Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.COVID NEWS Persuasion not coercion needed on NHS staff jabs Forced jab rule risks doing more harm than good NHS vaccine rule will add to 'crushing' staffing crisis Warning that double jab rule ‘risks care collapse’ Maskless PM in hospital visit as MP cases rise OTHER NEWS New protections needed to stop work surveillance Most journalists have faced threat and violence Tube staff face routine violence Action call after transport harassment reports rocket Teachers in safety strike at secure unit Gateshead teachers in safety strike New lorry driving rules risk road safety PM should apologise for “not unsafe” building comments Clyde naval base fire response dispute escalates INTERNATIONAL NEWS USA: Stats show workers hit hard by Covid USA: Amazon tried to break blue and white collar alliance PUBLICATION TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS
Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care staff should not be mandatory, Unite has reiterated. Commenting ahead of a 9 November announcement by health and social care secretary Sajid Javid that the UK government is to require all ‘frontline’ NHS staff in England to be fully vaccinated, the union said that persuasion and not coercion was the best way to drive up vaccination rates. Sajid Javid told MPs that he anticipated a deadline of the beginning of April to give 103,000 unvaccinated workers time to get both jabs. More than 93 per cent of NHS frontline staff have had their first dose and 90 per cent are fully vaccinated, Javid said. That is higher than the general working-age population, where about 81 per cent have had both doses. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “It has been Unite long-standing position that we don’t support mandatory vaccination for NHS staff or those working in social care – we believe that a campaign of persuasion of the benefits of the Covid vaccination is the best way to achieve maximum coverage. The NHS is already seeing a severe ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis with an estimated 90,000 vacancies and imposing a regime of mandatory vaccination will just exacerbate this crisis as we go into a very difficult winter for the health service with an exhausted staff still battling the continuing 21-month old pandemic.” He added “we want the government to reaffirm its commitment to keep everyone safe at work with preventive measures such as masks, social distance and proper ventilation. Infection in hospitals and community health settings have also been caused by poor procedures, lack of one-way systems and insufficient supply of the PPE required.” Unite news release
and submission to the DHSC consultation
. NHS Providers submission
. BBC News Online
. Evening Standard
. Morning Star
The UK government’s ‘sledgehammer approach’ to the vaccination of NHS staff risks doing more harm than good, the union UNISON has warned. Commenting on the announcement from health secretary Sajid Javid that all NHS staff in patient-facing roles will need to be Covid double jabbed by 1 April, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “This wasn’t something the government needed to do. The effective and supportive approach taken by NHS trusts has persuaded the overwhelming majority of health staff to have both Covid shots. Now this sledgehammer approach risks doing more harm than good. Without knowing what proportion of staff are covered by exemptions, creating a new law seems extreme. It will move effort and attention away from caring for Covid patients and clearing the backlog created by the pandemic.” She said the experience in the care sector should serve as a warning. “Forcing jabs in care homes has prompted an unprecedented staffing crisis. The government risks making the same mistake twice. Practical alternatives like daily testing used in other countries should have been considered,” she said. Under regulations that came into effect in July, the UK government set an 11 November deadline for care home workers in England to be double vaccinated. It is estimated 50,000 care home staff who have not had two doses will not be allowed to work after that date. UNISON news release
Compulsory health worker vaccination is a heavy-handed approach that risks exacerbating the already 'crushing' staffing crisis, the union GMB has said. Commenting on the mandatory NHS England staff vaccination plan announced by health secretary Sajid Javid, national officer Rachel Harrison said: “GMB is opposed to legally enforced medical procedures as a condition of employment - it's heavy-handed, rudimentary approach from the secretary of state. More holistic approaches should be explored and implemented - understanding and addressing the reasons for vaccine hesitancy amongst a relatively small portion of the health and social care workforce.” She added: “A large survey of GMB members across social care, ambulance and the NHS showed almost 60 per cent do not support making the vaccine compulsory, with up to 12 per cent of workers in some ambulance trusts unvaccinated. Bulldozing this vaccine will exacerbate the already crushing staffing crisis we face across the NHS and ambulance services. Both are operating under extreme pressures, after a decade of austerity and cuts, with an exhausted and demoralised workforce who are fearful of what is to come as we head through winter.” The GMB officer warned: “Staff are already leaving their employment and this will certainly force many more to go, as we are currently witnessing in adult residential social care as a result of this legislative change to their employment.” GMB news release
. The Guardian
Care homes face closure if the government persists with draconian plans to sack care staff who aren’t doubled vaccinated, UNISON has warned. The union says the ‘no jab, no job’ policy risks the collapse of care companies, and needless upset for thousands of elderly residents and their families. UK government regulations introduced in July mean after 11 November care staff in England will be banned from entering care homes unless they are double jabbed. On 9 November, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid announced the double-jab rule will be extended and apply to all domiciliary care workers from 1 April. UNISON said it believes mandatory vaccination should be scrapped or the deadline for care home staff put back to next April. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care have employers warned of the dire consequences of a draconian approach. The staffing crisis will become a catastrophe for a sector already on its knees. Some homes may have to close if care staff are barred from their jobs. The upheaval and distress caused to many elderly residents and their families would be disastrous.” The UNISON leader added: “Forcing the vaccine on care staff is an own goal by the government. Take-up rates will only increase with persuasion, not punishment.” Mandatory vaccination regulations don’t apply to care homes elsewhere in the UK. UNISON news release
and related news release
Boris Johnson appeared maskless during a visit to a hospital on 8 November despite fears that Covid is spreading around parliament, with 114 people catching the virus on the Palace of Westminster estate in the past month. The prime minister was seen walking along a corridor in Hexham hospital in Northumberland and posing for pictures alongside medical staff, all wearing surgical masks. The prime minister’s office said Johnson followed the guidelines set by the local NHS trust. A source said Johnson had just left a meeting where he was speaking, was not in a clinical area, and put a mask on shortly afterwards. Safety measures have been gradually reintroduced to the House of Commons (Risks 1020
), and more Tory MPs have begun wearing face coverings in the chamber, though some frontbenchers – including the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the chief whip, Mark Spencer – remained maskless during an 8 November debate. An internal memo seen by the Guardian confirmed there were 114 cases “with links to the estate” found between 4 October and 5 November. Mike Clancy, general secretary of the union Prospect union, commented: “The number of cases directly linked to the estate is worrying but we’ve been warning for some time that poor enforcement or observation of the rules, particularly amongst MPs, would result in a spike in infections” (Risks 1013
). He added that “everyone should be wearing a mask and practising social distancing to protect themselves and parliament staff. MPs should be leading by example on this.” The Guardian
. The Herald
Almost one in three (32 per cent) workers are now being monitored at work - up from a quarter (24 per cent) just six months ago in April, research for the union Prospect has found. This work surveillance includes a doubling of the use of camera monitoring in people’s homes, with 13 per cent of home workers currently being monitored by cameras compared to 5 per cent six months ago. The polling, which was conducted by respected pollster Opinium, also found that 80 per cent of workers thought that the use of webcams to monitor remote workers should either be banned (52 per cent) or heavily regulated (28 per cent), with only 8 per cent of workers thinking that employers should be allowed to decide unilaterally when to use cameras to monitor people working in their own homes. The finding comes as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is reviewing guidance to employers on the use of new technologies such as monitoring. Prospect has launched a new sector for tech workers and said it “is putting the issue of surveillance front and centre in the drive to unionise the sector, alongside other issues such as discrimination at work, long hours culture, and pay.” Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “We think that we need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agree with us.” He added: “Prospect’s new tech workers sector will be campaigning on this issue and other issues affecting tech workers, and I encourage any workers who are worried about monitoring to join Prospect and support our campaign.” Prospect news release
and release on new tech sector
. Union News
Four in five journalists have experienced threats and violence at work, a UK government survey has found. The situation was worse for women, the survey suggested, with over one in three female respondents reporting they do not feel safe operating as a journalist in the UK. The findings came in response to a call for evidence on journalist safety from the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Commenting on the findings, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This evidence demonstrates that much more needs to be done to tackle the growing scourge of harassment and attacks against journalists. The action plan endorsed this year by the government’s National Committee for the Safety of Journalists is a vital part of that work. We need a cultural change to stop this abuse and unacceptable behaviour from being normalised – this is not, and must not be allowed to become, part of a journalist’s job.” The NUJ leader added: “No worker should have to contend with threats of violence and intimidation. We want to see a zero-tolerant approach, with greater reporting, better policing and robust sentencing, to protect journalists and journalism.” The call for evidence report concluded: “The evidence confirms that further research is required to build a more robust picture of the issues covered in this Call for Evidence, including analysis of experiences across demographic and other characteristics, and to track change over time.” NUJ news release
. Call for evidence report
, Home Office/DCMS, November 2021.
Over threequarters (76 per cent) of staff in public facing roles on London’s Underground and Transport for London (TfL) rail networks have been subjected to violence at work since the pandemic began, according to an RMT survey, with half of these reporting that it has happened multiple times. The results of the survey, published in a new union report and including testimony from frontline workers, reveal that more than half of staff reported being threatened with physical violence, 28 per cent reported being racially harassed, 14 per cent reported being spat at or targeted with bodily fluids and 7 per cent had been sexually assaulted. Sixty per cent of the staff responding to the survey said they believed that violence had got worse since the pandemic with the biggest reasons given being the reduced presence of British Transport Police (BTP), the failure to take action against perpetrators, the responsibility on staff to enforce Covid guidelines and cuts to station staffing. RMT said a ‘massive’ 82 per cent were clear that the government’s mixed messaging around the lifting of Covid restrictions had made the situation worse for staff. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch commented: “Life on the frontline of London’s transport has got harder and more dangerous for the keyworkers who have kept the capital moving during the Covid crisis.” He added: “We need a total sea change in attitudes toward staff in which we see them as central to rebuilding passenger confidence and to creating a safer working and travelling environment. We need all parties to wake up. The government needs to take its foot off London’s neck and properly fund its transport system and TfL need to start to see staff as an asset, not a cost.” RMT news release
. Violence against London Underground, Overground and TfL staff during the Coronavirus pandemic
, RMT policy brief, 9 November 2021.
A huge increase in reports of sexual harassment across public transport networks since the start of the pandemic shows urgent action is necessary, transport and travel union TSSA has said. The union was commenting after new statistics from the British Transport Police (BTP) revealed that reports of sexual harassment on public transport have increased by 63 per cent in summer 2021 compared to the same pre-pandemic period two years earlier. BTP received 421 reports of harassment between April and October, up from 259 over the same period in 2019. TSSA organising director Lorraine Ward said: “These figures are shocking and should be a wake-up call to police and transport authorities across the country. Women in particular need to feel safe when using our public transport networks and these figures will be alarming to many. Transport staff need to be part of the solution to tackling all forms of crime on our transport networks. Staffing cuts at BTP and among station staff is counter-productive to safety and should be reversed.” She added: “We’re calling on BTP, train operators and transport authorities – including Transport for London – to provide training and support for staff and to take action in real time to aid reporting and conviction rates.” TSSA represents staff working at BTP and across rail and public transport operators. TSSA news release
. BBC News Online
. Morning Star
Teachers at a Nottingham secure unit have taken strike action over ‘adverse management practices’, including the failure to deal with poor pupil behaviour which the union NASUWT says is affecting the health, safety and wellbeing of its members. Commenting on the treatment of teaching staff at Clayfields House Secure Unit, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “We have been seeking to work with the employer for over a year to address the issues of concern of members in relation to their health and safety and their working conditions. However, the employer has not fully addressed all of their concerns despite having more than enough time to do so.” He added: “Every teacher should have the right to work in safety and to feel safe in their place of work; however the employer is failing in its duty of care to staff. The employer must now commit to working constructively with us to address these matters and to bring this dispute to an end for the good of both staff and pupils.” Anne Thompson, NASUWT’s national executive member for Nottingham, said the strike action was ‘a last resort’, adding: “The NASUWT urges the employer to take the actions necessary to protect the safety and welfare of staff and resolve this dispute. Members have been extremely patient with the employer and have suggested reasonable measures which would help to ensure their safety and address poor pupil behaviour.” NASUWT news release
. Nottingham Post
Teachers at Furrowfield School in Gateshead have started strike action over adverse management practices they say are adversely affecting staff. The NASUWT members say they have been subjected to poor management practices which are impacting on their health, safety and wellbeing. They have faced what they describe as ‘intimidatory and bullying practices’ and attempts to undermine their employment entitlements. Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The issues faced by our members are incredibly serious, the employer needs to recognise this and work with the NASUWT to address members’ concerns. By doing this we can get round the table, avoid further strike action and address the situation for the benefit of staff and pupils.” John Hall, NASUWT national executive member for the North East, said: “We urge the employer to take the actions necessary that are needed to protect our members’ wellbeing and help resolve this dispute. They now need to see concrete action and a significant change of approach from the employer which demonstrates that staff wellbeing is being taken seriously.” NASUWT news release
The UK government’s decision to press ahead with a relaxation of the rules on consecutive deliveries or pick-ups by overseas drivers risks the safety of all road users, Unite has warned. In an attempt to lessen the problems caused by a shortage of lorry drivers, the Department for Transport has relaxed the rules on foreign lorries making deliveries and collecting goods in the UK. Previously, European Union drivers were restricted to making just two collections or deliveries before having to leave Great Britain. Under the government’s relaxation of the rules to be in place until 30 April 2022, lorry drivers from anywhere in the world can be sent to the UK for 14 days to make unrestricted collections and deliveries. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is yet another example of the government using a short-term fix rather than developing long-term solutions to the shortage of lorry drivers in the UK.” She added: “The drivers involved are at extreme risk of being exploited with absolutely no protection under UK law. It could also undercut rates for UK lorry drivers. So the relaxing of the rules won’t be a temporary solution, in fact it could end up creating even more difficulties for the industry.” During this relaxation period, a driver from outside the UK can operate under a reduced weekly rest period so can legally be allowed to live in their lorry for the entire period that they are in the UK and still comply with driving regulations. Unite national officer Adrian Jones commented: “The government is playing a dangerous game. Lorry drivers from throughout the world can now be forced to work in the UK with no effective checks on whether their vehicles are safe or if they are obeying driving regulations. The government’s actions are also risking the safety of all road users.” Unite news release
and news release on lorry driver professional competency (CPC) reforms.
The prime minister should apologise for saying buildings caught up in the cladding crisis are “not unsafe”, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union said the comments, made “apparently without justification”, came at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on 3 November. The union said the victims of the building crisis – caused by dangerous cladding which has left many homes potentially unsafe and unsaleable - are “in a position of unnecessary anxiety”. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The prime minister’s comments are dangerous. Buildings that continue to be affected by this crisis are far from safe: as this year’s Providence Wharf fire showed, even buildings with waking watches can pose a severe danger to life. Any anxiety over this situation is utterly justified, and to suggest anything else is an insult to victims of this crisis.” He said the prime minister’s comments “run the risk of slowing down progress on remediating these buildings, progress his government should be driving forward but has not. That’s left hundreds of thousands of people in fear of dying in a fire, and many of those facing life-changing debt. The prime minister should apologise for and retract his comments at once.” FBU said it has campaigned for an end to the building safety crisis, on the grounds of the threat it poses to both the public and to firefighters who may be called to attend fires in affected buildings. FBU news release
Unite members working for Capita Business Services Ltd at HM Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde have raised ‘safety critical’ concerns over the effectiveness of fire response cover as workers take part in strike action. The workers, who provide onsite fire cover for both Faslane and Coulport naval bases, have been involved in an overtime ban since 16 September, and 6-hour strike action on various days since 19 October. During these periods of industrial action, HMNB Clyde firefighters have raised concerns over the ‘resilience crews’ brought in to cover. The union members warn they “may not have the competencies to deal with unique safety critical assets, and risks related to maritime firefighting and nuclear radiation.” Unite said the ongoing dispute over job cuts and health and safety with Capita is the result of a 15 per cent cut in specialist fire safety crew at Coulport and Faslane. Capita won the contract in 2020 for fire response services from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Capita should be under no illusions that Unite is determined to fight to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of our members. So, these workers will have the full force of Unite behind them as they seek to protect not only workers on the bases but local communities.” Unite industrial officer Debbie Hutchings said the union was seeking assurances over the standards of training expected on site. “If we do not receive these assurances then it opens up the real possibility that not only has safety been compromised at the nuclear bases but that it has in fact been permitted by the MOD,” she said. Unite news release
While furloughs and the economic slowdown caused by Covid led to a fall in reported workplace injuries in the US, there was a massive rise in work-related illnesses, official government statistics show. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) newly released ‘Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses 2020’ shows private industry employers reported a 5.8 per cent decrease in the number of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020, compared with 2019. There were 2.7 million injuries and illnesses in 2020 compared to 2.8 million in 2019. By contrast, the number of workplace illnesses in 2020 quadrupled to 544,600 cases, up from 127,200 cases in 2019. BLS notes: “This increase was driven by a nearly 4,000 per cent increase in employer reported respiratory illness cases in 2020 at 428,700, up from 10,800 in 2019.” Under the US reporting rules, Covid is listed as a respiratory illness. While the rate of injury cases decreased in 2020, from 2.6 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers to 2.2 cases in 2020, the rate of illness cases increased from 12.4 cases per 10,000 FTE workers to 55.9 cases. The increase in the illness rate was driven by the rise in the respiratory illness rate, which rose from 1.1 cases per 10,000 workers to 44.0 cases. There were 1,176,340 non-fatal injuries and illnesses that caused a private industry worker to miss at least one day of work in 2020, 32.4 per cent higher than in 2019. Of these cases, 33.2 per cent (390,020 cases) were categorised as other diseases due to viruses not elsewhere classified, which includes reported Covid-19-pandemic related illnesses.
US Department of Labor BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 2020
, 3 November 2021. Confined Space
Amazon tried to break the alliance formed between warehouse workers and white-collar staff by firing two tech employees who protested at Amazon’s poor treatment of workers in fulfilment centres during the Covid-19 crisis, according to an internal memo from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). “In an act of classic collective action, the [fired workers] boldly led hundreds of highly skilled tech employees with demonstrated power to join forces with the warehouse movement, comprised of thousands of employees who have remained largely voiceless thus far,” according to the legal memo issued by the advice division of the NRLB and obtained by Bloomberg Law. The legal memorandum directed the US federal labour agency to issue a formal complaint against Amazon. Amazon terminated Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham soon after they helped organise an Amazon Employees for Climate Justice virtual townhall to discuss warehouse workers’ concerns (Risks 944
). The pair had also supported petitions among tech staff and other actions to improve conditions in the company’s warehouses. “Amazon’s take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with criticism is not new, and workers from around the world trying to organise unions know this well,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the global union UNI. “Solidarity doesn’t scare easily, and Amazon will not break workers’ alliances.” The NLRB also issued a complaint accusing Amazon of unlawfully applying its external communications and solicitation policies to restrict the two tech workers’ rights to collective action to improve working conditions. UNI news release
. NLRB legal memo
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