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



Inequality a big factor in self-isolation rates and work risks

Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers have had to self-isolate at a much higher rate than white workers, according to TUC research. The poll for the TUC, carried out by Britain Thinks, shows that more than a third (35 per cent) of BME workers have self-isolated during the pandemic, compared to a quarter (24 per cent) of white workers. The TUC said the research published on 10 December shows that BME workers are being put at greater risk of coronavirus exposure than white colleagues. While half of white workers (49 per cent) reported that their employer had done a Covid-secure risk assessment for their workplace, this falls to 36 per cent for BME workers. This is despite these risk assessments being a legal requirement. Working during the pandemic continues to have a negative impact on the levels of stress and anxiety of two-fifths of BME workers (38 per cent). Previous TUC analysis has shown that BME people are far more likely to be in precarious work and in jobs with higher coronavirus mortality rates than white workers, such as security guards, carers, nurses and drivers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This government has been careless of the impact of coronavirus on BME lives. BME workers are more likely to be exposed to the virus, less likely to work in Covid-Secure workplaces, and therefore more likely to be plunged into hardship if they have to self-isolate.” She added: “The government should act to rid the UK of the low wage insecure jobs that keep many BME workers in poverty and put them at higher risk from the virus. And it should set out a real commitment to ending systemic racism and discrimination.”   
TUC news release.

Figures confirm pandemic’s disadvantage ‘triple whammy’

The government must act to address the structural racism in the UK economy that has left Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers at higher risk of ill-health and hardship throughout the pandemic, the TUC has said. Commenting on statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 14 December showing the detrimental impact of the coronavirus crisis on different ethnic groups in the UK, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “BME workers have faced a triple whammy of threats during the pandemic. Today’s figures show that BME workers were less likely to earning enough before the pandemic to avoid hardship during lockdown. BME workers are more likely be in low-paid, insecure jobs, where they have been more exposed to coronavirus and more likely to die.” She added: “Today we learned that BME workers’ mental health has suffered the most during the Covid-19 outbreak. The pandemic has exposed the structural racism of the UK’s economy yet again. It is past time for the government to act.” Glenn Everett, deputy director for the ONS sustainability and inequalities division, said: “Financial resilience was lower among Black African or Other Black households before the pandemic… which would explain why these groups found it harder to manage financially during lockdown.” He added that mental health had deteriorated across most ethnic groups during lockdown.
TUC news release. Coronavirus and the social impacts on different ethnic groups in the UK: 2020, ONS, 14 December 2020.

TUC’s antiracism taskforce targets ‘hostile’ workplaces

The TUC’s new antiracism taskforce has met for the first time. The organisation, chaired by NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach, will lead the trade union movement’s renewed campaign against racism at work, the TUC says. It adds the taskforce will engage with Black workers across the UK to hear about their experiences and it will produce recommendations on tackling structural racism in the UK, in workplaces and in unions themselves. Dr Patrick Roach said: “There is a hostile environment for Black workers today which means they are more likely to face discrimination in the workplace, to be in insecure jobs, and more likely to be dismissed from work. And, during the pandemic we have also seen how racial discrimination has resulted in Black workers being much more likely to die at work as a result of coronavirus.” He added: “As the taskforce begins its work, we will be hearing evidence from Black workers about their experiences of everyday racism in the workplace. The Anti-Racism Taskforce will not hesitate to call out racial injustice wherever we find it. It will bring together a strong coalition to deliver a programme of measures to root out racism and tackle racial discrimination and injustice at work.” A review of US and UK studies concluded last month that Black people are twice as likely as white people to catch the coronavirus, with higher exposures at work one of the major contributory factors needing attention (Risks 974).
TUC news release.

Firefighters ready to drive forward the Covid response

Firefighters are ready to assist the UK’s rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine after an agreement was reached between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and fire and rescue service national employers. The agreement allows firefighters to assist other public sector organisations with track, trace, and isolate measures, and to check that potential higher risk premises are Covid-secure. Firefighters will inspect workplaces where relevant authorities have raised concerns about Covid-security. The FBU is encouraging anyone concerned about workplace Covid-security to raise it with their local council in the first instance. The union and national employers said fire and rescue services are open to assisting with the vaccine rollout if requested by Local Resilience Forums. The work of firefighters responding to the pandemic was previously permitted under a tripartite agreement involving the National Fire Chiefs Council, but the FBU and national employers said in a joint circular the temporary agreement had become “much longer term than originally envisaged”. The work will now come under the jurisdiction of the National Joint Council, where the FBU and national employers more usually negotiate pay and conditions in the fire and rescue service. All 14 previously agreed activities are covered in the new agreement. This is initially in place until January, to ensure that brigades comply with all safety measures, with a view to extension beyond that. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “We are still in the midst of the second wave of this pandemic and cannot be complacent about the serious risks posed by coronavirus. That’s why we are expanding this crucial work, offering to assist with track and trace and to check that higher risk premises are Covid-secure.” He added: “It remains as crucial as ever to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks in fire and rescue services – and that means taking proper precautionary measures, including testing and isolation, to make sure firefighters don’t get sick when protecting the public.” Firefighters will have to wait three days and receive a negative Covid-19 test before returning to fire and rescue service premises when returning from pandemic duties.
FBU news release.

Bradford bus drivers to strike over 'dangerous' shifts

Bus drivers in Bradford have voted to strike early next year in a dispute over ‘dangerous’ shifts introduced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unite members at First West Yorkshire claim traffic and service levels are now “near normal”, but drivers are still working extended shifts (Risks 974). The union said the firm had refused to restore prior shift patterns. First West Yorkshire said shifts at the Bradford depot were “along the same lines” as those elsewhere. Unite said of 350 drivers at the Bowling Back Lane depot who were entitled to vote, nearly 300 voted in favour of strike action. Drivers were worn out and suffering “fatigue and stress”, while current working patterns endanger drivers and the public, the union added. Unite regional officer Darren Rushworth said: “The drivers are well aware of the trying year everybody has had and have decided to wait until after Christmas before going on strike, so people are not inconvenienced. In the interim period, we urge First West Yorkshire to restore prior working agreements and guarantee they will not be eroded in future.” He added: “The conditions drivers are currently operating under are unsafe for themselves and the public and if First West Yorkshire continues to disregard this, then industrial action will go ahead in the New Year.”
Unite news release. BBC News Online.

DHL operating a ‘safety when it suits’ system

DHL has been told it ‘must improve’ coronavirus safety procedures for drivers working on its Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) contract in Halewood, Liverpool. Unite, which represents the majority of the 120 DHL drivers at the Halewood site, said staff have raised concerns that vehicles used by drivers who had subsequently tested positive for the virus were not being disinfected. The union said when its health and safety reps brought workers’ concerns to the attention of the company, DHL dismissed the issue and accused the stewards of being on a ‘witch hunt’. Unite slammed DHL for disregarding a ‘potentially serious infection control issue’ flagged by its staff and said the company’s response indicates that Unite stewards risk being unfairly targeted for performing their roles. Unite national officer Matt Draper said: “DHL are operating the SWIS method of safety… Safety When It Suits. A potentially serious infection control issue has been flagged, but instead of listening to the concerns of their staff, DHL have accused Unite health and safety representatives of being on a ‘witch hunt’.” He said the concerns have arisen as other DHL drivers on the Burton Biscuits and AB World Foods delivery contract prepare to strike over worker victimisation and poverty pay. “DHL must improve Covid safety procedures for its Halewood drivers,” Matt Draper said. “That starts with taking their concerns seriously and meaningfully engaging with Unite’s well trained health and safety reps rather than intimating that they will face repercussions if they speak out again.”
Unite news release.

GMB welcomes Asda u-turn on Boxing Day break

The union GMB has welcomed an Asda rethink that will see the majority of its stores closed on Boxing Day. GMB national officer Roger Jenkins said: “GMB has been requesting Asda to allow their key worker heroes family time over the Christmas period, so we are really pleased they have agreed to our calls.” He added however: “It’s a shame this is not an extra day’s holiday - workers will have to book a day of their annual leave entitlement. But it’s a step in the right direction and GMB now calls on the rest of the retail sector to follow suit and repay these key workers with a chance to spend Boxing Day with their loved ones.” Last week, Unite accused Sainsbury’s of ‘acting like Scrooge’ by insisting that staff come in on Boxing Day after working extended opening hours in the run up to Christmas (Risks 977). Both Morrisons and Sainsbury’s insist they will open on Boxing Day, while Asda has been joined by Marks & Spencer, Pets at Home, and toy store The Entertainer who have all said they will close. John Lewis and Waitrose stores are normally shut on Boxing Day, and will stick with their usual practice.
GMB news release. BBC News Online.

Don’t ignore Covid spread in Welsh schools

Ministers in the Welsh government must not ignore evidence of Covid spread in schools, the teaching union NASUWT has said. Responding to the announcement from education minister Kirsty Williams that secondary schools and colleges would close from 14 December, the union expressed concern that primary schools were not included in the measure. Some local authorities had decided to close its schools early, but Ms Williams said this “clear, national direction” would “take the pressure off” schools, parents and carers. Neil Butler, the NASUWT national official for Wales, said: “The decision to exclude primary schools is concerning,” adding “there are the same strong educational reasons for closing primary school sites”. But he added: “The minister's decision however has brought clarity to what was becoming a chaotic situation with local authorities and schools going their own way. This was a difficult decision for the minister and, whilst we wish that it had been made earlier, we are grateful that it has been made.” NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “With transmission rates rising steeply we urge the minister to take proactive measures to ensure the safety of pupils and staff in all schools.”
NASUWT news release. BBC News Online.

Spate of ballots on Scottish school safety

An increasing number of its local associations are now moving towards balloting members on disputes with local authorities over school Covid-19 safety, Scottish teaching union EIS has said. At present, six EIS local associations are moving to ballot members but the union says there are at least four others currently considering whether to take this step towards a formal dispute. The EIS had called for a move to teaching and learning via remote online platforms for the pre- and post-Christmas period, in the interests of minimising infection risk and protecting the health and wellbeing of students, teachers and their families over the festive season. It says despite broad support from many parents, teachers and others this call was flatly rejected by the Scottish government, which has pledged to keep school buildings open at all costs right up to Christmas. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The number of EIS local associations moving to consultative ballots, together with the number still considering this action, is a clear indicator of the strength of feeling amongst teachers.” He added: “Scotland’s teachers see governments in other countries increasingly taking steps to close school buildings early and move to remote learning in order to protect families over Christmas – this raises the question of why the Scottish government apparently values its teachers less than governments in England, or Wales, or Sweden or Germany value theirs.”
EIS news release and #NotAtAllCosts campaign.

School closures row hots up

Teaching union NEU has welcomed a call by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to the prime minister Boris Johnson to close schools immediately with a move to online learning. The mayor’s call came as a major row erupted between councils wishing to close schools early in the face of a Covid-19 spike and the Westminster government, which threatened legal action to keep schools open. Kevin Courtney, the NEU joint general secretary, said the union “is pleased that Sadiq Khan has written to the prime minister pointing out that the biggest spread of the virus is within education settings and calling on the government to ask schools to close early for Christmas and re-open later and to provide extra resources for online learning.” He added: “Sadiq Khan is a politician who is reading the science and standing up for education and protecting communities. He also calls for secondary pupils to have regular asymptomatic testing to keep down transmission in schools. These would be important steps forward.” The NEU leader concluded: “The government should have been planning for this weeks ago. They have now started to recognise the blindingly obvious fact that transmission is happening in schools and that this can spread to families. Much more is needed to control the virus in schools and to protect communities.” In addition to school closures, mayor for London Sadiq Khan said: “The government must also cover the full cost of Statutory Sick Pay for workers who have to self-isolate.” Latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that Covid-19 cases are rising in secondary and primary schools, with the highest infection rates now in school age children. A row broke out on 14 December after a decision by Greenwich council to close schools in the borough, with Islington and Waltham Forest councils quickly following suit, led to education secretary Gavin Williamson threatening legal action and issued a ‘temporary continuity direction’ to Greenwich requiring that schools stay open.
Mayor of London news release. NEU news release, news release on schools Covid statistics and analysis of ONS infection rates by age and graph. DfE temporary continuity direction, 14 December 2020. GMB news release. BBC News Online and update.

School support staff must get Covid-19 vaccine

The union GMB has called on government ministers to prioritise school support staff for vaccine access on the same basis as teachers. The union says current official advice to the UK government says that teachers could be identified for early rollout of the vaccine, with no reference to school support staff. Teaching assistants, caretakers, lunch-time supervisors and other school support staff make up the majority of workers in schools, GMB said in a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and Matt Hancock, the health secretary. The union adds school support staff regularly perform tasks that inherently involve risk of exposure, such as administering food, medication, and restraints. In the letter, the union highlights latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data for schools, which indicates infection rates were higher among support staff than primary or secondary school teachers between early September and mid-October. GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “This is about common sense, and common decency. First, it would be self-defeating to not make the vaccine available to the majority of those who work in schools – it just won’t work. Second, school staff have made heroic sacrifices during the pandemic and some of them have lost their lives due to occupational exposure, and they are more likely to be on low incomes.” She added: “We urge ministers to urgently review the evidence and give equal weighting to all those who work in schools as part of any wider occupational vaccination programme.”
GMB news release.

Government ignored PPE supply labour abuses

The UK has bought supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) from firms accused of modern slavery during the coronavirus pandemic despite warnings from within government. Leaked documents show Whitehall identified companies suspected of forced labour as long ago as November 2019 – with further concerns about suppliers highlighted by a UK diplomat over the summer. But tens of millions of items were still purchased from these firms, the majority of which are based in Malaysia, for use by NHS staff during the pandemic as demand soared. Andy Hall, an independent migrant worker specialist focusing on forced labour in gloves supply chains, told The Independent: “The UK government and NHS Supply Chain have both dramatically failed with their ineffective audit system to reliably document and prevent or remediate the serious foreign worker forced labour in Malaysian rubber gloves supply chains.” Despite the commitments made by the Home Office in 2018 to bring greater transparency to the UK’s supply chains and contribute to efforts in combating modern slavery, the government has “unethically and unacceptably” fuelled such practices through its inaction and willingness to turn a blind eye, Mr Hall added. The Malaysian factories have been linked to the illegal recruitment of impoverished migrants from Bangladesh and Nepal, with accusations they have been forced to live and work in squalid conditions. Evidence collated by Hall, including photographs, show little regard for Covid safety at the PPE factories. In November last year – long before the pandemic took hold – the Home Office produced a report on the glove manufacturing industry in Malaysia that concluded “corruption is endemic in the recruitment systems of Malaysia and migrant worker source countries, and touches every part of the recruitment supply chain”. The report said there was “strong evidence” to suggest that the majority of Malaysian glove manufacturers that supply the NHS “exhibit forced labour indicators”. US news network CNN reported in September that US authorities had banned imports of gloves from some Malaysian suppliers because of “reasonable evidence” the companies were using forced labour.
The Telegraph. The Independent. CNN News.


'Grave concerns' over Cabinet Office bullying

Civil service union PCS has raised “grave concerns” over bullying and racism in the government department that supports the prime minister. PCS leader Mark Serwotka also says disabled staff have faced “direct and indirect discrimination.” Some civil servants have “contemplated suicide as a direct result” of their treatment, he warned. In a letter to cabinet office secretary, Alex Chisholm, commenting on the findings of the department’s 2020 ‘people survey’, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka wrote: “Our reps and members in the Department believe that all of the above figures underestimate the true picture as many of those suffering do not complete the survey. Many have lost faith in the system and some fear being identified and suffering further. We also note that the overall response rate has dropped by six per cent. The Cabinet Office is at the heart of government and is supposed to set a good example to the rest of the Civil Service, while ensuring the delivery of the government’s key objectives.” He added: “These figures reflect the sad reality of a workforce that is being bullied and discriminated against, with many feeling their only option is to find work elsewhere.” He went on to outline how large numbers of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members of the union had come forward to highlight increased prejudiced they had faced in the workplace since the death of George Floyd in the US and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests. The letter concluded: “We have noted EHRC’s [Equality and Human Rights Commission] recent investigation of the Home Office in relation to the Windrush scandal and we would urge you to set up an independent inquiry into the Cabinet Office now.”
PCS news release. BBC News Online.

Legal challenge to PM on Priti Patel bullying let-off

Boris Johnson is facing a union legal action over his decision to clear Priti Patel of bullying staff at the Home Office and other departments. The prime minister caused a wave of anger in Whitehall when he cleared the home secretary of misconduct last month, despite a lengthy inquiry finding that her behaviour amounted to bullying (Risks 975). Lawyers acting for the FDA senior civil servants’ union have issued a pre-action notice to Downing Street, accusing the prime minister of acting unlawfully by overruling the findings of his own independent adviser, Sir Alex Allan, who quit after Ms Patel was cleared. The notice, which is the first step towards a judicial review of the decision, stated: “If the prime minister’s decision stands, it sets a damaging precedent which gives carte blanche to the kind of unacceptable conduct which the home secretary was found to have committed. Civil servants in the Home Office and beyond will rightly object to their conduct being measured against a standard of conduct and unacceptable bullying which, it seems, does not apply to the home secretary or other ministers.” He said the union wasn’t challenging the prime minister’s right to hire and fire ministers, noting: “Our challenge rather centres on his decision that the home secretary did not breach the Ministerial Code, despite the facts that were established and which he did not challenge.” The FDA is representing Sir Philip Rutnam, who resigned as permanent secretary in the department in February, complaining of a “vicious and orchestrated” campaign against him from Priti Patel's office. He is taking action for constructive dismissal.
FDA news release. The Independent.

BEIS facilities management staff vote for strike action 

Over 90 staff at the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department’s London HQ have voted overwhelmingly to walk out over concerns about Covid safety. PCS which represents security, cleaning, porterage and postal service workers at the government department accused contractor ISS, which employs the staff at BEIS, of refusing to wind down support services sufficiently to enable members to stay safely at home (Risks 974). The union said the great majority of support staff are from the black and minority ethnic community, which has been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic.  Many civil servants are working from home. However, BEIS which is a key Brexit department, is allowing some staff to come into the office, meaning support staff are forced to attend, which the union says is unnecessarily endangering their health. It believes BEIS should put more restrictions on the numbers of people coming in to the 1 Victoria Street building than at present and wind down the office operation further so support staff can be safe at home. It said four members with the contractor ISS have now tested positive for Covid-19 and the local branch does not believe ISS followed proper procedures, instead allowing infected members to interact with colleagues at work for too long. This follows positive cases among civil servants, including staff in the office of business secretary Alok Sharma who was himself accused of violating his own Covid guidance last month (Risks 972). PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "BEIS and ISS are continuing to put our members at unnecessary risk by not allowing support staff to stay at home. We hope this huge mandate for action will make both ISS and BEIS management take heed of our members’ serious concerns.” He said: “Many civil servants are working well from home and there should be no need for our support staff to continue to put themselves in harm's way at BEIS.”
PCS news release

Delivery hero fired after speaking up on driver attacks

A delivery driver who was attacked four times in less than a month and fought off a knife gang has been sacked after ‘breaking the silence on delivery driver robberies’, his union GMB has said. Jamie Burkinshaw single-handedly fought off a gang of three, including a knifeman, just two days after being blocked in by cars on the same route in another failed robbery in November. Hermes refused to change his route through Sedgley, in the West Midlands, even after he explained he feared for his life, telling him to ‘keep working and remain vigilant’ after all four robberies. Jamie, who is a GMB union rep, was sacked after raising safety concerns on behalf of other drivers – but GMB said it is confident this was due to an overzealous local manager and Hermes will do the right thing and reinstate their ‘hero’ driver. Hermes driver Jamie Burkinshaw said: “It was absolutely terrifying – when they pulled the knife on me I thought ‘this is it’. I just sort of went on autopilot, punched him in the face, jumped in my car and drove off.” Saying the attack left him “scared to death”, he added: “I told my line manager at Hermes and they were not happy and put serious pressure on me to carry on. When I still said no, I ended up out of a job.” GMB organiser Elaine King said: “Our drivers kept the world moving throughout the pandemic and Jamie’s just trying to do his part to keep them safe.” She added: “We have a good relationship with Hermes and we are confident these were just the actions of an overzealous local manager. We hope Hermes will do the right thing and reinstate their hero driver.”
GMB news release.

Government refuses to protect shopworkers - again

Retail trade union Usdaw has expressed dismay as the government again refused to support an industry-backed law to protect shop workers from violent attacks. Responding to Labour questions in the House of Commons on 14 December, the government said it didn’t “yet” see a case for a specific offence of assaulting a shopworker. The Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill, promoted by Labour MP Alex Norris, was timetabled for its second reading in the House of Commons in September. However government opposition saw this delayed until 8 January 2021. Twenty-three major British retailers and the sector’s leading industry bodies have written to the prime minister asking him to provide effective legal protection for shopworkers in the face of increasing levels of abuse and violence and in support of Alex Norris’ Private Members Bill. Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis launched a parliamentary petition calling for the law, which now has over 94,000 signatures. The Usdaw general secretary said: “We continue to be disappointed by the government’s response to our petition, offering little more than sympathy. Their objection to the Bill promoted by Alex Norris MP shows that we have to secure the 100,000 signatures needed to get the issue debated on the floor of the House of Commons.” He added: “When retailers and the trade union for shopworkers jointly call for action, it is time for the government to listen to our concerns and deliver much needed protection for staff. Abuse must never be just a part of the job.”
Usdaw news release. Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill 2019-21.
ACTION! Sign the position in support of the Bill.

Hilda Palmer named ‘most influential person’ in safety

Hilda Palmer has been named as ‘the Most Influential Individual in Health and Safety 2020’ in an ‘overwhelming’ public vote. She ran away with the Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) award, in a shortlist that including Prince William, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) chief executive Sarah Albon, health secretary Matt Hancock, the past and present IOSH presidents, the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and test and trace boss Dido Harding. Hilda was a co-founder of the national Hazards Campaign over 30 years ago, where she remains a leading light, is a fixture on the union safety scene and is facilitator of the advocacy group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK). Announcing the winner, SHP said: “Words like, ‘committed’, ‘class act’, ‘superlative’, ‘dedication’, ‘selfless’, ‘inspirational’, ‘hard work’, were used by voters to describe Hilda.” On being informed of the recognition, she said: “Over 33 years I have met, spoken to and worked with thousands of people and many of them have inspired and influenced me. I am not fond of individual awards as we all stand on the shoulders of giants and achieve things by working together.” Accepting the award “for all the inspirational, brave FACK families fighting for justice,” she also paid tribute to “the heroes of workplaces – union safety reps, who make workplaces twice as safe and who are working overtime now to try to make workplaces Covid-secure.” TUC head of safety Shelly Asquith congratulated ‘the movement’s very own Hilda Palmer’ on the award.
SHP Most Influential Person Award 2020.


Global: Study reveals dramatic rise in pesticide poisonings

Pesticide poisonings on farms around the world have risen dramatically since the last global assessment 30 years ago, a new study has found. Based on an evaluation of available poisoning data from countries all over the world, the researchers conclude that there are about 385 million cases of acute poisonings each year, up from an estimated 25 million cases in 1990. This means that about 44 per cent of the global population working on farms — 860 million farmers and agricultural workers – are poisoned every year. The systematic review of unintentional acute pesticide poisonings is published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Public Health. It is the first global estimate since 1990. “These findings underscore the urgency of reducing and eliminating the use of highly hazardous pesticides,” said Kristin Schafer, coordinator of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International. “These pesticides are causing the unacceptable poisoning of those who produce our food, but also chronic health effects such as cancer and ecological impacts such as the collapse of biodiversity. Time for global action is long overdue.”  The study, authored by scientists from the PAN Asia-Pacific, North America and German offices, found that the greatest number of non-fatal poisoning cases was in southern Asia, followed by Southeast Asia and East Africa. The highest single national incidence was in Burkina Faso, where nearly 84 per cent of farmers and farm workers experience unintentional acute pesticide poisonings annually. The authors conclude that the heavy burden of non-fatal unintended pesticide poisonings, particularly for farmers and farmworkers, brings into focus the current policy bias towards focusing only on fatalities, and the need to more seriously address the overall pesticide poisoning problem in international and national policies and regulations.
PAN news release. Boedeker W, Watts M, Clausing, P and others, The global distribution of acute unintentional pesticide poisoning: estimations based on a systematic review, BMC Public Health 20, 1875, 7 December 2020.

Mexico: Electrolux workers dismissed over Covid protests

Workers at an Electrolux factory in Mexico who were fired after raising Covid-19 safety concerns at the start of the pandemic must obtain redress from the firm, unions have said. The workers employed at the Swedish multinational’s factory in Ciudad Juárez tried to start a dialogue when management insisted on keeping operations running despite an emergency decree allowing only essential work, a number of Covid infections among staff and a lack of personal protection equipment. When that failed, protests were launched on 7 April, but the company responded by dismissing nearly 100 people. Production continued until 20 April, by which time 16 workers had fallen ill and two had died from Covid. An investigation by the company found it had not followed the correct procedures, adding: “The company will therefore seek to open a dialogue with the former employees on an individual basis in an effort to fully and finally resolve any disputes related to the termination. Furthermore, Electrolux will review existing policies, routines and training programmes to ensure the Workplace Directive can be followed even in very challenging situations.” Unionen, the union representing workers at Electrolux operations in Sweden, welcomed the move, noting: “The dismissed workers must be duly compensated and have the right to be represented if they so choose. Electrolux has announced they will review existing policies and routines, which is encouraging and a step in the right direction. A direct dialogue and allowing workers a voice are crucial.” Kan Matsuzaki, electronics director with the global union IndustriALL, said: “The global framework agreement that Electrolux has signed with the Swedish unions and IndustriALL provides a framework for respecting workers’ rights all over the world. The company must respect the workers who peacefully exercised their right to ask the management taking appropriate action to prevent workplace as stated in the agreement.”
IndustriALL news release and IndustriALL/Electrolux global framework agreement.


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