Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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



TUC warns of huge Covid class divide

The coronavirus crisis has been “a tale of two pandemics”, the TUC has said. The union body wants an urgent “economic reset” to tackle the huge class divide in Britain exposed by the pandemic. New research from the TUC reveals how low-income workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic with little or no option to work from home, no or low sick pay and reduced living standards, while better-off workers have enjoyed greater flexibility with work, financial stability and increased spending power. The TUC polling, conducted by Britain Thinks, identified a stark pandemic class divide with the high-paid more financially comfortable than before, but the low-paid thrust into financial difficulty. The polling also showed low-paid workers are four times more likely than high-paid workers to say they cannot afford to take time off work when sick (24 per cent compared to six per cent). Only a third (35 per cent) of low-paid workers say they get full pay when off sick compared to an overwhelming majority of high-paid workers (80 per cent). The TUC has long been calling for an increase to statutory sick pay from a “derisory” £96.35 a week, and from which more than two million low-paid workers – mostly women - are currently excluded because they do not earn enough to qualify. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Without fundamental change, the government’s own levelling up agenda will be doomed to failure. And we risk repeating the same old mistakes of the past decade – allowing insecure work to spiral even further. Ministers must start by banning zero hours contracts, raising the minimum wage with immediate effect and increasing statutory sick pay to a real Living Wage, making it available to all.”
TUC news release. The Guardian. More on the hazards of low pay.

Don’t delay Covid surge prevention

The UK government must not wait until it’s too late to bring back mask wearing and social distancing to prevent a new Covid surge, the union UNISON has said. The union was commenting on the government’s winter coronavirus plan for England, outlined by Sajid Javid and prime minister Boris Johnson on 14 September. The health secretary said Covid restrictions including face coverings and a recommendation to work from home could return under its ‘Plan B’ if the virus gets “out of control” again this year. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Making mask wearing optional back in the summer was a mistake. The government was too hasty to scrap this and other sensible safety precautions like social distancing.” She added: “Health workers are having to cope with the backlog and rising Covid hospital admissions. Their struggle is made worse by having too few staff, all worn out from their previous pandemic efforts. They’re hugely dedicated individuals, but they’re not superhuman. It’s the same picture in social care. Ministers must not wait for infections to spiral before bringing back masks and social distancing rules. The government must also make recruitment in the NHS and care much more of a priority to help both services through the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.”
UNISON news release. Prime Minister’s Office news release. BBC News Online and earlier report. Daily Mail. The Guardian.

Pupil vaccinations is another ‘useful tool’

The decision by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers to encourage the take up of vaccinations by 12- to 15-year-olds will be another tool to help pupils sustain their access to education throughout the autumn and winter – but should be complemented by other mitigating measures, teaching union NEU has said. Commenting on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Schools must be given timely and clear guidance for the next steps. It is an NHS responsibility to carry out vaccinations on school sites, though schools are used to being sites for the vaccination programme. And it is incumbent on the Department for Education to make clear and usable procedures for the necessary parental consent. This is not the time for yet more incoherent guidance from government.” She added: “While vaccination is not needed generally to protect children and young people from severe illness, it will suppress transmission, but it is not the only story. There is still an important role for other mitigations, particularly ventilation and face coverings. So far government have been slow to roll out the promised CO2 monitors which will at least help schools and colleges to identify where ventilation is poor.” 
NEU news release.

EIS welcomes pupil vaccination move

Scottish teaching union EIS has welcomed a recommendation by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) that young people aged between 12 and 15 should be offered a Covid vaccination. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS welcomes this decision by the CMOs as the latest step in the battle against coronavirus. Offering the vaccine to young people in the 12 to 15 age group will make secondary schools safer by reducing the risk of the virus spreading through school communities and will help reduce the level of disruption to education.” Commenting on the situation in Scotland, he said: “In the few short weeks since our schools returned after the summer, we have already seen significant outbreaks in some school communities. This has led to an increase in enforced absences from school, with record numbers of students and staff forced to stay at home due to coronavirus. Rolling out the availability of the vaccines to a wider group of young people will reduce the risk of further outbreaks linked to schools and help ensure that education provision can continue on as normal a basis as possible.”
EIS news release. BBC News Online.

Unite opposes mandatory vaccinations for care staff

Unite has ‘strongly reiterated’ its opposition to any health and social care worker being forced to have the Covid vaccine or risk losing their job. The union said that it would be making a ‘robust’ submission in response to the UK government’s six-week consultation, which started on 9 September, into mandatory vaccination for frontline health and care staff in England. Commenting on the ‘no jab, no job’ consultation, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Unite strongly opposes forcing any health and social care workers to have a vaccine or risk sacrificing their job. Encouragement, not compulsion, is the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the very good reason that such an approach is shown to work.” He added: “During the consultation period, we will be widely canvassing the views of our members and be making a robust submission to ministers.” Unite’s January 2021 position statement on Covid-19 vaccinations notes: “Unite in health strongly recommends the voluntary uptake of the vaccine when offered for all health and social care workers unless their individual circumstances dictate otherwise.”
Unite news release and position statement on vaccinations. DHSC news release.
Open consultation: Making vaccination a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sector, DHSC, 9 September 2021. Closes 11.45pm on 22 October 2021.

Long Covid should be ‘recognised as a disability’

The Scottish government should campaign for long Covid to be legally recognised as a disability under the Equality Act of 2010, teaching union NASUWT has said. The union says at least 81,000 people in Scotland are estimated to be living with long Covid, with teachers and education support staff the second most likely profession to be affected, only just behind healthcare workers. It wants the Scottish administration to press the UK government to introduce an entitlement to reasonable adjustments, flexible working, access to ill-health retirement and financial compensation for teachers left unable to teach as a result of contracting Covid at work. It says this type of compensation already exists for NHS workers whose careers have been prematurely ended by long Covid. NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “We are calling on the Scottish government to support our push for long Covid to be recognised as a disability under the Equality Act, which will secure legal protections, support and reasonable adjustments at work for teachers living with the condition. Legislation needs to catch up and ministers need to put legal provisions and protections in place to recognise and support those impacted by long Covid.”
NASUWT news release.

Union hits out at ‘pandemic profiteers’

It is ‘frankly insulting’ that Amazon’s key UK business paid just £3.8m more corporation tax last year than in 2019 when its sales increased by £1.89bn, the union GMB has said. Accounts filed at Companies House last week show that the corporation tax contribution of Amazon UK Services – the group’s warehouse and logistics operation, thought to employ the majority of the group’s UK workforce – was £18.3m in the year to December 2020, up 26 per cent from £14.5m a year before. Profits at the division rose by a quarter over the same period to £128m, while sales soared by 64 per cent to £4.85bn. GMB has said despite the global retailer making large profits, Amazon workers have continued to suffer high levels of injuries and other employment abuses. GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “Thousands of businesses across the UK have folded during the pandemic. Yet despite making billions from lockdown shopping, and trousering millions in government contracts and subsidies, Amazon has paid a frankly insulting amount of tax back into Treasury coffers. At the same time Amazon workers suffer unsafe, dehumanising work practices; breaking bones, falling unconscious and being taken away in ambulances.” The GMB officer said: “Ministers must get a grip of this runaway company and make sure pandemic profiteers pay more.”
GMB news release. The Guardian.

Abandoned Test match shows Covid is costly

Last week’s last-minute cancellation of the fifth cricket international between England and India “due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid cases” in the Indian camp, shows the damaging effect the virus can still have on any organisation or business and across the value chain, safety professionals’ organisation IOSH has said. The England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed only two hours before the final match in the Test series was due to start that it had been cancelled as India was unable to field a team. It came days after IOSH had warned firms to “not let their guard down” to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t spread through workplaces (Risks 1013). Ruth Wilkinson, head of health and safety at IOSH, said the abandoned Test underlined the “serious impact Covid cases can have, not just on people’s health and wellbeing, which is paramount, but also in terms of their ability to work, to work safely and the impacts on productivity, lost revenue and corporate reputation.” She added: “These are bottom-line as well as moral and social issues that could hit any organisation or business, not just high-profile cricket and sports teams, and so employers and organisations must continue to ensure they have robust measures in place to prevent and manage transmission of the virus to protect people.”
IOSH news release. England and Wales Cricket Board official statement.

Unions praise DVLA safety strikers

PCS members who have been engaged in sustained strike action at the DVLA to make their workplace safe have been congratulated at the TUC Congress. PCS president Fran Heathcote called on Congress to support the campaign for a full independent investigation into events at the DVLA, which the union says allowed a mass Covid-19 outbreak to develop, involving more than 700 cases and one death. The PCS president told the TUC Congress: “The situation at DVLA is indicative of the government’s disastrous handling of the pandemic, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of workers and millions of Covid-19 infections, which have, and could, lead to serious long-term illness. Key workers have been most at risk and most disproportionately detrimentally affected by the pandemic.” She was scathing on the role played by transport secretary Grant Shapps, who has described the strike as pointless. “It is pointless to him because he does not have to go into a workplace, getting Covid, or long-term conditions or in one case paying the ultimate price,” she said. “It is not pointless to our members who actually believe only striking kept them safe. It is not pointless to staff fearing another autumn of rising cases over 100.”
PCS news release.


TUC welcomes Labour’s ‘new deal’ on rights

The TUC has welcomed Labour pledges to extend sick pay to all and raise it, ban zero hours contracts and deliver day one rights for workers. Keir Starmer praised the role played by union safety reps and told the TUC’s Congress that increased sick pay and stronger workers’ rights would form part of a “new deal” for employment under Labour. The Labour leader told Congress: “Labour’s new deal will provide that security by ensuring basic rights for all workers from day one in the job: including holiday pay; protection from unfair dismissal; and guaranteed sick pay.” He added: “We have one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe. That’s not good enough, so as well as guaranteeing sick pay, Labour’s new deal will increase it as well.” Starmer also paid tribute to the “health and safety reps across the union movement, who have been indispensable, ensuring safety at work at a time when guidance from the government has been confused and contradictory.” Welcoming the new commitment from Labour, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Keir Starmer is right to focus on dignity at work. This pandemic has exposed the inequality and insecurity at the heart of our labour market.” She added: “No-one should be pushed into financial hardship if they fall ill at work. Keir today promised that the next Labour government will increase statutory sick pay and make sure everyone has access to it - including the lowest-paid workers. During the pandemic, too many couldn’t afford to self-isolate because sick pay is too low or they aren’t eligible for it at all. This badly undermined our public health effort during Covid. It’s great to see Keir backing a ban on zero hours contracts and calling for workers across the country to get day one rights at work.”
Keir Starmer’s speech to TUC Congress 2021. TUC news release and TUC Congress 2021. TSSA news release. Usdaw news release. UNISON news release. Evening Standard.

Physio gets TUC Safety Rep Award 2021

The TUC has recognised the outstanding achievements of dedicated union reps who stepped up to the challenges of the pandemic. Among the 2021 awardees announced at this week’s at TUC Congress is Katrina Humphreys who received the TUC Safety Rep Award. Noting she was ‘humbled’ to receive the accolade, Katrina added: “The important of having a trade union workplace is about collective action. We can do great things if we do things together. I became a trade unionist to allow equality and diversity and particularly safety in the workplace. Safety was the biggest thing for me.” The CSP safety rep said: “There are so many things that can happen to staff in a workplace that don’t need to happen. We have laws and regulations to allow us to minimise health and safety risk all of the time and we don’t use them enough. And managers who quite often have been physios themselves in the past don’t understand those regulations.” She noted: “Winning this award has made me feel a little bit overwhelmed to be honest, humbled, because I feel like I’m just doing my job.”
TUC Congress Award Winners 2021 announcement and video.

Concerns over fast-track HGV driver testing

Proposals to fast-track drivers into the haulage industry are political rather than practical and lack substantial public scrutiny and union consultation, civil service union PCS has warned. The union was commenting after transport secretary Grant Shapps told parliament that the Class C test used for rigid lorries and Class E test for larger articulated lorries would be combined into a single test. Currently, there is usually a 2-3 week minimum period between taking the two tests. PCS said it believes there are major concerns with health and safety and fears this could lead to more road deaths. The union said the problem has been caused mainly by a pause in driver training related to Covid-19. It added while there is a backlog, this could be managed by prioritising HGV testing over standard driving tests. A union statement noted: “We are concerned that the increase in testing could impact on our members’ health and safety and well-being, with similar concerns to those that we are currently balloting driving examiner and test centre manager members over – the introduction of an eighth test to the schedule for car tests.” PCS added that there had been no consultation with the union on the proposals. “This change is more political than practical, more about saving face for transport minister Grant Shapps, a knee-jerk reaction and too little too late,” the PCS statement said.
PCS news release.

Safety body warns of worker shortage dangers

Employers coping with staff shortages must not ‘sleepwalk’ into a health and safety nightmare, a to safety body has warned. Safety professionals’ organisation IOSH was commenting after latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed UK job vacancies hit a record high of 1 million last month. IOSH warned the protection of workers must not be compromised in the drive to maintain productivity levels. The safety body has drawn up a dedicated ‘checklist’ for those businesses and workers who are facing worker shortages, covering issues including risk assessments, safe systems of work, resource planning and communication. “Worker shortages do not and should not mean worker neglect,” said IOSH’s Ryan Exley. “The last thing we want is to see any employer dealing with worker shortages ‘sleepwalking’ into some health and safety nightmare scenario, where ‘getting by’ with a reduced workforce then morphs into a ‘new normal’ that puts their people in long-term danger. Continuing to operate with fewer workers may maximise profits but could build up pressure to cut corners and compromise on safety, seriously damaging workers’ mental health in the meantime.”
IOSH news release and checklist. ONS statistics release, 14 September 2021. BBC News Online.

Huge care staffing crisis hurts mental health

The UK government’s failure to deal with the growing staffing crisis in social care risks worsening the mounting mental health toll on workers, UNISON has warned. Staffing problems are likely to become more acute in the coming few weeks as thousands of care workers leave their jobs because of new compulsory vaccine rules, the union said. It added recruitment problems caused by low pay, Brexit and increased competition for employees in the post-lockdown economy, are putting even more pressure on those care workers who remain. As evidence, the union points to its survey of more than 4,000 staff working in care homes and delivering care in communities across the UK. More than eight in ten (85 per cent) of those who had experienced mental health deterioration since the start of the pandemic said their work had been a factor. In addition to an overhaul of the sector to sort out chronic understaffing and endemic low pay, UNISON is calling for an immediate increase in support for care workers’ wellbeing, which it said staff must be able to access directly. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care workers have been through the mill these past 18 months… They’ve been terrified about becoming sick themselves or taking the virus home to their families. Many have struggled financially because of the absence of proper sick pay.” She added: “Despite the prime minister’s promise to fix social care, there is still no plan. With the sector facing the abyss and thousands of staff down with others leaving all the time, more must be done to support those that remain in post.”
UNISON news release and related release. Prime Minister’s Office news release.

Retail union hopes for shopworker law

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed interventions from Labour frontbenchers urging the UK government to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a protection of shopworkers law. Responding to the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill second reading debate in the Lords on 14 September, where several Labour peers urged the government to act, Home Office minister Baroness Williams said “the government has agreed to actively consider whether legislative change is necessary and to bring forward any proposal if it is.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis, noting the call for a new law had received cross party support, commented: “We are grateful to the Labour frontbench for continuing to pursue the protection of shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse. We again urge the government to bring forward a substantial measure that delivers much needed protections. When retail employers, leading retail bodies, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the shopworkers’ trade union jointly call for legislation, it is time for the government to listen.” He added: “In Scotland, MSPs voted through a new ground-breaking law to give shopworkers the protection they deserve, which came into force last month. We are now looking for the House of Lords to similarly support key workers across the retail sector, who regularly suffer violence and abuse.”
Usdaw news release. Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – second reading.  

Firefighters mark 9/11 twentieth anniversary

UK firefighters and emergency fire control staff commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy last week, with a minute’s silence at fire service workplaces across the country. UK firefighters’ union FBU said the disaster holds particular poignancy for firefighters and emergency fire control staff, as 343 out of the 412 emergency workers killed on the day were firefighters. Many more firefighters have since suffered and some died from diseases linked to toxic substances present at ground zero. Other health issues connected to the tragedy have also affected many firefighters. Extending solidarity and sympathy to the families, friends and co-workers of the dead, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack added: “It’s also worth noting that 9/11 is continuing to kill firefighters today. Toxic contaminants present at ground zero have likely caused disease in thousands of firefighters, and killed hundreds. Authorities in every country need to be conscious of the constant threat of contaminants to firefighters. We mourn the firefighters who have passed away as a result of this aspect of 9/11, and extend our sympathies to those who are suffering today.” FBU said toxic contaminants causing disease in firefighters is an issue on both sides of the Atlantic. The union has just launched a DECON campaign, which aims to train firefighters in techniques which will mitigate the effect of these contaminants (Risks 1013).
FBU news release, DECON training and cancer and disease registry.

Anti-vaxers hid razor blades in rail posters

Transport union RMT has called for the strongest possible action against the “anti-vaxers and Covid conspiracy theorists” accused of lacing their posters with razor blades in order to injure anyone trying to remove them. The union has raised the issue formally with Transport for London (TfL) and warning bulletins highlighting the danger of injury have been issued to staff by TfL. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Any anti-vax conspiracy theorist resorting to this disgusting practice of lacing their propaganda with razor blades needs to know that they will face criminal prosecution and the highest possible sentences. As far as RMT is concerned they should be locked up for a long time. We would expect the police and the courts to take the hardest possible line.” A TfL spokesperson commented: “The safety of our customers and colleagues is paramount and we have issued guidance to our staff on how to remove them safely after reports of instances outside of our network of razor blades being attached to the back of such materials.” A safety alert including this guidance, headed ‘Blades found in anti-Covid posters’, has been posted by TfL at underground stations.
RMT news release. Evening Standard. The Guardian.


Australia: ‘Management culture’ behind mining harassment

Representatives of the joint union Western Mineworkers Alliance (WMWA) have told a West Australia government inquiry into sexual harassment in the mining industry that the problem is endemic. WMWA representatives Brad Gandy of the Australian Workers’ Union and Greg Busson of the mining and energy union told the inquiry a recent Alliance survey found 1-in-5 women reported they had experienced physical acts of sexual assaults, with the same proportion saying they had been explicitly or implicitly offered career advancement or benefits in return for sexual favours. The WMWA is calling on the state government to establish an independent expert body, funded by industry and involving industry and union stakeholders, to oversee management of sexual harassment claims, so workers can bring forward complaints without fear of retaliation or blacklisting by site management. WMWA’s Greg Busson said mining management needed to step up and take responsibility. He noted: “Mining companies can point to the token efforts they’ve taken to weed out this behaviour. But our members know that if they raise issues, they will be moved on in one way or another. If they’re a permanent employee, they will not be able to advance in their careers. And if they’re a casual, the mining companies and the labour hire firms will blacklist them altogether.”
AWU news release. WMWA submission.

Global: Teleperformance job may have killed worker

For eight years, Glen Palaje worked at a Teleperformance call centre in Quezon City, Philippines. When he became sick with Covid in August 2020 - which his family and colleagues say he caught at on the job - his years of service were rewarded with “neglect,” according to one co-worker. The 50-year-old died soon after he contracted the virus. The Washington Post reports that Teleperformance’s on-site clinic did not provide a coronavirus test, and because of the company’s “No Work, No Pay” policy, Palaje could not afford to go sick. “The workers are afraid of being found to be sick — like they’d be abandoned if they were,” his daughter said. In April 2020, the Financial Times found “subhuman” conditions at Teleperformance’s Philippine operations. These conditions, in part, led the global union UNI to file an OECD complaint alleging Teleperformance violated workers’ right to a safer workplace during the pandemic across its global operations. In response to UNI’s filing, the French National Contact Point to the OECD issued a powerful set of recommendations - many singling out the Philippines - including that Teleperformance strengthen its health and safety due diligence and cooperate with social partners such as unions and workers’ groups (Risks 1008). “Teleperformance should listen to workers, to unions, and to the French NCP to create a workplace that is truly safe and where employee rights are respected,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI general secretary. “UNI is willing to sit down with Teleperformance to chart a way forward.”
UNI news release. Washington Post.

USA: Government union expects to bargain on vaccines

US federal workers’ union AFGE has said it expects to bargain with agencies following the 9 September White House announcement of new Covid-19 workforce protocols. President Biden said under new rules government employees should either be vaccinated or be required to undergo regular testing. AFGE is urging members to get vaccinated. “The data are clear. Getting vaccinated isn’t just the best way for us to end this pandemic, it is the best way for us to protect each other in the workplace,” said AFGE president Everett Kelley. But a union statement said vaccine policy should be negotiated, not imposed, noting “workers deserve to have a voice in all those areas that are negotiable, including procedures and appropriate arrangements - none of which should violate the provisions of any existing AFGE contract.” It added: “Our position on the need to negotiate around these new provisions has not changed. Our union expects any necessary bargaining to take place prior to implementation, and we urge every AFGE member and federal worker who is able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.” President Biden’s announcement’s would also require workers at large companies to be vaccinated or face weekly testing. The president said he had directed the US Department of Labor to require all private businesses with 100 or more staff to mandate the jab or request proof of a negative coronavirus test from employees at least once a week.
President Biden’s remarks. AFGE news release. AFL-CIO statement. New York Times. BBC News Online. The Hill.

USA: California law to protect workers from algorithms

US labour rights experts and workers praised the passage of a first-of-its-kind bill in California aimed at empowering warehouse employees at Amazon and other companies that use algorithms to enforce work quotas — often pushing them to skip breaks and work unsafely in order to “make rate.” The new law, Assembly Bill 701, will require companies to disclose to the government and to their employees the quotas that are used to track productivity, prohibit penalties for “time off-task,” and bar companies from retaliating against workers who complain about the metrics used. Workers would also be empowered to sue companies that continue to use quotas if they keep employees from taking bathroom breaks and following safety guidelines, a problem widely reported at Amazon’s fulfilment centres in the US and abroad. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez told The New York Times that in writing the legislation, she aimed to take on “this increased use of quotas and discipline based on not meeting the quotas, without a human factor in dealing with a reason why a worker might not make a quota.” Dr Beth Gutelius, research director at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois Chicago, told the Times that it is “unprecedented for a bill to intervene like this in the ways that technology is used in the workplace.”
California Assembly Bill No.701. Truthout. New York Times.


TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

Stock Code: HS111
Price £22 RRP £52
Also now available as an eBook
This is the Sixth edition of the TUC's best-selling guide to health and safety at work.
Used by reps, officers, employers, professionals in the field and even enforcement officers. This incredibly popular book is now even more informative at over 400 pages, an invaluable resource, which incorporates common hazards and cause of ill health at work, and how to assess and prevent them.
The book also contains HSE and other guidance, extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.
Order your copy
There are discounts on bulk orders, over 5 copies, please contact us for details.
Those on TUC approved courses can receive discount, please call for details 0207 467 1294. Or email at;


Courses for 2021

Find the latest courses at
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
View our privacy policy
Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now