Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.COVID NEWS UK government failings on schools exposed School infection figures a ‘significant concern’ DVLA chief urged to resolve dispute OTHER NEWS Give UK workers four more bank holidays Royal Mail ‘group stress assessment’ agreed Union investigates harassment at agency Serco bin workers walk out over safety Bad jobs to blame for food labour crisis Union highlights safety concerns in renewables Train jump stunt is ‘utterly stupid’ Bullied rail staff take action EVENTS ‘Bent out of Shape’ online book launch, 7 September INTERNATIONAL NEWS Australia: Women’s amenities should be mandatory Australia: Uber slammed for work deaths ‘cover-up’ Qatar: Decade of migrant deaths go unexplained USA: Whistleblower warning on chemical assessments
A SAGE statement on Covid risks linked to the reopening of schools is “a rebuke” to education secretary Gavin Williamson, teaching union NEU has said. The union was commenting on a return to schools ‘Consensus Statement on Covid-19’ by the SAGE SPI-M-O subgroup, dated 11 August but only made public on 27 August. The statement argues that “exponential increases will be seen” after schools open for the new term. Urging the UK government “to plan for this eventuality”, the statement notes: “It is highly likely that high prevalence will be seen within schools by the end of September 2021.” Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: “This statement from SAGE is a rebuke to Gavin Williamson. Next to nothing has been done to prepare for the possibility of large numbers of cases which will lead to lots of education disruption as children and staff have to isolate because they are positive - or stay off because their Covid symptoms go on longer.” He said while a UK government commitment to provide CO2
monitors was welcome (Risks 1011
), it wasn’t enough. “To prevent a sharp rise in cases, the watchwords must be ventilation, air filtration, masks, vaccines and vigilance,” he said. “Gavin Williamson needs to support schools to consider face coverings from day one of term, alongside social distancing where possible, and special consideration for vulnerable staff. The danger is not that schools and colleges will be slow to act, but that government is.” NEU news release
and related safe return news release
. Consensus Statement on Covid-19 by SAGE SPI-M-O
, 11 August 2021. Safe Education for All Show
, episode 6, Socialist Telly.
A marked rise in Covid cases linked to Scottish schools is a ‘significant cause for concern’, the teaching union EIS has said. The union said the spike in cases highlights the need for continuing caution and effective mitigations to limit Covid spread through school communities. Figures published on 27 August by Public Health Scotland indicate that 2 out of every 100 pupils nationally are currently absent from school for a Covid-related reason. Test positivity amongst the 2-17 age group increased to 19.9 per cent in the preceding week, compared to 18.5 per cent a week earlier. A total of 14,914 pupils were absent on 24 August because of Covid. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Clearly these figures will be a cause for concern for school communities – parents, pupils, teachers and staff. They underline the need to remain on guard to ensure schools remain Covid conscious and that mitigations are maintained.” He added: “The EIS believes the change in contact tracing arrangements for schools is creating confusion for parents, pupils and staff. We wish to see all pupils identified as close contacts being required to get a clear PCR test before returning to class… We also support the Scottish government position of wishing to see all secondary pupils offered the possibility of vaccination, which will help minimise disruption to education.” EIS news release
. BBC News Online
. Covid-19 Education Recovery Group: children and young people infographic
and Coronavirus (Covid-19): daily data for Scotland
, Scottish Government. Covid-19 - Schools and Childcare Information August 2021
, Public Tableau.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has written to Julie Lennard, chief executive officer of the DVLA, urging her to work with the union to resolve the safety dispute affecting the authority’s Swansea HQ. In an open letter to the DVLA leader, whose workplace has seen hundreds of Covid-19 infections, Serwotka noted he was writing as official figures showed a “continued increase in infection rates across Wales. Covid case rates in Wales are now at their highest since the second peak in January and Swansea has the highest infection rates in the whole country, at 500 per 100,000 people. This context is important because this dispute is, after all, about a fundamental right: the right for staff to be safe at their place of work.” Serwotka’s letter, dated 28 August, asserted: “Given the worrying numbers above, it’s no surprise that infection rates on the DVLA site are rising and currently stand at 23, with a further 19 suspected cases. This brings the total number of cases to 698 and our members remain extremely concerned about management’s disregard for their safety. This makes the plans announced in your message to staff regarding the opening of a new site for Drivers Medical applications in Bristol all the more reckless, with the city’s Covid rate in the top 10 per cent of the country.” Noting a consultative ballot will look at possible next steps in the dispute, Serwotka’s letter concluded: “After everything they’ve been through, our members remain resolute and determined to secure the settlement they deserve. I urge you to work with us and the Department for Transport to ensure this dispute can be brought to an end.” In a 31 August update, PCS said the DVLA site had now hit the “grim milestone” of 700 Covid-19 cases. PCS news release
Workers in England and Wales are being fobbed off with a “stingy” number of bank holidays, the TUC has said. They get eight public holidays a year, which is four fewer than the EU average and half the number in Japan. The union body is calling for a new public holiday between September and Christmas. This would be “a great way to thank working Britain for getting us through these tough times,” TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said. She said after the August Bank Holiday “there's no national holiday until Christmas. And that's because the number of holidays we get is so stingy compared to other nations.” Scotland has nine bank holidays and Northern Ireland has 10 public holidays. According to the TUC every EU member state is more generous than the UK when it comes to public holidays. Countries including Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Finland give 15 days off, with the EU average 12.8 days a year, the TUC said. A new study published by the Europe-wide union body ETUC found British workers in unionised workplaces get an extra week of paid holiday, which it described as a “collective bargaining holiday bonus.” TUC news release
. ETUC news release
. BBC News Online
. The Guardian
. The Mirror
Royal Mail Group and unions at the company have announcing agreement on an updated Work-Related Stress Management Toolkit. The new resource adds the ‘whole office/group/unit’ stress risk assessment process to the existing individual stress risk assessment. The new resource builds on a joint Stress Toolkit developed by the unions CWU and Unite CMA. The Group Stress Risk Assessment Tool, produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as part of the HSE Stress Management standards, has been designed to gather the opinions of the workforce through a survey. It will aggregate responses to provide a broad indication of how well the risks associated with work related stress are being managed. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said the new resource “adds a new dimension to the Royal Mail stress standard through which collective workforce stress can be recognised and working together managers, CWU area and local representatives will be fully engaged and involved in the new agreed process and can jointly develop ideas and remedial action plans on how to tackle workplace stress effectively.” The CWU safety specialist added: “The management and reduction of stress is an important part of a changing culture in Royal Mail and if implemented properly could significantly reduce levels of illness caused by work-related stress. This can be a major component in the vision for a workplace with good mental health for all and prevention is at the heart of it.” CWU news release
and Royal Mail Group – Introduction of ‘Whole Workplace/Office’ Stress Risk Assessment Process Tool and Updated Stress Toolkit, Guidance and Joint Statement.
Civil service union PCS is to investigate harassment at the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) after “a number of instances” where workers reported being harassed by individuals not employed by the government body. In an online statement, the union commented: “Whilst we are aware of unacceptable and poor behaviour, these incidents are rarely reported so we don’t have the data to know how prevalent the problem is.” It added the union and its PCS office reps “have agreed to survey our membership to identify how widespread these incidents are and identify any barrier which may be preventing members from reporting cases. The survey will give PCS members the chance to have their voice heard and will be totally confidential. The questions will cover all forms of harassment and the information collected will be used to inform consultations between PCS and the employer around policy and guidance.” PCS urged any member who has experienced or is experiencing harassment or bullying at work to “contact your local PCS rep or member of the PCS VOA Committee who can advise and support you.” PCS news release
Sandwell refuse workers employed by the outsourcer Serco have started a series of 24-hour strikes over the firm’s “total failure” to resolve bullying, harassment and safety concerns. Their union GMB has also hit out the leadership of Sandwell Council for its refusal to confront attacks on basic workers’ rights by its statutory service providers. Justine Jones, GMB regional organiser, commenting ahead of the first walk out, said: “These are key workers who done so much for all of us over the last eighteen months, but their rights and dignity at work have been trampled on by Serco management. We’ve tried to eradicate this unacceptable culture, but our members have been left with no other options but to strike. The blame lies squarely at the door of Serco and Sandwell Council leadership who would rather turn a blind eye to it.” She added: “We will continue to have discussions with Serco to try and resolve these issues but unfortunately, their response has come too late to prevent industrial action from going ahead.” GMB news release
. Birmingham Mail
Supermarkets must take responsibility for the HGV and food industry labour shortages hitting their supply chains, Unite has said. The union called on the supermarkets and employers in their supply chains to avoid quick fixes, such as ‘raiding other countries of their workers’. Instead, Unite said employers must work with the union to properly address the longstanding issues of insecure work, low pay and unpleasant working conditions that are the root causes of the labour shortages. Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson said: “Many parts of the UK food manufacturing sector, particularly poultry processing, are infamous for low wages, insecure contracts and exhausting work.” She said the “exploitative” model “is broken, and the supermarkets must take responsibility for making it fit for purpose.” Unite national officer for road transport, Adrian Jones, said: “Like sections of the food manufacturing industry, the haulage sector has been beset for years by low wages, job insecurity and stressful working conditions. This race-to-the-bottom employment market, determined by the supermarkets’ supply chain demands, has put workers off.” He said the solution “is not to raid other countries of their workers, but to sit down with Unite and make HGV driving a more attractive proposition.” Last week the union warned that chicken shortages where the result of “the terrible pay and working conditions that make the meat processing industry one of the worst places to work in the UK.” Unite news release
and chickens news release
. The Observer
The ‘urgent issue’ of health and safety in the renewables sector has been highlighted by the union Prospect. ‘Protecting workers’ health and safety in renewables’, a new guide from the union, warns “the massive growth in renewable energy over the years has not been matched by robust health and safety practices. As a result, professionals in the sector are being exposed to a higher risk of injury and ill-health compared to other areas of energy generation.” The guide notes: “Estimates suggest we need to create a 400,000-strong skilled energy workforce over the next three decades to deliver net zero. To achieve this, the renewables industry must be welcoming and inclusive for all new employees, and ensuring their safety, health and dignity is a key part of this.” Prospect’s guide stresses the safeguarding priorities, including addressing fatigue and stress risks, the important role played by union health and safety reps and the role of HESAC, the joint industry and union National Electricity Health and Safety Committee. In addition to Prospect, unions GMB, UNISON and Unite are represented on the committee. Prospect news release
, full booklet
and concise poster
Train drivers’ union ASLEF has hit out at the “completely and utterly stupid” practice of people pretending to jump in front of a train after the latest in a series of incidents. The union rebuke followed a ScotRail driver “calling out” someone involved in the prank at Livingston North Station. The driver’s action, which attracted widespread praise, prompted a series of tweets from ScotRail drivers saying they had experienced similar incidents. An ASLEF spokesperson, commenting to the Scotsman, said: “People taking their own lives in front of a train is a tragedy for the individual involved, and that person’s family and friends, and also for the driver of the train and the other rail staff who will be involved, as well as the passengers who may witness what has happened.” The union spokesperson added: “People who think it funny to pretend to jump in front of a train are thoughtless, not funny, and completely and utterly stupid.” A ScotRail spokesperson said: “We have zero-tolerance of anti-social behaviour, especially when it could put lives at risk. It has no place on Scotland’s railway, and we will continue to work with British Transport Police to clamp down on unacceptable behaviour.” The Scotsman
Rail Gourmet staff at Edinburgh Waverley station will take further industrial action in “an on-going fight” against abuse and bullying by management, RMT has confirmed. The rail union said as a consequence of “the continued failure of the company to agree to meet with the union and negotiate a fair and just settlement members”, affected members would take further strike action on 17 and 18 September. It follows previous “rock solid strikes”, the union said. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said members had “no choice” but to take more action “as a culture of bullying and harassment has been allowed to continue at Edinburgh Waverley which has led to a wholesale breakdown in industrial relations. Instead of recognising the strength of the staff grievances and entering into sensible and serious negotiations the company have instead continued their attacks.” He added: “Rail Gourmet
needs to listen to the strength of feeling of its workers and address these long running and deep-seated issues and put a stop to this toxic environment and treat its workers with the respect that they deserve. The union remains available for talks and its time the company stopped stalling and started talking.” RMT news release
The Hazards Campaign is hosting the 7 September UK launch of Karen Messing’s book ‘Bent out of Shape - Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work.’ Messing, an award-winning ergonomist and global expert on gender and work hazards, reveals a workforce in harm’s way and underestimated, underrepresented, understudied and underpaid. She will be joined at the 6pm launch by ‘Invisible women’ author Caroline Criado Perez, Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj and Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign.
Register for launch of 'Bent out of Shape' by Karen Messing
, 6pm UK time, 7 September 2021. Buy the book
. Further details from the Hazards Campaign
Women’s amenities to be mandatory on worksites across Australia to boost the number of women in male dominated industries, a union has said. The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) is launching a ‘Nowhere To Go’ campaign after its report found women make up just two per cent of the electrical industry nationally and two per cent of the ETU’s 61,000-strong membership. The report outlined the ‘significant obstacles’ women face within the industry and makes recommendations on how to increase female participation. Top of the list is legislating minimum requirements for workplace amenities which ensure they are regularly serviced, accessible and suitable. A wide range of measures highlighted by the union include “establishing a singular point of contact for all employees to report gendered safety issues.” ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said: “Ensuring workplace amenities and in particular, workplace toilets, are available and suitable should be a minimum requirement of every workplace but this is often not the case.” He added “women face major barriers when attempting to address these issues, through the prevailing stereotypes and myths about women in male dominated workplaces.” The union noted that “personal protective equipment must be either pre-stocked or reimbursed and must be appropriate to the needs of both men and women. Consideration should be given to how employers are required to make safety equipment available which may include handwash, sanitiser and sanitary items.” Mirage News
Australian transport union TWU has slammed a ‘cover-up culture’ at Uber after it was revealed the rideshare giant failed to report over 500 reportable incidents in New South Wales. The TWU is calling on the federal government to create an independent body with the power “to tackle the root causes of safety breaches in exploitative businesses like Uber,” arguing that post-breach audits and low penalties will not prevent people being maimed or killed. It points out that Uber was fined just Aus$200,000 (£106,000) for failing to report 37 notifiable incidents, although a later audit found 524 additional incidents had not been submitted for scrutiny, including collisions and accidents requiring hospitalisation. TWU said Uber has a history of failing to report serious incidents, including last year “when it covered up the death of an UberEats delivery rider killed on the job by claiming he was not working, despite the rider being logged in to Uber’s app and receiving order requests even after he’d died.” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the revelations show why federal regulation of the industry is the only way to prevent deaths and injuries “The safety breaches uncovered are serious, alarming in number, and put lives in danger, but the fine is a slap on the wrist that won’t even register a blip on the Uber balance sheet,” he said. “Federal government inaction has allowed Uber to act like there’s one set of rules for them, and another for everyone else. If any other employer breached their obligations over 500 times, they’d have the book thrown at them.” He concluded: “The solution is federal regulation with teeth which can get to the root causes of driver exploitation and poor safety conditions in the industry.” TWU news release
World Cup host Qatar has failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers in the past decade, according to a new report by Amnesty International. The human rights organisation said the majority of migrant worker deaths in Qatar are attributed to “natural causes”, cardiac or respiratory failure, noting these classifications are “meaningless” if the underlying cause of death goes unexplained. “In a well-resourced health system, it should be possible to identify the exact cause of death in all but 1 per cent of cases,” the report said. Qatar’s World Cup organising committee has reported 38 worker deaths on World Cup construction projects, of which 35 have been classified as “non-work-related”. However, Amnesty believes nearly half of these deaths have not been properly investigated or explained. “When relatively young and healthy men die suddenly after working long hours in extreme heat, it raises serious questions about the safety of working conditions in Qatar,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice. “In failing to investigate the underlying causes of migrant workers’ deaths, the Qatari authorities are ignoring warning signs which could, if addressed, save lives. This is a violation of the right to life.” The findings come as Qatar and the sport’s global governing body Fifa face growing pressure from footballers and national football associations to protect workers’ rights with just over a year to go until the World Cup begins. In February the Guardian revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers from south Asia had died in Qatar in the past decade. Amnesty International news release
and report, In the prime of their lives
, August 2021. UNI World Players Association
. The Guardian
A top US government agency has been accused of falsifying risk assessments for dangerous new chemicals in an effort to make the compounds appear safe so it can quickly approve them for commercial use, whistleblowers have charged. Over the past five years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not rejected any new chemicals submitted by industry despite agency scientists flagging dozens of compounds for high toxicity. Four EPA whistleblowers and industry watchdogs say a revolving door between the agency and chemical companies is to blame, and that the programme’s management has been “captured by industry”. The non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is representing the four scientists. “The depth of it is pretty horrifying,” said Kyla Bennett, PEER’s New England director. “I don’t sleep at night knowing what I know from the whistleblowers.” The charges also reveal how management has systematically undermined scientists while working to quickly rubber-stamp dangerous chemicals as safe for use by industry and in consumer products. The alterations to risk assessments mostly involved the deletion of health hazards without the authors’ knowledge after assessments were submitted. “We’re banking on the Biden administration doing the right thing by holding people accountable. We’re not 100 per cent confident that that’s going to happen, but we’re trying,” Bennett said. PEER news release
. The Guardian
and earlier report in The Intercept
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