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




PM confirms lockdown rules will end on 19 July

England will move to the final stage of easing Covid restrictions on 19 July, ministers have confirmed. It means almost all legal restrictions on social contact, the masks requirement and the work from home instruction will be removed, in a policy shift that has been met with dismay by unions and medical experts. Despite lifting almost all the Covid-19 rules, the prime minister told a 12 July Downing St press conference it was vital to proceed with “caution”, warning “this pandemic is not over.” The peak of the current wave is not expected before mid-August and could lead to between 1,000 and 2,000 hospital admissions per day, according to government scientists. Central estimates from modellers advising the government also show that Covid deaths are expected to be between 100 and 200 per day at the peak, although there is a large amount of uncertainty. Boris Johnson told the press conference coronavirus “continues to carry risks for you and your family.” He added: “We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 to life as it was before Covid.” He said he hoped the roadmap would be “irreversible” but “in order to have that, it has also got to be a cautious approach.” In his solitary mention of workplace policy, the prime minister said: “We’re removing the government instruction to work from home where you can but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their as one desks from Monday. And we’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer.” Health, retail, education and transport unions are among those that have joined medical and scientific experts in saying reducing controls at a time of sharply rising infection rates is a mistake. They warn it will leave frontline workers at increased risk.
10 Downing St news release, prime minister’s statement and general government guidance. BBC News Online and related story. Evening Standard.

Government ‘refusing to consult’ on back-to-work plans

The TUC has written to ministers to raise urgent concerns about the UK government’s back-to-work safety plans. The union body said the government is refusing to consult with unions and employers on the latest guidance that will “affect millions of working people”. The TUC said it fears the new guidance – which is due to be published before restrictions are lifted on 19 July – will be “vague” and result in widespread confusion. It highlighted the rules on face coverings which will be changed despite clear evidence that they reduce the spread of Covid-19 in enclosed and crowded spaces. The TUC said removing - without consultation - the legal obligation to wear a face covering in work settings such as supermarkets and on public transport has undermined confidence that the government is serious about making workplaces Covid-Secure. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “as restrictions are lifted and increasing numbers return to their workplaces, it is crucial that we get workplace safety right, and give workers and members of the public confidence. This is how we get the country up and running again – not hobbled by rising infections and enforced self-isolation taking workers out of workplaces.” She added: “The TUC has real fears that clear, detailed guidance for employers will be replaced by vague exhortations to employers to do the right thing, resulting in confusion. Government must not offload its responsibility to consult on guidelines to protect the health and safety of workers. And it must not gamble the safety of key workers, from bus drivers to supermarket staff, on an individual customer’s sense of personal responsibility.”
TUC news release. The Guardian.

Usdaw tells government to keep shop safety rules

Retail trade union Usdaw has written to the business secretary calling on the government to reverse its plans to end compulsory face coverings and social distancing in shops on 19 July. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The government should not be weakening safety measures in shops at the same time as opening up other venues. There is no reason why requirements to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing in busy public areas like shops cannot continue. Retailers may be able to attempt to enforce their own face covering policies, but in the absence of a legal requirement, as has already been highlighted by the British Retail Consortium, this is likely to result in further significant increases in abuse, threats and violence towards retail workers.” The Usdaw leader added: “Wearing a face covering in crowded public areas like shops is not merely a personal choice, it is an important measure to help protect workers who have no option but to interact with large numbers of people as a part of their job. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the government and employers, as we did during the first lockdown, to develop comprehensive guidance for retail. Many retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families. Supermarket workers and delivery drivers have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials. These key workers must be valued, respected and protected.” Commenting on the government’s decision to drop the masks requirement in sectors including retail and public transport, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “To do this at a stroke, ignoring the concerns of workers in these sectors and running contrary to public opinion, has done nothing to give workers confidence that the government is serious about making workplaces Covid-Secure.”
Usdaw news release, updated news release and letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. TUC news release.

Government failing to act as schools clusters rise

Teaching union NEU has said rising infection rates are presenting a health risk to staff and pupils and are disrupting education and has criticised the UK government for its continued failure to act. Commenting on latest Public Health England (PHE) figures showing a rise in the number of coronavirus clusters in schools in England, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “As the rate of coronavirus continues to rise, so too does the disruption to education. Last week there were 104 outbreaks in primary schools, 127 in secondary schools and 20 in special schools. This is almost double the number just two weeks ago. Meanwhile the same report showed that the Department for Education have made no progress encouraging the mass testing of pupils. Less than 20 per cent of secondary pupils took a coronavirus test last week which is virtually unchanged this half term and much lower than in March when 60 per cent of pupils were taking a test.” The union leader concluded: “Gavin Williamson’s failure to act to reduce the spread of coronavirus in schools is shocking. We know that every day of education lost matters to a child and yet the government appear to have written off the whole of this half-term.” The union has raised its concerns in a letter to the education secretary.
NEU news release and letter to the education secretary. Weekly Influenza and COVID-19 Surveillance graphs: Confirmed COVID-19 cases in England, Week 26 (28 June-4 July 2021).

Scientists slam ‘dangerous and unethical experiment’

The UK government’s plan for lifting Covid-19 restrictions in England has been met with consternation by experts in infection control. A 7 July 2021 letter published in The Lancet and signed by more than 100 scientists and doctors from around the world accused ministers of conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment.” The signatories, including independent Sage adviser Sir David King and the British Medical Association’s Dr Chaand Nagpaul, blasted the “unethical and illogical” approach which could see millions develop “long Covid” postviral health problems. The letter stated: “The UK government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on 19 July 2021.” Professor Trisha Greenhalgh of Oxford University, a co-signatory to the letter, said “the world turned its incredulous eyes on the UK government as it announced plans to abandon all mandated measures to try to control spread of the virus.” She described the letter as “a plea to our political leaders” to listen to scientists. Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said: “Removing mandates on July 19 will not only accelerate virus transmission, with substantial increased levels of acute illness, hospitalisation, and long Covid, but also create the conditions for the emergence of new variants that could escape vaccine protection. The government plan is not, as some have characterised it, a reasonable gamble - it is an entirely unnecessary and self-inflicted hazard that will cause real harm to health.”
Deepti Gurdasani, John Drury, Trisha Greenhalgh and others. Correspondence. Mass infection is not an option: we must do more to protect our young, The Lancet, Online First 7 July 2021. DOI: Letter signatories. Morning Star. The Guardian.

NHS leaders call for mask requirement to stay

Healthcare leaders are urging the government to be clear with the public about where and when to wear a face masks and to ensure that it continues to be a requirement in hospitals, GP practices, ambulances and other health and care settings. The NHS Confederation said its poll found 9 in 10 healthcare leaders in England say it should continue to be a legal requirement for people to wear masks in all healthcare settings. The confederation, which represents organisations across the health service, warns that if guidance is too opaque or does not go far enough then stronger measures may also be needed to ensure people continue to don a face covering every time they visit their GP, go to into hospital or see a healthcare professional in other setting. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We know that face masks are proven to reduce the spread of Covid-19 which is why the overwhelming majority of our members are urging the government to be crystal clear with the public and say that it is a mandatory requirement to wear a face mask in all healthcare settings. NHS leaders are very concerned that unless the message is simple and unambiguous people may get confused and make their own rules which could put others at risk.” The move to drop masks requirements was also criticised by health service union UNISON.
NHS Confederation news release.

Mask wearing in the NHS must be mandatory

Mask wearing in hospitals, clinics and other NHS buildings should remain compulsory when Covid restrictions are eased, Unite had said. It said it understands some NHS trusts in England will insist that masks continue to be worn by staff, patients and visitors after 19 July, but the union said this should be underpinned by law. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “We have serious questions about Boris Johnson’s laissez-faire approach to the widespread easing of restrictions from 19 July. All bets have been placed on the vaccination programme holding the line, but there is no guarantee that this will be a completely successful strategy. We believe that social distancing and mask wearing in hospitals, clinics and other NHS buildings should continue for the foreseeable future in order to protect the public and our members working in the health service.” He added: “What the prime minister is doing by his ‘mixed’ messaging is causing confusion to NHS staff and the public. What is needed is clarity in the same way that you know you can’t legally smoke in public places.” The Unite officer said NHS staff “are exhausted”, adding: “An increase in hospitalisations which will follow from 100,000 infections a day will add to their immense workloads - the pandemic has not ended. Already we are hearing reports from our members of holidays being curtailed to meet the expected demand. Anything that could ease the burden on the NHS, such as mask wearing, should be employed.”
Unite news release.

Bus drivers briefed on safety as masks mandate goes

Unite has written to its members working on buses setting out their legal rights, after the government confirmed that passengers in England will no longer have to wear face coverings when travelling on public transport. Last week, when it was first announced that the government intended to remove the requirement for passengers on public transport to wear masks and face coverings, Unite described it as an act of “gross negligence”. Despite lobbying from the government and a YouGov poll showing that 71 per cent of the public support continuing the requirement to wear masks on public transport, the government has confirmed that the rule requiring the wearing of masks will end on 19 July. In response, Unite has written to its bus driver members reminding them that under section 44 and section 100 of the Employment Rights Act, workers have a right to remove themselves from the workplace if they believe that by continuing to work their health is being placed in serious and imminent danger. Unite has also instructed workers who feel that they have no option but to take this action to immediately contact their shop steward or regional officer for further advice and support. Unite national officer for public transport Bobby Morton said dropping the masks requirement was “deeply regrettable”, adding the union “has a duty to ensure our members are fully aware of their rights and don’t knowingly risk their health and safety at work.” He said bus drivers “deserve to be treated better than this by the government. If workers do feel that they cannot work safely, this will inevitably cause delays and disruptions in services. I hope that the general public appreciates that this is a problem entirely of the government’s making.” Health secretary Sajid Javid said masks would still be “recommended” on public transport, but people without a face covering would no longer be fined after restrictions are lifted on 19 July.
Unite news release. BBC News Online.

RMT slams ‘reckless and irresponsible gamble’

Transport union RMT has warned the government’s reopening plan for England is a “mass health experiment” that puts lives at risk. Commenting after the UK government’s 12 July confirmation that most lockdown measures would go from 19 July, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This is a reckless and irresponsible gamble with the health of millions. It is beyond belief that we today see a health minister and prime minister announcing the abandonment of regulations that have been proven to protect the public and workers, when instead a more cautious approach was needed. It feels like the population is being subjected to a mass health experiment that no one knows the answer to and that is simply wrong.” The RMT leader added: “The decision to scrap mandatory face coverings will not only increase risks, it will lead to confusion and conflict on the transport network and also on cross border services where the devolved nations look set to adopt a different approach. As well as scrapping such obvious protections of face coverings we are also concerned the announcement today will give the green light for transport operators to scale back on other protections such as enhanced cleaning.”
RMT news release.

Vaccine minister says mask wearing is ‘expected’

Masks will still be “expected” in crowded places such as public transport when most remaining Covid restrictions are lifted later this month, the government’s vaccine minister has said, in a toughening up of rhetoric amid concerns over soaring infection rates. Nadhim Zahawi said the government would provide very clear guidance on issues such as the wearing of masks, as England moves away from using laws to govern the response to Covid. Zahawi said the move to the final stage of reopening from 19 July was responsible, despite predictions from the health secretary, Sajid Javid, that daily infection levels could top 100,000, a record for the pandemic. Labour and others have called for more mitigation measures, including the wearing of masks. There are concerns over the potential impact high infection rates could have on younger people who are not yet fully vaccinated, and those who are clinically vulnerable. Charities representing people who are particularly susceptible to Covid, or who have weakened immune systems, have also expressed concern at the end of mask laws. Zahawi told Sky News: “If we all act responsibly, we can come together and deal with this pandemic in a way that is responsible by thinking about our own actions and how they impact other people, including of course people who might be immunocompromised.” Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician and expert on the public understanding of risk, told the BBC that it was “absolutely inevitable” the lifting of restrictions would see a big rise in cases. He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show “there’s bound to be a big wave of cases coming up, absolutely inevitable. It was predictable right from the start of the road map announcement back in February.”
Sky News. BBC News Online. The Observer. The Mirror.

‘Freedom Day’ must mean workers are free to stay safe

The UK government’s decision to go ahead with what it has dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July must mean workers are free to stay safe, the GMB has said. Gary Smith, GMB general secretary, said: “It's very easy for the prime minister to say we should take 'personal responsibility' when his government has prioritised politics over science throughout this pandemic.” He added: “Of course we all want to get back to normal, but not at the cost of the putting lives at risk – and many of them will be the workers who risked everything to keep the country moving throughout the pandemic. Any notion of a ‘Freedom Day’ must mean workers are free to stay safe, but the absence of proper leadership from this prime minister means that won’t be the case.” Public sector union UNISON was also critical of the government move. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Rising infections have more than made the case for keeping masks in shops, schools, on public transport and other enclosed spaces. But a plethora of mixed messages is sowing confusion where clarity is needed. Government guidance will still require everyone working in and visiting hospitals and care homes to wear masks after next week. But talk of personal responsibility could see NHS and care staff put in impossible, potentially abusive, situations. They’ll be the ones left to ensure people continue to mask up.” She added: “Everyone wants a return to normality, but that must happen safely. Relaxing the rules on face coverings may make many people less likely to visit shops, pubs and theatres. And that’s the reverse of what the economy needs.”
GMB news release.

PCS sets out Covid safety demands as rules go

The union PCS has said Boris Johnson’s decision to end Covid restrictions in England on 19 July is wrong and has made a series of demands to the Cabinet Office intended to ensure civil service staff and workplaces are safe. The union said given the rising numbers of cases caused by the Delta variant of the virus and because the vaccination programme is incomplete, it is premature to end restrictions. At an 8 July meeting with the Cabinet Office the union make wide-ranging demands. PCS informed management “there must be no arbitrary targets or dates for staff to return to workplaces,” adding: “Departments and agencies must consult the unions in advance of any plan for staff possibly returning to the workplace.” Within workplaces, PCS said: “Social distancing must remain in place; face coverings should be used in communal areas and in any setting they are currently being used; existing screens should remain in place.” It continued: “Proper ventilation is vital in buildings and unions must be reassured on this before any return to the workplace.” The union also said ‘vulnerable’ employees “should remain working at home unless on the balance of risk it would be better for them to return to the workplace.” It said risk assessments, both individual and collective, “should include travel to work and must be undertaken in advance of staff returning to the workplace” and “in multi-occupied buildings/sites, health and safety arrangements must be put into place to ensure that unions are properly consulted at a building/site wide level as to all aspects of health and safety regarding a return to the workplace.” PCS said a meeting of its lay officials next week will “take stock of the situation and agree necessary actions to protect members.”
PCS news release.

Reducing isolation requirements creates confusion

The government’s decision to reduce self-isolation requirements from mid-August will create more confusion and means mending the country’s broken sick pay scheme is even more urgent, the public sector union UNISON has said. The union was commenting after Sajid Javid announced on 6 July that self-isolation rules in England would change. The health secretary said from 16 August 2021 double jabbed close contacts of people who have tested positive would no longer need to self-isolate. He added that under-18s would also be exempted from the self-isolation rules. Javid told parliament: “Step-by-step, and jab-by-jab, we’re replacing the temporary protection of the restrictions, with the long-term protection of a vaccine.” UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards commented: “There’s a woeful lack of detail about how this will operate and how it affects health and care workers. Infections can still be passed on by those who’ve been jabbed ​but show no symptoms. There are now more questions than answers​. This announcement ​has simply created more confusion.” He added: “If ​everyone​’s got to learn to live with the virus​, the government must ensure a proper system of sick pay. It’s plain wrong that thousands of workers are expected to survive on a pittance when they’re ill. A properly resourced test and trace system is also essential if there’s to be any hope of keeping on top of infection spread.” Over two million people are thought to be suffering with long Covid, with serious implications for sick pay and employment protection.
UNISON news release. Department of Health and Safety Care news release.

Care firm faces legal 'landslide’ over forced jabs

Care company HC-One faces a ‘landslide of legal action’ if it goes ahead with plans to force all staff to get a Covid jab if they want to keep their jobs. The union has written to the company asking why staff had been told the changes would come into effect from 13 September - before any consultation with GMB. GMB also questioned why the changes are being implemented in Scotland and Wales “where there is no mandate for compulsory vaccines”. Kelly Andrews, GMB’s national care lead, said: “GMB has supported the vaccination programme and encouraged our members to take the opportunity to be vaccinated if they can. We’re aware some people don’t want to be – or can’t for a variety of reasons.” She added: “HC-One faces a potential landslide of legal action it the company change people’s terms and conditions unilaterally without taking into account why employees are unable to be vaccinated, or what alternative there might be to the dismissal. The fact HC-One has told staff this will happen before consultation with GMB suggest the decision has already been made. GMB intends to fully participate in the proposed consultation process, but there must be genuine negotiations for change or we will take further action.”
GMB news release.

Oil workers airlifted after outbreak on North Sea rig

Energy giant Shell has flown 85 workers to shore following a Covid outbreak at the Shearwater oil and gas field in the North Sea. The move came after 15 positive cases were identified in ten days on the floating accommodation which is connected to the main platform by bridge. All were taken off the facility, alongside 70 other workers who have been in close contact. The operator said all crew members are tested before being mobilised offshore, with testing carried out every four days on people living in the Safe Zephyrus flotel. A Shell spokesperson said: “Our priority is the health and wellbeing of our people and contractors, and safe operations across all our activities. We are taking all appropriate precautions, in line with our procedures and national protocols related to coronavirus.” In April, nearly 60 close contacts were removed from the flotel after four positive cases on board. Last week, Scotland accounted for five of the ten worst Covid-affected areas in Europe.
Evening Standard.



HSE ‘buries bad news on work deaths’

On the day all eyes were focused on the England football team’s Euro semi-final exploits, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took the opportunity to “bury bad news on work deaths,” a workers’ safety campaign has alleged. The national Hazards Campaign said latest figures released by the safety regulator on 7 July show a ‘massive’ 25 per cent increase in reports of workplace fatalities in 2020/21, despite many workers during the reporting year being furloughed or working from home. Chair of the Hazards Campaign, Janet Newsham, said the increase from 113 report fatalities at work in 2019/20 to 142 in 2020/21 “is because HSE isn’t carrying out sufficient preventive inspections, isn’t holding bad employers to account, and hasn’t sufficient resources to carry out the enforcement needed to protect workers and prevent these incidents.” Saying the country needs a “robust, transparent, accountable and proactive HSE”, she warned the regulator had instead outsourced most inspections and tried “to paint a rosy picture of health at work, we know only too well the terror many workers face in the workplace, with employers ignoring health and safety and placing many young and vulnerable workers at risk. The pandemic has highlighted the risks many employers are willing to take with workers’ lives.” She concluded: “We need an HSE enforcing health and safety law, not cosying up to employers or government. The Hazards Campaign want the HSE to be independent from pressure from government and big business.” The high number of work-related deaths from Covid-19 are not included in the HSE fatality figures. HSE figures show there were 383 work-related Covid-19 deaths in 2020/21 reported by employers under the RIDDOR injury and disease reporting regulations.
Hazards Campaign. HSE Covid-19 RIDDOR reports. Byline Times.

Big upturn in work fatalities confirmed

Provisional figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 142 workers were killed at work in Great Britain in 2020/21, an increase of 29 from the previous year. HSE indicates this is also an increase on the average level over the last five years (2016/17-2020/21) of 136. HSE said the figures relate to workplace incidents and do not include deaths arising from occupational exposure to disease, including Covid-19. Separate HSE figures show almost 400 Covid deaths were reported by employers to HSE in 2020/21. HSE said its figures also continue to highlight the risks to older workers, with around 30 per cent of fatal injuries in 2020/21 involving workers aged 60 or over, even though these make up just 11 per cent of the workforce. There were 34 deaths in ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’, up from the record low of 21 seen in 2019/20. HSE said the sector’s annual average fatality rate over the last five years is around 20 times higher than the all-industry rate. The regulator said 39 workers died in construction in 2020/21, with the rate around four times the average across all industries. On top of the worker fatalities, the latest statistics show 60 members of the public were killed as a result of a work-related incident. The Hazards Campaign accused HSE of “burying bad news” by publishing the findings on the day of England’s Euros semi-final with Germany. It warned the figures are especially worrying as furlough and work from home requirements in the reporting year should have led to a substantial reduction in risks. UNISON national health and safety officer Kim Sunley commented: “The pandemic has highlighted how many people across the UK face serious health risks just by doing their daily jobs. Employers must do more to keep staff safe and that includes properly recording exposure to Covid-19. Ministers must also invest in the underfunded Health and Safety Executive so it can ensure regulations are enforced.”
HSE news release. Work-related fatal injuries: Fatal injuries in Great Britain, 2021, HSE, 7 July 2021. HSE statistics webpage. UNISON news release. BSC news release. FarmingUK News.

Deaths from key asbestos cancer remain over 2,000

The asbestos related cancer mesothelioma is stilling killing over 2,000 people in Great Britain each year, latest official figures show. New statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 2,369 people died from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2019. This is seven per cent lower than the average of 2,540 deaths over the previous seven years. After a sustained rise over many years, this year’s total marks the second successive year when mesothelioma deaths have fallen. HSE said current mesothelioma deaths largely reflect occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before the 1980s. It added the figure for 2019 – the latest year for which mesothelioma death figures are available - is consistent with projections that a reduction in total annual deaths would start to become apparent at this point. However, it said it is still not certain how quickly annual deaths will decline. HSE has made repeated predictions of an imminent peak in mesothelioma deaths which have subsequently turned out to be mistaken. Mesothelioma is one of several cancers linked to asbestos exposures. Studies show there is at least one and possible up to three asbestos-related lung cancer cases for every mesothelioma. Commenting on the figures, UNISON head of safety Kim Sunley said: “Asbestos remains a problem in some workplaces including many schools. Funding has to be found to make sure it’s safely removed once and for all.”
Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2021, HSE, 7 July 2021. UNISON news release.

Stress fuelled by rise in worker surveillance in Wales

The rapid changes in work brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a sharp rise in the level of surveillance of people’s activities and performance at work and related stress, new Wales TUC research has revealed. The study found a quarter (25 per cent) of workers reported they have been subjected to closer surveillance since March 2020 and only 1 in 4 said that they feel comfortable objecting to such changes. Only 29 per cent of those surveyed said they were asked about changes in advance. More than half of workers (56 per cent) said introducing new technologies to monitor the workplace damages trust between workers and employers. The Wales TUC published their research after Senedd member Sarah Murphy flagged her concerns on the issue at the Senedd. She said: “Whilst conducting my own research with Professor Lina Dencik at the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University, we interviewed over ten different trade unions and found that this oppressive and widespread surveillance is resulting in workers feeling stressed, demotivated, unappreciated, and distrusted – breaking down the necessary respect between workers and employers. This includes tracking and logging workers every move via wristbands, including when they are on toilet breaks; forcing drivers to have to urinate in bottles because an algorithm has set them an impossible number of deliveries for the day so they cannot afford to take a break; and people working from home having facial recognition technology used on them via their laptop without their consent.” Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “Worker surveillance tech has taken off during this pandemic and there is a real danger that we’re sleepwalking into a situation where intrusive and unwarranted monitoring of workers becomes the norm. We have to push back on this before it’s too late.”
Wales TUC news release. Sarah Murphy MS comments.

Industry backlash against longer lorry driver hours

A temporary extension of lorry drivers' working hours introduced by the UK government  has been met with a backlash from unions and the industry, who say the government is applying a "sticking plaster" to driver shortage problems. HGV drivers can now increase their daily driving limits from nine to 10 hours or change weekly rest patterns. UK government transport secretary Grant Shapps said the move would give flexibility to drivers to make slightly longer trips. “We’re aware of a shortage of HGV drivers, so I’m announcing a temp extension of drivers’ hours rules from Mon. 12 July, giving flexibility to drivers & operators to make slightly longer journeys,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “We’ve ramped up the number of driving tests available & will consider other measures.” But the Road Haulage Association said the move was “counterproductive” and a “sticking plaster” that would have little impact on lorry driver shortages. “Relaxing drivers' hours won't make any material difference - and fails to address the underlying issues, which require a package of measures to fix,” the RHA said. Logistics UK, which represents freight businesses, said longer hours would “heap more pressure on drivers who are already stretched to the limit to deliver.” The organisation’s James Firth said the industry “vehemently opposed the extension” and said the government had “ignored the will of those who will be most affected by the changes.” He said: “Existing drivers have been working flat out since the start of the pandemic, and this could be the final straw for many of them. Instead of trying to paper over the gaps, government should be working with industry to produce a plan to support moving drivers through the current bottleneck of HGV driving tests.”
RHA news release. Logistics UK news release. DfT/DVSA guidance, updated 7 July 2021. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Extending lorry drivers’ hours could kill

Unions have said the government decision to extend the hours lorry drivers can work is a dangerous mistake. Unite national officer for road transport, Adrian Jones, echoed industry concerns and said the announcement would do nothing to resolve the problem of driver shortages. He added: “Asking an already exhausted workforce to work even longer is likely to make an already difficult situation worse.” The Unite officer said: “Unite will be advising its members to not place themselves in danger and that if they are too tired to drive safely they have a legal right to refuse to do so. Unite will fully support those who make that decision, legally and industrially.” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This dangerous decision by the government will essentially force lorry drivers to work significantly longer hours and could cause significant health and safety risks to lorry drivers themselves and other road users.” He added: “This government and the road haulage industry needs to be much more proactive in encouraging the recruitment of new drivers and ensuring they have job security and good working conditions that will encourage recruitment and retention we so desperately need.” Usdaw national officer Mark Todd said: “Fatigue is known to be a factor in up to a quarter of fatal and serious road traffic accidents and lorry drivers are known to be at greater risk of suffering fatigue, even when they are driving within the European driving hours limits because shift patterns require them to work anti-social hours.” He warned: “This short-term response to the much greater problem of driver shortages is not the answer. The government needs to make the industry more attractive through improving employment rights and ensuring higher pay for workers.”
Unite news release and manifesto for change. RMT news release. Usdaw news release.

Yodel faces ‘complete standstill’ over unworkable schedules

Delivery giant Yodel faces a summer of strikes that could bring its entire network to a standstill, the GMB has warned. The company has imposed “unworkable” driver schedules and “robbed” drivers of annual leave by reneging on long-standing agreements, the union said. Against the backdrop of a huge driver shortage, the GMB accused Yodel of offering agency drivers enhancements not given to directly employed workers and said that its members were demanding to be balloted for action. GMB national officer Nadine Horton said: “GMB has repeatedly tried to get Yodel to understand the strength of feeling from our driver members around these issues. GMB’s driver members are resolute and will continue the fight until Yodel sees sense.” She added: “Our members have the power to bring their whole distribution network to a standstill during one of their busiest times, yet Yodel carries on regardless. GMB will not allow Yodel to rob our hard-working members of annual leave, to impose unfair schedules, to breach collective agreements and to treat agency drivers better than their own loyal staff.”
GMB news release. Morning Star.

MoD outsourcing undermines safety, Unite warns

The ongoing outsourcing of civilian functions at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is leading to cuts in pay, a deterioration in standards, severe reductions in service levels and increases in safety risks, Unite has warned. Giving evidence at the defence select committee on 12 July, Unite told MPs that outsourcing of services frequently creates a two tier workforce, with new starters recruited on vastly inferior terms and conditions from workers who were ‘TUPEd’ over on MoD contracts, retaining their existing contracts. Unite’s evidence warned efficiency savings are either illusory or potentially dangerous, adding the fragmentation of services can lead to operational inefficiencies. The union singled out the MoD fire service, which has been outsourced to Capita. It warned the service has lost, or is about to lose, 100 personnel and it is expected a further 100-200 firefighter roles will be lost in the next 12-18 months. It indicated there were cash incentives to both Capita and MoD to cut costs under a share gain policy, despite “potential safety implications”. Both Capita and the MoD each receive 47.5 per cent of any cost savings, with the service receiving just 5 per cent. Unite national officer for the Ministry of Defence Caren Evans said: “The MoD’s addiction to outsourcing is a disaster for the workers involved and service levels. Unite believes that in most cases the supposed cost savings are illusory, as outsourcers are able to add in many extra charges for items not included in the original contract.” She added: “Capita’s cuts in staffing levels on the MoD fire service are potentially dangerous and are an accident waiting to happen. It is even more alarming that decisions on personnel and safety levels are now based more on boosting profits than ensuring a safe, efficient and reliable emergency services is fully functioning."
Unite news release. Defence select committee inquiry.



Bangladesh: Factory boss charged with murder after deadly fire

A factory owner in Bangladesh has been arrested and charged with murder after 52 people, including children, died in fire that broke out on 8 July. Abul Hashem, the owner of Hashem Foods, and four of his sons were among eight people detained on 10 July. Police say they all face murder charges. Narayanganj district Police Chief Jayedul Alam said that the entrance had been padlocked at the time of the fire, breaching health and safety and fire regulations. “It was a deliberate murder,” he said. A separate probe is under way into the use of child labour at the factory, which is part of the Sajeeb group of companies. Unions report that children as young as 11 had been working at the factory and were among the victims. Investigators say the fire in Rupganj, an industrial town near the capital Dhaka, took hold because of chemicals and plastics stored inside the building. The six-storey factory manufactured fruit juices, noodles and sweet confectionery. While many workers had left for the day when the fire started, it is believed that hundreds of people were still inside overnight. Eyewitnesses said many workers were injured after they jumped from the factory's upper floors to escape the blaze. In the wake of the fire, several food, beverage and agricultural trade unions quickly formed the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee and called on the government to “investigate the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against the culprits.” The committee also demanded that the injured workers receive all necessary medical treatment and that compensation be provided to the injured and deceased workers’ families. It said the company had been warned by authorities about fire safety risks and child labour violations after an 8 June inspection but did nothing. The unions said there had been no follow up action by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).
IUF-AP statements on the fire, inaction by the company prior to the fire, call for justice and child victims. Daily Star. New Age. South China Morning Post.  Morning Star. BBC News Online and related story.




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