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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Risks Number 655 - 24 May 2014

Asbestos - the hidden killer Hazards magazine Hazards at Work

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at






Union News

Fire ‘fiasco’ exposes strikebreaking dangers

A fire ‘fiasco’ has highlighted why the government should rethink its plans to undermine the fire service pension scheme instead of prolonging an industrial dispute, firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union was speaking out after strikebreakers lost control of a fire during a training exercise in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, causing the roof on their training centre to catch fire. North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had to resort to calling in professional firefighters to work alongside their training staff to extinguish the 15 May blaze, with five fire engines and one aerial appliance attending. At present, brigades across England and Wales are having to find cover in the event of strikes called by the FBU over the government’s attacks on firefighter pensions, which the union says are unworkable, unaffordable and unfair. The union says many firefighters could be retired early under fitness rules if the retirement age is pushed back to 60, and lose a big slice of their pension entitlement as a result (Risks 653). Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The people who want to break our strikes are trying to undermine the work of firefighters, this fiasco demonstrates that their abilities are about as impressive as their sense of solidarity and civic duty.” He added: “The government keeps claiming that the temporary cover provided by these people is robust. That is utter nonsense and this latest Keystone cops episode just confirms it.”

FBU news release.

Site workers can’t work until they drop

Construction workers need more support from the pension system, instead of being forced to work longer in physically demanding work, site union UCATT has said. The union’s conference heard delegates condemn government plans to raise the retirement age as high as 70, saying it would see them dropping dead on building sites. The Morning Star reports that the government’s decision to raise the retirement age, would hit construction workers particularly hard. “The idea of working into your 60s with the sheer physical nature of construction work is ludicrous,” said delegate Fred Riley. “We will be dead and buried for working too long. We need to look at ways to reduce the retirement age not increase it.” Another delegate, Billy Andrusjak, said: “I will be dead years before I’m able to receive my pension. How can they expect a 70-year-old joiner to continue working?” Scotland region’s Frank McKenna, reported in the Morning Star, called it “a murderous piece of legislation.” Alan Stansfield, UCATT executive council member, added: “The plans are all part of the government’s long-term attack on the welfare state. They can afford Trident but they can’t afford to give ordinary people who have worked hard all their lives a decent state pension.”

Morning Star.

Scottish teachers are working under the cosh

Escalating workloads have left teacher wellbeing and job satisfaction at an all-time low, Scottish teaching union EIS has warned. The union’s survey found this overload has led to “very high” levels of stress. Almost 7,000 teachers took part in the survey, which the EIS said painted “a worrying picture of a profession under the cosh.” No respondents said they never felt stressed at work and only 16 per cent reported no work-related stress. Just a quarter (26 per cent) said they felt very well, health-wise, in their job. Only a third (33 per cent) said they were generally satisfied in their working life. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said unnecessary paperwork and changes to the curriculum were having a “negative impact” on the amount of time available for core classroom teaching and was affecting teachers' wellbeing. “The survey results confirm the deep-set impact of workload pressures on teachers and lecturers, largely arising out of the changes to the curriculum, and paint a worrying picture of a profession under the cosh, he said. “Overall the statistics provide a substantial body of evidence which should be studied by all involved in Scottish education, and which might hopefully lead to a renewed effort to tackle the issue of excessive workload.”

EIS news release and full report. BBC News Online.

Teachers ‘adversely affected’ by social media

The abuse of social media and email is an increasing problem for teachers, leading to more abuse and out-of-hours work, a survey by teaching union NASUWT has found. Nearly a quarter (21 per cent) of respondents in Scotland to the union’s survey on the abuse of technology reported having adverse comments posted about them on social media sites. Over two-thirds (68 per cent) were posted by pupils, but around a quarter (26 per cent) were from parents. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of teachers did not report the incident, mainly because they felt it would not be taken seriously by their employer or by police. The survey also looked at the torrent of emails sent to teachers outside school hours. Over a third (35 per cent) of teachers in Scotland report receiving work-related emails outside school hours, with 42 per cent saying they receive them weekly and 19 per cent daily. Over a third 35 (35 per cent) were received between 7pm and 9pm and 3 per cent between midnight and 5am. A quarter of teachers said there was an expectation they would respond in their own time and 24 per cent said that they were required to respond within a set timescale. Teachers also reported receiving emails when they were on holiday, off sick or over weekends. Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Reading abusive and offensive comments on themselves on social media sites devastates teachers and robs them of their confidence. For some the experience has been so traumatic that they have left the profession entirely.” She added: “The figures on abuse of emails are equally unacceptable. Teachers can find no refuge in their homes and in many cases are being subjected to unacceptable pressure and harassment. We will be pressing the Scottish government to work with us to require all schools to have a social media and email policy which has clear provisions to protect teachers and other staff from abuse.”

NASUWT news release.

UCATT turns up the heat on FIFA over Qatar

Construction union UCATT is demanding a meeting with FIFA after Sepp Blatter, president of football’s global governing body, admitted it was a “mistake” to choose Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. But while UCATT believes an horrific work safety record and labour abuses under the bonded labour ‘kafala’ system in Qatar made it a bad pick, Blatter has suddenly realised the stifling weather in the summer months could affect the quality of football that is played. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Yes it was a total mistake to give the World Cup to Qatar. If it was a mistake due to the excessive temperatures footballers choose to play in, it is a mistake due the excessive temperatures construction workers are forced to work in.” He added: “Rather than worrying about the footballers who will play in Qatar in eight years’ time, FIFA should be worrying about the workers who are being exploited, abused and killed in Qatar now. We need an urgent meeting with FIFA to get them to understand these matters.” In March UCATT organised a joint mission to Qatar with the Building Workers International (BWI) and witnessed the abuses faced by construction workers (Risks 649). A report this week said although temperatures have already climbed past 40 degrees Celsius in Qatar, the country’s mandatory midday work ban does not come into effect for nearly another month. That means it is up to companies to decide if employees should work outside in scorching temperatures between 11.30am and 3pm.

UCATT news release. Doha News.

Crossrail must improve on safety

Construction union UCATT is to step up the pressure on Crossrail to improve safety on the project. Delegates at UCATT’s conference in Llandudno agreed that UCATT safety reps must be elected on all sections of Europe’s biggest construction project and that safety committees should be created. An emergency motion agreed at the conference requires the union to expose any attempts by Crossrail to ‘hinder’ the union’s drive for safety on the job. If Crossrail and its contractors try to avoid UCATT safety reps playing a full role in safety, the union says it “is committed to conducting demonstrations and publicly naming and shaming the companies involved.” Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Crossrail must listen to its workforce and UCATT are the voice when it comes to safety. It is vital that safety is dramatically improved on the project.” UCATT regional secretary Jerry Swain said: “UCATT is not going to stand idly by if contractors on Crossrail gamble with workers’ lives by blocking the appointment of safety reps who are vital in reducing accidents and saving lives.”

UCATT news release. Morning Star.


International jobs agency blacklist exposed

An international recruitment agency operating in the UK kept a secret database of workers it used to operate a blacklist, a Danish TV investigation has found. DR1 reporters found that workers in trade unions or seeking better pay and conditions were typically not given jobs by Atlanco Rimec even when described as “good” or “excellent” workers, while a former manager speaking anonymously described union members as “a complete no-no.” The firm, which has offices in Northampton, kept thousands of construction workers on its books. Unions said the latest blacklisting revelations give additional weight to their demands for government action. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “We have always warned that there was more than one blacklist and that blacklisting was an international issue. We now have that proof. We must step up the campaign to stamp out blacklisting.” He added: “We will seek out all blacklisting companies wherever they are. We will be working with our sister unions across the world. There will be no hiding place.” GMB national officer Justin Bowden said the latest scandal confirmed blacklisting is not a thing of the past, adding: “The sooner these lowlifes are in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee accounting for their actions the better but if the law provided the right deterrent they would be behind bars.” He said: “Atlanco Rimec has already been hit by proven allegations of abusing migrant workers at the EDF Flamanville Nuclear Station construction site near Cherbourg in a court case they lost in February 2014. That is why blacklisting must be made a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment and unlimited fines and those who continue to resist GMB’s calls for a full public inquiry must immediately think again.”

GMB news release. UCATT news release. Morning Star.

Direct employment ‘key’ to stamping out site blacklists

The continued use of agency workers is a ‘weak spot’ in the efforts to end the blacklisting of construction workers for their safety and union roles, a parliamentary committee has warned. Launching the latest report of the Scottish Affairs Committee probe into the problem, committee chair Ian Davidson said: “We are very disappointed that the government has rejected our recommendation for direct employment on all publicly funded construction projects and for transparent recruitment and employment practices – even though they have asked us to take more evidence. What we have seen shows clearly that the use of agency workers is a ‘weak spot’ in eradicating blacklisting, and we therefore recommended that direct employment and transparent recruitment practices should be standard for all public sector contracts in the construction industry.” He added that recent allegations about the international employment agency Atlanco Rimec “vindicated” the committee’s concerns. “I will be asking the Committee to look at these new revelations with a view to further hearings,” he said. Government employment relations minister Jenny Willott rejected the direct employment advice in a letter to the committee earlier this month (Risks 654), despite evidence that agency workers have been let down by current legal protections. An employment tribunal accepted Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith had been blacklisted, but turned down his claim because he was an agency worker supplied to sites run by Carillion companies (Risks 639). “Direct employment on public sector contracts would return more taxation to the Treasury and ensure workers in the building industry are finally entitled to employment rights that other workers take for granted - it is single most important change that would reduce the likelihood of future blacklisting,” he said, adding “if the government has an ounce of decency, it will fully implement the recommendations” of the committee.

Scottish Affairs Committee news release and Blacklisting in Employment update. Blacklist blog.

Cruelty of asbestos payout scheme exposed

The widow of a man who died from asbestos-related cancer is set to miss out on a six figure payout from a government compensation scheme, because he was diagnosed a few days before the scheme kicked in. Sid Pointon, 73, was diagnosed with cancer just 10 days before the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme cut-off for payments to help families who have lost loved ones because of the killer dust (Risks 646). The scheme was created to provide compensation for mesothelioma caused by exposures at defunct companies whose employers’ liability insurer cannot be traced. Mr Pointon worked in a ‘snow storm’ of toxic dust at Morgan & Crossley, a Manchester firm that manufactured asbestos brake linings, aged just 21 in the early 1960s. But his widow Irene, 69, and her solicitor have been unable to find the firm’s insurers to launch a legal claim. “I was so upset when his employer’s insurers couldn’t be traced but thought that the mesothelioma scheme would help. Now it seems that I will get nothing,” she said. “I want to point out how unfair this is, not just for me but for hundreds of others. I am determined to fight for justice. It was what Sid would have wanted me to do.” Mr Pointon died in February 2013. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma on 16 July 2012, but the government scheme only pays out to those diagnosed after 25 July that year.

Manchester Evening News.

Labour promises more support for asbestos victims

The next Labour government will provide fresh assistance to victims of asbestos, a shadow minister has pledged. Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said a future Labour administration will “be enshrining in a law a levy on the insurance industry, to secure a sustainable funding stream for improved compensation for victims and ongoing research into the disease and its treatment. To ensure there is no short-changing of those who have already paid far too much.” Commenting on the statement, made last week at the conference of the construction union UCATT, general secretary Steve Murphy said: “Thousands of workers die every year from asbestos diseases. The insurance industry are happy to take the premiums but they never want to pay compensation. This levy would be a major step in providing justice for asbestos victims.” UCATT wants to see the creation of a National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease (NCARD) which would help to research better treatment and cures for asbestos related diseases. It says the previous Labour government was committed to funding NCARD but the subsequent Conservative-led government immediately scrapped the plan.

UCATT news release. Heating and Ventilation News.

Airfield safety blunders led to firefighter’s death

An airfield operator has been convicted of criminal safety offences and fined after a firefighter died when he was hit by a gas cylinder. Steven Mills, 45, was employed by Kemble Air Services as station officer at Cotswold airfield in Kemble, near Cirencester. He died on 8 April 2011 during work to clear out a number of disused shipping containers that were being prepared for use as a training facility for the airfield. A number of redundant gas cylinders, which were formerly part of a fire suppression system, needed to be removed. A trial at Gloucester Crown Court in March heard that Mr Mills was attempting to move a large freestanding cylinder weighing 65kg when the gas in the cylinder discharged very rapidly. This caused the cylinder to spin round violently, striking Mr Mills on his head and body leaving him with fatal injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Kemble Air Services had not assessed the risks. A sentencing hearing on 13 May heard that had the removal work been suitably assessed and managed the fatal incident could have been avoided. Kemble Air Services Ltd was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £98,000 in costs after being found guilty of two criminal breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. HSE inspector Ian Whittles said: “This incident could have been prevented if Kemble Air Services had the appropriate oversight and control of the project to develop the training facility. They should have ensured that the work was suitably planned following a full assessment of the risks associated with the work. Sadly their failing to suitably assess the risks and implement the necessary controls led to the death of Mr Mills.”

HSE news release. Wiltshire Times.

Innocent smoothie maker fined after work death

An international smoothie and fruit juice company has been sentenced for criminal safety failings after an engineer was killed by falling pipework during work to decommission a former factory in South Wales. Gavin Bedford, 24, was helping to dismantle and demolish a section of industrial pipework at the Gerber Juice Company Ltd premises in Llantrisant on 16 June 2010 when the structure, weighing around 300kg, collapsed and struck him. The electromechanical engineer from Porthcawl, a well-known surfing and British trial-biking champion, sustained critical head injuries and died three days later in hospital. He could have been lying injured for up to 40 minutes before he was found trapped unconscious under the pipes. Gerber Juice, now trading as Refresco Gerber UK Ltd, was prosecuted after a joint investigation between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and South Wales Police discovered the company had failed to adequately plan and resource the decommissioning work. Newport Crown Court heard that the firm, which manufactured Innocent smoothies at the site, had closed the Llantrisant factory in 2010 and moved production to Bridgwater in Somerset. Mr Bedford was one of a small number of employees who had been temporarily kept-on to assist teams of specialist contractors in stripping the factory of its plant, machinery and services. The court was told Gerber had opted to be the principal contractor on the decommissioning work, but this had not been adequately planned, risk assessed, communicated or monitored by management, and that the various safety systems that Gerber used to manage its specialist contractors had not been used to manage its own engineering staff on the same site. Refresco Gerber UK Ltd was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £75,000 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. Nigel Bedford, Gavin’s father, commented: “This type of work was obviously dangerous and Gerber should have looked after Gavin properly. There was no planning for the job and the area wasn’t cordoned off. The management involved in the work didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

HSE news release. BBC News Online. WalesOnline.

Farming firm sentenced over worker’s death

A farming company in Cheshire has been fined £50,000 after a father-of-one suffered fatal injuries when a 1.5 tonne concrete panel fell on him. Sean Bennett was helping to build a new cowshed at Yew Tree Farm in Stanthorne when the incident happened on 8 December 2010. The 30-year-old farm worker from Winsford died in hospital two days later. T Lea Sherwin Ltd, which owns the farm, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation into his death found the lifting equipment was entirely unsuitable for the job. Liverpool Crown Court heard that the company specialises in dairy farming but chose to build the new cattle shed without the assistance of a specialist construction company. Mr Bennett was asked to help lift concrete panels into place to form the walls of the new cowshed. This was done by suspending panels from the farm’s telehandler vehicle, using chains and bolts to move them into place. The court was told the firm failed to carry out a proper assessment of the risks, or to make sure a safe system of work was in place. As they lifted a panel, which was six by one metres in diameter, the bolts attached to the lifting chains snapped and the panel fell onto Mr Bennett. T Lea Sherwin Ltd was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £28,585 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of safety law. Speaking after the hearing, Mr Bennett’s mother, Anne Robinson, said: “My whole family has been completed devastated by Sean’s death.” She added: “The last time I saw him, I was taking him to work. I never expected that he would not come home. Nothing can replace the loss of Sean. We have been left with a life sentence and sincerely hope that the prosecution may stop the same thing happening to another family.”

HSE news release. Winsford Guardian.

Sauces firm guilty over forklift death

A sauces manufacturer has been fined £140,000 after a forklift truck driver was killed at a factory in Runcorn. Michael Moran was using his forklift truck to load a lorry trailer outside the factory on 18 April 2011 when another lorry reversed into the side of his vehicle. The forklift overturned, killing him instantly. AAK UK Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that forklift truck drivers had regularly driven onto a public road to load lorries, without the company putting any safety measures in place. Liverpool Crown Court heard the 49-year-old from Warrington had been loading pallets containing tubs of mayonnaise onto the trailer. He had finished loading one side and had moved into the road to reach the other side of the trailer. As he moved the forklift truck into position, a lorry that had been parked up alongside the trailer slowly started to reverse. Mr Moran shouted out and the HGV driver applied his brakes but it was too late to make a difference and the lorry hit the forklift truck. The company had not carried out an adequate assessment of the risks to its employees or visiting drivers using the ‘Goods Out’ area. Drivers were also not given any information, instruction or training on how to load the lorry trailers safely, and there was poor supervision. Hull-based firm AAK UK Ltd was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £22,657 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Deborah Walker said: “Our investigation revealed a chaotic and dangerous system, and sadly it was entirely foreseeable that someone was at risk of being badly injured or killed.”

HSE news release.

Heinz sentenced after engineer’s life-changing injury

Global food producer Heinz has been fined for serious criminal safety failings after an engineer had his hand severed when it became trapped in live, unguarded machinery at its Norfolk plant. Self-employed engineer Alec ‘Alf’ Brackenbury, 49, was servicing a potato peeling machine at Heinz’s manufacturing plant in Worstead, Norfolk, on the first day of a maintenance shutdown on 20 June 2013. As he tried to retrieve a dropped bolt, he climbed down from the peeling machine which was electrically isolated and put his hand into the slurry pump below containing a screw auger, which severed his right hand. He was treated at Norfolk and Norwich hospital for two weeks and has had to undergo eight separate operations on the stump. He is now unable to drive, work or carry out many day to day tasks. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted Heinz Manufacturing UK Ltd for a criminal safety breach. Norwich Magistrates’ Court was told that Mr Brackenbury was servicing a ‘brush and belt’ peeler, a large machine used to remove skins from potatoes, of which he had previous experience. The machine was isolated and locked off by both Heinz and Mr Brackenbury before he began work. But a protective grate bolted on top of the slurry pump to prevent access was absent, enabling Mr Brackenbury to reach into dangerous parts of the machine including the screw auger. HSE said the guard had possibly been absent for some time. HJ Heinz Manufacturing Ltd was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 after pleading guilty a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. HSE inspector Tony Brookes, said: “Alf Brackenbury suffered a horrific injury in an incident that was wholly avoidable.”

HSE news release and food industry webpages.

Newspaper group fined for guarding failure

Regional newspaper group Newsquest Media has been prosecuted after a Southampton worker was injured when his hand was caught in a rotating printer roller. The 49-year-old employee suffered crush injuries to his thumb and middle finger as he attempted to remove a small piece of torn paper from the unguarded roller. He has since recovered and returned to work. The incident, at Newsquest’s plant in Redbridge, Hampshire, on 6 February 2013, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution. Southampton Magistrates’ Court heard the employee and colleagues had been having problems with paper breaking and wrapping itself around ink rollers. He had cleared most of the paper off and then put the machine into an 8,000 rotations per hour cycle. However, he noticed a bit of paper still on the roller and tried to brush it off with a piece of cloth. As he did, the cloth and his hand were dragged into the nip of the ink roller. HSE found the employee was able to access the dangerous moving parts because sections of the press machine had been removed when employees were clearing paper from the ink rollers. It was a regular practice of print room staff to deal with paper breaks in this way. Newsquest Media (Southern) Ltd was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £1,560 in costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. HSE inspector Guy Widdowson said: “This was an easily preventable incident. If Newsquest had ensured its employees ran the press with the machine rollers not exposed, there would have been no injury. It was only down to luck that an incident had not happened before and also that this injury was not more serious.”

HSE news release and work machinery webpages.


Global: More concerns over transatlantic trade talks

A proposed trade deal the TUC warned earlier this month could jeopardise employment and safety standards (Risks 654) has now been condemned by 178 trade union, environmental, health and labour rights groups from both sides of the Atlantic. The groups are all signatories to a letter to EU Commissioner Karel de Gucht and US Ambassador Michael Froman, key negotiators of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The letter calls on negotiators to answer questions about the potential of TTIP to weaken health, consumer, worker, and environmental protections and says there must be full transparency on regulatory issues in the TTIP negotiations. The letter notes: “We are concerned that these procedures could easily facilitate a roll-back of protection provided by existing legislation, and that they would likely impede the development of new legislation and the implementation of what currently exists. Implementation is the key for legislation at any level of government, including the precautionary principle and other important public safeguards.” Asking how negotiators will protect the “right” to regulate, the letter also warns: “With an objective to prevent transatlantic regulatory divergence and minimize impacts to international trade, the preemptive power and influence of this institutional framework for regulatory cooperation is of particular concern.” One critical assessment of the European Commission's claims that the trade deal will have significant economic benefits found instead the possible benefits were in reality “very small.”

Corporate Europe Observatory news release. ChemSec news release and the letter. BBC News Online.

Korea: Sorry Samsung agrees to cancer payouts

Korean campaigners who highlighted cancer cases in workers on Samsung’s microelectronics production lines have given a cautious welcome to a “deep apology” from the company’s chief executive. Samsung chief executive Kwon Oh-hyun said the company will compensate chip factory workers who developed cancer while working for the firm. In addition to the apology, which came seven years after Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS) linked a leukaemia death to toxic exposures at a Samsung factory in South Korea, the firm said it would end its legal bid to avoid paying out. But the Samsung Electronics chief stopped short of admitting a direct link between working at the firm and developing leukaemia, despite the state compensation agency already having recognised several cases (Risks 628). Mr Kwon said: “Several workers at our production facilities suffered from leukaemia and other incurable diseases, which also led to some deaths. We should have settled the issue earlier, and we are deeply heartbroken that we failed to do so and express our deep apology.” At a press conference, he said Samsung hoped to “resolve the issue with sincerity and earnestness.” In a statement, he added: “We will make due compensation to the victims and the families.” Mr Kwon said that Samsung had failed to pay “careful attention to the pain and difficulty” of the victims and their families. An independent adjudicator would be set up to decide how to deal with each case with fairness and objectivity, with consent from the victims and the families, and Samsung would follow the compensation guidelines determined by it, Kwon said. In a statement, SHARPS said it welcomed the apology, but said it had not agreed to the arbitration proposal. It said the company should now restart notions with SHARPS, which have stalled for five months, recognise SHARPS in subsequent negotiations “and comply in good faith with our demands.”

SHARPS news release and statements from the campaign and Samsung. Korea Times. BBC News Online. The Guardian. PC World.

Turkey: Mine tragedy leads to national protests

The deaths of 301 miners in a western Turkey lignite mine (Risks 654) has prompted widespread protests and industrial action. Trade unions launched a one-day strike on 15 May in protest of the country’s poor mining safety record. Anger at the tragedy was fuelled by dismissive and insensitive statements from the government and the company. Prime minister Tayyip Erdoğan, visiting the town of Soma where the deadly underground explosion and fire occurred, said: “These types of accidents are regular occurrences... there are no such things as having no accidents,” citing 19th century mine disasters in Britain and others elsewhere. Protests involving thousands in major cities – some met by police with tear gas and water cannons - featured banners proclaiming: “This is not an accident, it's a massacre.” Soma Coal Mining Co, the operator of the privatised mine, admitted there were no functioning refuge chambers in working parts of the mine. “This is not the first disaster we've experienced. In the past few years, we've seen hundreds of incidents, and we've lost thousands of workers,” the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (TÜRK-İŞ) general secretary Pevrul Kavlak said in a statement. “This disaster should be a lesson for those who have turned this country into a heaven for subcontractors and for those who have created an order based on exploitation.” Turkey has the third highest rate of deaths at work for miners in the world. Some 13,000 miners were involved in accidents in 2013 and 1,308 miners have been killed at work since 2000. Privatisation, a central policy plank of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) restructuring strategy, has seen the use of a tender process unions believe has encouraged profit-driven cost cuts and increased production targets. At the same time official oversight of safety standards has been reduced. A number of arrests have been made in relation to the Soma mine deaths.

Equal Times. BWI news release. ETUC statement. In These Times. CS Monitor. CNN. The Independent. BBC News Online.

Qatar: Global unions set conditions on 2022 World Cup

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is demanding that next month’s FIFA Congress impose labour rights conditions on Qatar if it is to be allowed to host the 2022 World Cup. The ITUC Congress, held in Berlin this week, heard that more than 1,000 workers have been killed already building the infrastructure that will deliver the World Cup. Unions are the migrant workforce is especially vulnerable as it is subject to kafala – a form of modern-day slavery. ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Qatar is a slave state. Workers are dying and if FIFA does not act they share culpability for the thousands of workers trapped in Qatar. They can’t just walk away and leave workers to the mercy of the kafala system.” She added: “FIFA president Sepp Blatter has finally conceded the decision to award Qatar the World Cup was a mistake. But Qatar’s promises on labour laws have been purely cosmetic and it is time for FIFA to stand up for human rights.” The global union body wants an end to the kafala system and the introduction of a minimum wage and union and labour rights. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was also critical of the kafala system. She warned: “Qatari employers with contracts to build the venues and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup have grown so used to this feudal way of working – where they can stop employees leaving the country – that they are not going to give up the power they have over their workers easily.” She added: “The world must keep up the pressure on Qatar so that the country is forced to bring its employment practices and treatment of workers into the 21st century, and make meaningful changes that come into force soon.”

ITUC news release. TUC news release.

USA: Child tobacco workers in danger

Children working on tobacco farms in the United States are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides and other dangers, a major report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed. While US law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to children, children can legally work on tobacco farms in the US. HRW says the world’s largest tobacco companies buy tobacco grown on US farms, but none have child labour policies that sufficiently protect children from hazardous work. The 138-page report, ‘Tobacco’s hidden children: Hazardous child labor in US tobacco farming,’ documents children reported vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning or ‘Green Tobacco Sickness’. Many also said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear. “As the school year ends, children are heading into the tobacco fields, where they can’t avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette,” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at HRW and co-author of the report. “It’s no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick.” She added: “Tobacco companies shouldn’t benefit from hazardous child labour. They have a responsibility to adopt clear, comprehensive policies that get children out of dangerous work on tobacco farms, and make sure the farms follow the rules.”

HRW news release and full report, Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming. NPR.


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