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



Low-paid shun Covid tests because of income fears

Families on low incomes are avoiding the Covid-19 testing system because they cannot afford to isolate if they get sick, while red tape is hampering access to the government’s £500 compensation payments. According to research by the CIPD, the association of human resources professionals, when people on low incomes do self-isolate, they find it difficult to access the NHS Test and Trace support payment scheme. Freedom of information releases from 34 local authorities show that only a third of claims (35 per cent) were granted. CIPD said in light of the findings, and with Covid cases rising in the UK, there must be an urgent review of the compensation scheme to ensure people don’t continue to attend work when they have been asked to self-isolate, simply because they can’t afford not to. Ben Willmott, CIPD’s head of public policy, said: “Our research shows that if you are a low-income person who is working, you can have no confidence you will be compensated if you self-isolate, and the process is so complex that you might be put off from claiming it in any case.” He added: “There is also high variability in how the compensation scheme is applied across the country. We have to ensure that people contacted by NHS Test and Trace don’t lose out financially for doing the right thing. It’s a crucial part of the system, which is why we’re calling for an urgent review – and it’s compounded by the fact that statutory sick pay is so low.” In December, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned: “Nobody should be plunged into financial hardship for doing the right thing. Sick pay should be raised to at least the rate of the real living wage and everyone should be entitled to it” (Risks 977). TUC polling published in September 2020 revealed that more than 4 in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks on statutory sick pay (Risks 975).
CIPD news release. The Guardian. HR magazine.
Sick pay and debt, TUC, 9 September 2020.

Infected staff 'pressured to go back to work'

Thousands of workers feel pressured to return to their jobs when they still risk spreading coronavirus, and employers who breach Covid guidelines are avoiding serious punishment, according to evidence of major weaknesses in England’s lockdown measures. One in 10 of those doing insecure work, such as zero hours contracts and agency or gig economy jobs, said they had been to work within 10 days of a positive Covid test. For workers overall the proportion is around one in 25. More than one in nine workers said they had been ordered back to their workplace when they could have worked from home, according to the survey, carried out for the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). Alan Lockey, head of RSA’s future work programme, said: “Our polling shows that millions feel forced to put themselves and others at risk of the virus because of insecure work, pressure from bosses, and the failings of our deeply inadequate welfare state.” He added: “Rishi Sunak must close this 'economic security trap' — the terrible trade-off many workers face between their health and putting food on the table — by allowing self-isolating workers to access the furlough scheme, and retaining the £20 per week uplift in universal credit.” Coronavirus outbreaks in workplaces rose to a two-month high in the first week this year, according to latest Public Health England figures. Commenting after the government said it would seek more enforcement of lockdown rules, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If the government is upping enforcement, ministers should start with employers who break Covid safety rules.”
RSA news release. The Observer. BBC News Online. Daily Record.
Weekly national Influenza and COVID-19 surveillance report.  Week 2 report (up to week 1 data), 14 January 2021.

Official figures reveal high Covid rates in school staff

Office figures on the impact of coronavirus on the school workforce have revealed education staff face being infected at about twice the expected rate. The Department for Education (DfE) dataset released on 19 January includes the number of teachers and school leaders, teaching assistants and other staff absent with a confirmed case of coronavirus. An analysis of the data by teaching union NEU has revealed infection rates in school staff are much higher than previously admitted by both DfE and Public Health England. The figures show the rate of Covid infection is 1.9 times higher amongst primary and secondary teachers than the general population and two times higher for special school teachers. For teaching assistants and other staff, the rate of Covid infection is three times higher in primary schools and almost seven times higher in special schools. NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “These shocking figures raise further very serious questions about the handling of coronavirus in schools.” She added: “Why have the ministers repeatedly told school staff and the public that there was no reason for concern when these figures indicate that there should have been real concern about the much higher Covid infection rates of teachers and other school staff?” The union said last week that education staff must be a ‘top priority’ in the next vaccination phase.
NEU news release and vaccinations news release. Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, DfE, 19 January 2021.

Warning on lack of transparency over meat plants

A public health expert has claimed the lack of transparency around the continued operation of meat factories during lockdown is damaging public trust. Professor Andrew Watterson, of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University, said he believes outbreaks demonstrate workplaces are not Covid-safe and questioned why detailed information was not being made public by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). He wants the workplace regulator to reveal what checks and standards are being met during investigations and questioned why information was only being relayed through public health. Professor Watterson told The Courier: “The lack of transparency means the public, who it is important to keep informed during the pandemic, don’t know what exactly is going on nor does anyone else outside a workplace.” He said both the UK and Scottish governments were claiming workplaces are ‘Covid-secure’, yet large numbers of workplace clusters – hundreds each week – are being reported. “Workplace clusters demonstrate these workplaces are not Covid-safe. Also, if you want to stop the new strain of Covid spreading, then a shutdown of non-essential industries for a couple of weeks would make very good sense,” the professor said. An HSE spokesperson told the Courier: “Where workplaces are not adequately controlling health and safety risks in relation to Covid-19, or there are deficiencies in the transmission risk control strategy HSE can require improvements to be made. HSE would be acting outside of the law if it used those powers to act on public health matters, which are outside the purpose of the Health and Safety at Work Act.” HSE has not initiated any Covid-related prosecutions throughout the pandemic.
The Courier.

Self-isolation pay call as Covid strikes 2 Sisters again

Unite Scotland has called for the 2 Sisters food group to provide full pay for any workers having to self-isolate in the wake a new Covid outbreak. The union is also calling for the use of the fast-result lateral flow tests, to identify workers who are infectious. Following on from a major outbreak at the 2 Sisters site in Coupar Angus in August 2020 (Risks 963), which saw 200 test positive and led to the factory closing for two weeks, another outbreak occurred over New Year. As of 15 January, 23 workers had tested positive at the still open plant and 66 were self-isolating. Susan Robertson, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite welcomed the previous decision by 2 Sisters in August 2020 to pay these low income workers full pay and we are calling on them to do the right thing once again. It’s also vital that the company work with the authorities to introduce lateral flow testing to the site as soon as possible.” She added: “It’s vital that 2 Sisters also investigate the possibility of utilising the Job Support Scheme for these workers due to the fact that although the factory has not been closed they have had to change operations due to Covid risk. Unlike other businesses, this highly profitable company has continued to operate during the pandemic and it has employed more staff than ever before at the Coupar Angus site. If workers are fit to be at work but self-isolating due to Public Health Scotland’s advice then they should be paid in full it is as simple as that.”
Unite news release.

PCS pressure wins stronger work from home message

Civil service union PCS has won a stronger direction from the Cabinet Office on the necessity to work from home, but says courts, jobcentres and DVLA Swansea should still be closed temporarily because of rapidly rising Covid infection rates. Following PCS pressure, the Cabinet Office has strengthened its messaging to staff and contractors to instruct them to work from home unless they are providing essential services and it is not possible for that work to be done from home. But PCS said despite this “some employers continue to insist that our members go into workplaces,” notably DVLA, jobcentres and courts. The union said: “Management nationally seems too slow to react to what is a fast developing and highly worrying situation, with an increase in both positive cases and deaths. In fact in the last week we have seen worrying reports of incidents across the country. Jobcentres should be closed now. At DVLA in Swansea we have dozens and dozens of Covid cases and yet ridiculously ministers and management still insist that the DVLA remains open. Sending thousands of people into work, putting them at risk is irresponsible. In the court service it seems that people are being put at risk more than anywhere else so we’re calling for all courts to close immediately and for our members to work safely at home.” PCS added “if we cannot make any progress we will not hesitate to continue to support our members and reps to take whatever action is necessary to keep people safe.”
PCS news release and video report.

Prisoner transfers and jury trials put workers at risk

The union GMB is calling for a temporary partial shutdown of the courts service to protect workers in the sector and stop the spread of coronavirus. The union, which represents outsourced prisoner transport staff, was commenting after four criminal justice watchdogs warned about a ‘delay to justice’ - while the Law Society has called for “a pause of all Crown court and magistrates’ court non-custody work for two weeks, and asked for a move to video hearings ‘by default’ in all Crown courts and magistrates’ courts.” GMB said its shutdown call is necessary because Covid infections in in the legal system are rocketing. It is calling on the Ministry of Justice to use measures employed during the first lockdown, which included the suspension of new jury trials and video links from police stations for magistrate hearings. GMB organiser Nadine Houghton said: “We understand the dangers of any delay to justice, but this must be balanced with the fight against the virus and the lives of our key workers. To keep the justice system at ‘business as usual’ will undermine efforts to stop the spread of the virus and risks staff safety.” She added: “We support the call of legal professionals for a partial and temporary shutdown of the courts system including halting new jury trials. But any closure of the courts system must be backed up by a commitment from the Treasury to renew the ‘Covid Supplier Relief’ notes which guarantee public sector contractors continue to be paid as normal during the pandemic. This relief was vital to GMB members in protecting jobs and pay during lockdown.” The Labour Party said court safety should be reviewed.
GMB news release. Law Society news release. Labour Party news release. BBC News Online.
House of Commons Justice Committee hearings, 19 January 2021.

Anger as fire bosses pull out of Covid-19 agreement

Unions have expressed anger and dismay after fire and rescue service employers unilaterally scrapped a groundbreaking agreement with firefighters’ union FBU which had enabled firefighters to assist the NHS and care sector response to Covid-19. Negotiations over health and safety measures for firefighters on high risk Covid-19 duties were ongoing when the National Employers issued a communication ending the agreement on 13 January. The FBU said the decision appears to be supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council. It added this was done without any prior notice to firefighters or the FBU. The union said the termination is driven by the employers’ desire to alter previously agreed safety arrangements which protected firefighters undertaking additional work, including a requirement for negative PCR tests prior to a return to routine work. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Rather than support firefighters’ life-saving work, employers have walked away from the very agreement which enabled it. By removing national safety standards, they are exposing staff and services to a deadly disease – all apparently to make a political attack on a trade union simply because we are trying to ensure work is safe.” He added: “We deeply regret that employers have scrapped this crucial agreement and urge them to reintroduce vital national safety protections and resume talks. They should stop playing politics and get round the table to resolve this.” Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Firefighters are making a huge contribution to fighting the pandemic - helping the vulnerable, driving ambulances and supporting NHS and care services. But safety comes first. The consequences of Covid-19 running rampant through a local fire station and communities are too grim to contemplate. None of us know when we might need to make a 999 call.” She added: “By turning their back on the national safety agreement, employers and fire chiefs are turning their back on us all. They must get back to the negotiating table.”
FBU news release. Tribune.

UPS accused of recklessly endangering drivers

Workers at the parcel and courier company UPS have been advised by their union to refuse to accept cash on delivery (CoD) in order to protect their safety. Unite said it gave the instruction to its members after UPS failed to respond to the union’s longstanding concerns that drivers were being placed at risk when they are required to demand CoD when delivering goods to customers. The requirement for CoD has dramatically increased since the new year as, as a result of the UK having left the European Union, many deliveries now attract duties and levies the UPS drivers are expected to collect. The union has concerns about related Covid-19 risks as well as assaults, and the risk of UPS drivers known to be carrying cash being “targets for robberies”. Commenting on 19 January, Unite national officer Matt Draper said: “Unite has today advised its members at UPS to stop accepting cash on delivery payments as a matter of safety. It is simply intolerable that our members are being assaulted and becoming potential robbery victims because UPS has not resolved a better method to collect additional charges from its customers.” He added: “When huge sections of society including many delivery drivers and couriers have gone cashless in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 it is simply outrageous that UPS is making new demands that drivers collect cash from its customers. It is now down to UPS to prevent this dispute from escalating further by entering into sensible negotiations with Unite and ending the requirement for cash on delivery once and for all.”
Unite news release.

Rail union kicks off national fight for Covid safety

Rail union RMT has said it is kicking off a new fight for Covid-safe working practices on Britain's railways in the face of industry proposals it says will place lives on the line. Commenting on the Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum’s (RICF) proposals, the union said it does not accept the rail industry employers’ assertion that their workplaces are “Covid-secure”. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We are angry and disappointed that the letter we have received this week from the RICF doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the current phase of this pandemic and do not accept that the RICF responses adequately deal with the problems our members face.” Condemning the industry’s “business as usual” attitude, he said: “We are not confident in the assertion by the employers that workplaces are Covid-19 secure as that is both untrue and leads to potentially lethal complacency. Ultimately, we would remind the employers of their responsibility to protect their employees and the right of workers to invoke work safe procedures if such protections are not provided or are inadequate. A situation that we believe now exists.” He added: “In view of this I am issuing revised guidance to our lead officers, representatives and members specific to the work being undertaken to ensure that the measures in place have taken into account the dangers and risks presented by the new variants.” The union leader also said rail workers should be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine. “We expect employers and government to recognise that rail workers are key workers and are now facing greater risks from Covid-19 and should be given greater priority for vaccination,” he said. “We are writing to both the government and RICF seeking an acceleration of vaccination for transport workers nationwide.”
RMT news release.

Usdaw says essential workers should get vaccine

Retail trade union Usdaw has renewed its call for key workers to be prioritised for vaccination, after the government last week indicated it was looking at its priorities for the second phase and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) accepted that occupation is a factor to be considered. The union has made similar calls on the Scottish and Welsh governments, along with the Northern Ireland executive. Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on 12 January: “We’ll be looking very carefully at those professions that will need to be prioritised in phase two of the prioritisation programme. We’ll look at, of course, teachers and police and others, but also we will look at shopworkers and we will make those decisions based on the data.” The JCVI has stated that it is, “clear that societal factors, such as occupation, household size, deprivation and access to healthcare can increase susceptibility to Covid-19, and worsen outcomes following infection.” and “vaccination of those at increased risk of exposure due to their occupation could also be a priority in the next phase”. This week, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said public-facing workers such as police officers, teachers and retail staff may soon be offered a Covid-19 jab. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lilllis commented: “We welcome the early indications that high risk occupations may be prioritised and look forward to entering into discussions with the government on this issue of great concern to our members.”
Usdaw news release. Personnel Today. Sky News.

Union calls for face coverings to be mandatory in banks

Unite has called for urgent action to make face coverings mandatory in all bank branches. The union says that despite staff working tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to keep bank branches open, the workforce continues to find themselves unprotected on the frontline. It says every day customers refuse to comply with the requirement to wear a face covering before entering an indoor setting. Dominic Hook, Unite national officer, said: “Unite is increasingly alarmed at the number of customers visiting bank branches without any face covering. Such blatant disregard for bank staff, who as key workers have continued to work in branches throughout the pandemic, is completely disgraceful.” He added: “Unite is calling on the financial services industry to work with government to make sure that the legal requirement for face coverings is enforced in all bank branches as a matter of urgency. The sector should follow the lead of HSBC and crack down on those customers who refuse to comply with the law… The workforce across the financial services sector has shown incredible commitment and dedication during the global pandemic. These staff have worked tirelessly despite potential health risks. It is vital that bank branch staff do not continue to face unnecessary and avoidable risks from customers refusing to consider the danger they may pose.”
Unite news release.

Union wins ‘unsung hero’ award for Covid fight

A foodworkers’ union has won an ‘unsung hero’ award for its lifesaving work at a food factory where around 300 workers tested positive for the coronavirus (Risks 961). The union BFAWU, which represents workers at Greencore’s Northampton factory, was recognised by Northamptonshire County Council for its response to a major outbreak at the Moulton Park site that saw the town put on the health secretary’s watchlist. At the time BFAWU was left out of the headlines while they worked behind the scenes to promote staff safety. The union’s work throughout the year has included publishing safety notices, leaflets and Facebook statements in different languages for staff and holding weekly meetings at the factory. This month, the BFAWU members were presented with one of the newly-minted ‘Rose of Northamptonshire Awards’ for unsung heroes in the pandemic. BFAWU branch secretary George Atwell said: “It's historical if you ask me. The union and its members have worked tremendously hard this year and I'm privileged to represent this site and the branch.” He added: “Our members have worked extremely hard this year to tackle the pandemic and work with the company to support workers. It's a great example that should be set for other companies working with their unions.” The awards were created as part of the 'Unsung Heroes of Northamptonshire' initiative, which was launched by the Lord-Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, The High Sheriff of Northamptonshire and Northamptonshire County Council.
Northampton Chronicle.


Government owns up to plan to weaken workers’ rights

In a reversal of an earlier denial, Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted reports that his department is planning to dilute UK workers' rights are correct. The business secretary has now confirmed the government is looking at scrapping some EU-derived labour laws. Measures under consideration include relaxing the working time directive which sets a 48-hour week ceiling and gives rights to paid breaks and which was introduced as a workplace health and safety measure. The cabinet minister’s denial then admission came after the Financial Times said some protections brought in under EU law - such as the 48-hour limit on the working week - could be scrapped. Unions have expressed dismay at a potential erosion of workers’ rights. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “During the 2019 election, the prime minister promised the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation. The new business secretary should get on with that rather than looking to the notorious anti-worker pamphlet Britannia Unchained.” The pamphet’s five co-authors included current cabinet ministers Kwarteng, Liz Truss, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab. Their right-slashing manifesto said British people “are amongst the worst idlers in the world.” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey commented: “The people who have kept this country fed, safe and supported under unimaginable pressures deserve so much better than to be threatened with the loss of their basic rights.” Warren Kenny, GMB’s acting general secretary, said if the government goes ahead with the changes it “is not only tearing up its election promises but worse still taking a sledgehammer to workers’ rights while workers are facing down a pandemic in the middle of the worst economic crisis in all of our lifetimes. This would be unforgiveable.” Esther Lynch, deputy general secretary of the Europe-wide union confederation ETUC, said: “This is the first major test of the Brexit deal. The reported plans would be in clear breach of level playing field rules and the EU must prepare to take swift action and retaliatory measures if necessary.”
TUC news release. Unite news release. GMB news release. ETUC news release. Labour Party news release. CIPD news release. Financial Times. Morning Star. The Guardian and related update. BBC News Online. Britannia Unchained.

Scotland says no to ditching employment protections

The Scottish government and the country’s national union federation STUC have issued a joint call to the UK government to rule out the downgrading of employment protections. The move came after revelations that the UK government has asked the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to work up a package of deregulatory measures following the UK’s final departure from the European Union. These were reported to include abandoning the commitment to the EU Working Time Directive which lays down a maximum 48-hour working week and guarantees the statutory right to work breaks. UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted the workplace hours safety law is in his crosshairs. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer commented: “We are alarmed, if unsurprised, by reports of early attempts to downgrade workers’ rights through amending the commitment to the EU Working Time Directive. We will vigorously oppose any attempt to dilute existing rights and are pleased that the Scottish government, in line with its commitment to Fair Work, supports us in this.” First minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “As we respond to the most immediate threats to Scotland’s economy - Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic – we must work in partnership with trade unions to ensure health and wellbeing remains at the heart of Scotland’s workforce.” She added: “The Scottish government is committed to Fair Work, and protecting and enhancing the rights of our workers. In partnership with the STUC and its affiliated unions we will continue to challenge the UK government to avoid a race to the bottom when it comes to pay and conditions.”
STUC news release.

Labour warning on growth in spying at work

Workers must be protected from employers tracking them while they work from home during the pandemic, Labour has said. Online software can log how long it takes people to reply to messages, take camera shots and monitor emails, messages and meeting attendance. One in five firms have introduced software to monitor productivity, or are planning to do so, according to a YouGov survey of more than 2,009 “corporate decision-makers” between October and November. One in seven employees have said that surveillance at work has increased during the pandemic, according to TUC research (Risks 967). 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. Labour is calling for the government to urgently update guidance on employment practices to reflect the increased use of such software. Shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said: “Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure that people have the right to privacy, whether at work or at home — increasingly one and the same place.” TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “Worker surveillance tech has taken off during this pandemic as more people have been forced to work from home. Staff must be properly consulted on the use of surveillance at work and protected from unfair management by algorithm.”
Labour Party news release. Morning Star.
Technology managing people: the worker experience, TUC, 30 November 2020.

Lorry drivers in Kent ‘persecuted’ union says

Lorry drivers in Kent are being fined and prevented from resting by Kent county council, despite parking provisions provided by authorities to deal with post-Brexit delays being ‘woefully inadequate’, Unite has said. Commenting on 15 January, the union blasted the council’s recently established HGV parking ban scheme and said drivers are being ‘persecuted’ for the council’s own lack of preparations. The scheme, which was drawn up without consultation with drivers or Unite, stipulates that HGVs must return to their base of operation if they cannot cross into the EU. Drivers can face fines of £185 for parking up for over 45 minutes. While there are five designated lorry parks in Kent, Unite says most hae inadequate toilet, washing, rest and food facilities. Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said: “HGV drivers in Kent are being persecuted for Kent county council’s, and central government’s, complete mishandling of HGV parking issues that they have had years to prepare for.” He added: “Instead, drivers either face being fined for resting, or driving while tired out of the county or to ill-functioning lorry parks, with all the potential risks that entails for them and the public. It is unacceptable that drivers are being punished with fines because of Kent county council’s and the government’s woefully inadequate provisions. Councillors and ministers must act now to ensure this unacceptable situation is rectified as soon as possible.”
Unite news release.

STUC ‘encouraged’ by talks with first minister

The Scottish national union federation STUC said it is ‘encouraged’ following its latest of its twice-yearly meetings with Nicola Sturgeon. The union body said the meeting with the first minister was dominated by the need for a precautionary approach to workplace health and safety, the case for a new National Care Service, a decent pay rise for public workers and an investment-led plan for jobs. Commenting after the 18 January meeting, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “Union leaders from across Scotland made clear today that our two key priorities are the public health and workplace response to the pandemic and future economic recovery. Our response must be driven by workplace health and safety and optimum systems for testing and vaccination. This must include the closure of non-essential workplaces and the prioritisation of key workers for vaccination.” She also highlighted the issue of decent pay and “a plan for jobs driven by public investment in young workers and in clean jobs.” The STUC leader added “we need a National Care Service that we can again be proud of, with the profit element stripped out and decent, union negotiated rates of pay across the sector. It is encouraging that the Scottish government has no fundamental disagreements in these areas, however the reality of both developing and delivering these aspirations, backed by adequate public funding, will be the real test going forward.”
STUC news release.

Scottish shopworkers win new protections

Usdaw has welcomed a unanimous vote in the Scottish parliament for a ‘groundbreaking’ law to protect shopworkers. The retail union says the move follows its long campaign for new legislation to tackle growing violence, threats and abuse against retail staff. The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill was successfully steered through the Scottish parliament by Labour MSP Daniel Johnson MSP. The law will make it a specific offence to abuse, threaten or assault a shopworker and also establishes ‘statutory aggravation’ when this occurs in connection to the sale of age-restricted goods and services. Stewart Forrest, Usdaw’s Scottish divisional officer, commented: “We are grateful for the support of MSPs and congratulate Daniel Johnson MSP on securing groundbreaking legislation to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse. We hope the UK government will now follow suit to protect shopworkers in the rest of the UK.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The Scottish parliament is leading the way on protection of shopworkers by passing this Bill. It is a great result for our members in Scotland, who will now have the protection of the law that they deserve. We are grateful to Daniel Johnson for steering this important legislation through the parliament. We have been deeply disappointed with the UK government’s response to our campaign, offering little more than sympathy and their objecting to protection of shopworkers legislation. So we are looking for MPs to support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK government’s opposition.”
Usdaw news release and the new law against violence, threats and abuse against retail staff. Morning Star.

Union backing for proposed Scottish injury scheme

Unite Scotland has given its backing to plans for a new advice and research council to modernise occupational injury and disease benefits in Scotland. The Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill lodged by Labour MSP Mark Griffin aims to support the devolved industrial injuries benefits system so that it reflects modern workplaces (Risks 980). The council could also consider new and emerging diseases, including Covid-19, not currently covered the UK Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit system. Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, said: “Key workers face unprecedented hazards on a daily basis including the real risk of contracting Covid-19 in the workplace, or while travelling to and from work. The pandemic, which we have endured since March last year, has starkly and tragically highlighted that the industrial injuries benefit system needs overhaul to make it reflect modern and new diseases which can be contracted in the workplace.” Rafferty added: “The Proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill offers as a unique opportunity to immediately address the current shortcomings of the system and a chance to use devolved new powers to overhaul the industrial injuries benefits. The Bill would also put workers and trade unions at the heart of the decision-making that affects them and the compensation available when the worst happens.” In a separate move, Unite Scotland demanded that Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) control room and NHS24 staff be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccination amid fears over “potential outbreaks which could bring the nation’s emergency response units to a shutdown.”
Unite Scotland news release and vaccinations news release.

Welsh government praised for work safety action

Unions have welcomed new legal duties under which businesses in Wales will have to carry out a specific coronavirus risk assessment. Announcing the new legal requirements, first minister Mark Drakeford said: “Risk assessments must be reviewed and updated regularly, whenever circumstances change and I want to make clear in law this includes whenever the coronavirus Alert levels change in Wales.” He added: “Recording the risk assessment will only be required by those who employ 5 or more people. We are working closely with employers, trade unions, local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to consider the detail on how to keep work settings safe.” Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC general secretary, commented: “Welsh government has listened to workers’ concerns and has acted swiftly to address them. We know that fewer than a quarter of employers in Wales have been following the guidance on risk assessments in full, so strengthening the requirements around this is a very important step.” She added: “No matter where someone works or what they do, they should not be at greater risk of catching coronavirus at work if there were measures their employer should have put in place to protect them. This means conducting risk assessments, sharing them with staff, implementing the necessary changes and reviewing them regularly, all in consultation with the workforce and their unions. We are confident that these measures will make this a reality for thousands more workers throughout Wales.” Nick Ireland, Usdaw’s divisional officer for Wales, said the retail union “welcome the particular focus on retail and the strengthening of regulations to make stores as safe as possible. Retail staff are working with the public every day and not only suffer increased abuse, but are deeply worried about catching Covid-19.”
Wales TUC news release. Welsh government news release. Usdaw news release. The Guardian.

Recognition of domestic abuse impact at work welcomed

The union GMB has welcomed a UK government report accepting the need for employers to do more to support workers that have survived domestic abuse. As part of its ongoing campaign, the union is now calling on the government to bring forward greater workplace protections for domestic abuse survivors in legislation, such as paid leave and the right to flexible working. Nell Andrew, GMB national equality officer, said: “We are pleased to see government listening to what our members have been saying regarding GMB's work to stop domestic abuse charter and calling on employers to put in more support for survivors. We now need firm commitments from the government, including the right for paid time off for domestic abuse survivors in law, it is crucial we make the workplace a safe environment for those fleeing domestic abuse.” She added: “Ministers must quickly bring forward a levelling up programme on employment rights in the long-awaited employment bill including greater protections for domestic abuse survivors. Changes to the law would save lives.”
GMB news release and Work to Stop Domestic Abuse Charter. UK government report.


Ventilation is a Covid safety issue, TUC webinar, 27 January

Covid-19 can be transmitted through the air, so good ventilation is an important part of an employer’s overall strategy to reduce its spread in the workplace. Join a TUC webinar on Wednesday 27 January, where top safety campaigner Hilda Palmer from the Hazards Campaign will explain how effective ventilation can play a crucial role in mitigating the risk of spreading Covid. Hilda will be explaining: Why ventilation is important; what a good ventilation system looks like; what information reps should be asking their employers for; and what employers should be doing to keep people safe. You can post any questions in an ‘Ask a Question’ box.
Register now for the TUC ‘Managing ventilation as a Covid safety measure’ webinar, Wednesday 27 January 2021, 14:00-14:45. Register now.


Global: Safety at work is a ‘fundamental’ right

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed an occupational health crisis in workplaces worldwide. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) says workers are routinely denied even basic health and safety protections, including consultation with safety reps and safety committees on ‘Covid-safe’ policies and practices, free access to personal protective equipment and protection from victimisation for raising health and safety concerns. But the same problems existed before the pandemic and resulted in millions of deaths each year from work-related injuries and diseases. Unions secured agreement at the International Labour Conference in 2019 that occupational health and safety should be recognised as an International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental right at work – the decent, universally accepted and binding rights protecting all workers, everywhere. ITUC says the challenge now is to make sure this happens. The global union body has announced that on 28 April 2021, International Workers’ Memorial Day, “unions can send a message that health and safety protection at work must be recognised as a right for all. Whether it is Covid or occupational cancers, or workplace injuries and industrial diseases, every worker should have a right to a voice and a right to protection. No-one should have to die to make a living.”
28 April 2021 International Workers’ Memorial Day theme announcement (also in French and Spanish). ITUC Campaign Brief. Resources and updates will be posted on the ITUC/Hazards dedicated 28 April webpages:

Germany: New law ends subcontracting of meat jobs

After years of campaigning, the Germany food union NGG has succeeded in winning a new federal law ending subcontracting and curtailing temporary work in the meat sector. The global union for the sector, IUF, said this is an “important win” that comes after rights abuses as well as the low pay and poor work conditions suffered by migrant workers were exposed through the Covid-19 pandemic. The law, which took effect on 1 January 2021, prohibits subcontracting, severely restricts the use of temporary contracts and requires any temporary workers to be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. The law introduces working hours recording requirements together with 30,000 euro fines for working time fraud by employers. “Now, finally, there is an end to subcontracting,” said NGG president and IUF vice president Guido Zeitler. “The Occupational Safety and Health Control Act is a good first step and a fresh start toward a future without scandal and exploitation in the meat industry,”
IUF news release.

Global: WHO calls for ‘adequate staffing’ in nursing homes

New guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) echoes calls from the global union UNI for sufficient staffing in nursing homes, saying it is ‘critical’ to ensuring infection control and quality care during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the January 2021 interim paper, WHO recommends that long-term care facilities should “ensure adequate staffing levels and staff organisation, appropriate working hours and protection of health workers from occupational risks”. It adds that protective measures for workers should include sick pay and vaccination against Covid-19. The use of temporary workers, which WHO says “is associated with increased risk of infection,” should be limited as much as possible. UNI says this mirrors its demands for permanent employment contracts in long-term care facilities. Adrian Durtschi, head of UNI’s sectoral group UNICARE, said: “One of the best ways to implement and monitor the WHO guidelines is to give workers a voice. Research shows a direct correlation between unionisation and a reduction in Covid-19 transmission rates and deaths. Unionised nursing homes are safer because workers have the ability to bargain collectively for permanent contracts, sick pay and adequate staffing.”
UNI news release. Infection prevention and control guidance for long-term care facilities in the context of COVID-19, WHO interim guidance, 8 January 2021.
Adam Dean, Atheendar Venkataramani, and Simeon Kimmel. Mortality Rates From COVID-19 Are Lower In Unionized Nursing Homes, Health Affairs, volume 39, number 11, pages 1993-2001, September 2020.


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