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



Food factories could be Covid xmas ‘super spreaders’

Food processing factories could become “super spreaders” of Covid-19 in the run up to Christmas, the TUC has warned. The union body says people working in food plants already face a higher chance of contracting Covid-19 due to the lack of airflow, lack of social distancing and low temperatures. With the number of temporary workers in food manufacturing set to increase by more than 40 per cent this Christmas, the union body says the risk of workplace infections will grow. Since March, several UK food factories have been forced to close during the pandemic after reporting hundreds of cases of coronavirus, among them suppliers to major supermarkets. The TUC warns that current workplace safety guidance for food production is “out-of-date”. New scientific studies have shown the significance of airborne transmission, with Covid-19 aerosols remaining suspended in the air for hours. But the existing government guidance is still largely based on stopping spread of droplets which fall to the ground in seconds. The TUC wants stricter controls on ventilation, face coverings, workplace temperatures and physical distancing. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “There is a real danger that food factories could become 'super spreaders' of Covid-19 as they produce turkeys and other seasonal fare for Christmas. Out-of-date guidelines on food production, combined with the seasonal increase in staff, will put factory workers at an even higher risk of infection.” She added: “Ministers urgently need to update the guidance for food production. They must require employers to publish their risk assessments. And they must resource the HSE properly, so it can get into food factories and crack down on unsafe working. That’s how to make sure everyone is safe at work this Christmas.” The TUC has said too little official safety enforcement action is taking place, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issuing just 31 enforcement notices for Covid-19 safety breaches since April.
TUC news release. Morning Star.

Worker dies in Covid-19 outbreak at food factory

A worker who developed Covid-19 has died amid a coronavirus outbreak at a factory producing salads for Marks & Spencer, the union GMB has said. The union says cases at the Bakkavor/Tilmanstone Salads facility in Kent have ‘rocketed’ from 35 in the third week of November to 79 by the end of the month. At least 97 staff have been instructed to self-isolate. The factory has 800 employees, but many are office staff currently working from home. GMB is calling on the company to offer full pay to anyone taking Covid-related absence, and to undertake mass testing for staff and a deep clean at the factory. So far the company has only agreed to ask staff to wear face masks, after pressure from GMB. Bakkavor hit the headlines in April when GMB exposed a boss 'threatening to sack staff who miss work amid the outbreak’ (Risks 944). Other Bakkavor plants in the UK have also had large outbreaks (Risks 961). GMB organiser Frank Macklin said “we have now seen the virus sweep through the factory at an alarming rate in just over four weeks. Sadly, the Bakkavor factory has now suffered a Covid-19 related fatality.” He added: “GMB has requested the factory close to allow mass testing of employees and a deep clean of its factory. Once this has been done, the factory can re-open with staff returning to work, safe in the knowledge every step has been taken to ensure they are working in the safest possible environment.” The GMB officer continued: “We also call on Bakkavor Tilmanstone Salads to pay employees their full salary if they have tested positive for Covid-19 or have to self-isolate. No one can survive on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) alone. GMB has now lodged a formal collective grievance on behalf of our members, as we believe the health and safety of our members has been seriously compromised at the factory.” Self-isolating staff are paid just SSP of £95.85 a week.
GMB news release. Just Food. BBC News Online.

Large outbreaks hit two Kepak food factories

Two food plants operated by Kepak have been hit by large scale Covid-19 outbreaks, with almost 200 workers testing positive. Public health officials confirmed workers at the firm’s Aberdeenshire food plant were infected at work. NHS Grampian said 87 detected cases had been associated with the Kepak McIntosh Donald plant in Portlethen. A spokesperson for NHS Grampian said: “The number of detected cases of Covid-19 associated with the Kepak McIntosh Donald plant in Portlethen is 87, out of more than 280 staff members tested. Everyone with a detected result has been interviewed and contact tracing completed.” An earlier statement from the health body noted: “There is no evidence at this time to suggest this cluster has spread beyond those working at the plant.” Last week it was confirmed there had also been a major outbreak at Kepak’s plant in Bodmin, Cornwall. Cornwall council confirmed there had been 106 positive cases at the plant, with 271 workers tested. The company, which owns the brands including Rustlers, Big Al’s and Celtic Beef, operates 13 factories across the UK and Ireland.
Press and Journal. The Scotsman. BBC News Online. Just Food.

Cold, hard work and poor pay are a deadly combination

Working environments in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants are conducive to coronavirus transmission because of low temperatures, low air exchange rates, air recirculation and other poor elements of job design, UK experts have concluded. A team from St Johns Institute of Dermatology, Guy’s Hospital, in an editorial in the journal Occupational Medicine, noted other factors leading to a heightened risk from the virus included metal surfaces, production of aerosols exacerbated by high-volume water use and “insufficient distancing between workers, poor compliance with facemask use, presenteeism because of insecure poorly paid employment, voice projection against a background of loud machinery, hyperpnoea [faster breathing] because of heavy manual labour, limited or non-existent hygiene measures and overcrowded domestic accommodation for migrant workers.” Calling for action to protect workers, the authors note: “In addition to standard control measures to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace, that include education, early identification and quarantine, employers should implement additional interventions to protect against the cold. These include frequent warm-up breaks, access to hot drinks and meals, protective clothing and, as a minimum, face masks to protect against transmission and to allow warm air rebreathing.” They add: “Inevitably, infected workers transport SARS-CoV-2 from work to their homes and communities, which sets back efforts to control transmission, morbidity and mortality.”
Louise Cunningham, Paul J Nicholson, Jane O’Connor, John P McFadden. Cold working environments as an occupational risk factor for COVID-19, Occupational Medicine, kqaa195, Published: 28 November 2020.

UK vaccine prioritisation must not fail essential workers

The UK’s plans for Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation ignore most of the essential workers whose jobs have been shown to come with a high risk of infection, a top occupational health expert has warned. Professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University notes: “Health care and social care workers exposed in the most hazardous settings and for the greatest length of time are easily and quickly prioritised in most countries. Other occupational groups can be missed off draft plans completely.” In a letter published in the British Medical Journal on 29 November, he notes: “Ignoring the occupational health and safety and related public health consequences of some workers being given low vaccination priority will be unwise and perhaps indicative of a general UK neglect of occupational health and safety during and before the pandemic.” He said vaccination information for healthcare practitioners published by Public Health England (PHE) in November had “no reference to key or essential workers beyond health, social care, and lab workers. On November 26, PHE’s Covid-19 new green book listed health and social care workers and laboratory and pathology staff as vaccine priorities but no mention is made of other key or essential workers.” Prof Watterson added: “The UK position that ignores many workers therefore contrasts strongly with that of WHO and some French [Risks 974] and US organisations [Risks 975] as well as several UK clinicians and researchers.” In WHO’s roadmap for vaccine access “all groups of workers experiencing greater burdens from the Covid-19 pandemic are emphasised,” he notes. The professor concludes: “What is certain is all workers need adequate information, effective communication, process transparency and evidence prioritisation decisions were ethical and equitable. This will ensure greater confidence and trust in any decisions made and hence protect effective public health and occupational health and safety policies and practices.”
Andrew Watterson, British Medical Journal, 29 November 2020.
WHO SAGE Roadmap for prioritizing uses of Covid-19 vaccines in the context of limited supply, version 1.1, WHO, 13 November 2020.
Green Book. Chapter 14a - COVID-19 - SARS-Cov-2, PHE, 26 November 2020.

Intrusive monitoring on the rise during coronavirus

The TUC has launched a new taskforce to look at the “creeping role” of artificial intelligence (AI) in managing people at work. The taskforce launch comes as a new TUC report, ‘Technology managing people: the worker experience’, reveals that many workers have concerns over the use of AI and technology in the workplace. A poll of over 2,000 workers found 1 in 7 (15 per cent) say that monitoring and surveillance at work has increased since Covid-19; 6 in 10 (60 per cent) say that unless carefully regulated, using technology to make decisions about people at work could increase unfair treatment in the workplace; and fewer than 1 in 3 (31 per cent) say they are consulted when any new forms of technology are introduced. More than half of workers (56 per cent) say introducing new technologies to monitor the workplace damages trust between workers and employers  The TUC says AI-powered technologies are currently being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles. And the report highlights how AI is being utilised by employers to analyse team dynamics and personality types when making restructuring decisions. Left unchecked, the union body warns that AI could lead to greater work intensification, isolation and questions around fairness. The report notes the TUC’s survey found “only a quarter had… experience of a health and safety employee representative being consulted before new technology was introduced,” and points to increased injuries, stress and strains linked to work pressures. It warns that global corporations, like Amazon and Uber, are driving advances in the use of AI to monitor and set more demanding targets for workers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Big companies are investing in intrusive AI to keep tabs on their workers, set more demanding targets – and to automate decisions about who to let go. And it’s leading to increased loneliness and monotony. Workers must be properly consulted on the use of AI, and be protected from punitive ways of working. Nobody should have their livelihood taken away by an algorithm.” She added: “As we emerge from this crisis, tech must be used to make working lives better – not to rob people of their dignity.”
TUC news release, blog and report, Technology managing people: the worker experience, 30 November 2020.

Politics not safety driving Covid school decisions

The UK government’s decisions on Covid in schools and colleges are being based not on the safety of staff and pupils but on politics, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach has said. In a 1 December commentary on the union’s website, he said that “despite credible evidence of rising rates of Covid-19 among pupils and education staff, the government has pushed forward with new contingency arrangements for the management of Covid outbreaks in schools and colleges which not only threaten to undermine safety, but which puts politics above the welfare of children and teachers.” He added: “Under the new contingency measures, critical decisions about the steps to be taken in schools and colleges in the event of a Covid outbreak will now be taken out of the hands of local public health experts and those working in schools and will instead be placed with government officials and ministers working from Whitehall. This decision underlines what has become increasingly clear during the course of this pandemic, that decisions about the operation of schools are being based, not on the safety and welfare of children, young people and staff, but on politics.” The NASUWT leader warned: “Schools and colleges should stay open only where it is safe for them to do so. Keeping schools open should not and must not be at the expense of the health, safety and welfare of pupils and staff… The government must now be pressed to publish the criteria that it will use to guide its decisions on school closures where there are Covid outbreaks and to make public how and when these critical decisions are made. In the absence of greater transparency many parents, teachers and others working in schools would be justified in taking the view that the government is paying lip-service to public health and safety at work.”
NASUWT commentary.

Union demands protection for ‘vulnerable’ school staff

Teaching union NEU has called on the government to ensure clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) school staff are protected as the lockdown ends. The union, which last week presented evidence to schools minister Nick Gibb of rising Covid-19 infection rates in primary and secondary schools, argued it was not safe for CEV school staff to return to workplaces from 3 December. The union is critical of current Department for Education (DfE) guidance, which states: “As the national restrictions end, the guidance to the clinically extremely vulnerable not to go to work or school will also end.” On 27 November, NEU said: “As of today we are advising CEV members of their rights to continue to work from home, and have written to head teachers asking them to support their CEV staff in this regard.” The union added: “Every contract of employment contains an implied right that an employee can refuse to attend their workplace if it is unsafe. Schools and colleges currently fall clearly into this category. The Employment Rights Act 1996 contains protections for employees who exercise their right to stay away from an unsafe workplace.” It says 3 per cent of all teachers or support staff are thought to be CEV. Dr Mary Bousted, NEU’s joint general secretary, commented: “We have appealed to government to do the right thing and protect CEV staff who want to do their jobs but cannot safely work on site. We believe that most heads agree with us, and we have written to them to highlight the risks to their staff and the inadequacy of the new DfE guidance.” She added: “The NEU cannot in good conscience recommend that our CEV members go into work when asked to do so, and we will be advising them not to do so.”  
NEU news release.

Union calls for ‘robust’ enforcement on buses

Transport union RMT has written to all police and crime commissioners across England asking them if they have robust plans to ensure bus passengers are wearing facial coverings on buses. In addition to the letter to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the union is also contacting its parliamentary group about ‘contract buses’ – school buses, for example - having different loading levels to service buses. RMT says it should be science and not the type of service that determines what is safe. The union says it also has concerns about cash handling on buses. In addition to cashless systems, “we believe that exact fare policies should be implemented to alleviate extensive cash handling,” the union says. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Buses are essential for communities, families and the economy and we want to ensure they are always as safe as possible for passengers and staff. The union has praised some bus operators (like Stagecoach) for increased cleaning regimes on buses and robust signage encouraging social distancing.”
RMT news release.

Doctors slam ‘consensus’ on workplace Covid risks

A doctors’ union has dismissed as a ‘whitewash’ a 20 November consensus statement by Public Health England (PHE), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) on measures necessary to address work-related Covid-19 risks in ethnic minority workers. Doctors in Unite said the recommendations “are nowhere near enough” to mitigate the risks. A report prepared by the union says PHE – the government’s public health agency – the workplace regulator HSE and the occupational medicine professional body FOM place too much emphasis on personal risk factors and responsibilities, and not enough on bad jobs. “A disproportionate number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds are employed in low paid sectors such as cleaning and caring roles, where they cannot work from home. They often have inadequate PPE. Studies have shown that cleaners in hospitals are more likely to catch Covid-19 at work than clinical staff who work with Covid patients. The latter have greatly superior PPE.” The union report adds: “Neither does your statement mention the increasing evidence of the importance of indoor airborne spread in the transmission of Covid-19 and the necessity of proper ventilation in the workplace.” The union report concludes: “We believe that the consensus statement would be much stronger if the emphasis was not focused on health education messages which put the onus on the individual to avoid catching Covid-19 but on the legal duty of employers to ensure a safe working environment and on government to tackle the long recognised social determinants of health which lead to stark health inequalities.”
Doctors in Unite summary and full report.
Mitigation of risks of COVID-19 in occupational settings with a focus on ethnic minority groups – consensus statement from PHE, HSE and FOM, 20 November 2020.


Danger warning on Heathrow operation during strike

Unite has warned there are very serious concerns about the safe operation of Heathrow airport during strike action in a dispute over firing and rehiring the workforce and slashing their pay and conditions. The strikes, the first of which began on 1 December, involve firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, central terminal operations, landside and airside workers. Unite said it believes that with these workers on strike the airport cannot operate safely. Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL), which operates the airport, has claimed to have contingency measures in place. HAL has however refused to discuss its contingency plans, including whether it has updated risk assessments, what training the staff who will be covering the striking workers have undertaken and whether or not they possess the required skills and qualifications to run the airport. Unite has written to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the transport select committee about its concerns over Heathrow’s contingency plans. It has also alerted its sister unions representing other workers at the airport about its concerns. Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King said the union has “severe” concerns about safe operation at Heathrow during a strike. He added: “Unite is urging the CAA and the HSE to ensure that safety levels have not been compromised as a result of HAL’s contingency planning and that they make sure Unite is involved in those conversations.” He said: “Despite Unite asking a series of questions and despite the company having a legal duty to discuss its plans with our safety representatives it has refused to do so. By its own admission HAL’s contingency plans only go so far, as the company will need Unite workers to immediately return to work if a major incident should occur.”
Unite news release. The Independent.

Opening stores round the clock is the wrong answer

Opening stores for 24 hours is not the answer to the retail industry's woes, retail union Usdaw has warned. The union said the UK government should avoid ‘fiddling at the edges’ and instead called for substantial action as part of a retail recovery plan to help the industry through the Covid-19 pandemic. The union call came after cabinet minister Robert Jenrick issued a written statement relaxing planning rules around shop opening hours from Monday to Saturday. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said: “This measure is insignificant compared to the substantial issues the retail industry faces. Longer opening hours will not fix the crisis on our high streets.” He added: “We are urging employers to safeguard staff welfare, ensure they are not overstretched and fulfil the extra hours with volunteers or through recruitment. We also call on shoppers to follow the rules, be patient, but most of all ‘keep your cool’ and respect shopworkers.” The Usdaw leader concluded: “We have a choice here. Do we want to see the high street go to the wall, or do we want to save it? Retail is an important feature of our towns and cities, it employs three million people across the UK and we need a recovery plan to get the industry back on its feet.” The union is also calling for a new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours. Commenting after it was announced the Arcadia group had gone into administration and the Debenham chain is to close all its stores, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We need urgent and targeted action to save livelihoods in badly-hit industries - like retail - before it's too late. Unions stand ready to work with ministers and employers on sector-by-sector recovery plans.”
Usdaw news release and releases on Debenhams and Arcadia. Written statement from Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, 30 November 2020. TUC news release. BBC News Online.

Co-op releases manifesto for night shift workers

A new ‘manifesto’ for night shift workers launched by the Co-op has been welcomed by the retail union Usdaw. The high street grocery chain, which says its manifesto is underpinned by ‘extensive scientific research’, notes: “The five Rs of this Manifesto – Recognition, Response, Respect, Research and Raising the profile – provide the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of more than 7 million workers in the UK.” It adds: “There is currently very little societal action being taken to mitigate this risk” to health and wellbeing posed by night shift work. It said the company believes “organisations have a ‘duty of care’ for their night shift workers - in the future they will be held legally responsible for the consequences of night shift work unless mitigating action is taken.” Welcoming the manifesto, Usdaw national officer John Gorle said: “Research shows that night work is bad for your health, chiefly because of disrupted sleep patterns. It’s not easy catching up in the daytime, so one in three manage fewer than five hours sleep a day. Usdaw has long negotiated with employers for the health and safety of night workers and we were pleased to support the recent ‘Night Club’ initiative with the Co-op.” He added a ‘Night Club’ programme from The Wellcome Trust and Liminal Space has now been rolled out to the Co-op’s 8,000-strong logistics workforce. “It has proved to be very effective in listening to the staff and giving them time, during their shift, to discuss the health issues and pressures of night work with experts. Workers were able to book one-to-one consultations and learn about online tools, recipe cards, etc. Usdaw is looking to work with other employers to extend the reach of this impressive initiative.”
The manifesto for night shift workers, Co-op, November 2020.

Amazon’s ‘dehumanising’ conditions should be probed

There should be a parliamentary inquiry into ‘dehumanising’ working conditions at Amazon warehouses, the union GMB has said. The union call came as it projected a huge ‘Make Amazon Pay’ banner on the online giant’s London HQ as part of global Black Friday protests on 27 November. The union has joined a global coalition including Amnesty International, Oxfam and War On Want aiming to curb the firm’s ‘monstrous’ power. Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Amazon is well known for unsafe, dehumanising work practices which see our members break bones, fall unconscious and have to be taken away in ambulances. They pay a pittance in tax while taking millions from the taxpayer in lucrative government contracts.” He added: “Now, during a pandemic which has made the world’s richest man even more money, they’ve been packing workers into warehouses like sardines in a tin. Enough is enough. It’s time to curb the power of this monstrous company. It is high time this government heeded the growing chorus and held a parliamentary inquiry into Amazon’s activities.” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said the company should be broken up. “If anything, as Amazon gets bigger, the abuses get worse as we discover its secret programme of surveillance and systematic anti-union and anti-worker practices. There is only one way to fix this: break up Amazon.” Amnesty International’s Barbora Černušáková said: “All through the pandemic, Amazon workers have been risking their health and lives to ensure essential goods are delivered to our doorsteps, helping Amazon achieve record profits. In this context it is alarming that Amazon has treated attempts to unionise with such hostility – as one of the most powerful companies in the world, it should know better.”
GMB news release. ITUC news release. Amnesty International news release.

Calls for harsher penalties for attacks on journalists

The UK authorities must consider introducing harsher legal penalties for individuals who repeatedly threaten or attack journalists, journalists’ union NUJ has said. The union’s comments came as far-right activist James Goddard appeared at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court after being prosecuted for threatening behaviour towards The Independent's home affairs and security correspondent Lizzie Dearden. The judge ordered Goddard to pay £780 in fines and costs and issued an indefinite restraining order preventing him from contacting the journalist. Breaching the order is punishable by imprisonment. Lizzie was confronted by Goddard during an incident in court in March last year. He shouted verbal abuse at the journalist, calling her “vile” and “scum of the earth”. At the time of the incident, no court staff or security intervened. The journalist has faced years of online abuse from far-right activists, including threats to find out her home address, rape and murder. The NUJ welcomed the restraining order and fine but said more must be done to tackle repeat offenders. Goddard has a long track record of attacks and threats against the media. In June 2019 he was found guilty of common assault against a press photographer. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Lizzie’s experience shows how abuse online and in person often goes hand in hand – no journalist should have to carry out their work under such pressure, looking over their shoulder for fear of being abused or attacked. Journalists cannot be treated like fair game - we need a renewed focus on effective deterrents to stamp out harassment and abuse and this should include consideration of harsher legal penalties.”
NUJ news release. The Independent.

Concern at safety ‘reversal’ across the wind sector

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has expressed concern about a series of serious incidents and an apparent general ‘reversal’ in health and safety performance across areas of the wind energy sector. HSE union Prospect said the safety regulator raised the issue in letters to SafetyOn and G+, in July, as the UK was starting to emerge from the first pandemic lockdown and work activity was starting to increase again. SafetyOn is a UK industry body that looks after health and safety for onshore wind and G+ is a global offshore wind health and safety organisation. In the HSE letter, principal safety inspector Trevor Johnson warned “improvements in health and safety performance has at best stalled if not reversed. In 2020, there have been a number of serious incidents both in the UK and elsewhere which could indicate that any reversal may continue. This would be unacceptable.” He added: “I know that your organisation and your members state your commitment to improve health and safety, however there is a renewed need to ensure that all organisations and individuals provide the necessary leadership to ensure health and safety remains an industry priority.” In October, Prospect held a webinar focussing on fatigue problems across the energy sector. The event was addressed by Dr Fiona Earle, an occupational psychologist from the University of Hull, whose recent work has focused on managing fatigue in the renewables industry. She told the webinar: “There’s a fairly dominant culture in offshore wind where fatigue isn’t something that’s easy to admit, either within a team setting or even to articulate it back to the organisation as a sort of formal report.”
Prospect news release and related news release on fatigue in the energy sector.

Injured Heathrow worker wins 8-year legal battle

A worker left in crippling pain because of a crush injury at work has secured a substantial settlement, after an eight-and-a-half-year legal fight backed by his union RMT. In November 2011, Monty Singh was working an evening shift at the Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 railway station as a customer services assistant. He was injured as he attempted to close a heavy metal barrier, which came off its hinges and collapsed, crushing his left foot. Mr Singh’s manager came to his aid and attempted to call an airport paramedic, however there was not one available and he made his own way home. “I’m just glad I had the weight of RMT and Thompsons behind me, who explained my rights and kept me updated on the twists and turns in the case in a clear and honest manner,” the 51-year-old said. “We’d open and close the metal barriers on a daily basis, and there was nothing to suggest that this one was such a hazard. Clearly it had not been maintained – in reality, it was an accident waiting to happen.” Over the following months, Monty’s condition deteriorated and damage to his nervous system caused the onset of Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). He continued to work for Heathrow Express Ltd on a part-time basis until late 2017, when his contract was terminated. “It’s been a long fight to get to this point, with my employer trying everything to avoid the consequences of its health and safety failures,” he said. Dan Poet of Thompsons Solicitors, who supported Mr Singh on behalf of RMT, said: “While we are glad to see that at long last Mr Singh has been fairly compensated for his injuries, this case is yet another example of why health and safety should be of paramount importance to all employers, as it can prevent life changing injuries to people’s lives.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release.


#ZeroCovid Day of Action, 5 December 2020

Campaigners nationwide are calling for a UK day of action on Saturday 5 December in support of a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy. ‘Zero Covid -the campaign to beat the pandemic’ accuses the UK government of driving up workplace infections and deaths. The campaign, which is supported by Independent Sage, health experts, campaigners, union bodies and leaders and prominent individuals including the author Michael Rosen, is urging supporters to demonstrate safely on Saturday 5 December for a Zero Covid strategy by all the governments in the UK.
Zero Covid Campaignjoin the campaign and organise a Saturday 5 December 2020 action. ASLEF news release. Hazards Campaign news release.
The Rise of the Far Right: Building a Trade Union Response – Report Launch
Dec 4, 2020 11:15am-12.30pm
The TUC will be launching a report which explores how the trade union movement is responding and what more we can do to work together internationally and build solidarity against those who try to divide the working class.  
Speakers: Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, TUC General Council International Spokesperson and NEU Joint General Secretary; Chidi King, ITUC Director of Equality; Dr Stiofán Ó Nualláin, Trademark Belfast.
Chaired by Gail Cartmail, TUC President & Unite Assistant General Secretary
Register at:


Global: Victims call on asbestos frontman to resign

A lawyer heading up the asbestos industry’s global lobbying efforts has been urged to resign by asbestos disease victims. In a 27 November letter sent to Emiliano Alonso, the president of the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), asbestos victims’ organisations in Belgium, France, Italy and the UK call on Alonso to respect the overwhelming scientific evidence that all forms of asbestos should be banned. It urges the ICA head to stop promoting the use of asbestos in developing countries and to resign immediately from his leadership role. The ICA is funded by asbestos mining companies in Russia, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe and asbestos dealers in India and Mexico. It lobbies to block and defeat bans on asbestos in developing countries, as well as efforts at the United Nations to secure safety protections regarding asbestos. Emiliano Alonso is a Spanish lawyer whose consulting company, Alonso y Asociados, lobbies on behalf of clients at the United Nations, the European Union and elsewhere. Before taking up the position of president, he had been paid by the ICA for many years to promote the interests of the asbestos industry.

Global: Bad, cold jobs link to virus risk in meat plants

Cold work and other dangerous work practices have a clear link to the high rates of Covid-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants, public health experts have warned. The findings by a team of researchers led by Dr David Nabarro, the co-director of the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, come in a working paper for the global foodworkers’ union IUF. The paper recommends ‘essential and practical steps employers and regulatory agencies should take’ to mitigate against the spread of the disease in meat and other cold food processing environments. The report notes employment conditions which incentivise reporting systems and provide financial support to workers when sick or isolating are critical in the successful fight against the disease. It notes temperature, humidity and poor ventilation all play a role in the spread of the disease. Crowded workplaces, the speed of production, and aerosols combining with dust, feathers and animal waste, are all factors which encourage transmission of the coronavirus, it adds. IUF assistant general secretary James Ritchie commented: “A healthy and safe workplace established through the elimination and control of hazards, thorough testing and contact tracing systems enacted by appropriately funded public health authorities, and adequate paid sick leave for workers who are sick or must isolate, are the essential components of a strategy to keep essential food workers safe and to fight the spread of the coronavirus. There is no excuse to delay implementation.”
IUF news release. Full report: COVID in cold environments: risks in meat processing plants in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

USA: Emergency laws needed to protect food workers

The darkest days of the pandemic are still ahead of us, as we head into the winter with a surge of cases and without a national strategy to address Covid-19, a US health expert has warned. Amy Liebman, the director of occupational health for the Migrant Clinicians Network, warned winter will be especially grim for essential food workers like farmworkers and meat packers who still lack basic protections in the workplace. Writing in Stat News, she said that under Trump, “food businesses don’t have an impetus to protect their employees right now. Meat, seafood, and chicken processing workers will continue to work just inches from their colleagues on ever-faster disassembly lines. Employers will continue to avoid revamping ventilation systems, to decline installing protective shields between workstations, and to require workers to provide their own personal protective equipment. And these low-wage workers, most of whom are immigrant and Latinx, with few legal protections, fear of retaliation, and heavy dependence on what work they can find, will be unable or unwilling to push back for better working conditions.” Liebman added: Nine months into the pandemic, workers at the centre of the US’s multibillion-dollar food industries continue to be forced to choose between not working — and so being unable to put food on their own tables — and running the risk of becoming infected with Covid-19 or dying from it. That’s why it’s so important for states to act now to put in place emergency regulations to protect food workers where they are most vulnerable to the virus: at work.”
Stat News.

USA: Covid’s work deaths going unreported by firms

Workplace safety regulators in the US have taken a lenient stance toward employers during the pandemic, giving them broad discretion to decide internally whether to report worker deaths. As a result, scores of deaths were not reported to occupational safety officials from the earliest days of the pandemic through to late October, a study by Kaiser Health News (KHN) has found. KHN examined more than 240 deaths of healthcare workers profiled for the Lost on the Frontline project and found that employers failed to report more than one-third of them to a state or federal workplace safety regulators, many based on internal decisions that the deaths were not work-related – conclusions that were not independently reviewed. Work safety advocates say Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations into staff deaths can help officials pinpoint problems before they endanger other employees as well as patients or residents. Through to 5 November, federal OSHA offices issued 63 citations to facilities for failing to report a death. However, many deaths receive little or no scrutiny from work safety authorities. In California, public health officials have documented about 200 healthcare worker deaths. Yet the state’s OSHA office received only 75 fatality reports at healthcare facilities up to 26 October. “It is so disrespectful of the agencies and the employers to shunt these cases aside and not do everything possible to investigate the exposures,” said Peg Seminario, a retired union health and safety director who co-authored a study on OSHA oversight with scholars from Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health. Former head of OSHA David Michaels last month warned the reporting rules were ‘absurd’, adding: “OSHA is more concerned with hiding employee infections and shielding employers from their obligation to protect workers than with protecting workers from infection” (Risks 975).
Kaiser Health News. The Guardian.

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