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



Many businesses still flouting Covid-Secure guidance

Many businesses are ignoring government guidance to keep their workers safe from Covid-19, the TUC has warned. The union body said all employers with more than five staff are required to produce written risk assessments, in consultation with recognised unions. And the government’s ‘Covid-Secure’ guidance says that employers with over 50 staff are expected to publish their risk assessments on their own websites. The TUC said these detailed safety plans are an essential part of keeping workers safe as the economy reopens. However, the union body is pointing the finger at eight large employers who, despite having staff already working onsite, have failed to publish risk assessments on their websites. It said while Boohoo, Amazon, The Range, Lidl, JD Sports, Laing O’Rourke plc, Bowmer & Kirkland Construction and Pets at Home may be taking steps to comply with government guidance to keep workers and customers safe, “not publishing their risk assessments is a worrying sign. It means workers and their unions can’t easily access the documents to check the actions being taken.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “Lots of good employers are doing the right thing and following government guidance. So there’s no excuse for big companies like Boohoo and Amazon cutting corners. Voluntary publication isn’t enough. The government must change the law to require bigger employers to publish their risk assessments. And employers who fail to keep their workers safe must be fined – and if necessary, shut down.” The TUC leader added: “Getting this right is in the national interest. If rogue employers flout safety guidance it puts us all at risk of a second spike in infections.” 
TUC news release. Testing and tracing for Covid-19; How to ensure fair access and manage monitoring in the workplace, TUC, May 2020. Return to safe workplaces, TUC Education, May 2020. TUC proposals on ensuring a safe return to work, 4 May 2020. TUC video on coronavirus and employment rights at work.

TUC sets up its own Covid-19 risk assessment portal

The TUC has launched its own online platform to collect risk assessments in one place and to name and shame employers who have failed to publish them. It says ‘COVID Secure Check’ will be used to monitor good and bad safety practice as the economy reopens, and to put pressure on government and employers to keep their workers safe. The TUC is inviting all workers to use the site to check if their employer has published their risk assessment, and to find out more about safety at work. The initiative comes in the wake of the government giving the go-head to more sectors to open for business. However new TUC polling has revealed over a third (34 per cent) of those who were at home but have now returned to work say they haven’t seen their employers’ risk assessments. Given this evidence of widespread non-compliance, the TUC urged the government should take a tougher approach and introduce a legal requirement that employers publish their risk assessments on a central government portal. After the government failed to do this, the TUC launched its Covid Secure Check, to collect risk assessments online in one place and identify employers who have failed to publish them. The TUC notes: “COVID Secure Check collects the Covid-19 risk assessments published by employers and monitors good and bad practices. The evidence we gather will be used to improve everyone’s working conditions during the pandemic.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “As Boris Johnson announces further measures to reopen the economy, too many employers are playing fast and loose with workers’ safety.” She added: “All employers are required to carry out risk assessments in consultation with unions and their workforces. And ministers have instructed all employers of more than 50 staff to publish their risk assessment. That’s how workers, customers and local communities can be sure employers are following the Covid-Secure guidelines to keep us all safe.”
TUC news release and COVID Secure Check portal. Government guidance on working safely during coronavirus, including risk assessments.

Protect jobs and workers, union bodies demand

A panicked rush to re-open workplaces could cause a second spike in infection rates followed by a double dip recession, the STUC said. The Scottish union body was responding to UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) unemployment figures released on 16 June. These showed the number of workers on UK payrolls dropped by more than 600,000 between March and May, which STUC said was relatively low thanks to the furlough scheme allowing firms to retain workers and showed the scheme should be extended. STUC general secretary designate Rozanne Foyer said the figures should not be misused to prompt a rushed return to work or to cut back on health and safety precautions in the workplace. She said a return to work “has to be achieved safely and sustainably, with a public transport system that limits the spread of the virus, a massive increase in testing and adequate contact tracing. Tearing up the play book now could be a disaster causing cases to spike with all the suffering that would entail.” The STUC leader added: “Government concerns over extending the furlough scheme have to be looked at against the immediate impact on public funds of a massive increase in the cost of social security and the economic threat of a return to lockdown. Government needs to extend the furlough scheme, particularly for the most affected sectors; create a Job Retention scheme to support continuing employment and prepare to invest in shovel ready clean infrastructure as lockdown continues to ease.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, commenting on the ONS figures and PAYE data that showed continued falls in jobs and pay in April and May, said: “The labour market is on red alert.” She added: “The plan for recovery has to prioritise protecting and creating jobs. Getting people back into work is the only way out of recession. That’s why we need a job guarantee scheme to help those who lose work, especially young workers.”
STUC news release. TUC news release and research on young workers and unemployment. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

WHO warns against relaxing lockdown in England

England’s coronavirus lockdown should not be further lifted until the government’s contact-tracing system has proven to be “robust and effective”, the World Health Organisation has said. The UN body’s comments came after widespread criticism of the first results of the new tracking operation. As shops across England prepared to reopen, and people were encouraged by the government to come out of their homes and on to the high street, Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, cautioned that the UK remained in a “very active phase of the pandemic”. His remarks coincided with ministers confirming a review of the 2-metre physical distancing rule, with the government coming under pressure from business leaders, Tory backbenchers and rightwing media to further ease the lockdown. Boris Johnson said on 14 June that the falling numbers of coronavirus cases has given the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the 2-metre physical distancing rule. In response to data showing the government had failed to trace the contacts of a third of those testing positive in the first week of the new system, Kluge warned in an interview with the Guardian against rushing into reopening the economy. “In the UK I would say this is a very active phase in the pandemic so, more let’s say, careful,” he said.
The Guardian.

Wider shop reopening must be safe and abuse free

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is urging customers to respect staff and for employers to ensure safety in stores, as shops are allowed to reopen. Paddy Lillis, the union’s general secretary, said: “The safety of our members and the public is our top priority, so Usdaw worked with the British Retail Consortium on joint safety guidance for shops. Retailers have to publish risk assessments and implement robust safety measures before they reopen and we urge employers to work with the union to ensure their staff have a proper say in that process.” He added: “Importantly shops should not be allowed to remain open if retailers do not follow the guidance and operate safely. We will continually monitor the situation and support our members as they return to work. However, safety in stores needs customer co-operation and I am shocked that abuse of shopworkers has doubled during the coronavirus emergency. It is a disgrace that a minority behave this way, at a time when we should be pulling together to get through this appalling pandemic. At no time should abuse be a part of the job. Shopworkers deserve respect.”
Usdaw news release.

Government must protect BAME people from Covid-19

The TUC and doctors’ organisation the British Medical Association (BMA) have called for immediate action after a delayed official report concluded racism could contribute to the increased Covid-19 risks for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. The Public Health England report found “historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work” meant people in BAME groups were less likely to seek care when they needed it or speak up if they had concerns about risk in the workplace. The report said the unequal impact may be explained by social and economic inequalities, racism, discrimination and stigma, differing risks at work and inequalities in the prevalence of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and asthma, which can increase the severity of Covid-19. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, in comments echoed by several unions, said: “This report sets out the scale of the structural racism that BME people continue to face. It should never have been withheld. Ministers must now act to prevent more unnecessary coronavirus deaths among BME communities.” She added: “We need a fully funded action plan to tackle the structural racism that continues to blight BME people’s life chances and health.” The British Medical Association said it was “critical” to carry out risk assessments of vulnerable groups and protect them at work. Recommendations in the PHE report include: “Developing risk assessments for BAME workers in roles where they are exposed to a large section of the general public or those infected with the virus.”
TUC news release. Covid-19: How racism kills, TUC blog, 1 May 2020. BMA news release. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups, Public Health England review, 16 June 2020. GMB news release. NEU news release. PCS news release. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.

Teachers expected to clean classrooms

Threequarters of teachers are being expected to clean their own classrooms and equipment regularly amid concerns some schools are not implementing effective measures to control the spread of coronavirus, a survey by the teaching union NASUWT has discovered. As more schools reopen to pupils, the union’s survey found that teachers still have significant concerns over their own safety and access to personal protective equipment (PPE). It said ‘shockingly’ one in five teachers who said they were shielding because they have been identified by the NHS as being clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus have been told to go into school. Seven in ten (72 per cent) teachers believed that it was not safe for more pupils to return to their school and only 14 per cent believed that it was safe. Of 20,617 teachers who responded to the NASUWT survey, 74 per cent said they had to clean down their classrooms and equipment on a regular basis. More than a third (36 per cent) did not see cleaning staff throughout the day.The survey found that where PPE was required, 42 per cent did not have access to safety glasses or goggles, 27 per cent to overalls/protective aprons and 24 per cent to masks and face coverings. BAME teachers were more likely to state that they did not have access to safety glasses or goggles (49 per cent), overalls/protective aprons (33 per cent), or masks and face covering (34 per cent). More BAME teachers stated they did not feel safe (32 per cent) compared to their colleagues (18 per cent). NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The NASUWT will not hesitate to challenge these unacceptable actions by employers which is threatening the health of teachers. The welfare of our members and the pupils they teach remains our top priority.”
NASUWT news release

Limited school reopening highlights dangers

Rushed government reopening plans have led to guidelines on ‘safe’ class sizes being ignored by some schools, according to a UNISON survey. More than one in five (22 per cent) support staff said primary schools have operated class sizes bigger than the 15 pupils limit recommended to maintain social distancing. Nursery school ‘bubbles’ – where infants remain in small protected groups – also had more than the eight child government recommendation, said nearly half (48 per cent) of those surveyed. The findings are based on responses from more than 8,000 employees, of which seven in ten (71 per cent) are teaching and learning support assistants working in primary, nursery and special schools in England. The findings came after the government stepped back last week from opening primary schools for all year groups until September at the earliest. Almost half (48 per cent) of all the respondents said that – after the first week of opening for reception, year one and year six pupils – they weren’t reassured by their experience of working with increased pupil numbers. Nearly half (48 per cent) said social distancing between pupils is only being followed to a small extent or not at all. Nearly one in five (19 per cent) said they weren’t consulted on their workplace risk assessment in good time before the wider reopening. A third (33 per cent) say their school or nursery is not allowing staff to use personal protective equipment (PPE) if they wish to. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) said they were not given PPE even after a risk assessment said it was needed. UNISON head of education Jon Richards commented: “This survey shows the pressures schools have been under to meet the June deadline. The result is some corners have been cut, with staff either not consulted in time, or not at all in some cases.”
UNISON news release.

Fast food chains accused of ‘taking the pee’

Unite has demanded that takeaways and major fast food chains stop breaking the law and allow fast food couriers to use their toilets. The union said it has been contacted by several self-employed couriers who work via platforms such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats, who are concerned that they are increasingly being denied the right to use a toilet when collecting food from takeaways. With public toilets closed due to the pandemic, drivers report having to urinate in bushes and that they have no proper method of cleaning their hands. The drivers say that the takeaways, which include household names, are using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to prevent couriers from using their premises. Since the pandemic began Unite has had an increasing number of HGV delivery drivers report that they have been denied access to toilets. Following lobbying from Unite, a letter jointly signed by Baroness Vere, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport, and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) chief executive Sarah Albon has been issued, reminding businesses of their responsibilities and reassuring drivers they have a right to use a toilet when making a delivery. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “This is a serious public health matter,” adding: “Takeaways and fast food outlets have got to stop taking the pee out of delivery drivers and instead ensure that they have access to toilets when they need them.” He concluded: “After intense lobbying by Unite, the government is finally taking this issue seriously, and workers denied access to toilets should immediately report this to the HSE. Companies who refuse to provide will be named and shamed because their actions are risking the public’s health.”
Unite news release.

RMT launches Covid-19 charter for Tube staff

On the day that face masks were made compulsory on public transport in England, London Underground union RMT has launched a Covid-19 charter for Tube workers. The transport union said its charter, announced on 15 June, offers support to the London Underground workers who have kept the Tube and other Transport for London (TfL) services running throughout the Covid-19 crisis. It explains that while union members want to provide the best possible service to workers in London, there cannot be increased use of the Tube without the necessary safety planning and before conditions are right. The RMT charter calls for workers and their trade unions in every sector of the economy to be involved in risk assessments of all types of work in each workplace before they are required to return to work. It says that workplaces should only be re-opened when the workforce agrees it is safe to do so. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The key message of the charter is that no worker should be forced on to the Tube without the necessary safety planning and before conditions are right. The situation must also be kept constantly under review.” He added: “London Underground and TfL must be able to assure the union that different phases of lifting lockdown can be achieved without forcing usage above 13 per cent of capacity, which is the maximum that can be carried while maintaining social distancing.”
RMT news release. British Transport Police news release.

Union warning as public transport masks come in

The compulsory use of face coverings on public transport in England must “not be seen as a green light” for wider use of public transport or the ditching of social distancing measures, the rail union TSSA has said. TSSA general secretary, Manuel Cortes, added that it must be police, rather than frontline transport workers, that enforce the new rules. Coverings must now be worn on buses, trams, trains, coaches, aircraft and ferries – though very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties will be exempt. Cortes said: “The changes in the rules are welcome as they are likely to lower transmission of the virus on the transport network. However, this must not be seen as a green light among the wider population to use public transport.” He added: “It must remain the case that only the key workers who are keeping us safe during the pandemic continue to use public transport. It’s also important to stress that a physical distance of at least two metres between passengers and/or staff must be maintained at all times. This remains the most effective measure to control the spread of Covid-19.” The TSSA leader concluded: “Our union is all too aware of the dangers of this pandemic to transport workers on the frontline – given the tragic death of Belly Mujinga [Risks 948] and others. I’d urge the public to fully comply with the new face covering measures for everyone’s sake. However, if they fail to do so it is the job of the police, rather than our members to enforce these public health instructions.” 
TSSA news release.

Arriva face coverings move should set Wales standard

Unite Wales has welcomed the decision by Arriva to make the use of face coverings compulsory on their bus services across Wales. The union said the decision by Arriva, which includes a small number of exceptions, is in line with Unite's call for the Welsh government to ensure face coverings are mandatory on public transport. This week the Welsh government recommended but did not require face coverings for travellers on Welsh public transport. Peter Hughes, Unite Wales regional secretary, commented: “Unite Wales warmly welcomes Arriva’s decision to make face coverings compulsory for those using its bus services across Wales. Despite the current Welsh government position of only recommending their use, Arriva has taken the commonsense approach. This decision will increase safety on their buses and increase the confidence of the general public to travel with them.” He added the Welsh government “must now realise that they should not be leaving important public health decisions such as this in the hands of transport providers. It is time for Welsh government to review its decision and make face coverings compulsory on public transport in Wales. If this does not happen, Unite would encourage all bus operators in Wales to put the health and safety of drivers and passengers first, and adopt the same stance that Arriva has taken on face coverings.”
Unite news release.

Mandatory NHS masks rule requires more masks

Hospitals and GP practices must have clarity and adequate supplies as new NHS face covering rules come into effect, the doctors’ organisation BMA has said. Responding to new government rules which from 15 June made it mandatory for hospital staff in England to wear face masks and patients and visitors to wear face coverings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said it was “imperative” that there is wearing of masks by staff and face coverings by the public “to prevent the spread of infection in healthcare settings.” But he added it was clear “the government has failed to properly plan for these changes which are now in effect and have left providers of NHS services confused and unprepared for how this will be implemented on the frontline.” He said: “The government must urgently ensure that all hospitals are provided with adequate supplies of face masks as the now mandatory use in all areas of the hospital will inevitably lead to an increased demand, and these changes as well as the additional supplies of masks should also be extended to GP practices. Additionally, if patients or visitors arrive at hospital without a face covering, it is not appropriate that hospitals are expected to provide surgical masks for the public, as per the new guidance, nor have hospitals been provided with their own stock of face coverings. With the supply of PPE to the NHS frontline having been a major issue throughout this pandemic, to place this burden on hospitals without providing additional resources is quite frankly unacceptable.” Dr Nagpaul concluded: “It is vital that the government matches this new policy with proper support to implement this on the ground so that healthcare settings can be safe places for patients and staff alike.”
BMA news release. New government recommendations.

HSE says dodgy KN95 facemasks must not be used

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning against the use of KN95 facemasks as personal protective equipment (PPE). A safety alert from the regulator has told all employers and suppliers not to purchase or use KN95 facemasks. KN95 is a performance rating that is broadly equivalent to the EU standard for FFP2 facemasks, when working properly are not as protective as the better spec FFP3 masks. However, products manufactured to KN95 requirements rely on a self-declaration of compliance by the manufacturer. There is no independent certification or assurance of their quality. HSE said about 90 per cent of the PPE concerns and queries currently being received by HSE involve KN95 masks, which it says are often accompanied by fake or fraudulent paperwork. It added it has ‘quarantined’ around 1.5 million KN95 masks, prevented 25 million items claiming to be FFP3 respirators entering the supply chain and prevented a further four lines consisting of many millions of items entering the supply chain. Rick Brunt, HSE’s director of operational strategy, said: “The KN95 facemask should not be purchased or used.” He added: “We have found that the lack of independent testing has contributed to there being a substantial quantity of inadequate and poor-quality masks on the market, claiming to comply with the KN95 standard. We understand a lot of people, mainly in sectors outside of healthcare, have bought these facemasks without realising they are non-compliant. We are concerned that people wearing them are not being protected from breathing in harmful substances in the way they expect. Protective equipment must protect.” The safety alert does not relate to N95 masks which are manufactured to a US standard and have been approved for use in UK healthcare settings.
HSE news release and alert.

Government errors linked to care deaths catastrophe

A catalogue of government errors that saw infected patients returned to care homes and gross shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) contributed to high Covid-19 death rates in residents, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found. An NAO report on how the UK government prepared the NHS and social care for the Covid-19 pandemic notes: “The central procurement route set up to supply PPE during the outbreak met the modelled PPE requirement (under a worst case scenario) for some items in NHS trusts, but distributed 50 per cent or less of the modelled requirement for gowns, eye protectors, or aprons. It only addressed a small proportion of the modelled requirement for PPE among social care providers.” UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea commented: “This is a catalogue of errors and highlights once again a complete absence of planning or thought for social care. Discharging patients to care homes without testing was simply scandalous and accelerated the spread of the virus among an obviously high-risk group.” She added: “This report confirms what staff have said from the start, that the supply of protective equipment in social care was woefully inadequate. And it makes clear the government doesn’t know how many people have actually been tested in care. It’s plain the care sector was out of sight, out of mind in the early stages of the pandemic. The result has been a tragic and catastrophic loss of life.” She warned: “When the government announced compulsory face coverings for the NHS but made no mention of care, it was clear lessons haven’t been learned. The sector’s still being treated as an afterthought.”
UNISON news release. NAO news release and full report, Readying the NHS and adult social care in England for COVID-19, 12 June 2020.

Care worker pay deductions fuel virus risks

Huge disparities in financial support for care workers during the Covid-19 pandemic show the government must act to ensure staff are not left in financial peril and forced to take health risks, UNISON has said. Staff in the care sector, who need to self-isolate, shield or have the virus, have told UNISON they’re being forced to take unpaid leave or survive on minimal statutory sick pay (SSP), leaving them hundreds of pounds out of pocket each week. Some have been told by their employers to use up annual leave or make up time for free when they return to work. Financial hardship means a significant number have no choice but to carry on working against public health advice because they can’t afford time off, increasing the risks of spreading the virus at work and to their family, said UNISON. The union added ministers must make sure care staff who need to take time off or reduce their hours don’t lose out financially and feel compelled to work whatever the cost. For those who have needed to shield – either for themselves or family members – just 31 per cent were fully paid, a UNISON analysis of responses from care workers found. More than one in five (22 per cent) received only SSP, while 9 per cent were told they had to carry on working and 8 per cent were told they would receive no pay at all. The analysis showed one in ten care workers said they were aware of colleagues who continued working despite having Covid-19 symptoms. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Around one in ten of those who’ve been in touch know colleagues who’ve continued working when they should be isolating, while some are avoiding being tested because they can’t afford to take time off. It’s scandalous that less than a third of those shielding had been offered full pay especially when the government says care workers shouldn’t be penalised for following public heath advice.” She added: “Ministers have to make sure care staff are not out of pocket so we can halt the spread of the virus for the sake of carers and the vulnerable people they look after.”
UNISON news release.

Covid-19 deaths show selfless contribution of cleaners

UK unions have called for proper recognition of the essential role played by cleaners and security guards. The unions were marking International Justice Day for Cleaners and Security Workers on 15 June, a worldwide event coordinated by the global service sector union federation UNI. Members of the union GMB marked the day with a peaceful protest at St George’s Hospital in London, following the death of two cleaners from Covid-19. The socially-distanced demonstration saw the union demand fair pay and decent working conditions for cleaners and security workers. Helen O’Connor, GMB organiser, said: “The crucial role that cleaners play can be seen by the fact that two GMB members within St George’s have died of Covid-19 during this pandemic, a tragic fact that underlines just how important, yet exposed they are.” She added: “Throughout the crisis they have carried on working, keeping the wards and theatres clean to stop the infection spreading. GMB will honour their memory on International Justice Day and their sacrifice will make us even more determined than ever to fight for the pay, terms and conditions that hospital cleaners, porters and hostesses need and deserve.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said: “For decades, cleaners have been called ‘non-core’, non-essential workers and outsourced on that basis, condemned to low pay and insecurity. Well now, we’re seeing the cost of that folly. Cleaners are and always were essential workers, integral to the running of our railways, asked to put their lives on the line during a global pandemic but treated like second class citizens.”
GMB news release. RMT news release. UNI news release. BBC News Online.


FBU ‘will not accept another year’ of Grenfell inaction

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said firefighters will not accept another year of inaction on building safety. Commenting on the 14 June third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the union called for an end to “a politics that values profit over people.” It condemned the “endless promises, excuses, and platitudes” from government. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters do all that they can to protect human life and the loss of 72 people at Grenfell was deeply traumatic for them as well as for all those others directly affected by the fire. Today, a community and their firefighters grieve. But we will not accept another year of inaction.” He added: “Three years on, we have heard endless promises, excuses, and platitudes from government, but the reality on the ground has not changed. Half a million of people are trapped in unsafe homes and across the country another Grenfell could happen tomorrow, potentially where fire services are not as well resourced. Every day that the government fails to tackle the building safety crisis is another day that residents’ lives are being put at risk.” The union leader concluded: “While the world has faced up to the coronavirus pandemic, the inquiry into the Grenfell atrocity has been put on hold, giving the companies and politicians responsible more time still to avoid scrutiny. It was decades of deregulation, privatisation, and austerity that allowed Grenfell to take place, with a politics that values profit over people. When the economy restarts, we must not fall prey to the failed arguments of the past that led to this horrendous loss of life.”
FBU news release. PCS news release. The Guardian. Evening Standard. Morning Star.

NUJ condemns attacks on journalists

UK journalists’ union NUJ has condemned the ‘outrageous and unacceptable attacks’ on reporters and photographers covering demonstrations in London on 13 June. The union was commenting after a demonstration, involving far-right activists claiming to be ‘defending statutes’, turned violent, with police and journalists among those targeted. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, called for the “thugs spoiling for a fight” to be identified and prosecuted. “It is outrageous and disgraceful that in doing that job, a photographer had his nose broken and was verbally attacked as police brought him to safety. Another photographer was hit as protestors hurled barricades at the police, and reporters had their mobile phones knocked out of their hand whilst they were filming.” She added: “There should be a full investigation to identify and prosecute individuals who attacked and harassed photographers and reporters, such disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour cannot be tolerated.” The demonstrators, at what had been planned as a counter-demonstration to a Black Lives Matter protest that had been called off, were also involved in numerous attacks on police and police horses, with smoke bombs, bottles and cans thrown. The protests included members of extreme far-right groups, including Britain First. Some media outlets advised staff covering the protests not to engage or seek interviews with demonstrators because of the fear of more acts of violence. The NUJ said it is “calling for the government to urgently engage with the union over its commitment to establish a National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, and create a national action plan. The union is also seeking government support for the International Federation of Journalists’ draft UN Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists and other Media professionals.”
NUJ news release and statement. Vice. The Telegraph.


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Reps, unions, employers can order online from the TUC shop. Single copies, £22. For large orders, email the TUC.


China: Many dead as truck blows up destroying factories

A tanker truck explosion in southeast China has killed at least 20 people and left over 170 injured. The vehicle was carrying liquefied natural gas when it exploded on a highway in Zhejiang province on 13 June. The explosion took place near Liangshan Village, close to the city of Wenling. A second explosion occurred after the damaged truck was propelled onto a factory building near to the highway, destroying the building and causing serious damage to adjacent factories. The transport company that owned the liquified natural gas tanker, Ruiyang Dangerous Goods Transportation Co Ltd, was fined 10 times for safety violations between 2016 and 2018, state media reported. The total fines, however, came to just 14,100 yuan (approximately £1,600). Four of the ten citations were for failure to carry out regular vehicle checks. Other violations were related to failure to comply with local government regulations and safety standards. Commenting on the incident, China Labour Bulletin noted: “Lack of serious repercussions for violations and minimal follow-up or other enforcement is a disturbing pattern. It is a regular occurrence in China for the media and official investigators to discover after the fact that companies involved in major workplace accidents have long records of safety violations.” It added: “Because of lax enforcement, many transport companies in China routinely ignore safety regulations. Moreover, the intense competition in the industry means that many companies and individual drivers are tempted to cut corners by overloading vehicles or driving too many hours without proper rest.”
China Labour Bulletin. BBC News Online. Sixth Tone News.

Europe: Campaign wins Covid-19 guarantees for workers

European workers will benefit from better protection from Covid-19 following pressure from the union federation ETUC and MEPs on the European Commission. The Commission had decided against putting Covid-19 in the highest risk group of its Biological Agents Directive, a decision made without proper consultation of trade unions and the European Parliament (Risks 947). However, in response to concerns raised by trade unions, MEPs threatened to use their power of veto over the Commission decision. The Commission has now struck a compromise with MEPs on the Employment and Social Affairs committee to accept the classification but with guarantees on protections for workers. ETUC said Nicolas Schmit, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, made important clarifications on the protective and preventive measures employers must take, including an obligation to inform staff in writing about all safety measures being taken. The Commission has also committed to workplace inspections to enforce regulations and a review of the directive to better prepare for pandemics. Schmit also announced a long-awaited update of the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work. ETUC deputy general secretary Per Hilmersson said: “The ETUC would have preferred the virus to be classified in the highest risk level but it’s important Covid-19 is included in the Directive and we welcome the commitment to enforcing the measures and to a future review of the legislation.” He added: “Since last October, the ETUC has called for a new EU strategy on occupational safety and health, so we look forward to be being involved in developing a strategy that helps member states and employers to adapt to the Covid-19 challenges and to fight work-related cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, stress and accidents.”
ETUC news release. Socialists & Democrats news release.

Global: Unions are key to return to work talks

As governments start to ease lockdowns, unions around the world are negotiating the return to work and say how this happens is critical for unions and workers. Global union IndustriALL cites the example of its UK affiliates Unite, GMB and USDAW, who it says “will not recommend a return to work for their three million members until the government and employers agree to a nationwide health and safety revolution as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Pointing to examples of good practice putting safety first negotiated by unions worldwide, IndustriALL notes “that details must be negotiated for a safe restart of production. It is not about being for or against returning to work. It depends on the spread of the disease in a country or city, the health system, whether protective measures are available for the commute, etc. Once that is in place, negotiations with the union at national, sectoral and company levels must take place to prepare a safe return to work.” IndustriALL points to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) policy brief for a safe and healthy return to work which asserts “the determining factors in any decision to return to work must be considerations of life and health and the anticipation and mitigation of risks” (Risks 949). The ILO adds “social dialogue is critical to ensuring effective policy design and creating the trust needed to facilitate a safe return to work.” Industriall also uses as a benchmark the International Trade Union Confederation’s ‘Key issues on the return to work’, which notes “ensuring health and safety in workplaces must be the highest priority as people return to work in many countries emerging from Covid-19 restrictions and closures.”
IndustriALL news report. A safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, ILO policy brief, 22 May 2020. Key issues on the return to work, ITUC Covid-19 briefing, 15 May 2020.

USA: America pays a high price for cheap meat

Workers’ rights in the United States are exceptionally limited, while the coronavirus pandemic is exceptionally widespread. This is not a coincidence. One reasons for the shocking extent of the outbreak in the US, is almost certainly that the nation’s relative paucity of labour protections has turned its slaughterhouses into Covid-19 distribution centres. As of last week, 24,715 meatpacking workers had been infected with the novel coronavirus, while at least 86 had died from it, according to data collected by the Food and Environment Reporting Network. By contrast, across all of Europe, the best available data suggests about 2,670 coronavirus cases have emerged in meat-processing plants and slaughterhouses, including four fatal cases. American meat workers aren’t just working in larger ‘megafacilities’, they are often working faster than their European counterparts too, says James Ritchie, of the global food and farming union IUF. Slaughter line speeds could make it impossible to comply with coronavirus precautions, he said: “You can’t even stop to cough into your hand or your elbow because the line speeds are so, so fast.” The relative strength of unions in Europe appears to serve as a greater constraint on how fast firms can force their employees to work. The average European pork-plant line processes 400 pigs per hour; in the US, that figure is closer to 1,000.
New York magazine. The Food and Environment Reporting Network.


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