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



TUC slams move to tie up unions in red tape

The government is attempting to tie up unions in red tape, the TUC has warned, after the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department announced a raft of reforms. In an 8 June ministerial statement on employment rights, BEIS secretary Paul Scully announced plans for a new “workers’ watchdog” to take over responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing minimum wage, and other issues. The government said this as yet unnamed regulator would be a “one-stop shop will improve enforcement and ensure employees and businesses know where to go for help on workers’ rights.” But the TUC indicated changes to the role of the trade union certification officer announced by BEIS the same day exposed the government’s real agenda. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This pandemic has brutally exposed the terrible working conditions and insecurity many in Britain face. Millions have turned to unions to protect their jobs, defend their rights and keep their workplaces safe. But rather than cracking down on bad employers, the government is trying to tie unions up in more red tape.” She explained the reforms “will hit unions with expensive new levies – that’s money straight from the pockets of care workers, nurses and supermarket staff. And unions will have to spend more time dealing with baseless complaints. Ministers should be working with unions to improve working lives – not looking for new ways to undermine us.” The TUC leader concluded: “If ministers were serious about levelling up workers’ rights and protections, they would have brought forward an employment bill at last month’s Queen’s speech. Their failure to do so speaks volumes about their political priorities.”
TUC news release and blog. Certification Officer's enforcement powers: government response to the consultation and related webpage. Trade Union Act 2016: Certification Officer's levy - government response. BEIS news release. Usdaw news release. Morning Star. BBC News Online.

Employment rights talk, but no employment rights action

Unions have said the government’s announcement about a new workers’ rights watchdog will not have a meaningful impact if it isn’t accompanied by new employment rights. The new watchdog will take over responsibility for tackling modern slavery and enforcing the minimum wage. The plans will see the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s minimum wage enforcement combine to create a single body. Commenting on a government statement on employment rights, Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the retail union Usdaw, said: “The announcement gives no extra protections for our members and does nothing to tackle low pay and the abuse, threats and violence they face.” He added: “The government backtracked on their manifesto promise and failed to bring forward an Employment Bill that could have banned ‘fire and rehire’. Instead they shelved the Bill and have made this piecemeal announcement, while simply pointing to voluntary ACAS guidance.” He said what workers need is “a new deal that includes a minimum wage of at least £10 per hour, more secure contracts, a banning of ‘fire and rehire’ and better sick pay.” Mike Clancy, general secretary of the civil service union Prospect, said: “A single enforcement body for workers’ rights is a good idea if properly resourced, which is why Prospect welcomed this announcement when the government first made it in 2018.” But he said improvements to employment protection were also needed. Calling for the government “to end the delay and bring forward the Employment Bill”, he  added: “The world of work is changing fast and we need to ensure workers’ rights and enforcement keep pace with those changes.” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch commented: “We need to see more details of the government's proposals but we are undoubtedly seeing under payment and exploitation level down workers' rights.”
Usdaw news release. RMT news release. GMB news release. Prospect news release. BEIS news release.

Biggest construction project recognises ‘fundamental’ safety

Unions and employers on Europe’s biggest construction project have signed a declaration recognising occupational health and safety as a ‘fundamental’ right at work. Unite signed the joint declaration with EDF Nuclear New Build at the Hinkley Point C (HPC) site in Somerset. Unite national health and safety adviser Rob Miguel and HPC construction director Rob Jordan signed the declaration, a move Unite said would now “demonstrate their joint commitment to create an international consensus that will encourage the application of good occupational health and safety standards and discourage countries and companies from seeking competitive advantage based on substandard conditions and practices.” Unite said the joint declaration with HPC is “very significant” as the UK’s nuclear new build project is the biggest construction project in Europe. It could involve up to 8,500 on-site workers once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. The HPC declaration is the latest success in a campaign by the global construction union federation BWI to persuade the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to declare occupational health and safety (OHS) a fundamental right of all workers. BWI’s Global Alliance of Healthy and Safe Workplaces Campaign “seeks to gather hundreds of OHS declarations between trade unions and employers worldwide in time for the ILO’s International Labour Conference this June.” BWI said the declarations “will demonstrate to the ILO that the call to recognise OHS as a right enjoys wide global support from unions and employers alike.” Global union federation ITUC is spearheading the global campaign for recognition of occupational health and safety as an ILO fundamental right at work, a move which has garnered wide support from occupational safety, occupational medicine and employer groups (Risks 994).
BWI news release and declaration. ITUC campaign and fundamental safety factfile.

Union action kills off electrician deskilling plans

A plan by two major building firms that union members warned could have led to dangerous deskilling of electrical work on site has been abandoned. The union Unite welcomed confirmation by contractors Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey that they remain committed to the existing Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement and the training of fully qualified electricians. The union said it raised concerns about deskilling earlier this year, after it emerged that the two companies on the Hinkley Point C (HPC) project were seeking to introduce training standards for a new position of ‘electrical support operative’. Unite warned the new role amounted to the deskilling of electricians and had not been discussed with Unite. The proposal led to widespread protests by Unite electricians across the UK. As a result of the protests and pressure from Unite, Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey confirmed in the 7 June joint statement that the plan was dead. “The disputed Electrical training standards developed by the ECITB (Engineering Construction Training Board) for HPC to create the electrical support operative have been permanently withdrawn by EDF after Unite raised concerns,” the companies noted. It added the training standards “do not form part of our current or future development plans.” Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain commented: “Unite’s position was clear from the outset that it would oppose any efforts to weaken the skillset and training of electricians.” He added: “Unite has during this period simply sought to protect our highly qualified members against any dilution of their skills.”
Unite news release and 28 February statement Hinkley Point C and Threatened Deskilling of Electricians. Balfour Beatty Bailey joint venture (BBB JV) statement.

Health and care staff burnout at ‘emergency’ levels

Staff burnout in the NHS and social care has reached emergency levels and poses a risk to the future of services, MPs have warned. In a highly critical report published on 8 June, the Commons health and social care committee calls for immediate action to support staff who are exhausted from working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The report said: “Burnout will not be solved without a total overhaul of the way the NHS does workforce planning. The least we can do for staff is to show there is a long-term solution to those shortages, ultimately the biggest driver of burnout.” The committee said the problems existed before the pandemic - although coronavirus has worsened the pressures. Last July, the health and social care committee - made up of MPs and chaired by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt - launched an inquiry to look at the issue, including how burnt-out NHS staff were. This week’s report said one of the main problems was that there was no accurate “workforce planning” forecast of how many staff the NHS needed for the next five to 10 years. It said there needed to be a “total overhaul of the way the NHS does workforce planning” - and there should be annual reports published on how many workers the NHS would need for the next five, 10 and 20 years. According to the NHS staff survey in 2020, 44 per cent of staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the previous year. Mr Hunt said: “Workforce burnout across the NHS and care systems now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both services. Staff face unacceptable pressure with chronic excessive workload identified as a key driver of workforce burnout.”
Workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care: Second Report of Session 2021–2, House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, 8 June 2021, inquiry webpages and news release. BBC News Online. Morning Star.

‘Exhausted’ ambulance staff consider action

North West ambulance staff are to hold a consultative ballot on possible action over concerns regarding a new work system unions say is leaving staff exhausted. Unite, the GMB and UNISON have called on bosses at the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) NHS Trust to change the procedure that can see ambulance workers called anywhere across the region with up to 40 minutes driving time. The three unions will now hold a consultative ballot of their members in the next month to see if they then wish to have a full-scale industrial action ballot, including the option to strike - after accusing the trust management of ‘failing both patients and staff’. Unite branch secretary Neil Cosgrove said: “We are hearing of crews driving 40 minutes, under emergency conditions which is hazardous at any time, and then to be sent somewhere else and drive for another 40 minutes. This can be repeated several times in one shift. The ambulance crews are seeing and treating fewer patients, but driving for longer times and further distances.” He added: “For some time, Unite has raised serious concerns with the management about the way in which these changes have been introduced and are now currently operating. They are having a significant adverse impact on our members’ physical and mental health and welfare, as well as posing a significant risk to patient care. This is no longer acceptable. In essence, there are not enough ambulances and staff to meet the ever-increasing demand.”
Unite news release.

Serco workers to strike in bullying and roster clash

Outsourced catering workers at the Royal London hospital in east London have voted for strike action in a row over ‘systematic bullying’ and ‘disastrous’ rosters. The Unite members, who play a key role in ensuring that meals are prepared and delivered to patients on the wards, voted for strike action in April. Unite said since then it has been seeking to avoid industrial action, but said negotiations with Serco have stalled and an initial five days of strike beginning on 21 June has been called. The union says workers report “the aggressive use of sickness absence triggers and the abuse of power in the allocation of shifts and holidays, which has left members at breaking point, during the pandemic.” The problem has been compounded by the imposition of what the union described as an “unworkable rota system.” Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Our members are dedicated to the patients and are taking this strike action as an absolutely last resort.” She added: “Unite has been trying to resolve the systematic bullying of our members and the unworkable rota for nearly a year but Serco’s management has failed to engage with the union and resolve this dispute. Even at this very late stage strike action can be avoided if Serco returns to the negotiating table and brings forwards solutions to the bullying and rota problems.”
Unite news release.

Unite hails victory in library late opening row

Unite members are celebrating victory in their dispute at Bromley Central Library over late night openings with fewer staff (Risks 999). Talks between the union and Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) led to an agreement that library staff will now work one late night a week, instead of up to four late nights a fortnight. As a result strike action by the 17 staff members scheduled for 14 June will not now go ahead. Unite said that GLL had previously reduced staffing after a restructuring exercise – but then asked staff to work an increased number of late nights at the library. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “This is another important win for Bromley’s Unite members. We fully support increased opening hours as we want the maximum access to this vital service for all sections of the community. However, this can only be done with appropriate resourcing and by mutual agreement.” He added: “I would like to pay tribute to our members and, in particular, to Unite branch secretary Kathy Smith who has once again led her members to victory.”
Unite news release.

Nursing staff face sexual harassment at work

Three in five nurses (60 per cent) have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to a survey by UNISON and Nursing Times. More than 2,000 nursing staff and students took part in the research, which shows that incidents of sexual harassment are almost commonplace, with staff targeted by patients, family and friends of those in their care, and their own colleagues. Some said they were expected to put up with abusive behaviour because it was seen as “just part of the job”, while a number described it happening so frequently that it had become “normal”. One in nine (11 per cent) said they often encountered such experiences and a fifth (21 per cent) reported occasional harassment. Of those who had been harassed, only around a quarter (27 per cent) had reported it to their employer. Others said they didn’t believe the issue was taken seriously and a third (35 per cent) said not enough was being done to protect them from incidents in the workplace. UNISON national women’s officer Josie Irwin said: “Harassment of any form is simply wrong. Staff working in the NHS must be able to do their jobs without fear of unwanted attention, lewd remarks or being made to feel uncomfortable.” She added: “Employers must do their utmost to protect nurses against sex pests, regardless of whether the culprit is a patient or colleague. This survey shows there’s still much more to do.”
UNISON news release.

Suspend MPs facing harassment claims, say unions

Politicians accused of sexual misconduct should be barred from the UK parliament while investigations take place, unions representing staff have said. Parliament's Trade Union Side, said changes were needed to “protect workers”. Currently, MPs do not automatically face a parliamentary ban if they are being investigated, allowing them to access the estate and to meet staff and visitors and other MPs face to face. Only MPs have the power to suspend other members from the Commons, with a vote held in the house if a panel recommends the MP be barred. Giving evidence at the Common's Women and Equalities Committee, Ken Gall, president of parliament's Trade Union Side, said any MP under investigation by police, their party or the Commons should have their access revoked until the probe concluded. Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, which represents parliamentary staff, said the ban was “long overdue,” adding: “It would go a long way to improving confidence in the system if anyone with such an allegation hanging over them were not free to come and go as they please. Any other employee would be suspended under these circumstances and the same should be the case here.” He added the recent sexual harassment allegations involving MPs had “demonstrated the limits to the Speaker's powers in this area” and the rule would help “properly protect their workers. The pandemic has demonstrated that it is entirely possible to carry out parliamentary duties remotely so no one should be democratically impacted by such a rule. There is no reason why this rule should not be brought forward as a matter of urgency.” Currently any complaint about an MP’s conduct is considered by the Standards Commissioner, or the new independent expert panel, set up to handle harassment and bullying complaints against MPs. If the panel or committee recommends the MP is suspended or banned from the Commons, MPs then vote on if it should happen.
Prospect news release. House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee news release and Gender Sensitive Parliament inquiry. BBC News Online.

Scottish protection of shopworkers law imminent

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed an announcement by the Scottish government, confirming that a new law to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse will come into force in Scotland on 24 August 2021. The union said the groundbreaking legislation was supported by MSPs after Usdaw’s long-running campaign led to the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill, which was successfully steered through the Scottish parliament by Labour MSP Daniel Johnson. Welcoming the law, Usdaw’s Scottish regional secretary, Tracy Gilbert, added: “We are now looking to work with the Scottish government, police and retailers to promote the new law. We want criminals to understand that assaulting and abusing shopworkers is unacceptable and will land them with a stiffer sentence. Our hope is that this new legislation will result in retail staff getting the respect they deserve.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The Scottish parliament is leading the way on protection of shopworkers.”
Usdaw news release.

Government blocks shop safety progress

Despite clear cross-party support for new legal protection for shopworkers, the UK government has refused to support any change in the law. The government position was spelled out during a parliament debate called after a petition launched by shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis attracted 104,000 signatures. Home Office parliamentary under-secretary Chris Philp declined to offer government support for a change in the law, as called for in the petition. Usdaw is now looking for the support of MPs for a Labour protection of shopworkers amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary said: “We thank Conservative backbencher Matt Vickers MP for introducing this debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee and for his ‘wholehearted’ support for the aims of the petition. Unfortunately, as Labour frontbencher Anna McMorrin MP correctly predicted, we only heard ‘warm words and hollow platitudes’ from the minister when he responded to the debate.” He added: “Retail employers, leading retail bodies and the shopworkers’ trade union are jointly calling for legislation, so it is time for the government and MPs to listen…  we again urge MPs to support the aims of our petition and persuade the government to back legislation to protect shopworkers. They have the perfect opportunity through an amendment from Sarah Jones MP to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which we hope will be supported in the bill committee.”
Usdaw news release. Sarah Jones MP: NC45 amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, “Offence of assaulting etc. retail worker”. Morning Star.

Site giant fined after worker crushed to death

A construction company has been fined £700,000 over its criminal safety failings after one of its employees was crushed by a dumper truck. John Cameron, who was in his early 60s, was working for BAM Nuttall during the building of an electricity substation at Blackhillock, near Keith in Moray, Scotland. He died after his legs became trapped under a passing truck. Fiscal depute Gavin Callaghan told the court: “Mr Cameron was left to his own devices. What he did and where he did it was not safe but that is no criticism of Mr Cameron. No-one from BAM challenged him and there had been no risk planning. It is not suggested that BAM had a cavalier attitude towards health and safety and it is tragic that an oversight has such terrible consequences.” BAM Nuttall admitted failing to make a suitable risk assessment in the task of repair and replacement of equipment on site and the risk of vehicles and pedestrians coming into contact with each other. It also failed to provide a system of work that could be carried out safely and which segregated persons from vehicles. Murdo MacLeod, QC for BAM Nuttall, said there had been a last-minute design change to the area where Mr Cameron was working and admitted no arrangements had been made for a risk assessment at such short notice. Passing sentence, Sheriff Gary Aitken recorded his condolences to family members in court and added: “No-one ever thinks that a loved one going to work won't come home.” He said it was not the court’s function to try and put a value on a person’s life but to punish a company in the only way it could by a fine.
BBC News Online.


Call to reintroduce face coverings in schools

Four education unions representing teachers and support staff are calling on the UK government to reinstate face coverings in schools to limit coronavirus spread. With infections on the rise once more, UNISON, GMB, Unite and NEU issued the joint statement demanding a range of safety measures to keep education on track and reduce the risk of further closures. It says: “Education unions are deeply concerned that secondary school age students now have the highest rates of Covid-19 infection of all age groups, according to Public Health England (PHE) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, and those rates are rising.” The 8 June statement continues: “At the weekend, the health secretary acknowledged that 'a huge proportion of the latest cases are in children', that they pass on the virus to the local community and face risks from long Covid. That means over the next few weeks more children and young people are likely to be off self-isolating and missing out on face-to-face education.” The union statement notes Public Health England’s warning that the Delta variant is more transmissible, can lead to more serious infections and vaccines may be less effective against it. It adds: “Action must be taken now to make face-to-face learning safer over the remainder of the school term. Outbreaks mean bubbles, classes or entire year groups must be sent home. The priority must be to avoid any further loss of education.” Measures to avoid this called for by the unions include “reintroducing with immediate effect the requirement for students and staff to wear face coverings in all areas of secondary schools and colleges, including classrooms.” The statement also calls for additional measures to ensure effective ventilation in schools and greater openness about “the number of cases of the Delta variant in education settings, not just figures concerning outbreaks. The longer this data is withheld, the more it looks like ministers have something to hide.”
GMB news release. NEU news release. UNISON news release. Unite news release.

Bosses keep tabs on pickets on DVLA safety strike

Strike action at the DVLA vehicle licensing HQ in Swansea over Covid safety continued this week after PCS accused government ministers of “scuppering” a deal that could have led to agreement. The union action is in response to hundreds of Covid-19 infections hitting the Swansea offices (Risks 995). PCS says during strike days, items of post are estimated to be piling up at a rate of 60,000 a day, adding to backlog of hundreds of thousands already awaiting processing. But the union says while the backlogs grow, DVLA senior managers have been spending their time observing the picket lines in half-hour shifts. Members in other areas of DVLA have been exercising the right to work to rule. PCS is asking supporters to sign and share a new PCS e-action to apply pressure on secretary of state Grant Shapps to settle the dispute. On 9 June the union delivered a letter to the transport secretary demanding an explanation as to why the agreement was withdrawn at the “11th hour.” In his letter to Mr Shapps, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka called for the deal to be brought back to the table. “The only deduction we can make, given that the agreement had been drawn up with DVLA and DfT officials, is that it was withdrawn on your direction,” he wrote.
PCS news release, update and e-action calling on secretary of state Grant Shapps to settle the dispute. Morning Star.

'Urgent' call to shut quarantine hotel after outbreak

A council has called on the government to shut a quarantine hotel in Reading after a serious Covid-19 outbreak affecting staff and guests. Reading Borough Council said Penta Hotel needed to “urgently close” after it was linked to a “significant” number of positive cases. The council said it was unconvinced the outbreak was under control or that robust safety measures were in place. The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) operates the facility. A total of 44 positive cases of Covid-19 have been identified among residents and staff at the quarantine hotel, which opened on 29 April. Reading Borough Council said it was notified of the first outbreak on 9 May. The council added the majority of the positive cases had been identified as the Delta variant, first identified in India, by Public Health England (PHE). “Positive cases have spread between guests, and hotel and security staff,” the authority said. It added it believed at least three cases in the community had been directly linked to the hotel’s outbreak, and said the spread “could have been avoided had the correct safety procedures been in place from when the hotel first opened.” Council leader Jason Brock said: “The council is clear that having seen the DHSC's quarantine hotel in operation over a number of weeks, it does not have confidence that robust enough safety measures have been in place and that it needs to be shut down.”
Reading Chronicle. BBC News Online.


Australia: Targeting exploited riders will led to deaths

The Transport Workers’ Union in Australia has slammed the New South Wales (NSW) state government’s new food delivery laws, saying the targeting and punishment of exploited riders will add to the deadly pressures they face. NSW minister for better regulation Kevin Anderson revealed riders will receive unique identification numbers and be targeted by police in compliance blitzes. TWU said the minister implied workers were to blame for the deaths of four riders last year, stating the NSW government “can no longer stand by while riders continue placing themselves and others at risk.” Food delivery riders and the TWU withdrew from the NSW government’s food delivery taskforce over what the union said was a “sustained silencing of workers’ safety concerns.” Commenting on the 5 June announcement, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said targeting and issuing fines to underpaid riders in an exploitative industry they cannot control will put more pressure on them to work long hours and rush deliveries, further endangering their lives. “These new laws are not about protecting the most exploited workers in our society. This is a shield for Silicon Valley behemoths and their sham business models which are literally killing riders on our roads,” he said.  “Riders will be tracked, targeted and penalised by police while companies are still not required to provide helmets… We implore Mr Anderson to push back on pressure from tech giants and support companies trying to do the right thing like Menulog with regulation to lift standards and level the playing field.” Last month, food delivery company Menulog said it will seek a new employment award for food delivery workers, as it attempts to become the first gig economy company to make all its workers full employees.
TWU news release. NSW government news release. Sydney Morning Herald. The Guardian.

Global: Shame of ‘scandalous’ child labour figures

A reversal in the long-term downward trend in child labour shames the world, the global union confederation ITUC has said. For 20 years, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been calculating the numbers of children in work every four years through household surveys. The 2016-2020 figure estimates that 160 million children were in child labour globally – almost one in ten of all children. Around 79 million were in hazardous work that endangers their health, safety and moral development. The new joint ILO and UNICEF report warns that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. It shows that although the percentage of children in child labour remained roughly unchanged, these figures mean that the total number of children in child labour increased by over eight million in the period 2016-2020, while the absolute number of children in hazardous work rose by 6.5 million. ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “What’s even more shocking about these figures is that they don’t include the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s no doubt that the health crisis has made things even worse.” She added: “The scandal is that we have the answer to this. We know that we can tackle the scourge of child labour through a New Social Contract for working people, which includes a call to create decent work for adults and invest in social protection and inclusive services, such as care and education. Parents don’t want their kids to work. They are forced to do this in order to survive and because of the absence of quality education. No parent should have to make that choice. Working people deserve a New Social Contract now.”
ITUC news release. UNICEF news release. ILO news release, related release, video and ILO-UNICEF report, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward.  The Guardian.

India: Many dead in India chemical plant fire

At least 18 workers have died in a fire at a chemical plant on the outskirts of the western Indian city of Pune. Some 37 workers were trapped inside the building when the blaze started in the afternoon of 7 June. The SV Aqua Technologies factory makes chlorine dioxide products, typically used in water treatment. The Pune Mirror reported that a case of culpable homicide has been registered against Nikunj Shah, the owner of SVS Aqua Technologies, who had been arrested. Pune rural superintendent of police Abhinav Deshmukh said: “Preliminary inquiries have revealed that the accident was due to the negligence of the company owners.” Prime minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences over the death of the workers, and announced 200,000 rupees ($2,800; £1,900) as compensation for their families. He also promised $690 as compensation for the injured. The government of Maharashtra, where the factory is located, also announced $6,800 as compensation to the victims’ families.
Pune Mirror. BBC News Online. Hindustan Times.

India: Court backs unions on carmaker Covid safety

An Indian court has ordered safety agencies to visit carmakers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu to draw up uniform safety guidelines for workers during a new and devastating wave of Covid-19 infections. Unions acting on behalf of workers at the Indian unit of Renault-Nissan had asked the Madras High Court for operations to be halted, saying social distancing norms were being flouted and the risk to their lives outweighed the health benefits provided by the company. “Senior representatives from the department of industrial safety may be requested to make further visits to the Nissan-Renault manufacturing facility and... other auto manufacturing units... so that a unified set of guidelines may be imposed,” the court said. The company said it wanted the state government to recommend adequate social distancing measures, based on practices at other automakers, amid the safety dispute with the workers’ union. The company added that while it was following practices used at automakers such as Maruti, Hyundai, Kia, Ford and BMW, it was “impossible” to increase the space between workers beyond two feet to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 m) at some work stations. The workers’ union would file a counter petition, said M Moorthy, its general secretary. “Other manufacturers need to adopt the best practices we are pushing for, not the other way around,” he told Reuters. “We feel unsafe, and that is why we are against what the company is doing.” Labour unions representing workers at Renault-Nissan, Ford Motor Co and Hyundai Motor Co have written letters of protest, noting that hundreds of workers in the automaking hub of Chennai have fallen ill with Covid-19 and dozens have died. Ford and Hyundai halted work at their plants last month after workers protested and some went on strike.


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