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



Employers illegally forcing pregnant women out

A quarter of pregnant women have faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new TUC survey. The poll of more than 3,400 women who have been pregnant or on maternity leave during the Covid-19 pandemic found that one in four (25 per cent) had experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough. Pregnant women told the TUC they were required to take sick leave when they were not sick, to take unpaid leave, to start their maternity leave early or to leave the workplace, because their employer did not act to make their workplace safe for them. All of these actions are illegal, said the TUC. Pregnant women have the right to be suspended on full pay if workplace risks to their health cannot be removed or reduced, or suitable alternative work is not available. The TUC poll exposed a range of health and safety concerns for women who have been pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak, with one in four (25 per cent) telling the TUC they felt unsafe at work. More than two in five (42 per cent) responding to the poll said they had not had a workplace health and safety risk assessment. Of those who had a risk assessment, almost half (46 per cent) said their employer did not take the necessary action to reduce the risks identified – which is against the law – and a quarter (25 per cent) said the risk assessment did not include the additional risks posed by Covid-19. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Work should be safe for pregnant women and new mums. But our research has uncovered shocking levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination during the coronavirus outbreak.” She added: “Employers are routinely flouting health and safety law. This puts women’s lives – and the health of their unborn babies – at risk.” The TUC leader concluded: “Ministers must require every employer to do an individual risk assessment for every pregnant woman and new mum. If it’s not safe for women to keep working, employers must suspend them on full pay. Employers must stop illegally selecting pregnant women and new mums for redundancy. And bosses who break the law should be fined.”
TUC news release and report, Pregnant and precarious: new and expectant mums’ experiences of work during Covid-19, 11 June 2020. GMB news release.

New and enforced rights needed to protect pregnant women

The TUC’s new report on pregnancy discrimination during the Covid-19 crisis shows working women do not have the protection they deserve. ‘Pregnant and precarious: new and expectant mums’ experiences of work during Covid-19’ calls for wide-ranging changes to improve and enforce legal curbs on discrimination. “Employers are already required to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment, which should take account of additional risks to anyone who is pregnant or a new mum,” the report notes. “The government should now change the law to require employers to undertake individual written risk assessments when they are informed that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding. Assessment of risk should involve discussions with the woman involved, and if there is any risk then it must be removed.” The report stresses these requirements must come with teeth. “The government should make it clear to employers that if the risks facing a pregnant worker cannot be removed, and there is no alternative work available, pregnant women have the right to be suspended from work on full pay. The Health and Safety Executive should enforce the law through spot-checks and should encourage pregnant women to raise concerns with them (anonymously if necessary). Employers who break the law should be subject to the full range of penalties including fines.”
Pregnant and precarious: new and expectant mums’ experiences of work during Covid-19, 11 June 2020.

Scottish tourism reboot must include roving union reps

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has sounded a serious note of caution at the Scottish government’s plan to re-open tourism and hospitality next month. STUC said any reopening of the largely non-union sector should occur only in full consultation with staff. They should be supported by union roving reps and union organisers provided access to their workplace, it added. The union body was commenting after the Scottish government’s tourism secretary Fergus Ewing said the tourism and hospitality businesses should prepare, within appropriate safety guidelines, for reopening on 15 July. He added that “absolutely nothing can be guaranteed” and this date may change if the evidence on Covid-19 requires it. STUC general secretary designate Rozanne Foyer said: “As things stand, we have a contact tracing system, which is at the very early stages of roll-out. Equally, there is no coherent transport plan and we continue to raise significant concern of the government guidance for its safe operation.” She added: “Given that levels of trade union membership in tourism and hospitality is low, along with prevalence of precarious work in the sector, we will need clear undertakings that employers wishing to re-open will fully consult their staff and admit union organisers and mobile union health and safety reps to support workers. We will need to see a special health and safety risk assessment for each and every establishment that re-opens including viable rostering to ensure travel safety.” Commenting on the 10 June announcement, she concluded: “Employers must commit to supporting contact tracing and not to penalise staff who obey public health guidance. We expect to play a full part on the taskforce announced today to guide the easing of lockdown in this sector.”
STUC webpage. BBC News Online.

Government backtracks on school mission impossible

The government has had to concede the need to ensure social distancing has made a quick return to school impossible, teaching unions have said. The unions NEU and NASUWT were commented after the government said primary schools and secondary schools in England will not now re-open to all pupils until September at the earliest. Dr Mary Bousted, NEU’s joint general secretary, commented: “It has taken the government some time to recognise what was obvious to most. The government’s social distancing rules made it impossible for primary schools to admit all pupils before the summer holidays. Primary schools and secondary schools will not re-open to all pupils until September at the earliest. But even that date cannot, as Matt Hancock has recognised, be taken for granted.” She added: “The consequences of Covid-19 are going to be felt in our education system for months to come. What is needed, now, is a national plan for education, along the lines being developed by the Scottish government. This should cover all possible scenarios and focus on blended learning, at home and at school; greatly increased support for disadvantaged children, including free internet access so that they can access online teaching and learning, and the requisitioning of local public spaces, such as community centres and libraries, so that pressure on school space is lessened and more children are able to return to school in safe environments. The government must also plan for a second spike.” Dr Bousted concluded: “The scale of the challenge is immense. We need a national recovery plan for education along the lines of the job recovery plan.” NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach, said: “It has been abundantly clear for some time that the announcement by the government of arbitrary dates for the wider reopening of schools was ill-considered, premature and unworkable.”
NEU news release and related news release. NASUWT news release. BBC News Online. The Independent.

Unions ‘pleased’ school opening plan has been dropped

Unions GMB and UNISON have welcomed a decision to shelve plans to bring all pupils in England back before the summer holidays. Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary, said: “GMB has been in regular talks with Department for Education raising concerns of wider school reopening and the lack of safe systems of work. As a key stakeholder which represents more than 100,000 school staff we are pleased that their safety, and that of pupils, has started to lead government policy and decisions.” She added: "Pupils’ education matters, so we need ministers to continue to work with unions to build and redesign classrooms ahead of further reopening so that both staff and pupils are safe to return to the classroom. GMB will continue to ensure widening of schools opening are guided by science, underpinned by real efforts to minimise risk to the virus until we either get a vaccine or the virus is eliminated.” UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “This was the right thing to do. As important as it is to open up schools, the challenges of bringing back all children in the next few weeks would simply have been too great. There have already been Covid cases in schools and many support staff and parents remain understandably anxious.” He added: “Many schools simply don’t have the space to put in place the new rules, nor enough masks and preventative kit to fill staff with confidence. This delay will allow time to ensure the essential test, trace and isolate system is fully working. Confidence needs to be rebuilt amongst parents and staff to ensure a safe return so young people don’t miss out on any more of their education and parents can get back to work. Unions will continue to work with ministers to ensure the September opening can happen safely and vulnerable families get all the support they need.”
GMB news release. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.

NASUWT not happy with Welsh schools plan

Teaching union NASUWT has ‘serious concerns’ at the Welsh government’s back to schools plan for the end of the month. Commenting on the publication of new operational guidance for schools on reopening more widely to more pupils, Dr Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, said: “The NASUWT has serious concerns about the lack of clarity in the operational guidance issued to schools by the Welsh government and whether it will ensure that all schools and local authorities adopt safe working practices. In light of the equivocal nature of the scientific evidence regarding social distancing in schools and the risk of virus transmission by children, teachers and parents will rightly question how the Welsh government is able to conclude that it is safe for schools to return on 29 June. The Welsh government must not press ahead with its plans for the wider reopening of schools unless it can demonstrate it is safe to do so.” Neil Butler, the NASUWT national official for Wales, said “firm direction” from the Welsh government “must begin with ensuring robust risk assessments and health and safety checks on schools that have stood empty for many weeks. This advice is presently sadly lacking from the guidance. If they cannot even ensure that schools are getting these basic steps right then the Welsh government cannot continue with its plans for wider reopening.” He added: “The NASUWT has put local authorities on notice of their legal obligations on protecting the health and safety of teachers. The welfare of our members and the pupils they teach remains our top priority.” David Evans, Wales secretary for NEU Cymru said: “There is a lot of logistical issues to sort out before the wider opening, and we will be writing to our members with guidance too.”
NASUWT news release. NEU Cymru news release.

Care home firm probed after Covid deaths

A major social care company has been reported to regulators after the deaths of ‘multiple’ residents from Covid-19. The three homes in Sheffield where the deaths occurred are run by Horizon Care, and are now under investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after staff raised safety and hygiene concerns with UNISON. The union has written to the CQC outlining practices at Woodhill House, Woodhill Lodge and Woodhill Grange, which UNISON says breach safety guidelines for residents and staff. Issues highlighted to UNISON include managers asking care workers with persistent coughs and staff who live with people infected with coronavirus to carry on coming in to work. Care employees sent isolation letters were told they could work as long as they did not carry out personal care duties, such as helping to wash residents. Other practices the union says are unsafe include failing to inform staff that residents they look after have suspected or confirmed Covid-19. Many workers in the three homes run by Horizon Care said they had no access to personal protection equipment (PPE) because kit has been locked away in an office. Some have resorted to bringing in their own hand sanitiser. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “All employers have an obligation to protect staff and the people they look after. Horizon Care has clearly failed in its duties. This case highlights the urgent need for the government to reform the social care sector. The fact it’s fragmented and underfunded means unscrupulous employers are able to exploit staff. Unless action is taken some care companies will continue to fall short of the high standards required.”
UNISON news release and petition demanding the government “step up and deliver on its promises around PPE and do much more to protect care staff and elderly people.”

Unite action call on ‘massive alarm’ in call centres

Unite has called for urgent action after a survey of nearly 3,000 staff working in call centres throughout the UK found what the union described as ‘massive alarm’ amongst the workforce about the safety conditions. The independent research was conducted by Phil Taylor, a professor at the University of Strathclyde. His study found 47.2 per cent of respondents ‘strongly agreed’ and 30.7 per cent ‘agreed’ with the statement, ‘I think it is likely that I will catch Covid-19’. It found 37.8 per cent of respondents stated that they were seated less than the required 2 metres, with one in six (16.4 per cent) at 1.5 metres separation or less. Almost threequarters (73 per cent) believed that social distancing when moving around the building was either ‘hazardous’ or ‘very hazardous’. Unite national officer Rob MacGregor commented: “The scale of the fear amongst call and contact centre staff is stark to see from this report by professor Phil Taylor. Workers in the finance sector are calling out for their employer to do more to keep them safe during this public health emergency.” He added: “Unite the union representatives will be raising the findings of this research with employers and pressing for action to ensure the highest possible safety of our members as they work hard to serve finance sector customers.” Professor Phil Taylor, the study’s author, said: “Organisations now have an urgent responsibility to re-assess the configuration of their services and swiftly home locate those many who are in a position to do so and want to. Rapid action will save some lives. Inaction will cause further deaths and serious illness.”
Unite news release.

RMT condemns ‘botched’ passenger masks plan

Transport union RMT has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps to warn a lack of consultation and proper discussion in the transport industry means that the requirement for face masks on public transport from 15 June risks being marred by “confusion and conflict.” RMT has campaigned for a requirement on passengers to wear masks. But in the letter to Grant Shapps, RMT general secretary Mick Cash says he has received representations from both transport workers and transport employers that the “botched” announcement means there are “high levels of concern and confusion over how these new arrangements will apply and basic issues do not appear to be have been consulted on or resolved.” The union is calling for urgent transport sector wide discussions with government, unions and employers. The letter notes: “I am writing to express my extreme concern about what is now looking increasingly like a botched announcement in respect of the wearing of face masks on public transport.” It says there is no clarity about who will enforce the masks rule, adding: “To be absolutely clear our members on stations, on trains, on buses and ferries are not police and we will not allow them to be used in a role that puts them in danger or conflict.” The letter concludes: “As you know RMT has been campaigning for all passengers to be required to wear face masks and I am sure there are solutions to all of these and the other questions that are being raised, but for that to happen there needs to be urgent transport sector wide discussions with government, unions and employers to agree the necessary guidelines and arrangements. If this does not happen then the 15 June, when the new measures begin, is in danger of being marred by confusion and conflict across public transport.” TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Our union has been pressing ministers and transport bosses for further action to protect our members on the frontline, as face coverings are no substitute for protective equipment. Sadly, some bosses have yet to issue the visors and other personal protective equipment that our members require.” Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “'The instruction to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus will ease the concerns of people travelling, and working, on the transport network.”
RMT news release. ASLEF news release. TSSA news release.

Unite welcomes face coverings on the buses

Unite has welcomed the announcement that passengers on public transport will be required to wear a face covering before boarding and throughout their journey. The new requirements will come into effect from 15 June in England. Unite, which represents 80,000 bus drivers, called last month for it to become compulsory for passengers to wear face coverings in order to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19. The union is also calling for the maximum capacity of buses to be reduced to protect drivers and passengers from becoming infected, a measure that has already been introduced in most of Yorkshire and London. Bus drivers have been particularly at risk of dying from Covid-19, Unite said, with 33 bus workers in London having died. There have also been reports of Covid-19 bus driver deaths in other parts of the country. Unite national officer for public transport Bobby Morton said: “This is the right move from the government. The wearing of face coverings has been shown to reduce transmission of Covid-19. It will improve safety for both drivers and passengers. With no imminent cure for Covid-19 or a vaccine becoming available, the wearing of face coverings on public transport should become the new normal.” He added: “In the short-term, the government should follow the lead of various parts of Yorkshire and London and impose a reduced maximum capacity on all buses to further reduce the danger of infection. Unite is committed to working with the government and bus operators to ensure that, as infection rates fall and the lockdown further eases and bus usage increases, passengers and drivers are not placed at risk.”
Unite news release.

Union fury at BAME ‘same risk’ line on the Tube

Tube union RMT has expressed fury after London Underground bosses said Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff are at no greater risk from Covid-19 at work than if they stayed at home. RMT was commenting on a London Underground document, ‘Covid-19 Risk Assessment for BAME and clinically vulnerable employees: Guidance for all line managers’. The 5 June publication from Tube bosses states: “You can reassure them that we have assessed the risks and put controls in place; and assure them that the risk is no greater at work than not being at work (unless they stay in their home and go nowhere). It’s important also to remind people that being at work is good for individuals and their health. There can be long term health implications for individuals who are not in work for prolonged periods.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “It is simply beyond belief that after the mayor’s announcement and all his campaigns to highlight the impact of Covid-19 on BAME people that his own managers can produce such an insensitive and patently inaccurate document.” He said: “To say that BAME and vulnerable staff who may have to work in the confined and crowded spaces of London Underground are at no greater risk than if they stayed at home is dangerous garbage. I have no doubt that we are in this position because management ignored our offer to involve our experienced health and safety reps at an earlier stage and I am now calling on the Mayor to intervene to protect our members and properly involve the trade unions.”
RMT news release. Morning Star.

Derbyshire PCC backs under fire shopworkers

Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has warned that his force will take action against those who abuse the ‘unsung heroes’ working in shops. In a move welcomed by shopworkers’ union Usdaw, Hardyal Dhindsa said: “In recent weeks shopworkers have been subjected to both verbal and physical abuse simply for complying with government guidance. This is unacceptable. Without these brave people continuing to work we would all have been in a very difficult situation.” He added: “Abuse, in any form, is never appropriate, and no-one should be victim to this type of behaviour simply for doing their job. I urge people to come forward and report incidents of this kind to the police. They will take it seriously I assure everyone. Personally, I would like to thank all those who have carried on going to work during the pandemic.  They are unsung heroes and fully deserve our respect and gratitude for keeping people stocked with essential items such as food, medical necessities and household products.” Gavin Dadley, Usdaw’s Midlands divisional officer, commented: “Our communities need shops and the staff must be kept safe so they can stay open. So we very much welcome that our PCC in Derbyshire recognises and supports the heroic efforts our members are making.” He added: “Usdaw continues to work with employers to improve health and safety for staff, particularly those dealing directly with the public. We also call on customers to stay calm, respect shopworkers and practise the necessary hygiene measures to help limit the spread of the virus. We all have to work together to get through this crisis.”
Usdaw news release.

Sunday trading move a ‘slap in the face’ for retail staff

The unions Usdaw and Unite have criticised government plans to relax Sunday trading rules, with Usdaw saying it would be ‘a slap in the face’ for the key retail workers that have toiled through the Covid-19 outbreak. In a letter to business secretary Alok Sharma, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis condemned the government for not responding to the union’s concerns about Sunday trading deregulation and failing to provide ‘a proper strategy’ to help the retail industry. The 6 June letter from Paddy Lillis notes: “I wrote to you on 14 April outlining Usdaw's concerns regarding reports of plans being considered to dismantle the longstanding compromise around Sunday trading that has worked so well for decades. I have not received a response and was shocked to see reports across the media today that the government is planning to completely deregulate Sunday trading hours.” It added: “This move to deregulate Sunday trading hours would come across as an opportunistic use of the coronavirus crisis and a slap in the face for each and every worker in retail and the food supply chain. I would hope that the government would instead spend its time exploring how we can ensure that these low paid key workers can get the level of pay and job security they deserve.” Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Retail workers have played a key frontline role in keeping the UK fed and supplied in the last three months in highly challenging circumstances. They are exhausted and deserve to spend time with their families.” She added: “The government must understand that many retail workers have to work around childcare and by extending Sunday opening hours it will create additional stress and make it impossible for many workers to juggle work and their caring duties.”
Usdaw news release and related news release. Unite news release. Morning Star. The Times.

Health chiefs tell PM to prepare for new Covid wave

Senior figures from across the NHS have issued an urgent plea for a comprehensive plan to tackle a second wave of coronavirus infections, no relaxation to the lockdown until track and trace is working properly and a strategy to ensure the correct PPE is available. The calls came as Boris Johnson continued to lose public confidence in his handling of the pandemic. Health chiefs say there should be no further easing before a comprehensive test and trace system has been proved to work. The Observer spoke to organisations including the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers on how ministers should plan for a potential second wave. They called for retraining of more hospital staff so that they could be a “reserve” force, redeployed in the event of a second peak. There were also demands for more open communication about the risks ahead and the strategy being adopted, following the prime minister’s much-criticised claim that the UK would have a “world-beating” test and trace system by the start of June. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “The real concern is that we don’t have that same degree of trust, because we’re not having the kind of honest and open debates that we need. We seem to be resorting to kind of fairly cheap political rhetoric about stuff being world class, when it clearly isn’t.” Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We absolutely don’t want any more relaxation [of lockdown measures] until we are confident that the test and trace system is working both at national and local level.” Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “I think the criticism that we can’t see a strategy is a legitimate criticism… We need a strategy for test and trace, for PPE, for the use of technology, for maintaining Covid services and opening up non-Covid services.” The calls came as the official Covid-19 death toll in the UK exceeded 40,000.
The Observer. The Express.

HSE adviser calls for better health worker protection

A top expert adviser to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said current evidence justifies far more extensive health worker protection than is provided in the UK. Professor John Cherrie, who is a member of HSE’s Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC), cites HSE advice and evidence of good practice, but points out the UK follows neither HSE’s preventive hierarchy nor the masks requirement the evidence indicates is required. Writing in the journal Occupational Medicine, Cherrie and colleagues from the Institute of Occupational Medicine note HSE’s established guidance “sets out eight action areas, beginning with designing and operating activities to minimise emission, release and spread of hazardous agents. In general, there seems to be little attempt to do this in healthcare settings, although in principle there is no reason why this could not be done. The traditional approaches of partial enclosures, localised ventilation and other containment strategies could be applied. The healthcare sector needs to be more innovative in seeking out ‘novel’ interventions to prevent infection of those providing care.” Cherrie and his co-authors conclude that until there is effective control at source, care workers where infected patients may be present should be provide a visor and FFP3 respirator and care workers in the vicinity of aerosol generating procedure (AGP) a minimum FFP3 and visor, but preferably an air purifying PAPR respirator. These offer far greater protection than standard surgical or medical masks. The editorial notes: “In the short term we need to make the systems we have work as well as we can, but for the future we need to fix the system to protect workers from infectious risks.”
John W Cherrie, Miranda Loh and Robert J Aitken. Editorial: Protecting HCWs from inhaled SARS-CoV-2 virus. Occupational Medicine, 2020. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqaa077.

Imperial Covid-19 scientists' outcry at staff cull

Members of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team have warned against plans to cut the staff who have made their life-saving work possible. On 3 June Imperial College told 281 staff in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that 156 of them were at risk of losing their jobs. Imperial says it expects 75 staff to be made redundant, meaning more than a quarter of the department will go, with the first jobs expected to be axed in July. The Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team has been advising government on how to respond to the pandemic and its modelling of the spread of coronavirus informed government's decision to go into lockdown. Members of the team including Samir Bhatt and Seth Flaxman said their globally important work relies on the support of the ICT staff who are now at risk. Bhatt said the team’s work “would have been impossible without the Imperial ICT staff and their heroic efforts in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The Covid-19 Response Team's groundbreaking work relies on the crucial support of the very ICT staff Imperial is threatening to sack. We are worried that Imperial may try to cut more than the 75 staff they are admitting they want to get rid of.” She added: “It is incredible that Imperial would risk undermining the fight against Covid-19 by starting an eight-month restructure to get rid of over a quarter of the staff in such a vital department in the midst of this global pandemic. We want to work with Imperial and make the case for government to provide the funding the sector needs, but we will fight to keep every member of staff.”
UCU news release.

Firefighters’ coronavirus response agreement extended

Firefighters’ work responding to the Covid-19 pandemic has been extended until July, as the UK continues to battle coronavirus. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), and National Employers agreed the extension to the national agreement stating that the virus “continues to be a risk in our communities”. The agreement first reached on 26 March has allowed firefighters to assist ambulance services, deliver vital supplies to the elderly and vulnerable, and move the bodies of the deceased. Since then, a number of further activities have been agreed, including assembling personal protective equipment (PPE) and training care home staff in infection, prevention and control. The work has now been extended to 15 July and could be extended until 26 August. Covid-19 testing guidelines for fire and rescue personnel have also been agreed, requiring a test after three days of removal from detachment for coronavirus response duty. Staff will not be permitted to return to fire stations until they have tested negative. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “You need only look at the horrific death toll in our care homes to see that this pandemic is not over yet. The government may be easing restrictions, but firefighters are still needed to respond to this serious threat.” He added: “Firefighters’ work so far in this pandemic has been extraordinary and will have undoubtedly saved lives and helped to keep the NHS on its feet. The threat to our communities is still severe, so we’re doing what we can to ensure firefighters can continue helping them through this crisis.”
FBU news release.

TUC calls for UK to take lead on seafarer crisis

The TUC has warned the UK government of the threat posed to Britain's economic recovery from the mounting crisis on board merchant vessels, where up to 200,000 seafarers remain stranded at sea by Covid-19 travel restrictions. The union body urged the UK government to lead the international effort to facilitate crew changes in the world's merchant fleet. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “Seafarers play an essential role in global trade networks, keeping our economies running and delivering essential goods. They should be recognised as key workers and given the pay and support they need. But instead thousands are stranded at sea and in ports. Without action, this crisis will undermine our critical supply chains and hurt the UK's economic recovery.” She added: “The UK government should lead the international effort to facilitate crew changes and create 'safe corridors' that allow free movement for seafarers.” The TUC, affiliates Nautilus International and RMT and the global transport unions’ federation ITF, are calling on the UK government to stop neglecting these key workers, and the welfare and lives of seafarers directly, but also the British public who will pay the price if global trade is halted. Up to 2,000 British seafarers could be caught up in the crisis leaving them stranded on ships well past the end of their contracts. The UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) this week echoed the union call.
Nautilus UK news release.


IARC confirms night work cancer link

An association between night work and breast and other cancers has been confirmed after a major review by an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) expert group. IARC’s 2007 ‘probably carcinogenic in humans’ Group 2A ranking was challenged in 2016 after an Oxford University study co-financed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) concluded “night shift work, including long-term night shift work, has little or no effect on breast cancer incidence.” The paper, which attracted headlines worldwide and whose findings were welcomed by both HSE and CRUK, concluded IARC’s ranking of night work as a ‘probable’ cause of breast cancer in women “is no longer justified.” However, the paper attracted strong criticism and was dismissed as ‘bad science’ by leading work and breast cancer experts (Risks 781). The controversy led IARC, a World Health Organisation (WHO) agency, to convene a ‘Monographs Working Group’ in June 2019, The findings of IARC’s reevaluation, published online this month, rejected the HSE/CRUK study’s conclusions. Instead, the IARC expert group again “classified night shift work as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A), on the basis of limited evidence of cancer in humans (for cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and rectum), sufficient evidence of cancer in experimental animals, and strong mechanistic evidence in experimental animals.” However, unions have expressed concern that the doubt cast on the cancer association by the HSE/CRUK backed paper adversely affected efforts to recognise, address and compensate night-work related breast cancer.
IARC Monographs Volume 124: Night Shift Work, June 2020. Volume 124 webpage. Graveyard shift: Cancer all-clear for night work based on ‘bad science’, warn scientists, Hazards magazine, number 136, December 2016.

Sick pay for outsourced civil servants must stay

All outsourced staff working on civil service contracts should be eligible for full occupational sick pay from day one, PCS has said in a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson. The union is launching a new national campaign, ‘Dying for Sick Pay’, to press the claim. During the coronavirus pandemic, PCS said it has been able to secure a commitment that outsourced staff working on government contracts will receive full pay for coronavirus related absences. This has meant that members have been able to take time off to shield, self-isolate, rest and recuperate, the union said. PCS said it has also shown “that, where the will exists, the money can be found to treat our members with dignity when sick, rather than having to rely on inadequate statutory sick pay (SSP), at just £19.17 a day. Unfortunately, the government wants this arrangement gone as soon as the virus is.” The union said the letter to the prime minister, sent this week by PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, “stresses that we cannot see a return to the unequal and inadequate system that SSP currently provides when Covid-19 is over. It is our position that all civil service employees deserve the dignity of full occupational sick pay, from day one, regardless of whether they are a directly employed civil servant or have been outsourced to provide services to the civil service. If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught us, it is that no one is immune from becoming sick and therefore the civil service must rid itself of an unfair, two-tier system of sick pay.”
PCS news release.

Firm fined after worker fatally injured

IFG Drake Ltd has been fined after a worker suffered fatal crush injuries whilst working on a machine at its site in Huddersfield. Leeds Crown Court heard how, on 24 March 2017, Javeed Ghaffar was working on the stretch godet section of a synthetic fibre manufacturing machine at Victoria Mills in the town, which made fibres to reinforce teabags. The 51-year-old father-of-two, who had worked for the company for around 11 years, was using a knife to clear a blockage in a stretch roller at around 2am on 24 March 2017 when he was suddenly dragged into it and pulled around the roller at least twice. His colleagues, who did not see how he was dragged into the machine, rushed to save him by pressing the emergency stop bar and cutting his clothes. However, paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the machine was not adequately guarded. It had become custom and practice for employees to reach around the inadequate guarding in place to deal with blockages. IFG Drake Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £366,850 and ordered to pay £23,993 in costs. HSE inspector John Boyle commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to provide adequate guarding against dangerous parts of the machine. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
HSE news release. Yorkshire Evening Post. Huddersfield Examiner.


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The newest update of TUC’s best-selling Hazards at Work guide is now available. The mammoth 6th edition is packed with advice on health and safety laws and good practice at work. It covers all the 'classic' hazards and has new Covid-19 related advice and reworked chapters on mental health, bullying, harassment, and all other modern workplace causes of illness and injury. It also has extensive checklists, case studies and links to online resources. It’s the best single source on health and safety, union style.
Reps, unions, employers can order online from the TUC shop. For large orders, email the TUC.


Canada: Thousands get Covid-19 workers’ compensation

Workers compensation boards across Canada have approved thousands of claims from employees who believe they contracted Covid-19 at work, underscoring how the pandemic has become a new workplace hazard for many Canadians. The flood of unconventional requests has prompted calls to expand the legal definition of an occupational disease. Nurses, orderlies and other health-care workers - especially those at long-term care homes - have filed the largest number of claims, followed by municipal workers, agricultural labourers and firefighters. By late May, claims totalled 5,786 in Quebec, 4,156 in Ontario, 1,366 in Alberta and 541 in British Colombia. The majority of applications in the country’s four biggest provinces have been approved by their respective compensation boards. Hassan Yussuff, president of the national union federation CLC, commented: “We know there are certain professions right now that are far more likely to interact with people that are carriers of the virus.” Receiving workers compensation is preferable to going on Employment Insurance because it generally pays out more for lost time, covers the cost of rehabilitation if needed and documents the illness in case it has long-term effects, Yussuff noted. There are calls to make coronavirus related ill-health subject to a ‘presumptive’ test, meaning people in designated jobs don’t have to prove they got sick at work. The board of directors of WorkSafeBC - that province’s compensation agency - has promised to do just that within six months. It would mean creating “a formal institutional memory for diseases such as Covid-19” so evidence of “work-relatedness” would not be required in every case, says a white paper issued by the organisation.
National Post. Global News.

Global: WHO ignores evidence for greater worker protection

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has so far ignored the findings of a major medical review it commissioned and part-financed and which called for high quality respirators as the ‘minimum’ necessary to protect health care workers at risk from Covid-19. The review, published in the Lancet on 1 June (Risks 950), also noted that physical distancing of two metres is twice as protective as WHO’s ‘at least one metre’ recommendation. However, ‘Advice on the use of masks in the context of Covid-19’, interim guidance published by WHO on 5 June, did not revise the health care worker mask advice to stipulate respirators. And the global health body’s physical distancing advice remains at the twice-as-dangerous 1 metre. Several WHO officers had reviewed and commented on the Lancet review prior to publication. Peg Seminario, an expert adviser to the US national union federation AFL-CIO, said the new guidance “maintains the irresponsible, unprotective, unsupported earlier WHO guidance that healthcare workers caring for Covid patients need only wear a medical/surgical mask, except those involved with aerosol generating procedures.” Risks editor Rory O’Neill, in a Migrant Clinicians Network blog posting, warned: “The WHO advice will inevitably mean other at-risk work groups, including those in home care settings or required to undertake essential work in settings where physical distancing isn’t always possible, will likewise be placed at risk.” He concluded: “WHO’s decision certainly isn’t science based and certainly isn’t health based. It suggests the agency has been captured by the private health care industry and the employers’ lobby, who either don’t want to pick up the bill or don’t want to admit there might be legal liability for coronavirus-related occupational disease.” The new guidelines recommend the use of the less protective medical/surgical masks for work in health care settings that do not involve the particularly high exposures associated with aerosol generating procedures.
Advice on the use of masks in the context of Covid-19, WHO interim guidance, 5 June 2020. Comments from WHO director-general, media briefing, 5 June 2020. WHO press briefings.
Derek K Chu, Elie A Akl, Stephanie Duda, Karla Solo, Sally Yaacoub, Holger J Schünemann, on behalf of the COVID-19 Systematic Urgent Review Group Effort (SURGE) study authors. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis, The Lancet, published online 1 June 2020.
C Raina MacIntyre and Quanyi Wang. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection for prevention of COVID-19, The Lancet, published online 1 June 2020. Migrant Clinicians Network blog.

Global: WHO criticised for downplaying transmission risks

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has faced a barrage of criticism for failing to keep on top of rapidly evolving research that shows the extent of the risk posed by Covid-19, which could be transmitted in far more circumstances than the UN agency has acknowledged. WHO faced the concerted pushback from leading researchers and backtracked after an official asserted that transmission of the coronavirus by people without symptoms is “very rare.” The WHO has said repeatedly that small airborne droplets, or aerosols, are not a significant factor in the pandemic’s spread, although a growing body of evidence suggests otherwise. “The WHO has been out of step with most of the world on the issue of droplets and aerosols,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota. These scientific disagreements have wide policy implications. If, as now seem certain, the virus is transmitted by airborne droplets or aerosols, people will need to continue to avoid congregating in poorly ventilated spaces and essential workers will require a higher level of protection. On 8 June, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHOs technical lead for coronavirus response, said that “it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.” But following widespread criticism, a hastily convened WHO 9 June press conference heard her note: “I was just responding to a question, I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that,” adding her statement was also based on unpublished evidence that some countries have shared with the WHO. Last week research commissioned by WHO indicated its advice on respirators for health care staff fell short of the ‘minimum’ protection these essential workers should be provided (Risks 950). However, WHO has so far failed to change its advice. Some scientists are suspicious that WHO’s stance on masks and aerosols may stem less from scientific research than from a concern over supplies of personal protective equipment for medical workers. The organisation currently recommends respirator masks that would block aerosols only for health care workers doing medical procedures that produce aerosols, despite the research published last week that WHO commissioned and part-financed reinforcing calls from unions and may public health experts that respirators are the ‘minimum’ requirement for all health care staff.
WHO press briefings. New York Times. Washington Post and earlier article. BBC News Online. CNBC News.
Oran DP. Topol EJ. Prevalence of Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infection: A Narrative Review, Annals of Internal Medicine. 3 June 2020.

Global: Call to free seafarers trapped on ships

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called for urgent and coordinated action to release the 150,000 to 200,000 seafarers trapped on board ships around the world because of measures to contain the Covid-19 virus. The move comes after union bodies the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), together with the International Chamber of Shipping, called attention to the urgency of the situation in a letter to the United Nation secretary general, António Guterres on 21 May. They highlighted the risks to the mental and physical health of crews trapped on board and expressed concerns about the most vulnerable potentially resorting to self-harm and even suicide. The ILO has urged governments, immigration, health and maritime authorities to work together to recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’ who ensure the flow of trade and the movement of vital medical supplies, safety equipment, food and other critical goods during the pandemic. Referring to the provisions of the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention, the ILO called on governments to adopt without delay all possible measures to facilitate crew changes and the repatriation of seafarers, while taking steps to minimise the risk of contagion. Guy Ryder, the ILO director-general, said: “I urge member states to recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’ and adopt the urgently-needed measures that will enable those who have been working hard to keep us supplied with medicines, food and other necessities, to go home and be replaced by fresh crews.” He added: “Forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable. This jeopardises their health and endangers maritime safety. Action is needed now to ensure decent work for seafarers, avoid maritime accidents and environmental disasters. We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety.”
ILO news release. Nautilus news release.

USA: Black workers face more retaliation over Covid concerns

In a national US survey on workplace retaliation during the pandemic, Black workers were found to be twice as likely as white workers to report that they or someone at work may have been punished or fired for raising concerns about Covid-19 risks in the workplace. The research by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) asked respondents if anyone had been victimised or fired in their workplace for raising Covid-19 safety concerns. One in five Black workers (19 per cent) said ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’, compared with 1 in 10 white workers (9 per cent), and one in eight workers (12 per cent) overall. “Unfortunately, workplace retaliation during the pandemic is not as uncommon as you might think,” said Irene Tung, senior researcher and policy analyst with NELP and lead author of the study. “Our survey shows two parallel dynamics are at play: vocal workers are being punished, and other workers are staying quiet to avoid job repercussions.” She added: “Too little attention has been paid to the connection between workplace repression and virus transmission. For Black workers, this dynamic is exacerbated by our country’s long history of systemic racism in the workplace and in the labour market - making it particularly difficult to speak up about COVID-related concerns.” Overall, 63 per cent of respondents indicated they have concerns about Covid-19 exposure at their workplace. Black workers were more likely to have concerns (80 per cent) and twice as likely as white workers (18 per cent) to have unresolved concerns, with 39 per cent reporting they were not satisfied with the employer’s response or did not raise concerns for fear of retaliation. 
NELP news release and report, Data Brief: Silenced About COVID-19 in the Workplace.


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