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



Government to drop NHS no jab, no job plan

The UK government is suspending the Covid vaccine mandate for NHS and care staff, Sajid Javid has said. Speaking to the Commons on 31 January, the health secretary said he believes the requirement, which was opposed by health unions, is 'no longer proportionate'. The 'no jab, no job’ policy for England is being shelved pending a consultation, he said. Around 80,000 unvaccinated NHS staff would have had to get their first jab by 3 February in order to meet the 1 April deadline to be double jabbed. The health secretary said the u-turn was motivated by higher levels of protection against Covid among the public and Omicron being 'intrinsically less severe' than Delta, which was dominant when the policy was announced. He told the Commons: “Subject to the responses and the will of this House, the government will revoke the regulations”, but adding “if we see another dramatic change in the virus, it would be only responsible to review this policy again.” Responding to the announcement, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “NHS staff unions warned government that mandatory vaccination was the wrong approach. This eleventh-hour u-turn became inevitable because of the NHS staffing crisis. Ministers should have listened to staff and unions sooner.” She added: “The government must now do more to address staff shortages in the NHS, starting with a decent pay rise. Trade unions encourage every worker to get vaccinated and boosted against coronavirus. We urge all employers to make sure their staff can take paid time-off to get vaccinated.”
DHSC news release and Sajid Javid’s statement. NHS Confederation news release. Daily Mail. The Guardian.

Swift report needed to end vaccine anguish

The UK government’s eleventh hour decision to shelve the vaccine mandate requirement for NHS staff is welcome, but will only prolong the uncertainty for the NHS which is engulfed in a staffing crisis, Unite has said. The union said the consultation on the policy announced by health secretary Sajid Javid must be ‘swift and decisive’. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The government has created needless confusion on this issue and this eleventh hour intervention actually prolongs the stress endured by thousands of NHS staff. So the Javid review must report urgently. NHS staff now face more agonising uncertainty when the health service is buckling under the pressure of  100,000 staff vacancies.” Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “We demand any worker who has lost their job, as a result of this bungled policy, gets their job back and receives compensation without recourse to an employment tribunal.”
Unite news release.

Jab backdown right but the damage is done

Health care union UNISON has said the UK government’s ‘ill-thought-out rules’ have worsened the staffing crisis hampering the NHS and social care and have caused significant upset. Commenting on the 31 January announcement that the mandatory vaccination requirements in health and care in England are to be scrapped, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “This was the right thing to do. But it shouldn’t have taken the government so long to realise the huge mistake it was making. Ministers were repeatedly warned the jab rules would cause staffing chaos for the NHS and the care sector but chose not to listen. Unfortunately, much of the damage has already been done.” She added: “Thousands of care workers have been forced from jobs they love, leaving employers struggling. Many staff will also have quit the NHS ahead of this week’s deadline. These ill-thought-out rules have worsened the staffing crisis hampering the NHS and social care and caused significant upset. Huge amounts of time and resources, which employers could have spent persuading staff to be vaccinated and on patient care, have been wasted.” The UNISON leader concluded: “Playing politics with the vaccine risks undermining confidence. It will now be harder for employers to persuade staff to get jabbed and the unvaccinated public will be less likely to come forward.”
UNISON news release.

Midwives welcome suspension of ‘wrongheaded’ policy 

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has welcomed the UK government’s suspension of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for frontline NHS staff in England but is warning it has come at a further cost of broken trust among midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs). Jon Skewes, executive director for external relations at the midwives’ union, said: “Mandatory Covid vaccination was always a wrongheaded policy and it’s disappointing that it’s taken the government until the eleventh hour to put the brakes on.” He added: “I fear that some midwives, MSWs and other staff may already have left because of this policy. We need to see action to encourage their return to the NHS as quickly as possible.” The RCM official concluded: “Now this welcome decision has been made we need to focus on encouraging unvaccinated staff to have the jab through support, discussion and engagement; the methods we and others have advocated from the start. Investing in maternity services needs to go beyond supporting existing staff to get the jab, though. We need to see the real terms investment that has been sadly lacking for far too long. From pay to premises, this investment is long overdue.”
RCM news release.

CSP warns against ‘back door’ vaccine mandates

Physios’ union CSP has welcomed the UK government’s u-turn on compulsory vaccination for NHS staff but has said it concerned that the government has asked NHS employers to consider requiring all new staff to be vaccinated regardless of their role and circumstances. The CSP added it is disappointed that the government has asked professional regulators to review their rules and that it has refused to rule out reintroducing a legal requirement in future. CSP policy director Rob Yeldham said: “The government has finally listened to the CSP and other health unions who warned that this was the wrong approach and threatened the ability of services to meet patient needs. So we welcome the u-turn, but the government must not try to bring this in by the back door instead.” He added: “We have always supported vaccination for healthcare staff, but on a voluntary basis, because vaccination protects the vaccinated but does not guarantee they can't transmit the virus. Losing thousands of clinical staff, on top of the high vacancies services are already struggling with, would have made juggling Covid care and service recovery almost impossible. The government must now put renewed effort into addressing the concerns of healthcare professions and others who remain hesitant about vaccination.”
CSP news release.

U-turn too late for thousands of care workers

The UK government’s u-turn on mandatory vaccination for NHS and care staff has come too late for thousands of care workers, the union GMB has said. GMB national officer Rachel Harrison commented: “GMB’s position on mandatory vaccines has been consistent - we oppose legally enforced medical procedures as a condition of employment - it's heavy-handed and will deepen the staffing crisis. Persuasion and encouragement are how to address concerns around the vaccine.” But she added: “The government’s u-turn comes too late in the day for thousands of workers in our care homes who have already lost their jobs because of an unrealistic vaccination policy. It’s yet another reflection of this ministers’ failure to deal with the staffing crisis in social care; caused by low pay and poor treatment. People are voting with their feet, choosing to work in supermarkets or warehouses instead.” She said: “We need a national plan for social care and £15 an hour so these dedicated professionals can do the job the nation needs them to do.”
GMB news release.

Care staff owed an apology, says UNISON

The UK government must apologise to care staff over a ‘no jab, no job’ rule which saw thousands of dedicated and experienced workers lost to the sector, UNISON has said. Commenting after a refusal by health secretary Sajid Javid to apologise to care home staff for the government’s mandatory vaccination policy, which has now been dropped, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government has treated staff working in English care homes and the wider sector appallingly. Ministers were warned repeatedly of the terrible consequences of the ‘no jab, no job’ rules, yet ploughed on regardless.” The UNISON leader added: “The government must singlehandedly take the blame for aggravating the staffing crisis and pushing care homes to the brink. It’s simply not good enough for the health secretary to say sacked workers can return to care homes if they like. Thousands of dedicated and experienced staff have been lost to the sector. Most will never return because they have found less stressful, better paid work. Sajid Javid should apologise and find the cash to ensure the real living wage is the minimum hourly rate in care. That’s the very least the government can do.”
UNISON news release.

Back to work drive ignores work Covid risk

Workers’ health and safety is being jeopardised in the government’s haste to drive them back to work as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, campaigners have warned. The Hazards Campaign, the UK-wide network of resource centres and campaigners for justice and safety at work, highlighted statistics that show a “huge number of workplace outbreaks” of Covid-19 infections as restrictions are relaxed. Campaign chair Janet Newsham said the government “not only admits to breaking Covid law, but also abdicates all responsibility for controlling transmission of this deadly virus.” She said: “Enforcement through the pandemic has been woeful. There has been a complete absence of Covid-19 prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority inspectors. Lots of employers have failed to prevent infections and the result has been the deaths and long-term ill-health of workers.” The campaign is demanding enforcement of health and safety law at work, prosecution of employers putting workers’ lives at risk, the return of restrictions and union involvement in drawing up plans to protect workers in the workplace based on scientific evidence. “No-one should be harmed or made ill simply by going to work, especially when the mitigations to prevent infections are known,” Newsham said. “Workers should not have to fight for their health, lives and livelihoods in a global viral pandemic when there are laws intended to protect them at work.” According to HSE, in the period from 10 April 2020 to 8 January 2022, there were 39,701 officially notified Covid-19 work-related infections, including 439 deaths. Reported work-related cases rose steeply in December, up 37 per cent on the November figure.
Hazards Campaign news release, podcasts page and webinar, What next for workers after Plan B?. HSE Covid disease reports webpage. Morning Star.

End of indoor face masks rule 'premature'

The UK government’s decision to lift the requirement to wear face masks in indoor venues in England is ill-advised and could leave workers at risk, the union GMB has warned. GMB national secretary Andy Prendergast, said: “Ending the requirement to wear face masks in busy indoor settings is premature and a change that is likely to hamper efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. GMB members working in retail and on public transport have the right to feel safe; it’s good many businesses still insist on face coverings.” The GMB official added: “With the government battling crisis after crisis and negative headlines from all sides, a cynic might think unnecessary changes to Covid safety rules are nothing more than a diversionary tactic.” Retailers Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and John Lewis announced have said they will be asking shoppers to keep wearing masks and London mayor Sadiq Khan has said face coverings should remain compulsory on Transport for London (TfL) services and the wider transport network, a position backed by the union TSSA (Risks 1030).
GMB news release.

Schools reinstate masks rule as Covid cases soar

Schools that ended the requirement for pupils to wear face coverings this month, in line with government guidance, are reinstating it again because of surges in Covid cases. The government rescinded the requirement for masks in secondary school classrooms in England on 20 January and since 27 January they have no longer been compulsory in communal indoor spaces either. But a number of schools that complied with the change in the rules are having to reintroduce them a week later because of outbreaks in infections. The Guardian reports that in some areas, including Enfield in north London, Calderdale in West Yorkshire, and Hertfordshire, public health teams are now recommending that masks be temporarily reinstated in schools where there are significant outbreaks. At least nine education authorities are also advising that masks remain in place in the schools’ communal areas, despite the change in national guidance. Official figures published by the Department for Education show that Covid-related pupil absence in England has jumped by 100,000 in two weeks. A total of 415,000 children – just over 5 per cent of the state school intake – were absent on 20 January, up from 3.9 per cent on 6 January. More than threequarters of absent pupils had tested positive for Covid. At nearly a quarter of state schools, more than 15 per cent of teachers and leaders were off work. In total, 9 per cent of heads and teachers – 47,000 – were absent on 20 January, up from 44,000 two weeks previously. A similar proportion of teaching assistants and other staff were also out of school. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said: “It is very likely that we are going to see increased disruption in schools across the next weeks, with cases rising among both primary and secondary pupils. The government has acted prematurely in removing face masks and has acted tardily in providing ventilation solutions.”
The Guardian.
Good Law Project legal opinion supporting the right to wear masks in schools.

Hospital porters and cleaners demonstrate for sick pay

GMB members have protested outside Croydon Hospital in their fight for Covid sick pay. The workers, cleaners and porters within the hospital trust, want outsourced employer G4S to provide full sick pay. GMB regional organiser Helen O’Connor said: “I have personally seen the payslips of our members that show no sick pay during covid absence. When I have emailed management on the members’ behalf, the response I have received is underwhelming. I have email trails which prove that members have been at home, suffering from Covid without a penny coming in.” Speaking ahead of the 31 January protest, she added: “Our members are not taking industrial action at this stage; this is a peaceful demonstration by workers on their lunchbreaks to show their bosses that they deserve proper sick pay as part of their terms and conditions, and a decent pay rise to reflect their hard work. We are again calling on Croydon NHS Trust to intervene and ensure that their contractors are paying our members what they are owed. If they can’t put their money where their mouth is, we will have to look to escalate our campaign until they can.”
GMB news release. Morning Star.


Assaults on prison staff rise once again

Assaults on prison staff in England and Wales are on the rise once again, latest UK government figures show. The number of assaults on staff increased by 5 per cent to 2,110 incidents - an average of almost 23 assaults on staff every day in the quarter to September 2021. The number of serious prisoner-on-staff assaults increased by 18 per cent to 204 incidents, a rate of more than two serious assaults on staff every day. Adrian Axtell, national secretary of the trade union Community, commented: “We are deeply troubled to see that assaults on workers in our prisons have continued to rise. No-one should live with the constant threat or fear that they might be assaulted while at work. Yet those who work in the justice, custodial and immigration sector are all too often faced with that reality.” He added: “The government’s own findings show us that since 2010, assaults on prison staff have more than doubled. Research shows that this has led to ‘de facto decriminalisation’ of assaults on workers, with 64 per cent saying that reporting abuse at work did not lead to any consequences. The figures today are a sobering reminder of the challenges prison workers are facing. We are calling for immediate action on staffing levels, legal consequences and equipment to keep our members safe in their place of work.” The figures for the quarter to September 2021 include assaults in both public and private prisons.
Community news release. Safety in custody: quarterly update to September 2021, Ministry of Justice/HMPPS figures, 27 January 2022.

Investigation into work sexual harassment in Wales

Unions in Wales have launched an investigation into the sexual harassment that workers face at work. The first stage of this work is a new survey, launched by the Wales TUC. It follows an increase during the Covid-19 pandemic of workers reporting sexual harassment at work to their unions, the national union body said. The findings of the survey will be used to create new resources for union reps and to campaign for an end to sexual harassment for everyone, it said. Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “Sexual harassment in the workplace is totally unacceptable. But we know that some employers allow bad behaviour to go unchecked and unchallenged. How many times have we heard sexual harassment in the workplace described as ‘just a bit of banter’?  How many times have we heard 'it was just a joke, they didn't really mean it’?” She added: “The trade union movement is absolutely vital to stamping out this behaviour. The results of our new sexual harassment survey will help us give reps the skills and know how needed to combat perpetrators and improve the safety and mental wellbeing of people at work.”
Wales TUC news release.

BFAWU launches sexual harassment survey

Bakery and food workers hare being asked to tell their union about their experience of sexual harassment in their workplaces, at work and union events, and within their union. The union BFAWU said responses have started to flow in and “it is clear there is an issue in the food industry, where it seems there is a culture of sexual harassment and even violence being brushed off as banter, swept under the carpet and ignored, or the survivor being blamed.” It said there are concerns about customers acting inappropriately and not being challenged by management. There is also “a general lack of knowledge and visibility of clear policies around sexual harassment and how to report incidents.” The survey will close at the end of February. BFAWU said it will then “set to work on a report and resources for members and branches.”
BFAWU news release.


Covid airborne protections at work webinar, 17 February

A TUC webinar will explore the risk and the responses to Covid risk at work. It says the airborne virus, which mainly spreads in the air, requires measures like ventilation and face masks to reduce the chance of us breathing it in. In a HeartUnions week event on 17 February, Dr Jonathan Fluxman from Doctors in Unite will describe Covid airborne protection – the steps reps can take and what unions should demand of employers to protect workers from aerosol spread at work. Questions can be posted in the ‘Q&A’ box during the webinar.
Register for HeartUnions webinar: Covid airborne protections in the workplace, 14:00 to 15:00, Thursday 17 Feb 2022. Live captions will be available.
* The annual #HeartUnions week, which this year will run from 14-20 February, is a chance to demonstrate why unions are vital for everyone at work, and to encourage people who aren't yet in a union to join. Get your HeartUnions campaign materials online.


Belgium: Civil servants get the right to disconnect

Belgian civil servants will no longer need to answer emails or phone calls out of normal working hours after the country became the latest in Europe to offer workers the right to disconnect. The law, which took effect on 1 February, means 65,000 federal officials are able to make themselves unavailable at the end of the normal working day unless there are “exceptional” reasons for not doing so. There are also government plans to extend the right to private sector employees, despite the opposition of some business groups. Petra De Sutter, the Belgian minister for public administration, said the law was necessary to combat a culture of people feeling they should always be available. Without the right to disconnect, said De Sutter, “the result will be stress and burnout and this is the real disease of today.” The federal government is also examining a proposal to move to a four-day week of 38 to 40 hours for full-time staff, meaning longer working days but a three-day weekend. French law (Risks 782) stipulates employees do not have to take calls or read emails related to work during their time off (Risks 1010). In December 2021, the Scottish government announced its expectation that bodies responsible to Scottish ministers – departments and arms-length agencies - have meaningful discussions on a right to disconnect (Risks 1026). UK union Prospect is running a high profile right to disconnect campaign (Risks 1002).
The Guardian. Prospect ‘right to disconnect’ campaign.

Global: Amazon urged to support tortured whistleblower

A whistleblower who exposed illegal working conditions in a factory making Amazon’s Alexa devices and who was then tortured before being jailed by Chinese authorities has called on the company’s founder Jeff Bezos to protect its supply chain workers. Tang Mingfang, 43, was jailed after he revealed how the Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese city of Hengyang used schoolchildren working illegally long hours to manufacture Amazon’s popular Echo, Echo Dot and Kindle devices. Now, after spending two years in prison, he is appealing to the higher courts to clear his name. The illegal working practices at the factory were first revealed in an investigation by the Observer and the US-based China Labor Watch in 2018. A year later, a second investigation found that Foxconn had tried to solve its subsequent recruitment problems by drafting in schoolchildren to work illegal overtime. Internal Foxconn documents passed on by Tang formed the basis of the second investigation. Amazon sent its own staff into the factory to investigate the labour law breaches and Foxconn was forced to pay more than £165,000 in compensation for underpaying workers making Echo and Echo Dot devices in Hengyang. Meanwhile, Foxconn brought in the Chinese authorities to investigate the leak. Tang was charged, convicted and jailed for two years. Tang claims the statements used to convict him were obtained by the use of torture and should not have been admissible in evidence. He said Foxconn had promised to improve working conditions after the first investigation but its own internal documents suggested managers were planning to expand the illegal use of workers. After talking to colleagues about what was going on in the factory, Tang contacted China Labor Watch and agreed to share some of the company documents, which he photographed using his mobile phone. In a letter to Amazon founder Bezos, Tang urged him to ensure that workers’ rights are protected. “Although the price was too high for me, I think the price I paid will all be worth it if only this situation can be brought to your attention and benefit the employees of all Amazon suppliers,” he wrote. China Labor Watch director Li Qiang also wrote to Bezos urging him to intervene on behalf of Tang, noting: “All he did was report violations of workers’ rights in an Amazon supplier factory. He did not commit any illegal acts. It is unacceptable and unfair that Tang Mingfang is serving jail time for trying to help Amazon improve the labour conditions in its supplier factory.”
China Labor Watch news release. Tang Mingfang’s letter to Jeff Bezos and Amazon executives. The Observer.

Global: New Covid-19 safety guide for hotel workers

The danger posed by Covid-19 to hotel workers and guests drove critical discussions with international institutions, IUF has said, leading to groundbreaking new guidance. In the G20 Tourism Working Group meeting in March 2021, the global union for the sector called upon governments to “develop and implement protocols – negotiated with trade unions - to protect hotel workers.” In May 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the IUF co-sponsored a webinar on the safe operation of hotels during the Covid-19 pandemic to focus attention on modes of virus transmission, ventilation and cleaning routines necessary to protect workers and guests. Now a new ‘IUF Guide to Covid-19 Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in hotels’ arising from these discussions has been produced, in consultation with leading industrial hygienists, occupational health experts and specialists from the WHO and ILO. IUF assistant general secretary James Ritchie commented: “The IUF Guide to COVID-19 Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in hotels has been developed to enable IUF affiliates and others that are involved in negotiating and implementing safety protocols in hotels to protect both workers and guests during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”
IUF news release and publication, IUF Guide to COVID-19 Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in hotels (in English, French and Spanish).

Global: Covid waste mountain a risk to workers

Tens of thousands of tonnes of extra medical waste from the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has put tremendous strain on health care waste management systems around the world, threatening human and environmental health and exposing a dire need to improve waste management practices, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report. The ‘WHO Global analysis of health care waste in the context of Covid-19: status, impacts and recommendations’ bases its estimates on the approximately 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was procured between March 2020 and November 2021 and shipped to support countries’ urgent Covid-19 response. WHO notes: “Today, 30 per cent of healthcare facilities (60 per cent in the least developed countries) are not equipped to handle existing waste loads, let alone the additional Covid-19 load. This potentially exposes health workers to needlestick injuries, burns and pathogenic microorganisms, while also impacting communities living near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites through contaminated air from burning waste, poor water quality or disease carrying pests.” The risk extends to many workers outside of health care, including municipal workers and refuse collection and waste workers. “Waste workers are often under-resourced, with minimal training and PPE, and undervalued as staff in healthcare facilities,” the WHO report notes, calling on waste facilities to “Improve training, mentoring and investments for safe and sustainable waste management and waste workers.” Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, commented: “It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE. But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment.” This means having effective management systems in place, WHO said, including guidance for health workers on what to do with PPE and health commodities after they have been used.
WHO news release and report, Global analysis of health care waste in the context of Covid-19, WHO, 1 February 2022. Equal Times article from July 2021 on the risks to clinical waste collectors.


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.
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