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



Self-isolating workers plunged into financial hardship

The NHS Test and Trace system could fail unless ministers boost Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and ensure everyone is eligible for it, the TUC has warned. The union body was commenting as polling revealed more than 4 in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks on SSP. The new survey - carried out for the TUC by BritainThinks – shows that two-fifths (43 per cent) of workers would be unable to pay their bills if they have to survive on £96 a week – the current rate of SSP. For low-income workers (those earning below £15,000) the number unable to survive for two weeks on SSP rises to 5 in 10 (50 per cent). And for those earning below £29,000 it rises to a similar number (47 per cent). Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed said they receive only the basic SSP if they are off work sick. The TUC says the findings highlight how many workers will be left without a financial “safety net” in the event of a second wave of infections or a spate of local lockdowns. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want NHS Test and Trace to work. It’s crucial for stopping the spread of Covid-19 and for getting our economy back on its feet. But the lack of decent sick pay puts everything at risk. Asking workers to self-isolate on £96 a week is not viable – especially when many don’t have savings to fall back on. We can’t have a situation where people are forced to choose between their health and paying their bills.” She added: “Unless ministers fix this gaping hole in our safety net Britain will be ill-prepared for a second wave of infections or more local lockdowns. The government must ensure that everyone has access to sick pay and raise the basic rate to at least the real living wage of £320 a week.”
TUC news release and blog. Sick pay and debt, TUC, 9 September 2020. The Guardian. Morning Star. More on work hazards and low pay.

‘Poverty’ sick pay drives care workers to work sick

Social care workers must be given full pay when sick, the union GMB has said. The union call came after its survey of thousands of care workers across the UK showed that a ‘shocking’ 81 per cent of the respondents across the UK would be forced into work if they became ill on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The same proportion (80 per cent) would be forced to consider borrowing off friends and family or taking on debt to make ends meet. Currently most of the UK’s social care workforce are only entitled to SSP when they become ill - set at just £95.85 per week. The government’s Covid-19 guidance for care staff suggests that sick staff should adhere to strict self-isolation, staying away from the workplace. GMB has launched its Care Full Pay campaign on the back of the findings and is calling on care providers and government to act to ensure full sick pay is introduced for care staff. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “The issue is this - workers in a healthcare setting on statutory sick pay is an infection control risk. Most social care staff simply cannot afford to be sick under the current SSP arrangements. They are being presented with a terrible choice and getting penalised with poverty sick pay just for doing the right thing.” She added: “The findings clearly show a trend across social care - that the Statutory Sick Pay system represents a significant risk, heightened during a pandemic. It’s time for the government and care providers to take action and provide the full sick pay that will ensure care staff aren’t forced into contemplating working whilst sick.”
GMB news release and Care Full Pay campaign.

UCU slams PM’s ridiculous plan for uni Covid outbreaks

The prime minister’s plan to force students to stay in their university town or city in the event of a future lockdown has been slated as ‘ridiculously irresponsible’ by lecturers’ union UCU. The union said universities should instead move the majority of teaching online to avoid students having to travel across the country and risk being locked down in unfamiliar surroundings. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Even by the government's standards, these plans are ridiculously irresponsible. Mixed messages and contradictory advice might be his stock in trade, but the prime minister cannot in good conscience tell students to go back to university when he knows more outbreaks are likely and that would result in them being locked down hundreds of miles from home.” She added: “The sensible thing to do is to move most teaching online for this term and look to reopen campuses more widely only when that can be done safely. Students need to be released from accommodation contracts they do not need, and staff must be given assurances they will not be asked to deliver in person, what can be done remotely. The health and wellbeing of university staff, students and the wider community are too important to gamble with, this is not business as usual.” Last week UCU said that universities’ default position should be online learning. On 3 September, the government's own scientific advisers SAGE raised concerns about the likelihood of increased cases in higher education.
UCU news release and related news release. Principles for Managing SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Associated with Higher Education, SAGE, 3 September 2020. Principles for Managing SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Associated with Further Education, SAGE, 3 September 2020. Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses, Department for Education, updated 10 September 2020. Morning Star. Times Higher Education.

University ‘putting city at risk’ warn unions

Unions at the University of Birmingham have expressed serious concerns about plans to reopen the Edgbaston campus. UCU and UNISON said there have been at least three confirmed cases of Covid-19 on campus among support staff, including one case that unions believe is likely to be the result of onsite transmission, before the campus has even reopened. The university is due to reopen to 35,000 students on 14 September. UCU and UNISON say current plans outline mandatory face to face teaching and return to office working for support staff, without mandatory use of face coverings, often poor ventilation in enclosed spaces, and no comprehensive testing or tracing system in place. Calling for teaching to go online for the autumn term, UCU branch president David Bailey described the plans as “setting the scene for a major outbreak; putting staff and students at risk, all seemingly driven by the need to secure lucrative student fees for the start of term. Any major outbreak could put the entire city at risk”. Mike Moore, the UNISON branch secretary at the university, remarked that “controlling numbers on campus is absolutely vital to protect both those who can work from home and those who need to work on campus keeping vital services going. By requiring everyone to return regardless of service need, the university is operating against both the fundamental principles of health and safety as well as basic common sense.” The city has been put on the national watch list for areas needing enhanced support.
UCU news release and related release. BBC News Online. Birmingham Mail.

Colleges must prioritise student wellbeing, NUS warns

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the wellbeing of students, with 60 per cent of students reporting low self-esteem, a new survey from the National Union of Students (NUS) has found. Students are also more likely to have experienced feelings of isolation during this period, with 73 per cent of students interacting less with students from their institution, 72 per cent less with their course mates and 59 per cent less with their friends. The union’s Coronavirus and Students Survey phase II took place in July and involved over 4,000 students. More than four in ten (82 per cent) respondents said they are still worried about the health of their family members and 3 in 4 students are worried about how they will pay their rent. The union found there is also widespread concern with a return to campuses (Risks 962), with over half (56 per cent) of students worried about contracting the virus. NUS vice-president Sara Khan commented: “The wellbeing of students should be paramount to everyone in the education sector. There can be no doubt that coronavirus has taken its toll on young people, with many experiencing increased isolation, low self-esteem and sleep deprivation.” She added: “Students need to be confident that when they ask for help at these difficult times, they will find it. Students’ unions are best placed to provide this so we really need to make sure students’ unions are properly funded to enable them to meet this increasing demand so students receive the support so clearly needed.”
NUS news release.

Dozens of schools hit by Covid outbreaks

Dozens of schools across England and Wales have reported coronavirus outbreaks, prompting some to shut their doors while others have sent warnings home to parents about infections. Eight teachers at Samuel Ward School in Suffolk tested positive for coronavirus, leading the school to close. In Cardiff, 30 pupils in year 7 at Ysgol Bro Edern have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days after a student tested positive. A week after children began returning to classrooms for the first time since lockdown in March, over 60 schools have been battling outbreaks, from West Yorkshire to the Midlands. Cases include Bardsey primary school in Leeds, which was forced to delay its plans to fully reopen after a staff member tested positive. Only years 5 and 6 returned this week, while other pupils will return next week. In Lancashire, an asymptomatic year 7 pupil at Unity College in Burnley received a positive test result on 2 September – the day the school reopened. All 25 students in the boy’s “bubble” were sent home on the same day and asked to self-isolate for two weeks. In Manchester, three students who were within two metres of a sixth-form student at the King David high school in Crumpsall who developed Covid symptoms on 28 August were asked to self-isolate for 14 days. In Nottingham, Mellers primary school was forced to close to year 1 and year 3 pupils until 21 September after two of its teachers tested positive for Covid-19. Children affected by the closure have been advised to self-isolate. In the West Midlands the return to school for year 3 and 4 pupils has been delayed at Yardley Wood community primary school in Birmingham after a teacher had the virus. A total of 100 pupils were asked to self-isolate for 14 days at the JCB academy in Rocester, Staffordshire, after a pupil tested positive.
The Guardian. BBC News Online on the Caerphilly school and Haverhill school outbreaks. Sheffield Star.

Scottish government urged to tackle teacher burnout

The heads and deputy heads running Scottish schools are facing a burnout risk from the “excessive” and “unsustainable” workloads they are facing, their union EIS has warned. The union said the additional workload demands being placed on school management teams (SMTs), compounded by ‘constantly changing’ official guidance, created a “risk to health in the current situation – stress-related illness as a result of ever-increasing workload, and increased risk of potential Covid infection as a result of working, often without physical distancing, with large groups of colleagues and/or pupils.” Lorraine McBride, convenor of the EIS heads and deputy heads network, said: “Burnout is a very real risk for members of staff who have not had a real break since before the lockdown began.” She added: “In addition to the increased risk of contracting Covid as a result of working in busy school buildings, there is a growing danger of stress-related illness taking its toll on school management teams.”
EIS news release. Morning Star.

Wales TUC wants rethink on masks rules

Wales TUC has called on the Welsh government to re-think its approach to face coverings. The union body’s general secretary, Shavanah Taj, said: “The local lockdown announced for Caerphilly demonstrates the severity of the threat that Covid-19 continues to pose.” She added: “The rise in cases should also now trigger a re-think in the Welsh government’s approach to face coverings. We are concerned about reports suggesting that social distancing rules are no longer being followed in many shops and supermarkets. Equally, the current guidance which leaves decisions on face coverings in secondary schools to be made at a local level risks creating confusion and inconsistency. Face coverings should now be made mandatory in shops and in secondary schools across Wales.” The Wales TUC leader concluded: “These developments also highlight the challenges in enforcing the Covid rules and we look forward to working closely with the Welsh government and other partners through the new National Health and Safety forum to ensure that employers are meeting their obligations to keep their workers safe.” 
Wales TUC news release.

Expert questions drive to get people back in work

One of the UK’s top infectious disease experts has suggested the government should “maybe pause at the headlong rush to get everybody back into offices” in England, as a minister admitted there was not yet a certified on-the-spot Covid test available. Prof Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, warned there had been an “uptick” in Covid-related hospital admissions in the UK in recent days, with infections increasing across all areas. He said it was still too soon to know if reopening England’s schools last week had contributed to a significant spread of the disease. If it had, there might be a case to “reduce contacts in other settings”, he told Radio 4’s Today programme. “I’m still working from home, many people I know are still working from home and I think we should hesitate and maybe pause at the headlong rush to get everybody back into offices.” Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said the government had pinned its hopes on the development of an on-the-spot test that could produce results in “20 or 90 minutes”, without being sent to a lab. But he admitted it was as yet unproven, which is why prime minister Boris Johnson had billed it a “moonshot” in a 9 September speech.
Prime minister’s speech, 9 September 2020. BBC News Online. Evening Standard. The Guardian and related story. The Telegraph.

Civil servants must not be forced into work - unions

Government plans to get 80 per cent of civil servants in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September are not acceptable, civil service unions have said. The unions were commenting after the permanent secretaries running government departments were told to greatly increase the number of staff in workplaces. The government and prime minister Boris Johnson have claimed sending tens of thousands of civil servants back to their buildings would be “hugely beneficial”. Departments have been set a target of 80 per cent of staff in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September. Staff elsewhere in the UK are expected to follow local guidance and continue working from home. PCS said it is asking departments to provide, as a matter of urgency the ‘Covid-secure limit’, current staffing and current risk assessment for each building. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If the government or any employer starts forcing people back to work and we believe that it is not safe to do so we will firstly consider our legal options, secondly give individual legal advice, and thirdly consider whether a collective response is required.” He added: “As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.” Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Employers need to be sensitive to the concerns of staff and ensuring a focus on workplace safety will be critical to building confidence. Over the past months our members have delivered magnificently despite the challenges. Prospect believes the setting of arbitrary timescales and targets is wrong and the managed and graduated approach should continue.”
PCS news release. Prospect news release. Daily Mail. BBC News Online.

Unite says no go on Go Ahead cuts

Transport union Unite has launched an international campaign to stop the owners of the Manchester bus company Go North West from using Covid-19 ‘as cover’ for making savage cuts to bus drivers' pay and conditions, while victimising and gagging a Unite union representative. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has written to Go Ahead Group's CEO David Brown to warn him that Unite will be using all available resources to provide “immediate assistance to our members. In addition to industrial action this will mean exposing your company’s behaviour to all of your stakeholders, partners and associates. This will include mobilising all of our allies and contacting our significant political network in the Nordic countries, Germany and Australasia.” Unite said that despite continuing to make millions in profits, Go North West's parent company, Go-Ahead, is trying to use Covid-19 as cover to make savage cuts to bus drivers' pay, terms and conditions in Manchester. It said the company is intending to ‘fire’ the entire workforce and then ‘rehire’ those that agree to accept inferior contracts. At the same time management is trying to ‘gag’ and sack Colin, a union rep who refused to agree the company’s demands, on what the union says are ‘trumped up’ charges. Unite is calling on the company to stop 'fire & rehire’ and to enter into constructive negotiations. The drivers are currently being consulted on industrial action. Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said: “This is the tip of the iceberg. If Go Ahead get away with this in Manchester they will try and roll-out ‘fire and rehire’ elsewhere.” She added: “Our message to the company is fair and simple - drop the disciplinary action against our union representative, drop your ‘fire & rehire’ threat and get around the negotiating table. Unite will not let profitable firms like Go Ahead use the pandemic as cover for cuts."
Unite news release.

RMT blasts Tory MP for temperature checks blunder

A call by a Tory MP for over-stretched rail staff to take the temperatures of passengers has been blasted by the union RMT. Nickie Aiken, the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, made the call for public transport workers to conduct temperature checks on commuters travelling into London hubs. But RMT assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Nickie Aiken’s plan is ill thought through and is clearly written by someone who does not undertake a regular commute into London otherwise she would know that following 10 years of Tory austerity, implemented by the former mayor and current prime minister, many of London’s Tube and Overground stations are now unstaffed following swingeing staffing cuts therefore temperature checks on commuters would be impossible to carry out in many places.” He added: “I’m also baffled that Nickie Aiken MP is suggesting extra safety critical roles for our heroic transport workers yet ignoring transport unions and workers’ representatives by not including them in her roundtable discussions.” He said the MP’s comments had “inadvertently highlighted the vital role our heroic key transport workers have played and will continue to play throughout the Covid-19 crisis.”
RMT news release. Comments from Nickie Aiken MP. Morning Star.

Peers back TUC call for help for vulnerable workers

A group of cross-party peers is backing calls from the TUC and charities for more government support for clinically vulnerable people going back to workplaces. The national union body and the coalition of charities including Age UK, Diabetes UK, Macmillan and the MS Society want a guaranteed decent income and job security for vulnerable people while infection risks remain high (Risk 959). In March, the government asked around 627,000 vulnerable working people to stay at home and shield from coronavirus. Commenting on 4 September, Baroness Sally Greengross said: “People who have been shielding have made great sacrifices over the last few months to protect themselves, their families and the NHS, and it would be hugely unfair if they lost their jobs as a result. But this is a real fear now, especially for workers who had been banking on and need to keep working.” She added: “We believe many employers want to do the ‘right thing’ and help their employees-in-need but may not be financially able to do so as there is no clear end date to this situation. The government must therefore meet the full cost.”
Morning Star.
Job security: Saving the jobs of those who cannot work at home, but who have to stay at home, TUC, July 2020.

Big outbreak on Amazon construction site

A dedicated coronavirus testing centre has been set up by construction contractor Bowmer + Kirkland after 39 construction workers tested positive on one site over a six-day period. Nottinghamshire County Council is stepping-up testing at the Amazon warehouse site in Sutton-in-Ashfield, to offer free tests for the 700 workers. Jonathan Gribbin, director of public health at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “The council’s public health team has been monitoring the situation at the site. In conjunction with our partners in the National Institute of Health Protection, Ashfield District Council, and the local NHS, we have stepped up our testing strategy.” He added: “Nottinghamshire County Council has been working closely with the main contracting employer at the site, Bowmer + Kirkland in order to make testing available. Bowmer + Kirkland has already put in place a high standard of on-site safety measures.” Work was stopped to implement a deep clean after the first positive cases. Bowmer + Kirkland group construction director, David Scorer, said: “There are between 600-700 people working at the Summit Park site so we have reinforced our rigorous and effective control measures, including social distancing working practices, removal of canteen facilities, additional deep cleaning and discouraging car sharing. Our workplace induction programmes include comprehensive Covid-19 secure guidance that everyone on site must adhere to.” He added: “The testing facility will be a very welcome addition to the existing measures we have in place so we can identify any further positive cases and take action as necessary.”
Nottinghamshire County Council news release. Construction Enquirer.

Jaguar Land Rover hit by Covid outbreak

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has confirmed an outbreak of Covid-19 at its Solihull plant - with four workers testing positive. The company has also revealed other employees who may have come into contact with the confirmed cases were now self-isolating. A spokesperson for JLR said: “We can confirm that four employees based at our Solihull manufacturing facility have tested positive for Covid-19 and are self-isolating. Through contact tracing and working in conjunction with Public Health England, we have identified anyone who has been in close contact with those individuals at work and they are also self-isolating.” She added: “The health of our workforce remains our primary concern and a deep clean of the area has been undertaken. We continue to follow all government and NHS advice.” Janet Newsham of the national Hazards Campaign said: “For weeks we have been recording case clusters from workers who have tested positive for Covid-19 and, as the numbers grow, there is increasing evidence of workplace transmission.” She told the Morning Star: “We are already seeing a stop-start interruption of education which will only get worse if the community transmission isn’t reduced to a negligible number. But that also means that testing and tracing must be fully functioning, with a high contact rate and speedier results.”
Birmingham Mail. Daily Mail. Morning Star.

Coronavirus means there ain’t no chicken tonight

A branch of KFC in Glasgow has been closed after six members of staff tested positive for coronavirus. The fast food restaurant on Pollokshaws Road has been shut for two weeks as a precaution, the company confirmed on 6 September. All of the affected staff are currently self-isolating at home and KFC said it has been liaising with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. A notice posted on the window of the branch said it was currently closed due to a “technical issue.” The outbreak comes after restrictions on movements were reintroduced in Glasgow on 2 September after a spike in cases in the area. A spokesperson for KFC said: “Six team members at our Pollokshaws restaurant have tested positive for coronavirus. They're currently self-isolating at home in line with government guidance and it goes without saying we're wishing them a full and speedy recovery. We've been in close contact with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and we've taken the decision to close the restaurant for two weeks as a precaution.”
BBC News Online.


Jobs, security, dignity – TUC Congress 2020, 14-15 September

The TUC’s Congress 2020 is about to kick off! The TUC says every trade unionist is invited to join the event, the first to take place online. On the mornings of Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 September, trade union members from across the UK will discuss the huge impact of coronavirus on working lives and how to stop mass unemployment. The event will hear from Labour leader Keir Starmer, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, as well as union leaders and frontline workers.
Sign up for TUC Congress 2020, 14-15 September – and see the dedicated TUC Congress webpages include the agenda, programme and details of fringe events. Sign up for Congress updates. Share on Facebook and twitter using #TUC20.    

Webinar on Covid-19: LGBT+ and black workers, 16 September

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on LGBT+ and black workers? What are the big challenges facing union reps? How can reps help protect jobs and reduce the impact of the economic downturn? Join TUC experts Quinn Roache and Wilf Sullivan to find out how you can support colleagues facing redundancy and the effects of the economic downturn. The TUC says its webinar will help you: reduce the impact of redundancies in your workplace; make sure the process is fair for all; keep employers in check; and ask questions via the ‘Ask a question’ box. It adds if you’re a union rep, you are entitled to paid release to take part in this webinar. Talk to your employer.
The impact of Covid-19: LGBT+ and black workers, Wednesday 16 September 2020, 14:00-14:45. Register for the webinar.


Get your essential TUC guide to Hazards at Work

The 6th edition of TUC’s best-selling Hazards at Work guide is the best single source on health and safety, union style. The revised new 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 the other modern workplace causes of illness and injury. It also has extensive checklists, case studies and links to online resources.
Reps, unions, employers can order online from the TUC shop. Single copies, £22. For large orders, email the TUC.


Help build a database of coronavirus risk assessments

The TUC is collating the risk assessments published by employers as they start to open again after lockdown. The TUC says its aim is to support a safe return by increasing transparency about how safety is being addressed in each sector and to pressure non-compliant employers to conduct the proper risk assessments and publish them online. “You can help by checking out your own employer or others in your sector, and entering them into the database at”, the TUC said.
COVID Secure Check portal.


Ireland: Meat firms must look after their workers

The rights of workers in Ireland’s meat industry need strengthening, and collective representation for those workers is important, the leader of the Irish government has said. “That will form part of the government’s continuing engagement with the industry,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil (the Irish parliament) last week. Questioned by opposition leaders on the meat industry’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic, he said: “We also have to look at the entire meat processing industry from end to end. I refer not just to the workplace itself, but to the accommodation, its nature, and quality, as well as transport to and from work.” The Taoiseach was told by Labour leader Alan Kelly: “We cannot have a situation where workers going into meat plants or other settings take paracetamol or Calpol to hide their temperature. If they have a choice between going to work with a symptom of Covid or not getting paid, it is a fairly stark choice. That needs to be eliminated for the workers and for society.” Pressed by opposition leaders on sick pay, the Taoiseach told Mr Kelly the government will work constructively with him on the Labour Party’s bill to provide sick leave and parental leave for workers. “We have already moved ahead to create an infrastructure around Covid-19 illness payments, particularly in direct provision and meat plant contexts to make it very clear that every worker in such situations will get sick pay,” said the Taoiseach. “I take Deputy Kelly’s point on the legislation that he is talking about, which is to create a more permanent provision around sick pay and the right of workers to this.”
Irish Examiner.

Pakistan: Many dead in marble mine collapse

At least 22 workers have been killed and dozens are battling for their lives after a rock collapse at a famed marble mine in Pakistan's Ziarat Ghar mountain. Tragedy struck on the late evening on 7 September, instantly killing 12 miners, Geo News reported. The death toll rose after more succumbed to injuries at the District Mohmand Hospital. Up to 20 others are believed to have been buried in the rubble. Around 45 labourers were working in excavation operations when the collapse occurred, the Dawn newspaper reported. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said nine people have been rescued. Rescue Officer Bilal Faizi said most of the injured were in serious condition. Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary with the global union for the sector, IndustriALL, commented: “It’s a massacre. Both the central and provincial governments are well informed of the increasing fatalities in Pakistan’s mines. But despite frequent reminders and call for actions, such accidents continue.” He added: “Pakistan cannot wait for more workers dying and must work with national and international agencies, including the ILO and global unions, to improve mine safety. The central and provincial governments must immediately take steps to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines. IndustriALL will continue to work with its affiliates and social actors to intensify the mine safety campaign.”
IndustriALL news release. The Hindu. Discourse on Development.


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