Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.UNION COVID-19 ACTION AND RESOURCES OTHER NEWS EVENTS INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) bosses have privately agreed to review the classification of Covid-19 as a ‘significant’ workplace risk, the Mirror has reported. The tabloid said it understands that HSE chief executive Sarah Albon agreed the action at a closed board meeting last week. Asked to confirm the move by Hazards magazine, HSE denied there would be a review. However, it is now believed several HSE board members pressed successfully for the review, after voicing concerns that inspectors felt constrained from using their full enforcement powers to keep workplaces safe. The HSE Enforcement Management Model advises that prosecution or the use of the stop work ‘prohibition notices’ should be restricted to offences involving the higher ‘serious’ risk ranking (Risks 986
). As a result, many inspectors were said to be worried they wouldn’t have the full backing of HSE managers if they held to account employers in criminal breach of safety rules over Covid. More than 11,000 working age people have died of Covid and thousands of workplaces have suffered outbreaks. But not a single employer has been prosecuted - or workplace shut down. HSE figures show it had handled 180,000 Covid-related incidents but has issued just 218 improvement notices, allowing employers in criminal breach of safety rules to continue working and giving them time to sort out the offences. TUC chief Frances O’Grady said: “Classifying Covid-19 as a ‘significant’ workplace risk tied the hands of workplace health and safety inspectors, and effectively prevented them from using their full powers to close down unsafe workplaces. The massive increase in workplace clusters of Covid shows that workers will have been infected as a consequence of that decision.” The TUC leader added: “It’s time to end the foot-dragging approach to enforcement that has characterised workplace safety in this pandemic.” Last week a Chicago hospital became the latest US employer fined after failing to follow federal workplace Covid-19 guidelines. Three nurses at the hospital died after contracting the infection. The Mirror
. Chicago Sun-Times
The success of economic recovery is dependent on maintaining workplace safety for everyone - but to achieve that we need a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that is properly resourced, HSE union Prospect has stated. Mike Clancy, the union’s general secretary, stated talk of ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘red tape’ was never grounded in fact, adding “in the wake of a deadly global pandemic such talk would surely be laughed out of town. The reality is that health and safety is now the key to commerce, and smart regulation and enforcement is one of our best weapons in the battle to safely reopen businesses through the Spring and Summer.” In a Prospect blog, Clancy said “it was more than a little surprising that the English government’s roadmap out of lockdown didn’t contain a single mention of the Health and Safety Executive, or the expert inspectors charged with ensuring that workplaces are made safe in time for workers to return.” He said “the main issue HSE is facing is not lack of powers, it is lack of resources. When I speak to politicians about this they are shocked to hear that there are more MPs then there are health and safety inspectors. In fact, the HSE has had its budget cut by more than 50 per cent in real terms since 2010, drastically hollowing out enforcement capacity… For less than half the cost of the failed Eat Out to Help Out scheme, the government could reverse all of the cuts to HSE so that it was fully funded for the rest of the parliament. Now more than ever, workers across the UK deserve to be kept safe when they go into work. It’s up to the government to fill this gap in our defences and fully fund the HSE.” The union repeated its call for the Covid ‘consequence descriptor’ to be raised to “serious” (Risks 986
). Prospect news release
Unions have welcomed the chancellor’s announcement of an extension to the furlough scheme until the end of September. Ahead of his 3 March budget, Rishi Sunak said the scheme - which pays 80 per cent of employees' wages for the hours they cannot work in the pandemic - would help millions through “the challenging months ahead.” The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has protected more than 11 million jobs since its inception and had been due to close at the end of April. Commenting on the government’s announcement ahead of the budget that the job retention scheme will continue until the end of September, with reduced rates of support from July, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The chancellor should have announced it earlier, and should now promise it will last as long as needed to secure the recovery.” She added: “To make sure everyone can return to a decent job, ministers should promote training for those on furlough. The chancellor should also make sure all furloughed workers get at least the national minimum wage. Protecting existing jobs is only half the battle. The chancellor must now deliver a major programme of job creation in his Budget.” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that while the extra months of furlough support offer “some stability in the rocky months ahead,” the government should extend the scheme until 2022. GMB acting general secretary Warren Kenny said: “There’s a very clear choice about how we recover from the pandemic: investment in public works, public services and working people, or more of the same austerity that has left local government and social care crippled. The Chancellor is talking about honesty, let’s start with that.” TUC news release
. Unite news release
. GMB news release
. Usdaw news release
. BBC News Online. The Guardian
School leaders will need to review the safety procedures to ensure they are updated as necessary ahead of the 8 March reopening of schools in England, education unions have said. Joint advice issued by GMB, NEU, UNISON and Unite notes the unions are “keen to see schools open more widely, but this should only happen when the science says it is safe and in a manner which is safe - when schools’ risk assessments, including individual risk assessments, have been completed and updated and when appropriate safety measures have been introduced.” Their reopening checklist notes: “We must ensure schools do not become ‘vectors of transmission’ for Covid-19 again. We are continuing to call on the Department for Education (DfE) to facilitate a staggered approach which does not increase local transmission rates, allowing schools to adopt phased returns and flexible rota systems, as well as the measures set out below to help them maintain safety.” The document notes: “Union reps should seek meetings with leaders to discuss their preparations. If members have concerns about safety measures proposed or areas not addressed, then support will be available from their union.” Detailed checklists ask reps to consider a series of questions, including “has the risk assessment process considered all the areas identified in DfE and joint union advice, fully evaluated the risk of harm, including local prevalence and identified the measures to apply in each area? Has there been sufficient consultation with union reps and staff? Is it clear how revised procedures will be communicated to staff, students and parents/carers, contractor staff and visiting workers? Has the position of the most vulnerable staff been adequately considered through individual risk assessments?” NEU alert
. Joint union advice for fuller opening of schools and colleges in March 2021
. The Guardian
The announcement by Scotland’s first minister that the return to school for all primary school children on a full-time basis and all secondary pupils on a part-time basis, risks reversing reductions in Covid infection rates. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “While teachers are obviously eager to see young people returning to classrooms, they are also very clear that this must be done safely. We are only one full week into the return of P1-3 [the three earliest primary years] and the impact of that needs to be assessed before final decisions are taken on next steps.” Commenting on the 2 March announcement, the EIS leader added: “The first minister has said the government will be driven by data not dates but today's announcement seems to be quite the opposite of that. An overhasty return of all pupils to the classroom setting, could put at risk the progress that has been made in reducing rates of Covid infection during the lockdown period.” On the return of secondary pupils on a blended learning model, Mr Flanagan said: “The first minister has set out a desire for schools to develop a timetable model for the two weeks before Easter and then abandon it post Easter, with absolutely no cognisance of the workload pressures which that will create for already exhausted school staff, including teachers who will be focusing on providing additional support to students in the senior phase, currently working towards qualifications under a completely new assessment model.” He warned: “This additional workload will be wholly disproportionate to the benefit that it will bring for students, whilst potentially undermining preparation work for qualifications.” EIS news release
and Protect Education campaign
The Scottish government has not put in place the safety measures necessary for full return of pupils next week, a union has warned. Commenting on 2 March, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “As the public health situation remains fragile, the government must demonstrate that it is acting on the evidence to limit the spread of the virus in schools and in the wider community. It is now absolutely essential the government releases the evidence on which it is relying to make today’s announcement.” He added: “The Scottish government risks ploughing ahead with plans for returning pupils to school without ensuring that essential measures are in place to address concerns regarding safety and workload. Significant additional safety measures are still needed to respond to the Covid threat in schools.” Jane Peckham, NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, said: “There are increased risks from new and more transmissible variants of the virus and more substantial measures need to be brought forward. In particular the NASUWT wishes to see employers use funding from the Scottish government to support safety mitigations such as CO2
monitors and ensuring ventilation and appropriate facemasks are provided.” NASUWT news release
Approaches that prioritise workers for the Covid-19 vaccine ‘consistently outperform’ those that do not, academics and health researchers from the UK and Canada have found. The researchers from the University of Manchester, Simon Fraser University and Canadian health agencies examined different vaccination strategies in the Canadian province of British Columbia. They note “age-based rollouts are both less equitable and less effective than strategies that prioritise essential workers. We demonstrate that strategies that target essential workers earlier consistently outperform those that do not, and that prioritising essential workers provides a significant level of indirect protection for older adults.” The authors add: “This conclusion holds across numerous outcomes, including cases, hospitalisations, Long Covid, deaths and net monetary benefit, and over a range of possible values for the efficacy of vaccination against infection.” The researchers conclude: “Our analysis focuses on regimes where the pandemic continues to be controlled with distancing and other measures as vaccination proceeds, and where the vaccination strategy is expected to last for over the coming 6-8 months — for example British Columbia, Canada. In such a setting with a total population of 5 million, vaccinating essential workers sooner is expected to prevent over 200,000 infections, over 600 deaths, and to produce a net monetary benefit of over $500m.” UK unions have criticised the UK government’s failure to prioritise most frontline workers for vaccinations, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) strategy for the second phase of the roll-out announced on 26 February stuck with an age-based system. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Our members in the food supply industry, including those in processing plants, distribution, essential retail and grocery delivery are deeply disappointed by today’s news that they will not be prioritised for vaccination.”
Nicola Mulberry, Paul F Tupper, Christopher MacCabe, Erin Kirwin, Caroline Colijn. Vaccine Rollout Strategies: The Case for Vaccinating Essential Workers Early. medRxiv 2021.02.23.21252309; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.02.23.21252309
]. JCVI interim statement on phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme
, 26 February 2021. Usdaw news release
. The Guardian
. London Evening Standard
. BBC News Online
Safety arrangements must be reviewed across courts and tribunals as Covid has made large parts of the justice sector unsafe, organisations in the sector have warned. Civil service unions and other justice sector organisations have signed a joint statement to Kevin Sadler, acting CEO of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), reiterating concerns that some courts are unsafe. PCS is currently running a strike ballot of its members who work at 12 of the courts where it says staff are most at risk due to Covid, as well as a consultative ballot until 15 March for all other HMCTS members. The union said the concerns raised in the 1 March joint statement from organisations including PCS, Napo, POA, FDA and the Criminal Bar Association identify that “HMCTS has failed, and continues to fail, to take timely and appropriate action to improve safety measures. Significantly high levels of transmission of Covid across the HMCTS estate are continuing to be reported.” PCS notes the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has served an official notice on HMCTS over Covid safety at Isleworth Crown Court. HSE inspectors raised several concerns over measures taken to ensure compliance with Covid-secure requirements in the building. The union wants a roll out of lateral flow testing to all courts, marshals ensuring compliance with Covid safety rules, reduced occupancy levels and outbreak notification protocols. It notes: “We expect HMCTS to arrange a collective meeting for all of the signatory organisations to this statement at the earliest opportunity to discuss our concerns and the clear, realistic and achievable actions proposed.” PCS news release
and joint statement
Low paid ambulance workers are being put at risk by their trust’s two-tier policy towards PPE, the union GMB has warned. It says the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is ‘playing fast and loose with Covid safety’ by prioritising higher paid staff and leaving lowest paid frontline ambulance workers with the most basic of masks. NEAS utilises two different services: unscheduled care, the blue light emergence service which responds to urgent cases and accidents; and scheduled care, which performs the patient transport role to and from hospital to home and residential care for non-urgent cases. GMB says both services deal with Covid positive patients daily, yet only the ‘blue light’ crew members have an acceptable level of protection. Michael Hunt, GMB regional organiser, said: “NEAS is playing fast and loose with Covid safety and has hid behind the most basic of PHE [Public Health England] guidance on masks. They’ve had to be dragged into providing higher quality masks. However, they are not giving these masks to lower paid front line ambulance crews.” He added: “GMB welcomes blue light crews being protected, but this has caused a problem of parity and a serious health and safety concern as the lower paid patient transfer crews don't have access to these high-level masks. NEAS has declined our request for them to be issued. Why won’t NEAS issue all employees with high-level masks and stop discriminating against the lowest paid crew members?” A study by Harvard University published 26 February 2021 highlighted the risk to health care workers provided lower levels of protection. It noted: “More frequent detection of positive samples in non-Covid-19 than Covid-19 hospital areas indicates effectiveness of Covid-ward hospital controls in controlling air concentrations and suggests the potential for disease spread in areas without the strictest precautions.” GMB news release
RA Stern, P Koutrakis, MAG Martins and others. Characterization of hospital airborne SARS-CoV-2
. Respiratory Research, volume 22, article number 73, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12931-021-01637-8
An RMT protest outside Lewisham rail station in London on 2 March has highlighted what the union says is the need for urgent action in the wake of a surge of Covid-related assaults on staff. In one incident last month a member of staff at the station was spat at in the face and two others verbally abused and threatened by a man who was vandalising the station, RMT said, adding it was the second time the worker has been spat at and the third time he has been assaulted, leaving him terrified of returning to work. The union said that the situation at Lewisham demonstrates why transport workers should be given “the priority and protection that they so clearly deserve in the midst of the Covid pandemic.” The union is urging station operator Southeastern to ‘shred’ its current ‘weak’ risk assessments, and replace them with improved assessments that take into account the risk of assaults. RMT general secretary Mick Cash added: “It is a disgrace that frontline workers at Lewisham station have to go to work wondering if they will be spat at or face some other assault. RMT is calling on Southeastern to take appropriate steps to protect staff, request additional British Transport Police presence, and take a zero tolerance approach to offenders. We are also calling for an end to lone working in the station which leaves workers both in fear and vulnerable.” He said the union was reaffirming its advice to members at the station, “including to ‘safe stop’ and walk off the job if they assess they are at risk of assault.” RMT news release
Plans by the London Resort, the Disney style theme park due to be built in the Kent estuary, to house 2,000 construction workers on a cruise ship in the Thames estuary must not go ahead without full consultation, the union Unite has said. Under the plans, which were revealed this week by BBC Radio Essex, after completing their shifts the workers would be transported across the Thames to the ships at Tilbury. The construction project is due to begin in 2022. Unite said the success of the scheme requires the London Resort project to address the union’s concerns about the quality of the accommodation, the cost of both the accommodation and food, and the ability of the workers to freely leave the ships and venture into the local area. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “On the face of it this looks like an attractive option for workers. The Hinkley Point project has demonstrated how good quality accommodation for major construction projects attracts highly skilled workers. However, it is essential that the cruise ships don’t in reality become an expensive prison.” He added: “It is essential that those concerned in the project enter into negotiations with Unite, to provide guarantees on not just the price of accommodation but the cost and quality of the food provided, as workers will have no access to their own cooking facilities. Workers are human beings and in order to protect their mental wellbeing it is essential that they are able to freely leave the ship and visit the local community.” The Unite officer concluded: “If these concerns are not addressed then the most skilled workers will vote with their feet, they will either look for work elsewhere, or become demotivated which will greatly damage productivity, creating delays.” Unite news release
. BBC News Online
. Construction Enquirer
The UK transport union RMT has raised serious safety concerns over commercial pressures on seafarers and ferry services. The union was responding to a Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report into a fire on the Lithuanian registered Finlandia Seaways in April 2018. The blaze resulted in the withdrawal of the vessel from the Rosyth-Zeebrugge route by the owners, DFDS, despite support from the Scottish taxpayer. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “There is no getting away from the fact that commercial pressure led to this incident. The hard-working seafarers on board, some of whom were paid well below the national minimum wage, were lucky to avoid more serious consequences from an exploding engine. They were let down by a series of failures in the repair and maintenance regime overseen by the shipowner, DFDS, and the classification society Lloyds Register which stemmed from the decision to outsource engine repair work.” The RMT leader added: “This avoidable accident led to the withdrawal of the Finlandia Seaways and the permanent closure of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge route. Scotland remains without a regular roll-on roll-off ferry link to the continent as a result, whilst DFDS has re-deployed the Finlandia Seaways in the Baltic Sea. This raises serious questions over the effect of the business model in the ferries industry on crew safety and economic resilience. RMT will be calling on the Scottish and UK governments to take action in light of this report.” RMT news release
. MAIB report
Retail union Usdaw is celebrating success in its 'Justice for Injured Workers' campaign, after the UK government dropped plans that would have priced many workers out of compensation for workplace injuries and diseases. The union was commenting after the government published the regulations relating to the Civil Liability Act 2018, which confirm that the small claims limit for employers’ liability and public liability claims will not be increased and will remain at £1,000. A broad coalition, including the Law Society, Association of British Insurers, British Safety Council and Thompsons Solicitors, had joined with the TUC and trade unions to call on the government to step back from pushing more workplace injury cases through the small claims court. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Employees injured at work need legal representation to help ensure that those responsible are held to account and that health and safety standards in the workplace are maintained. The original proposals would have moved a significant number of these cases into the small claims court where legal costs cannot be recovered, forcing injured employees to represent themselves in a complex legal process without adequate advice and support.” He said it was the “right decision” to “exempt workers from the reforms, so that they can continue to seek justice with proper representation.” Usdaw news release.
Government funding for fire and rescue services in England has been cut by £139.7m since 2016/17, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has revealed. The new analysis of the 2021/22 local government finance settlement shows a reduction in funding for fire and rescue services of 13.8 per cent in cash terms over the five years since the last local settlement, leaving fire and rescue services exposed as they face emerging threats from flooding, wildfires and the Covid-19 pandemic. Funding cuts will worsen public and firefighter safety and the impact of fires, floods, and other emergencies, the FBU said. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The last five years has seen more devastating cuts to fire and rescue services just as brigades face an increased threat from major events like floods and wildfires. For firefighters and their communities, these aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. This will worsen public safety, firefighter safety, and the damage wreaked on homes, businesses, and the environment by fires, floods and other emergencies.” He said unless the UK government provides “substantial and sustained funding… guaranteeing public safety will become increasingly a throw of the dice.” FBU news release
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ordered the restoration of a defunct roofing contractor to the Companies House register ahead of a court hearing which saw the firm receive a six figure fine following a fatal fall. Basildon Crown Court heard how on 25 February 2018 Jonathan Moore, an employee of R4 Industrial Roofing Cladding Systems Ltd, was undertaking repairs on a large warehouse roof in the Port of Tilbury when he stepped on a fragile rooflight that gave way. The 34-year-old fell more than 10 metres to the concrete floor below, sustaining fatal injuries. An HSE investigation found that the repair work was carried out without appropriate safety precautions in place. The planning and supervision of the work was completely inadequate, which also put a self-employed worker assisting with the repairs at risk. Trade journal Construction Enquirer reported that Companies House records showed R4 Industrial Roofing Cladding Systems Ltd was dissolved in September 2019. But the HSE applied for a court order to restore the firm to the register, which was actioned in February 2020. R4 Industrial Roofing Cladding Systems Ltd of Wickford, Essex pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £165,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,957. HSE news release
. Construction Enquirer
A waste recycling firm, its director and site manager have been sentenced after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences that saw an employee die and a second employee seriously injured. The incident at Stonegrave Aggregates in Aycliffe, County Durham, occurred when a large rotating drum was switched on with the two workers inside. Simon Hogg, 47, died inside the 2 metre diameter drum, known as a trommel. His colleague Raymond Garrett sustained multiple serious injuries to his legs, arms and torso requiring extensive hospital treatment. The men were trapped in the rotating trommel for about four minutes. They were near the end of a Saturday morning overtime shift and were working on an experimental project to shred paper for animal bedding. The trommel was off when they went inside it but two colleagues, who did not know they were there, switched it back on. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was a history of blockages occurring on the waste processing line, with operators regularly having to enter the trommel to clear materials. HSE found the line was not adequately guarded to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery. Control systems, including emergency stop controls, were not compliant with relevant standards and management did not adequately monitor or enforce machinery isolation procedures. CCTV showed the trommel guarding that was provided was being regularly bypassed by staff, including the site manager David Basham. Appearing at Durham Crown Court, Basham, 60, was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for a year. Company director Bruce David Whitley, 61, was given a 12-month community order. The firm was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £48,952.90 in prosecution costs. HSE news release
. The Gazette
. BBC News Online
A chemical company has been fined £560,000 after scalding water ‘erupted’ over a father-of-two at its Scottish plant, scarring him for life. Colin Brockie suffered burns to his right arm and leg, partial burns to his left foot, and burns to his left leg and groin in the incident at Calachem in Grangemouth, Scotland. He spent a month in the specialist burns unit of Glasgow Royal Infirmary, followed by six months treatment at home. Falkirk Sheriff Court heard he had suicidal thoughts and saw a psychologist for 18 months after suffering the injuries. Prosecutor Selena Brown said Mr Brockie and his family had suffered ‘immense emotional and financial stress’ as a result of the incident, on 4 March 2016. Skin grafts had been ruled out by his consultant as ‘too traumatic’ and having no guarantee of improving the appearance of his scarred skin, about which he remained self-conscious and always kept covered. The court heard Mr Brockie was cleaning a powder chute connected to a large reaction vessel which had been used to produce an inkjet and printer toner chemical for a Dutch firm. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the chute had been filled with water overnight, which had been brought to the boil by inserting a steam hose. The next day Mr Brockie opened a valve to empty the boiling water into the reaction vessel, but the vessel had been filled with pressurised nitrogen gas, also for cleaning. The scalding water erupted back up and out of the chute. HSE found incremental changes to the cleaning process were not subject to a review of the company’s risk assessment and the danger of pressurising a vessel below a chute of boiling water was not recognised, consequently no control measures were put in place to remove this danger. Imposing the £560,000 fine, Sheriff Christopher Shead said: “The court's reached the conclusion that the 'headline' sentence should be a fine of £700,000, modified by £140,000 to reflect the stage at which the plea of guilty was tendered.” He gave the company, which had a turnover last year of £49 million, 12 months to pay. HSE news release
. Daily Record
. Falkirk Herald
Women trade unionists are being invited to log on at 6.30pm Wednesday 3 March to the ‘Women and Health and Safety’ webinar at the TUC Women’s Conference. There’s a great line up that should kick off an entertaining and informative discussion. Speakers include Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign, Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj, RMT health and safety rep Cat Cray and Unite member and activist Andreea Scacioc.
‘Women and Health and Safety’, a webinar for women workers, 6.30pm, Wednesday 12 March 2021. Register now!
A 16 April half-day interactive online asbestos conference organised by three advocacy groups will focus on campaigning and how you or your union can get involved with campaigns for victims of asbestos related diseases and Victim Support Groups. Guest speakers include Unite’s Colin Hampton on creative campaigning, GMB health and safety director Dan Shears on the case for asbestos eradication, Blacklist Support Group founder Dave Smith and John McClean of JUAC (Joint Union Asbestos Committee on asbestos in schools. Asbestos: The Campaign Against All Fears
, half-day (am) online conference, Friday, 16 April 2021. Register
The Covid-19 pandemic has made nursing homes some of the most hazardous - and even deadly - worksites in the world, the global union UNI has warned. Its report, ‘The most dangerous job: The impact of Covid-19 on Long-Term Care Workers in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia’, reveals how similar issues across the long-term care sector in the five countries contributed to Covid-19 contagion and deaths not just for residents but also the vulnerable workers in the industry. It found in some countries, the job can be as dangerous as mining, timber and police work. UNI says essential long-term care workers found themselves on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic, caring for the elderly and aiding the most vulnerable, and becoming vulnerable themselves. Hundreds of thousands of workers contracted Covid-19 in the countries studied, with thousands dying. “We are already facing tragedy of an unspeakable scale, but I fear that much more loss is in store,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI general secretary. “We do not know the impact that Covid will have on workers over time, and unless the working conditions that helped the virus spread like wildfire through care homes - the lack of PPE, low wages, no paid sick days, no union representation - are fixed, serious problems will persist after vaccinations and after this pandemic.” Adrian Durtschi, head of UNI’s care sector, added: “When workers have a voice on the job through their union and collective bargaining, they can raise the standard of care and help keep everyone in their facility healthier and safer. These changes will save lives during the pandemic and in the years to come.” UNI news release
and report, The most dangerous job: The impact of Covid-19 on Long-Term Care Workers in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia
, February 2021.
The strong profits posted by customer service multinational Teleperformance have come on the back of exploitative and unsafe working conditions for its staff, the global commerce union UNI has charged. Branding the company one of the “pandemic profiteers,” UNI said Teleperformance and its shareholders have “benefited from the massive shift of customer transactions to remote locations such as call centres. In parallel with some other winners in the pandemic, the share price has risen nearly 19 per cent since February 2020, growing president and CEO Daniel Julien’s personal stake in the company by around 50 million Euros over the last year.” But this all came at a cost to its workers, UNI warned. “Teleperformance’s formula for financial success is based on locating customer service work in low-wage economies, where the application of health and safety and human rights standards is often substandard. The company's growth, however, has come at a cost to workers.” The first wave of Covid was marked by Teleperformance workers around the world protesting unsafe labour conditions in the company’s call centres, the global union said. The company fired workers who tried to unionise in countries including Colombia, Poland and Albania. “Teleperformance aggravated the pressure created by Covid when it massively increased the deployment of AI monitoring tools of its global workforce during the pandemic, including voice interaction analytics and webcams in the home to monitor their employees,” UNI noted. “Two Italian speaking workers in Albania who have raised issues with webcams being installed in their homes have faced disciplinary action and one has been dismissed.” UNI news release
All workplaces must play their part in ensuring that New Zealand beats the latest Covid outbreak and help minimise the risk of future outbreaks, organisations representing unions and businesses have said. The call came in a joint statement from the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and Business New Zealand (BNZ) and followed a local outbreak where 11 people were found to be infected. The seriousness with which the pandemic has been addressed in New Zealand is revealed in the statement – the outbreak is smaller than many considered routine in single British workplaces. “Workplaces are a crucial element of NZ’s defence against Covid. It’s vital that everyone, both employers and employees, work together,” said Richard Wagstaff, president of the CTU. “We need to work together so that isolation is not only the right thing to do, but also the easy thing to do. Workplaces must communicate this message so that everyone knows what’s expected of them. There should be no disadvantage or penalty of any kind for shielding others from Covid-19.” Kirk Hope, chief executive of Business New Zealand, said: “We have a Covid-19 strategy that is really quite simple – everyone must stay away from work and isolate if they have symptoms or are a close contact. It’s essential everyone is willing and able to stick to this strategy. Every business and every worker must do everything in their power to get ahead of the latest Covid outbreak. The consequences and costs of failure would be huge for all of us.” Employers and the self-employed are eligible for a one-off payment of $350 (£183) for each eligible worker unable to work while awaiting a test result. Self-isolating people working 20 or more hours per week are eligible for a payment of up to $1176.60 (£614). NZCTU news release
. The Guardian
The US government’s workplace safety regulator cannot show that its inspection policies and regulations were effective in combating workplace Covid-19 infections under the Trump administration, according to a new report from the US Labor Department’s inspector general. “There is an increased risk that OSHA has not been providing the level of protection that workers need at various job sites,” the Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG) said in the 2 March report. The report comes as the embattled Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue an emergency temporary standard for Covid-19 by 15 March. The report is part of an inspector general review of the Labor Department’s response to the pandemic. The DOL-OIG highlighted problems that include a decline in OSHA inspections while complaints increased, a dependency on remote inspections where inspectors never actually visit worksites, the absence of a programme to focus inspections on Covid-19 high-hazard workplaces, and the lack of a coronavirus regulation. The inspector general’s office said it is concerned the lack of inspectors in workplaces led to hazards going unidentified and employers being slow to correct problems OSHA spotted. It also noted that OSHA failed to include in its inspection summaries information about whether an inspection was done remotely or in-person. The agency didn’t begin to include that information until November - months after the virus had taken hold of the country and only following requests from the inspector general. The report examined inspections done during the Trump administration from 1 February to 26 October 2020 and compared them to the same time span in 2019. The inspector general found that while complaints and referrals to OSHA increased by 15 per cent to 11,041, inspections declined by 50 per cent to 13,010. “The inspector general documented OSHA’s failure under President Trump to mount a strong effort to protect millions of frontline workers doing essential work,” said David Michaels, who led OSHA during the Obama presidency. “Thousands of virus-exposed workers complained to OSHA, but the agency did little to help them. As a result, many workers were sickened or killed.” DOL-OIG news report
, 25 February 2021. Bloomberg Law
. Washington Post
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