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



Sick easyJet redundancy scheme is unsafe, warns union

An easyJet plan to use sickness records in its selection of pilots for redundancy is ‘outrageous’ and unsafe, the pilots’ union BALPA has warned. The union was commenting after the airline announced its proposals to select 727 pilots for the axe. Management at easyJet told pilot union reps that they intend to use ‘sickness’ as a key component in choosing who loses their job, an approach BALPA said “is completely unacceptable in a safety-critical industry.” Brian Strutton, BALPA general secretary, said: “Flight safety is built on a culture of openness and not fear of repercussions. This is a well understood and fundamental tenet for everyone involved in ensuring our skies are safe. It is unnecessary and wrong that easyJet is intending to use sickness as a stick to beat its safety-critical staff. easyJet has in the past rightly encouraged pilots to report in sick or fatigued if they are unfit to fly – that is in everyone’s best interest. Now to turn around and say that doing the right thing means you may lose your job could have a chilling effect on the safety culture in easyJet from now on. Not only that, but the time frame easyJet intend to use includes the early coronavirus period when some people were getting sick or having to shield themselves and their families. Should these people be punished by losing their jobs too?” The union leader added: “We have yet to see any justification for the scale of job losses that easyJet has proposed. We will continue to fight for every job and will resist any move to use the Covid crisis to undermine easyJet's reputation as a decent employer.”
BALPA news release. BBC News Online. Daily Mail.

Face coverings in England's shops to be compulsory

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops, but warns it will only be effective alongside existing social distancing and hygiene procedures. The union comments came after the government announced wearing a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England is to become mandatory from 24 July. Those who fail to comply with the new rules will face a fine of up to £100, the government said. Announcing the move, health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons: “The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher amongst men and 60 per cent higher amongst women than in the general population.” The change will bring England into line with Scotland and other major European nations. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary, said: “It is right to make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in shops, but we must recognise that expert advice says it is an additional protection on top of existing safety measures. There now must be clear and detailed guidance from the government and we urge them to work with Usdaw and retail employers to draw that up, as we successfully did on joint safety guidance for the reopening of high street retail with the British Retail Consortium.” He added: “Usdaw is urging employers to stay with the established two-metre social distancing, using screens at tills and limiting the number of shoppers in store at any one time. Employers must also be aware that staff will need regular breaks when they can take their face covering off and have the opportunity to replace it. Staff on tills who are behind screens should not be required to wear a face covering.” The Usdaw leader said: “We now need a public information campaign to explain the correct use of face coverings, that some people are exempt from wearing face coverings and the importance of maintaining existing social distancing and hygiene measures.” Masks have been compulsory on public transport in England since 15 June.
Usdaw news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian and related report.

Shop unions and retailers must be consulted on face coverings

Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is concerned that the health secretary did not indicate he will engage with the union and retailers on detailed guidance for the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis, commenting on Matt Hancock’s 14 July statement to the House of Commons, said “there must now be clear and detailed guidance from the government. We urge them to develop and agree that with Usdaw and retail employers, as we successfully did on joint safety guidance for the reopening of high street shops with the British Retail Consortium. We had hoped to have heard that in today’s Commons statement, but the commitment wasn’t forthcoming.” Saying the health secretary’s statement “leaves many questions unanswered,” he added: “It is still not clear who will enforce the wearing of face coverings, with Matt Hancock today saying that shops would be expected to turn customers away. Usdaw expects the guidance to make it clear that shop workers will not be enforcing the wearing of face coverings. They are already dealing with more abuse than normal and this could be another flashpoint. We also need assurances that guidance will confirm that the established two-metre social distancing will remain, along with screens at tills, existing hygiene facilities and limiting the number of shoppers in store at any one time.”
Usdaw news release.

Shame of our high health worker death rates

The union GMB has said the UK government has ‘utterly failed’ health care workers after a report revealed more than 540 health and social workers have died of Covid-19 in England and Wales, compared to a worldwide total of 3,000 deaths in these jobs. Commenting on figures in a new report from Amnesty international, GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: "Health and social care workers have been on the frontline throughout the Covid-19 crisis, putting their lives at risk as government failed to provide adequate PPE, pay and testing. It's no wonder so many have died. And when our members have raised issues and asked for the proper protection - they've been bullied by line managers and faced threats of disciplinary action.” She added: “We have reports of GMB members in hospitals and care homes who in desperation bought their own PPE but were told by managers that if they wore it they would face action as it scared the visitors and residents. The government has utterly failed our health and social care workers. It's no wonder so many have died.” The Amnesty International report makes wide-ranging recommendations, including provision of full PPE and other protections to all at-risk workers, recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease, compensation for all those made sick as a result of ‘work-related activities’, and protection of workers from any disadvantage for raising safety concerns.
GMB news release. Amnesty International news release. Exposed, silenced, attacked: Failures to protect health & essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amnesty international, 14 July 2020.

WHO shouldn’t gamble with our health

Health service workers could have been exposed to deadly Covid-19 risks because the World Health Organisation (WHO) refused to give their safety the benefit of the doubt, a global union has said. Public Service International (PSI) said WHO’s belated decision this month to update its much criticised 9 March scientific brief on modes of transmission of coronavirus “would entail the use of personal protective equipment, including respirators in preference to medical masks.” Unions have argued from the start of the pandemic that health care workers should have been provided respirators rather than the less protective masks recommended in WHO’s infection prevention and control (IPC) guidelines for most health care work (Risks 955). Use of the higher level of protection would be in line with the precautionary principle, PSI said. It added “putting the unacceptably high rate of infection among healthcare workers in perspective, we are strongly of the view that a precautionary approach should be palpable in WHO’s IPC guideline.” Instead, in a 5 June recommendation on masks, WHO admitted its guidance – followed by the UK and other governments – was tailored to fit the “availability of medical masks versus respirators, cost and procurement implications, feasibility, equity of access to these respiratory protections by health workers around the world”. PSI said this approach has allowed “corporations’ wealth to be prioritised over people’s health.” It concluded “with mounting evidence that its transmission could be airborne [Risks 955], many lives – particularly of health workers – could be saved if the precautionary principle is applied. With its global norm setting role, we urge WHO to take steps in this direction. PSI and its affiliates will also campaign for national bodies to take measures that better safeguard the lives of our members and the public at large.”
PSI news report. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions, 9 July 2020 update, WHO.

Unite welcomes Welsh transport masks move

Unite has ‘warmly welcomed’ the decision by the Welsh government to make the use of face coverings mandatory on public transport. Three-layer face coverings will be mandatory on all public transport in Wales including taxis from 27 July, first minister Mark Drakeford said. He said the mask rule would also apply to other situations where 2m social distancing was not possible. Unite Wales had argued that the previous decision to make face coverings on public transport discretionary did not go far enough. Some bus companies across Wales, including Arriva, have already made face coverings compulsory on their services. Peter Hughes, the Unite Wales regional secretary, commented: “Unite Wales warmly welcomes Welsh government’s decision to make face coverings mandatory on public transport in Wales. Our members working for bus companies and within the taxi trade have been arguing that this is the best way to protect themselves and the travelling public.” He added: “This decision will improve safety on our buses, trains and taxis and help prevent the transmission of Covid-19 within Wales. It will also greatly increase the confidence of the general public to travel on public transport as lockdown measures are eased.”
Updated Welsh government transport safety guidance. Unite news release. BBC News Online.

Unions welcome schools reopening plan for Wales

Unions in Wales have welcomed Welsh government plans for school reopening. The unions were commenting after education minister Kirsty Wiliams confirmed there would be a full opening of schools in September. The minister’s statement said schools will return to full capacity, with only limited social distancing within contact groups, adding at full operations a contact group should consist of around 30 children. David Evans, Wales secretary for teaching union NEU Cymru, said: “We will be working with our members to try and make the return as safe as possible for everyone involved. The two weeks at the start of term to plan for the safest return possible is therefore very welcome.” He also welcomed a £29 million pot to ‘recruit, recover and raise standards’ in Welsh schools. But Evans said existing staff that had worked through the crisis “need to have a break ahead of another busy term in September. The two weeks at the start of term to plan for the safest return possible is therefore very welcome.” The Wales TUC, which had called for a new safety taskforce to coordinate the Covid-19 response (Risks 954), said it was pleased the Welsh government had listened. “None of us know what the public health situation will be in September, but we will continue to prioritise the health and safety of pupils and the workforce,” said general secretary Shavanah Taj. “The newly established National Health And Safety Forum will be a key mechanism for overseeing this, coordinating messages and enforcement activity and ensuring that measures are informed by the latest understanding of the virus as well as the reality of what is happening on the ground.” GMB educational lead for Wales Nicola Savage said: “GMB fully supports the return to school in September in Wales.” Neil Butler, NASUWT’s national official for Wales, welcomed the new staffing commitment and called on the Welsh government “to remain vigilant against the resurgence of Covid-19 and put, as its first priority, the protection and safety of pupils and the education workforce.”
Welsh government news release and related news release. NEU Cymru news release. NASUWT news release. Wales TUC news release. GMB news release.

Large farm outbreak exposes new work hubs

Around 200 staff at the vegetable farm and packing business AS Green & Co in Herefordshire have been ordered to isolate on the property after at least 74 workers tested positive for the virus, prompting concerns about safety standards in agriculture.  This week West Mercia police said they were searching for three people, one of whom tested positive for coronavirus, who left quarantine on the farm at the centre of the Covid-19 outbreak. Concerns have been raised about working conditions on the farm prior to the outbreak, with unions warning that coronavirus was “lifting up a stone” on the situation in workplaces such as textile factories, meat processing plants and now farms. The first case of coronavirus at the farm was discovered on 7 July. By 10 July all the workers had been tested and the results posted on a noticeboard at the farm. Since the outbreak Public Health England (PHE) has provided PPE for staff, including masks, and regular testing. Unite said supermarkets which the farm supplies should be held to account for the problems the outbreak had revealed. Unite researcher Bridget Henderson said the conditions at the farm, including the on-site caravan accommodation, were typical for the food processing sector but had only been exposed now because of the outbreak. “Coronavirus is lifting up a stone to reveal what’s underneath, as with Boohoo in Leicester, the meat processing companies, and now this farm,” she said. “All these structural issues have been going on for ages, but it takes a crisis like this to show the vulnerabilities… Until employers, and ultimately the people at the top of the supply chain, like Boohoo in the textile industry or the supermarkets in this case, start to see the value of having unions involved, it is going to be very difficult to raise standards.”
The Guardian. BBC News Online.

Food firm virus sick pay rethink welcomed

Unite has welcomed a u-turn by Covid-19 hit firm Rowan Foods (Risks 954) which has now agreed to pay company sick pay to anyone testing positive or isolating. Unite regional officer Dave Griffiths, commenting after a meeting with the Wrexham firm, said: “Unite believes that the payment of sick pay for Covid affected workers at Rowan Foods will help enormously in containing this outbreak and limiting wider community spread.” He added: “We are seeking urgent answers from Public Health Wales as to how one site had over 300 recorded infections if the site was not, as they state, the source of the infection. This suggests that a wider public health issue is ongoing in the community. Our focus remains on the workers and the agency staff who will not receive this company sick pay and their safety. Unite welcomes the first positive meeting with the employer and hopes to continue to work closely with it regarding this issue in the coming weeks and months.”
Unite news release.

All workers in Blackburn told to wear masks

New measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Blackburn with Darwen have been introduced after a spike in cases. For the next month, residents are being told to wear cloth face coverings in all enclosed public spaces, including workplaces, libraries, museums, health centres and hair and beauty salons. People living within the Lancashire authority have been told to observe the rules in a bid to avoid a Leicester-style local lockdown. Mass testing began at the weekend after 61 new cases sprang up within a week. Blackburn with Darwen's public health director, Prof Dominic Harrison, said public protection advice for small shops was being stepped up to ensure social distancing was being observed. Targeted testing is taking place in the borough, and residents have been told they do not need to have symptoms to be tested. Prof Harrison said: “These steps will help and we are appealing to everyone in Blackburn with Darwen to follow them to protect themselves and their loved ones. If we don't, a local lockdown, like in Leicester, becomes a very real possibility.” If rates were continuing to rise after two weeks, he said, the authority would “have to consider reversing some of the national lockdown lifting measures locally.”
Blackburn and Darwen Council news update. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Lancashire Telegraph.

Hospitality businesses in Scotland must step up

As Scotland this week took its biggest step so far in the easing of lockdown, Scotland’s national union organisation STUC has warned employers to step up on staff safety. Commenting ahead of the re-opening of indoor hospitality on 15 July, Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, called on workers to ensure that their employers do not skirt their safety obligations. “Indoor hospitality reopening safely depends on the safety of workers.  When workers are protected, we are all safer,” she said. “Employers must provide adequate PPE, ensure that social distancing takes place, and provide workers with adequate sick pay to enable workers to self-isolate if needed. Throughout the crisis, too many hospitality bosses have attempted to skirt their responsibilities to their staff. We will not forget the businesses who refused to furlough their staff during this pandemic, attempted to make them sign away their terms and conditions, and laid them off.” The STUC leader added: “As ever, we urge workers to collectively join a union and win their workplace demands. The Better Than Zero campaign is prepared to give guidance and support for workers aiming to do this. Many workers have built the strength and fortitude to force employers to grant them better conditions and security. In tens of thousands of hospitality businesses, workers still have a long way to go. The last thing any of us want is a resurgence of the virus. Joining together with colleagues and demanding what you need to make your workplace safer, will help us all.”
STUC news release and Better Than Zero webpages.

Unite concern at new site PPE and hygiene guidance

Construction union Unite has said it will not support latest industry guidance until major failings on personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene are addressed. It says the new version of the Construction Leadership Council’s site operating procedures (SOP) have major safety failings and potential ‘illegalities’. The advice relating to the use and supply of PPE when a two metre distance cannot be maintained, and the ‘wrong and potentially illegal information’ regarding site deliveries, will fail workers, the union said. The union is particularly concerned that face coverings, possibly homemade and not the safer face masks, are being suggested as appropriate and adequate protection for workers operating at close quarters. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The latest construction site operating procedures are inadequate. They undermine the use of the correct PPE and Unite cannot support them as they stand. Like many of the major contractors, Unite’s advice to workers is that if you have to work within two metres, full appropriate PPE should be supplied. If it isn’t, work should not be undertaken. Face coverings are not PPE and are not an effective alternative.” He added: “If any Unite member is threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to undertake such work because proper PPE is not supplied, they will be fully supported by their union.” He said a lack of adequate access to toilets on site was another sticking point.
Unite news release.

Regulators too weak and unprepared for pandemic

An occupational health and safety expert has said UK’s regulators were under-resourced and under-prepared when the coronavirus [SARS-CoV-2] pandemic hit, with the workplace enforcement agency the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) going ‘missing’. Stirling University professor Andrew Watterson said the Leicester lockdown “continues to expose even wider and still neglected policy failings along with inadequate national, regional and local capacity relating to information, surveillance and inspection of workplaces. This is important in controlling SARS-CoV-2 and dealing with clusters yet the UK Health and Safety Executive was almost entirely absent from UK government press briefings at the height of the pandemic.” In a BMJ Rapid Response published on 11 July, the professor, who is based in Stirling University’s Public Health and Population Health Research Group, said information from Asia on work-related spread of Covid-19 in food processing and other workplaces “should have informed regulatory planning and action at a very early stage of the pandemic in UK workplaces where such workers were known to be employed. It apparently did not. It should have been integrated into ‘local capacity’ leading to earlier precautionary interventions as well as the later reactive ones during the Leicester lockdown. It did not.” He added: “The HSE has been weakened in terms of policy, inspections, enforcement and staff over decades of cuts and, in many respects, went missing during the pandemic.” Professor Watterson concluded: “The occupationally-caused and occupationally-related Covid-19 cases in the UK show, as illustrated by the latest Leicester lockdown, that fully staffed and resourced regulators with necessary powers need to move much more quickly and effectively both before and during a pandemic to improve workplace health and safety. Prevention of future pandemics will also require much better workplace sick pay and support schemes as well as urgent actions on low pay, long hours, night working and welfare conditions.”
BMJ Rapid Response, 11 July 2020.

Covid exposes need to address HSE’s ‘chronic’ problems

Prospect members in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have reacted angrily after it was revealed that inspectors who have left are being offered short-term contracts on beneficial terms to return to help with Covid spot checks. Retirees and people who left for other employment are being offered pay levels at the top of their former bands to return to work for eight months. Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said: “This is belated but welcome recognition that without more inspectors the HSE cannot carry out its regulatory activities to the best of its ability. But recruiting former inspectors on short-term contracts is not the answer to a long-term problem.” He said: “Over the last few years the HSE has become increasingly short staffed and needs significantly more permanent inspectors to meet a gap in capability. Management seem to have finally cottoned on to the fact that one of the reasons so many inspectors have left is low pay – offering to bring former inspectors back at the top of the pay scale for their grade. But this is a slap in the face for those staff who have chosen to put their dedication before pay and remained in the HSE.” The Prospect leader added: “Covid has shone a light on the capacity of the HSE to fulfil its essential public function but it is not the cause of shortcomings. This is a long-term structural problem caused by years of cuts and only a long-term boost in recruitment and wages will solve it.”
Prospect news release.


Tougher sentencing plan for attacks on emergency workers

GMB has welcomed a consultation on tougher sentencing for those who attack emergency workers. The union was commenting after the government announced a consultation on plans to double the maximum jail term for criminals who assault emergency workers to two years are being considered by the government. Home secretary Priti Patel said: “Our police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers go above and beyond every single day - running towards danger to protect us all.” More than eight attacks are recorded on ambulance workers each day, according to figures obtained by GMB under the Freedom of Information Act. The union says its Protect the Protectors Campaign was instrumental in the introduction of the Offences against Emergency Service Workers legislation – which gave judges the power to impose tougher sentences on those who attack these workers. But since the law has changed, GMB has been disappointed with the number of criminal convictions resulting from attacks against emergency service workers. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, commented: “No one should go to work to help others and fear being assaulted themselves. Tougher sentences are needed to send a clear message that this behaviour is not acceptable.” She added: “GMB will submit evidence to this consultation and we expect the government to act now. This cannot just be a paper exercise with no real increase protection for our members.” Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said “the government should promise to end the cuts that have left our emergency services understaffed and overworked even before this crisis began.”
Ministry of Justice news release. GMB news release. Police Federation news release. Labour Party news release. BBC News Online.

Unite calls for swift probe into deadly crane collapse

An urgent report into a deadly crane collapse must be published in ‘weeks’, construction union Unite has said. The union was commenting after a tower crane collapsed onto housing in Bow, East London, leaving an elderly resident dead and injuring four, including two of the crane firm’s employees. The Wolff luffing jib crane type 355 B operated by Wolffkran collapsed on 8 July, the day after being erected. The jib crashed into nearby terraced houses killing local resident June Harvey, 85. Four other people were injured including two Wolffkran employees – one of whom is seriously injured in hospital. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “Yet again we have seen a crane collapse on a construction site. Our thoughts are with those injured in this accident and we hope that no one has been seriously injured and that there has been no loss of life.” He added: “There must be an urgent, full and complete investigation into the circumstances that led to this accident. The preliminary findings of which must be released in weeks, rather months or years, in order to ensure that similar accidents are avoided in the future.”
Wolffkran statement. Unite news release. Construction Enquirer. Morning Star. The Mirror. BBC News Online.

New plans to ensure safety of UK journalists

The National Union of Journalists has welcomed a new national committee to address the increasing violence facing journalists as they do their job. The first meeting of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists took place on 13 July, focusing on developing a National Action Plan. Media minister John Whittingdale and safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins co-chaired the meeting of the new committee, which brings together representatives from government, journalism, policing, prosecution services and the civil service, to work in collaboration to make sure journalists are free from threats and violence. Representatives from police services across the UK, the press, including the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Reporters Without Borders and the Society of Editors were invited to join as members of the committee. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, commented: “Attacks on journalists are on the rise in the UK and around the globe. Increasingly the press is harassed and singled out for attack while doing their job. Unfettered journalism is a vital part of our democracy and the NUJ looks forward to working with the committee to protect a free media and end the impunity of crimes against journalists.”
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport news release.

Government must up UK radiation protection and fund HSE

A new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on standards of radiation protection in the UK has highlighted the urgent need for greater funding for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to meet its obligations, the union Prospect has said. The union for HSE specialists and inspectors says there are almost 17,000 UK employers using radiation sources, ranging from local dentists and vets to hospitals and industrial applications. HSE employs just seven specialist radiation inspectors, which means there is one inspector for about every 2,500 employers. The IAEA found the UK had a low inspection frequency, no agreed inspection frequency and a high rate of non-compliance, suggesting inadequate funding for inspection work. It reported there is no comprehensive register of radioactive sources or radiation generators. Applicants can secure a licence automatically on payment of a small fee, without any requirement to submit a safety assessment, IAEA found. Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary, said: “As a founder member of the IAEA, the UK must ensure that it meets international standards at all times. The HSE must therefore implement the report’s recommendations in full, including increasing the number of specialist radiation inspectors and implementing a programme that specifies frequency of inspections. No further licences should be issued without a proper safety assessment, and a single UK register of radiation sources should be established and maintained.” She added: “These recommendations will not come as a surprise to the HSE so we expect them now to set out their response as a matter of urgency. Prospect is clear that the HSE must be given the long-term resources it needs so that it can recruit enough inspectors to fulfil essential functions and begin to reverse the damage done by deep budget cuts over the last decade.”
Prospect news release.

Bangladesh shipbreaking widow can pursue UK claim

A widow whose husband was killed while dismantling a large vessel in a shipbreaking yard on the beaches of Bangladesh can press ahead with her claim against the UK-based shipping company involved in the vessel’s sale. In a judgment handed down on 13 July,  an English High Court judge refused to strike out a claim for negligence brought by widow Hamida Begum against Maran (UK) Ltd. Mr Justice Jay held that Maran (UK) Ltd arguably owed a duty of care to the Bangladeshi worker killed on the vessel. Legal advisers for the widow said the decision ‘is likely to send shockwaves around the shipping industry’ which historically has been central to a highly profitable trade that has sent thousands of vessels for scrapping on South Asian beaches. Mrs Begum is represented Alex Wessely, a solicitor with law firm Leigh Day, who said: “The shipping industry is renowned for its lack of transparency, especially when the dangers of shipbreaking are concerned. We are very pleased with this judgment, which we hope is a step towards creating proper accountability for when things go tragically wrong.” Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland said: “If Maran (UK) Ltd is made to accept that it owed Mr Khalil Mollah a duty of care, maybe that will go some way to making UK shipping companies think twice about accepting greater financial reward for their end-of-life vessels at the cost of the environment and the lives of South Asian workers.”
Leigh Day Solicitors news release. The Guardian.

Tube cleaning contract puts profits before safety

A Transport for London contract with outsourcing company ABM shows the contractor is scored more for how successful it is in cutting jobs than in cleaning trains and stations, documents obtained by Tube union RMT have revealed. The documents disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation show the performance measurement matrix used by TfL bases only 8 per cent of the company’s quarterly score on how well it cleans the seats, hand rails, hangers, arms rests and floors of trains or how well they clean station platforms, seats and floors. By contrast, 30 per cent of the company’s score is judged according to how much effort goes into cutting money from the contract and how much is saved. RMT said the proceeds of these savings are split equally between TfL and ABM. In a letter to the London mayor, the union called on Sadiq Khan to follow the example set by the Welsh Labour government last week when it agreed to work with RMT to bring cleaners working on the Wales and Borders Franchise into direct employment with Transport for Wales. RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “At this time when we’re battling a global pandemic, when the essential importance of cleaning has never been more apparent, it can’t be right that the Underground is being cleaned by a company who are being rewarded more for cutting costs than cleaning trains and stations.” He added: “This contract is a sackers’ charter and we know from the NHS that cutting jobs and employment costs makes cleaning less effective and less safe. We urge Sadiq Khan to follow the example set by the Welsh Labour government and sit down with us to work out how to bring this service in-house again. when the contract ends in 2022.”
RMT news release.


Australia: New outbreak closes giant JBS abbatoir

Unions have warned that workers at a giant JBS abattoir in Melbourne hit by a Covid-19 outbreak must continue to be paid after the company was ordered to close its doors. The closure came after four workers tested positive for Covid-19 at the weekend, bringing the total to five. The United Workers Union said workers at JBS have continued to work at a backbreaking pace to keep up with panic buying, even during the worst of the pandemic, and in return the company needs to ensure all workers are paid during the site closure. Matt Toner, the union’s director of logistics, said: “These workers have slaved away for JBS during the pandemic and delivered mega profits. In return, the company must ensure all workers are provided with paid pandemic leave for the period of the site closure.” He warned: “Unless JBS takes these union member’s demands seriously, the virus will continue to spread and the facility could take longer to reopen. This could have devastating effects on our food supply chain and could leave the supermarket’s meat shelves bare. We don’t want JBS to join the long list of bad companies that have only cared about their bank balance and not the welfare of their workers or the general public.”
United Workers Union news release.

Global: Covid-19 seafarers’ rights agreement welcomed

New international measures to protect the rights of seafarers, stranded at sea because of the Covid-19 crisis, has been welcomed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). A joint statement signed by more than a dozen countries gives seafarers enhanced rights as ‘key workers’. The new measures, also supported by other UN agencies and international organisations, enable seafarers to be repatriated and move more freely during the pandemic. “I welcome the coordinated efforts undertaken by social partners and the international community to respond to the crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic in the maritime sector, and call on all member states to support the implementation of this joint statement,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder. The joint statement was signed during a virtual International Maritime Summit, hosted by the UK government, which discussed the global crew change crisis that has left more than 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea due to the Covid-19 pandemic. UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Throughout this pandemic, seafarers have played a crucial, though sometimes unseen, role in keeping vital supplies flowing into the country. It is unacceptable that there remain thousands of people stranded at ports around the world and we owe it to them and their families to change things.” He added: “Today’s agreement builds on the UK government’s longstanding work to bring home the British maritime workers waiting for repatriation and help seafarers in UK ports return home. The summit follows the successful repatriation of 12,000 seafarers from UK shores throughout the pandemic.”
ILO news release. DfT news release. Joint statement on crew changes.

India: ‘Industrial homicide’ during Covid-19 kills at least 75

There have been more than 30 industrial accidents in India since May, killing at least 75 workers and injuring over a hundred, IndustriALL has said. These numbers are based on reported incidents and the real number may be far higher, the global union has said. It says as India returned to work after the Covid-19 lockdown, there has been an industrial accident at least every two days killing and maiming workers, polluting the surroundings with long-term health and environmental implications. In a letter to the prime minister of India, IndustriALL warned the government of India to immediately address this systemic breakdown in safety controls to avert any further potential catastrophes on the scale of the 1984 Bhopal disaster. Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said: “We are gravely concerned over the incessant occurrence of avoidable fatal accidents. It is nothing but industrial homicide and the government of India should immediately sound a national alarm to impose proper safety measures and protocols to prevent accidents.” He added: “International norms and standards, particularly workers’ rights, play a central role in improving safety. The government must engage with the unions, listen to their demands, and implement and monitor safety measures in a collective way. IndustriALL is ready to work with all stakeholders and provide technical support to improve safety. The world and India cannot have another Bhopal.” Dr G Sanjeeva Reddy, president of the national union federation INTUC, said: “The government of India should form an expert commission to analyse the industrial accidents, immediately address this safety crisis and stop potential accidents. The government should involve unions in the decision-making process both at the national level and at the factory levels to avoid accidents in the future.”
IndustriALL news release.

Morocco: Berry plants ‘breeding grounds’ for coronavirus

A sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in Morocco has been linked to international berry processing plants. The plants owned by Spanish multinationals Frigodar and Natberry operate in the agricultural region between Larache and Rabat, and specialise in the packing and freezing of berries. Frigodar employs 1,313 Moroccan workers, out of which 457 returned positive coronavirus tests on a single day this month, authorities say. As a result of outbreaks, the Moroccan government temporarily shut down the foreign owned plants. Workers are usually forced to travel for hours on overcrowded minibuses from their residences to farms and packing plants. It is nearly impossible to maintain physical distancing measures, local unions report. The workdays for many are of up to 17 hours; eight hours of an official ‘on the clock’ shift with up to nine hours in commuting time. Union leader Driss Adda, the deputy secretary general of the National Federation of the Agricultural Sector (UMT), called for immediate action to improve the working and living conditions of labourers along the food supply chain. The news of the outbreak came on the day on the government announced a gradual easing of the confinement and physical distancing measures in the rest of the country. However, the affected agricultural region was instructed to remain under strict lockdown.
ETUI news report.


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