved ones safe; 75 per cent of NHS workers are women and the government must act now to give them the equipment they need.”
Prospect blog. Labour Party news release.

Women and insecure workers in coronavirus frontline

The impact on health and wealth of the coronavirus pandemic is hitting certain groups much harder, new research has found. A study by the Resolution Foundation found key workers are disproportionately likely to be female, with employed women more than twice as likely to be in this group as employed men. Parents are also more likely to be key workers than non-parents, and mothers even more so; 39 per cent of working mothers were key workers before this crisis began, compared to just 27 per cent of the working population as a whole. The report, Risky business, found workers in shutdown sectors are the lowest paid across the workforce. Typical pay for workers in shutdown sectors is less than half that of those able to work from home – £348 a week compared to £707 a week. The study also found workers with little job security are some of the most likely to be in the most exposed groups. Almost threequarters of those on zero hours contracts are either key workers or work in shutdown sectors. The report authors concluded: “This virus doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, but the economic impact that follows certainly does… it is important that the government recognises the financial challenges and personal sacrifices that some groups of workers are much more likely to be making than others.”
Resolution Foundation news release and briefing note, Risky business: Economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on different groups of workers, 28 April 2020.

London ambulance staff resuscitate PPE provision

GMB members have secured a big win after London Ambulance Service improved the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirement for staff resuscitating patients. GMB said its activists had been campaigning for weeks to have more protection during CPR procedures. The LAS Trust Board took a decision to level up the PPE as recommended by the Resuscitation Council (RCUK) – above the level required by Public Health England (PHE). GMB organiser Lola McEvoy said: “For weeks our ambulance members have been raising the alarm about this. We are sincerely grateful to the Resuscitation Council for speaking out and confirming what frontline staff already know: Performing chest compressions on a Covid-19 patient requires the highest-level PPE. It is essential all our frontline members are given the utmost protection equipment and we welcome the real leadership London Ambulance Trust have shown on this issue.” She added: “These professionals should be able to determine and judge for themselves what level PPE they need, and we advise that if there is any doubt about the risk facing our members, they must absolutely have the highest level of protection. We urge PHE to update their guidance so that trusts across the country don’t have to make individual decisions and all frontline staff are fully protected.”
GMB news release. RCUK statement. GMB Workers’ Memorial Day news release.

Safety should be top priority before schools reopen

Assuring the safety of school pupils and staff must be a top consideration before schools are reopened, teaching unions have said. The unions were commenting after the 29 April appearance by Gavin Williams in front of the Commons Education Select Committee. The education secretary told MPs that the reopening of schools in England is expected to take place in a “phased manner”, adding the date for opening would depend on scientific advice - but schools would get “as much notice as possible.” When pupils start returning it, could just be for some year groups. “All schools returning on day one with a full complement of pupils would not be realistic,” he told MPs. Responding to the secretary of state’s announcement, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach, said: “Central to any discussion about schools partially or fully reopening has to be that any decision must be informed on public health grounds.” He added: “It is vital that teachers’ safety and their health concerns are also addressed fully before any decision to reopen schools.” Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said: “When it is safe to talk about phased return, schools will then be planning for phased return but also for the ongoing support to students at home. Schools will not have all staff back on site for many months and not until testing and tracing is fully up and running. All staff with underlying health conditions or who are vulnerable will need to be at home so timetables will be tricky and the full curriculum simply impossible. We will need an extended, flexible recovery plan, and no one should be under any illusion that there is some 'catch up' magic bullet.” Both unions welcomed the announcement that schools would not return during the summer holiday.
NEU news release. NASUWT news release. BBC News Online.

Premature reopening of transport ‘unsafe’

Rail union TSSA has called on government leaders in Scotland and Wales not to rush irresponsibly into a premature ramping up of transport services. The union said it has learned that employers in Scotland – including Network Rail in Scotland – want to reopen offices and reinstate services, despite no end to lockdown and a commitment to social distancing of 2 metres remaining in force – legally so in Wales. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes is calling on Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to prevent any premature reopening which may threaten the health of transport workers and passengers. Cortes said: “We are getting more and more reports of pressure and plans from management to return our members to their workplaces and increase service even though there are no safety plans in place and the need for it has not been explained. We believe that increasing rail services at this point is both impractical and unsafe for both our members and the travelling public.” He added: “It’s clear that 'social distancing' will be with us for many months to come. Keeping a distance of 2 metres between people raises particular difficulties and questions for our transport sector and these simply haven’t been answered. How will social distancing be maintained at stations, on trains, and in our railway workplaces? Rushing the return of staff to workplaces and running more services is dangerous both for our members and our passengers. And Nicola and Mark should put an end to this dangerous nonsense.”
TSSA news release.

Temperature testing for bus workers needed

Unite is calling on all bus operators to introduce compulsory temperature checks to further protect workers against Covid-19. The union, which represents over 80,000 bus drivers in the UK, said it is looking for the measures to be introduced initially in London, where 27 bus workers have succumbed to Covid-19, with the temperature checks then rolled out across all bus operators in the UK. Under Unite’s proposals, all bus workers would have their temperature checked as they arrive for work using a laser thermometer. Workers who register a high temperature would then be provided with immediate assistance to access a Covid-19 test, which they are entitled to receive as key workers. Test results are usually known with 72 hours, with the worker remaining at home in the intervening period on their normal pay, the union said. If the worker tests negative, they quickly return to work. If they test positive, they then receive industry sick pay until they are able to return to work. Unite London regional secretary Pete Kavanagh said: “It is essential that all reasonable measures are taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to protect bus workers. By checking temperatures and ensuring drivers are then tested, not only will we be able to reduce the risk of infection but we can also ensure that workers can quickly return to work if the test is negative.” He added: “Once it is identified that a driver has a high temperature the company has a duty of care. The driver is instructed to go home and get tested and further contamination is avoided. One person who does not realise they have symptoms could unwittingly infect many of their colleagues. If it protects just a handful of workers from an infection that has killed far too many bus workers in London then it is well worth doing.” Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “This is a really important initiative which should make bus workers safer.”
Unite news release.

Bibby drivers secure social distancing and PPE

Drivers employed by logistics company Bibby, which supplies cans for drinks manufacturers including Carlsberg, have won an agreement on Covid-19 health and safety after threatening to walk out. The company’s management agreed to temperature checks for all staff upon arrival at the site and for approved cleaning products to combat the virus to be available for all warehouse staff and drivers. The agreement also includes structured working patterns for staff, a dedicated lorry for each driver on day and night shifts and sanitiser available on loading bays. Unite regional officer Chris Gray said: “The drivers were not prepared to compromise their safety during the current health crisis. With the support of their fellow workers and Unite's organising department, the drivers led a campaign making clear they were prepared to walk out on health and safety grounds.” He added: "We are also pleased that in this particular situation Bibby management worked with Unite to quickly resolve the issues and provide the necessary PPE. We hope that the good working relationship will now continue."
Unite news release.

Care home death figures are ‘shameful’

There has been a shameful disregard of the health and safety of care home residents and workers, the public sector union UNISON has said. Responding to figures released on 29 April that show a steep rise in coronavirus deaths due to the inclusion for the first time of those occurring in care homes, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care workers have been crying out for essential safety equipment, clear guidance and widespread virus testing for weeks. The risks have been plain to see and these new figures paint a stark picture of how the pandemic has been sweeping through residential homes across the UK.” She added: “The most vulnerable people in society and the staff who look after them needed proper protection from the start. This is a source of national shame and another sharp reminder why society needs to look at how it treats the entire care system.” The number of deaths from coronavirus in care homes may have to be revised upwards, a senior Public Health England official admitted on 29 April, as the government confirmed the total number of UK deaths from the pandemic had risen to more than 26,000. Data from PHE showed that more than 30 per cent of all care homes in England have reported suspected or confirmed coronavirus outbreaks.
UNISON news release and Workers’ Memorial Day news release. The Guardian and related article.

Brutal cuts to fire services being rushed through

Firefighters have warned of a major threat to public safety as politicians and fire chiefs try to sneak through cuts to the fire and rescue services while firefighters respond to the coronavirus crisis. The firefighters’ union FBU made the comments after a consultation on sweeping fire and rescue cuts was launched mid-pandemic. The union has called out the prime minister and other government ministers for clapping key workers on a Thursday while turning a blind eye to brutal cuts to a frontline emergency service. Firefighters have agreed to take on sweeping new duties to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including moving dead bodies, driving ambulances, and producing PPE, at the request of the government and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC). But East Sussex’s Conservative-controlled fire authority has decided to consult the public on sweeping cuts to the county’s fire service, detailed in an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) drawn up by chief fire officer Dawn Whittaker and senior managers before the coronavirus outbreak. The proposals include major cuts to the number of fire engines, staffing levels, and night-time fire cover. The FBU has accused fire chiefs and politicians of using the cover of the pandemic to sneak through the plans and has warned the public that this could be the first of many attempts to rush through decisions on cuts to services whilst attention is elsewhere. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The prime minister and other government ministers are asking people to clap for frontline workers on a Thursday, while their policies continue gutting frontline services. It’s shameless hypocrisy. While firefighters are taking on sweeping new areas of work to keep their communities safe, they have been completely betrayed by fire chiefs and politicians.” He added: “This could be the first of many attempts to sneak through cuts to services while the public focuses on the pandemic. If politicians think they are going to make public services pay for this crisis, then they are sadly mistaken.”
FBU news release.

Unions provide crucial support for bereaved workers

There’s a lot trade unions can do to support people who are grieving, as well as to remember those we have tragically lost to coronavirus, the TUC has said. “Trade unions have been crucial in securing bereavement and compassionate leave in workplaces in the past. We now have a role to play during this crisis to support people who are grieving, as well as to remember those we have lost,” noted TUC safety specialist Shelly Asquith. “Any worker who needs time off for bereavement should be granted leave by an employer. Trade union reps may wish to start negotiating for this immediately where there is no existing contractual provision.” In a TUC blog posting, she wrote: “Workers have a legal right to time off work if they experience the death of a dependant (for example their partner, parent, child, or someone else who relied on them). While there is no legal right to time off for the loss of other loved ones, many contracts, company policies, and staff handbooks will include a clause about compassionate leave. Trade union reps should bear in mind that certain sections of the workforce may have different provisions, for example, agency staff versus those permanent contracts.” She said other essential functions provided by unions where there has been a bereavement include pastoral care and financial support. Employers must report Covid-19 related deaths, and unions should confirm this is happening, she added. “If a registered medical practitioner confirms a person’s death is as a result of work-related exposure to coronavirus, this must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive within 10 days” (Risks 942). However, despite at least 200 workers having died as a result of coronavirus exposures at work, figures obtained by Hazards magazine reveal that up to 26 April only 32 deaths had been reported to HSE. “Activists at Hazards Campaign are also tracking the names and jobs of workers who are reported to have died as a result of coronavirus,” the TUC safety head noted. “You can help with this crowd sourcing effort by submitting to the Google Sheet.”
TUC blog and Covid-19 guide for union reps. HSE Covid-19 reporting webpage. TUC Workers’ Memorial Day remembrance video.
REPORT COVID CONCERNS: The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has now provided an email address for unions to report concerns:
The Hazards Campaign work-related Covid-19 tracker. email

Life is tough on the retail frontline – survey

The results of an online survey of members of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw has revealed the harrowing impact of coronavirus in the workplace. Usdaw says its ‘shocking’ survey findings provides an in-depth look at the working life of the key workers ensuring food supplies are maintained. The survey is of 7,357 members - primarily essential workers in shops, distribution warehouses, road transport or working as delivery drivers - found 70 per cent are experiencing anxiety and raised concerns with their employer. Over a quarter (29 per cent) have had Covid-19 related absences from work, because of illness, self-isolating or shielding. Abuse of shopworkers has doubled during the coronavirus emergency, the survey found. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary, said: “I have never known a single issue cause nearly threequarters of our members to raise concerns with their employer in such a short space of time. Our survey reveals that increased abuse in shops, higher rates of illness, greater levels of job insecurity and issues with the benefits system are putting immense pressure on many Usdaw members who are key workers.” He added: “Employers need to listen to their staff and have a real and meaningful dialogue with their workforce. There are still too many employers who refuse to engage with trade unions, at a time when we need to be working together to get through this crisis. I pay tribute to our volunteer reps in workplaces across the country who have been helping members through the crisis and dealing with an unprecedented level of issues. Our survey has shown that many of the key workers keeping our society going in this pandemic are low-paid, with insecure hours and few employment rights. They have been undervalued for too long and workers carrying out essential roles deserve a new deal.”
Usdaw news release and report, Impact of the coronavirus, Usdaw, 29 April 2020. Usdaw Workers’ Memorial Day news release.

Survey confirms Covid-19 ‘terror’ in contact centres

Close proximity working, worries about cleaning and sanitisation regimes – especially in hotdesking situations – and a widespread puzzlement over ‘key worker’ designations being applied to clearly non-essential workstreams have all emerged as headline findings of a major national survey of contact centre workers. Led by contact centre expert, Phil Taylor – professor of Work and Employment studies at Strathclyde University – the survey has so far been completed by nearly 2,800 respondents across the country. While more data is still coming in, the intermediary findings paint what communications union CWU described as ‘a worrying picture of poor and even reckless practice’ in many areas. Almost 88 per cent of respondents said they thought they were likely or very likely to catch Covid-19 as a result of their working conditions. Seven in ten (69.7 per cent) of respondents said they were ‘very scared’ about going into work compared with the 58 per cent of respondents who answered the same question just seven days previously. Threequarters (75.2 per cent) of respondents said they knew of colleagues who had developed Covid-19 symptoms, compared to 9.2 per cent who did not. Over a third (37.8 per cent) said they were seated less than the required 2 metres from colleagues. Professor Taylor said while his research found examples of ‘exemplary behaviour’ by some employers, it also “reveals the serious hazards faced by an almost invisible army of front line workers who are playing a vital role in keeping society going at this time of crisis.” He added: “We need a levelling up of practice, and we need it urgently.” CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr commented: “The spectrum of company responses we’re seeing is a broad one – but what I would say is that, by and large, the situation tends to be better in those companies where the CWU has had a long history of effective collective bargaining than in companies where we have only small pockets of recognition, or no union recognition at all.”
CWU news release. Prof Phil Taylor, Covid19 –Survey of Call/Centre Workers –Intermediary Report, Strathclyde University, 28 April 2020.

Site workers are now eligible for Covid-19 testing

Unite has welcomed the government’s acceptance that construction workers should be eligible for targeted Covid-19 testing. An announcement this week by health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that workers who had to leave home to go to work such as construction workers were now eligible for Covid-19 testing. He said: “From construction workers to emergency plumbers, from research scientists to those in manufacturing, the expansion of access to testing will protect the most vulnerable and help keep people safe.” The eligibility for testing also applies to members of a worker’s immediate family. Unite had written to the health secretary calling for testing to be introduced for construction workers as many had continued to work during the lockdown and a lot of sites have reopened or are re-opening. Unite said it remains highly concerned about revised operating procedures in construction issued by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), which follows Public Health England’s new watered down social distancing rules and allow workers to work face-to-face for up to 15 minutes in some instances. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Unite is pleased that the government has supported Unite’s call to ensure that construction workers who continue to work can easily access testing for Covid-19. This will significantly help prevent the spread of the virus on construction sites.” But she added: “Testing alone however will not stop the spread of this deadly disease. It is imperative that construction workers are able to continually socially distance from when they leave home in the morning to when they return at night. The dangerous PHE guidance must be withdrawn and the Health and Safety Executive must step up to the plate and insist on procedures that require workers to social distance on sites at all times to reduce risks of infection.”
Unite news release and call for site worker testing. Construction Enquirer. BBC News Online.

Houses being put before health, warns Unite

There are ‘growing fears’ that building new homes is being put ahead of the health and welfare of construction workers and their families, the union Unite has warned. The union is calling on the house building sector to work with it to uphold maximum safety protection and keep up to 250,000 workers employed by the industry and their families safe as sites begin to re-open. Unite issued its warning on 27 April after it was announced that house builder Persimmon and site firms Vistry and Taylor Wimpey were all reopening sites. Unite is concerned that social distancing will be a major challenge on many house building sites due to the ‘highly casual’ manner in which they are organised. Workers are overwhelmingly officially self-employed and various trades frequently enter and leave sites, diluting safety messages. Unite is calling on house builders to ignore the watered down Construction Leadership Council (CLC) guidance with regard to social distancing and instead work to ensure that the two metre rule is observed at all times. To assist with this Unite believes that staggered start times should be introduced. Unite is also calling on house builders to install additional welfare and rest facilities, which are regularly cleaned, to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 on sites. Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “House builders are re-opening their sites based on watered down and frankly dangerous guidance. This is putting the desire to build houses before the health of workers.” He added: “It is imperative that the Health and Safety Executive reverses its decision to not undertake proactive inspections during the pandemic. If the government believes it is safe for construction workers to be at work, then it is safe for sites to be inspected. If workers feel that they health is being placed at risk then they have a legal right to stop working and they should notify Unite of their concerns.” Major contractors are now working on nearly 70 per cent of their sites, according to a 29 April update from trade body Build UK.
Unite news release and news release on the watered-down guidance. Construction Enquirer.

Tory cuts see number of HSE inspectors drop by a third

The number of workplace health and safety inspectors has dropped by a third under the Tories, official figures show. There were 1,495 inspectors with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2009/10 but this fell year-on-year to just 978 in 2017/18. Government funding was slashed from £239m to £136m over the same period according to the figures, compiled for Labour by the House of Commons Library. Shadow employment rights secretary Andy McDonald said a decade of cuts had left workers “at risk in unsafe conditions.” He added: “The coronavirus has highlighted the extent to which we rely on so many workers who have been undervalued by successive Conservative governments.” The House of Commons Library figures commissioned by Labour show funding for the HSE was at £239.4m in 2009/10, the last year of the Labour government. That fell almost every year to 2017/18, the most recent year figures were available. The total number of staff at HSE was 3,702 in 2009/10. That then fell year-on-year to 2,501 in 2017/18. The number of inspectors has also fallen every year since 2009/10, while the number of HSE convictions has also fallen. The shadow employment rights secretary said: “When those whose workplaces have been closed begin to return to work, they deserve to know that they are doing so safely. There is an urgent need for the government to provide proper resources to save the lives of workers during this crisis and restore long-term funding so that all workplaces can be made safe.”
The Mirror. The Independent.


Australia: Polling shows alarming protection shortfall

One in five Australian workers are reporting that they do not have appropriate social distancing protocols in the workplace, a union poll has found. National union federation ACTU said the public health measures currently in force around the country ensure that the public maintain appropriate physical distancing. However, the union body says this is not the case for many workplaces, where workers are expected to work in close proximity with each other. It said in many of these workplaces it is possible, and practical, for better physical distancing to be applied. ACTU said its results suggest many Australian’s are being placed at risk of contracting Covid-19 in the course of their work and that many workplaces, without direction to apply the hierarchy of control, have not adequately addressed the risk of Covid-19. It added social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper cleaning are essential measures to keep working people safe and healthy during this crisis, but many workers, and especially those in insecure work, do not have the support they need. Overall, 43 per cent of Australian workers who need PPE to keep them safe from Covid-19 in their workplace do not have it, according to the research conducted for the ACTU, with casual and fixed-term contract workers worst affected. ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien commented: “This crisis is again highlighting gaps in the workplace safety arrangements in many businesses. Social distancing, PPE and cleaning protocols are not just essential in our health care system, every workplace needs to ensure that workers are safe and have access to every possible safety strategy.” Criticising the response of Scott Morrison’s federal government, he added: “There is a clear role for the Morrison government here, more needs to be done from the federal level to ensure that working people are as safe as possible during this pandemic.”
ACTU news release.

Europe: Rethink call on ‘astonishing’ safety free plan

Europe-wide trade union body ETUC is to appeal again to the European Commission to prioritise workplace health and safety in its plans for the next five years in light of the coronavirus crisis. Trade unions first raised the alarm last September when occupational health and safety was omitted from Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines, pointing out that every year there are 4,000 fatal accidents at work and 120,000 people die of work-related cancer. However, health and safety was absent from the Commission’s leaked January 2020 work programme for the period to 2024. The ETUC is now writing again to the Commission president to urge her to reassess her priorities in light of the coronavirus crisis, which has been responsible for hundreds of deaths at work. In a separate letter sent to Nicholas Schmit, the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, the ETUC and its affiliates have called on him to ensure Covid-19 is recognised as an occupational disease. The ETUC is also calling on the European Commission to include a plan for zero workplace deaths and the elimination of work-related cancer to its work programme for 2020. It wants the Commission to add Covid-19 to the EU directive on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents to ensure “the most effective and strict prevention measures.” It also wants the Commission to include work-related Covid-19 in its schedule of occupational diseases. In addition, the ETUC is calling for the enforcement of existing legislation in member states after a dramatic drop in workplace inspections in many countries. ETUC deputy general secretary Per Hilmersson said “workplace health and safety is still not given the importance it deserves in the Commission’s roadmap towards lifting Covid-19 containment measures. The exit strategy needs to have a hazard-based approach, with proper prevention measures put in place before we can return to work.” He added: “It is high time for Ursula von der Leyen and her team to prioritise occupational health and safety, of which there was no mention in her political guidelines when elected Commission president and of which is still no mention in the recently leaked Commission work programme.”
ETUC news release. Letter calling for EU recognition of Covid-19 as an Occupational Disease.

USA: High infection rates in airline catering workers

A largely hidden workforce of US airline catering workers, made up primarily of immigrants and people of colour, is at great risk of contracting Covid-19, according to one of the unions that represent them. At least 74 of the nearly 14,000 Unite Here members who work for LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, the two largest airline catering companies in the country, have tested positive for Covid-19, according to union estimates. Nine have died. And these workers aren’t just in danger themselves, union officials point out. The products they handle go on planes that fly around the world, creating the potential for spreading disease far and wide. “The airlines can’t talk about the safety of their planes without talking about their supply chains, and we’re part of the supply chain,” said D Taylor, president of Unite Here. Many of these workers cannot afford health care insurance. Long before the pandemic, Unite Here had been pushing the catering contractors to pay at least $15 an hour and offer more affordable health insurance, and last summer workers voted to authorise a strike. Nationwide, employees of Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet have to pay more than $500 a month for employer-provided family health insurance premiums, according to the union. A quarter of the workforce chooses not to pay and is uninsured altogether. In early April, 35 Orlando airport food outlet workers filed an imminent hazard complaint with the federal safety regulator OSHA, alleging that their employer, HMSHost, has violated OSHA safety standards and has failed to mitigate a known hazard in Covid-19 that can cause death or serious injury to workers.
Unite Here news release. Boston Globe.

Korea: Dozens dead in warehouse blaze

At least 38 people died on 29 April in a massive fire that broke out at a warehouse construction site in the city of Icheon in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province. Several others were injured or unaccounted for and the death toll is expected to rise. Fire authorities said the blaze started at the construction site at 1:32 pm, where 78 people from nine companies were working. The four-storey building with two basement floors was around 85 per cent complete, with construction scheduled to be finalised by late June. Reports suggest the fire started on the second underground floor where a cargo elevator was being installed. Presidential spokesperson Kang Min-seok said president Moon Jae-in had called for every available means to be employed to rescue possible survivors. Prime minister Chung Sye-kyun headed to the site immediately after he presided over a coronavirus quarantine-related meeting in Seoul.
BBC News Online. KBS World.


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