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

UNION COVID-19 ACTION AND RESOURCES OTHER NEWS INTERNATIONAL NEWS  

UNION COVID-19 ACTION AND RESOURCES

UK government has downplayed work Covid risks

The risk of Covid-19 transmission in the workplace remains significant but is being dangerously downplayed by the UK government, new research has concluded. A report from the Institute of Employment Rights (IER), written by 11 specialists in occupational health and safety and labour law, calls for measures including more resources for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and enhanced rights for union safety reps. The report from the thinktank includes a comprehensive review of the latest data on workplace transmission and the response of the government and HSE to mitigating that risk. It identifies a serious mismatch between the risk to workers’ health and the government’s claims to make workplaces “Covid-secure”. The report cites evidence that 40 per cent of people testing positive for Covid-19 reported prior ‘workplace or education’ activity, the top potential exposure source. Report editor Professor Phil James of Middlesex University said: “This light-touch approach to the regulation of businesses during the worst pandemic we have seen in 100 years must now be subject to a major independent public inquiry to understand what went wrong and how we can do better. It is vital that we learn from the failings of workplace regulation over the last year, because this pandemic proves that workers’ health is also public health – it benefits us all.” The team behind the report said they will establish a Committee of Inquiry that will take evidence from relevant parties to understand how reforms to health and safety legislation could provide better protection for workers in modern workplaces. Welcoming the report, Andy McDonald, the shadow employment secretary, said: “In a time of national crisis it is more important than ever that the government’s actions are held up to scrutiny. The findings of this report are deeply concerning – if health and safety laws and Covid-19 rules are not enforced, they are not worth the paper they are written on.”
IER news release and recommendations. HSE and Covid at work: A case of regulatory failure [preview], IER, March 2021. Purchase details.
SHP Online. Left Foot Forward. Personnel Today.
 

Commons staff not consulted on Westminster return

A trade union representing workers at the House of Commons have expressed “extreme disappointment” at the 4 March publication of a roadmap from the House of Commons Commission aimed at returning staff attendance at Westminster to pre-Covid levels over the coming months, but “which was created without any consultation with the very people who will be required to make it work; the staff.” The roadmap proposes a phased return of staff from next month. Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Speaker and the Commission have felt able to put a detailed plan to increase the number of staff in Westminster into the public domain without consulting or even informing the very individuals they will depend on to make this plan work.” He added: “Staff are committed to ensuring the continued functioning of parliament and an early sight of these proposals would have allowed the staff and unions to make constructive suggestions based on their knowledge of the workings of the building. We will now carefully study the roadmap and consult members to assess whether this Commission proposal meets our objective of maintaining the functioning of parliament while keeping those who work there safe.”
Prospect news release.
 

TV probe highlights DVLA Covid failures

Staff at the DVLA offices in Swansea have told an ITV Wales investigation that their concerns about Covid safety have been ignored and they feel forgotten by management. Workers at the vehicle licensing agency featured on the programme, broadcast on 3 March, said it was only following pressure from their union PCS and local MPs that any action on safety was taken by management. The site has had one of the most serious workplace outbreaks of coronavirus in the UK. Other staff also spoke of a culture of fear, bullying and intimidation at DVLA. PCS said since it launched a Covid ballot in DVLA on 18 February, “we have seen some movement from management towards our demands to make the site safer. But we still need all members to vote yes as there is sufficient urgency from management in making changes.” Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “There has been a callous disregard for the safety of DVLA staff throughout this whole saga, underpinned by forcing over 2,000 staff to go into work every day since September. This is despite nearly 600 Covid cases since March last year, with the vast majority reported from September onwards.” He added: “DVLA senior management have been more focused on threatening PCS members for attending union meetings, rather than working with the union to keep staff safe. With these latest revelations of bullying and a lack of proper social distancing measures at the Swansea site, on top of accusations DVLA misled the Transport Select Committee who looked into the Covid outbreak, CEO Julie Lennard should now consider her position.”
PCS news release. ITV Wales investigation.
 

Union role recognised in Bakkavor breakthrough

Newsnight, the BBC's flagship news programme, has highlighted the union role in exposing unsafe work practices and securing protection for staff. The programme featured GMB’s work at the food giant Bakkavor, where in December 2020 the union secured full pay for staff off work and a rollout of mass testing at the Tilmanstone salads factory (Risks 977). The multinational, which supplies major retailers including Marks and Spencer, also carried out a deep clean of the factory. The company’s concessions came after two Covid related deaths amongst workers at the Tilmanstone factory, and cases rocketing from around 35 in the third week of November to 99 at the start of December (Risks 976). The BBC programme featured claims that low paid workers felt unable to take time off when sick for fear of losing their jobs or income (Risks 944). GMB had called for paid sick leave for months. GMB organiser Frank Macklin said: “The changes have helped save lives and go a long way to making Tilmanstone Salads factory as safe a place as possible to work in during this current crisis. Full pay for staff who test positive, meant that our members can sleep easy at night, safe in the knowledge that if they do test positive their wage is secure and they won’t have to worry about putting bread on the table.” He added: “We continue to send our deepest condolences to the families of those who have died.” At least one other Bakkavor factory in England has been hit by a large outbreak (Risks 961).
BBC Newsnight, 4 March 2021. GMB news release.
 

Universities flouting government Covid guidelines

Three universities are breaching government guidelines over a return to in-person teaching, lecturers’ union UCU has warned. UCU said the universities of Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan and Edge Hill are flouting guidelines stating that in-person teaching should only have resumed from 8 March where subjects are practical or practice-based and require specialist equipment and facilities, noting “providers should not ask students to return if their course can reasonably be continued online.” UCU said the universities of Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan and Edge Hill are in breach of the guidelines and are putting the safety of staff, students and wider communities at risk. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Government guidelines created to protect us from Covid say that teaching should remain online wherever possible, but the universities of Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan and Edge Hill seem to think they know better, and are flouting them. Any university encouraging students back on to campus when teaching could be carried out online must ask itself whether it is doing so for the sake of its students or its bank balance.” She added: “We have called for as much teaching as possible to be kept online for the rest of this academic year to protect staff, students and the wider community. Universities reliance on income from tuition fees is responsible for much of the disruption and uncertainty faced by staff and students over the past year. The government needs to provide secure, long-term funding for all institutions.”
UCU news release.
 

Hopes raised for 'vital' Belly Mujinga inquest

Rail transport union TSSA has welcomed the consideration of a “vital” coroner's inquest into the death of customer service worker Belly Mujinga, because “a number of important questions remain unanswered”. The union was commenting after North London Coroner Andrew Walker indicated he was considering whether to hold an inquest into the death of the 47-year-old transport worker, a TSSA member. Belly died on 5 April last year just two weeks after it was reported she was coughed on by a customer at London's Victoria station. A BBC Panorama investigation subsequently raised serious questions about the inquiries into her death carried out by her employer, GTR [Govia Thameslink Railway] and the police. In a letter to the coroner, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes stated “it’s now vital we have an inquest into Belly’s death, to establish the facts.” He added that Belly’s “tragic death from Covid-19 touched the nation; she was a frontline transport worker with a young daughter who died so early in the pandemic.” The letter concluded that “an inquest would allow proper public scrutiny of the events which led to Belly's death, as well as being of considerable material benefit to her relatives.” The coroner said: “It's a matter of public importance and I should take care to ensure that I've covered all of the evidence.” He added: "I'm very conscious of the delay that's occurred and hope I can reach a decision as swiftly as possible for members of the family.”
TSSA news release. BBC News Online.
 

Bus drivers pull the brake on overcrowded buses

London bus drivers have been advised to stop driving if their bus becomes overcrowded, in order to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. Unite said the move by its members is in response to the high number of bus drivers who died of Covid-19 and to prevent transmission among passengers, Transport for London (TfL) rules say a maximum of 30 passengers can ride on a double decker bus and the maximum capacity for a single decker is 11 or 14 depending on its size. In addition, standing is not allowed on buses. All maximum loads are clearly marked on buses. Unite has raised concerns consistently that the maximum loading rules along with mask wearing have not been properly enforced. Its concerns have been amplified as pupils return to school, as drivers have been told that the maximum load rules did not apply when collecting schoolchildren. Unite lead officer for London buses John Murphy said: “The rules on maximum capacity are there for a reason and are supported by scientific research. Flouting the overcrowding rules will inevitably lead to an increase in transmission of Covid-19 and risks the health and wellbeing of the driver, passengers and the general public.” He added: “There is no logic to having different rules for school children. Travel on London buses must be safe for everyone at all times. Taking a stand and refusing to continue on a route until buses are not overcrowded will inevitably cause disruption and delays but it will improve safety and save lives. It is the responsibility of those who run Transport for London to introduce additional measures to ensure the safety of all passengers.”
Unite news release.
 

Health union slams idea of forced Covid vaccine

A government plan to force all NHS and care staff in England to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has been criticised as “sinister” and likely to increase the numbers refusing to have the jab. Health unions and hospital bosses urged the health service to continue its efforts to persuade its 1.4 million workforce in England to get immunised rather than resorting to compulsion and “bullying” to try to increase take-up. Downing Street did not dispute a 2 March report in the Daily Mail that it was considering making it mandatory for everyone working in health and social care to have the jab as a way of protecting patients. But the report triggered unease and criticism from key organisations in both sectors. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Forced vaccinations are the wrong way to go and send out a sinister and worrying message. Encouragement and persuasion rather than threats and bullying are key to a successful programme, as ministers themselves have repeatedly indicated.” She added: “Mandatory jabs are counterproductive and likely to make those who are hesitant even more so. This will do nothing to help health and care sectors that are already chronically understaffed.” Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council, said: “Any proposal for a compulsory requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated raises clear ethical and legal implications.”
UNISON news release. Daily Mail. The Guardian.
 

Unite reps ready to promote vaccine take-up

Unite’s ‘standing army’ of 30,000 workplace reps is being mobilised to play its part in promoting the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine to workmates across the UK. The union launched the major initiative with its general secretary Len McCluskey saying the UK’s accelerating vaccination programme is “a bridge to a safer world, and the chance to live, work and travel as we did before.” The union said it is especially keen to assist those hard-to-reach groups which have been hit hardest by the virus but where some are yet to be convinced of the merits or safety of the two major vaccines currently deployed in the UK – Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The union also repeated its call for an urgent uplift in statutory sick pay, stating that the country needs “more than one club in its bag” to beat this disease, including much more support for low waged workers who have to isolate. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said he was “hugely proud” of the role Unite members had played throughout the pandemic, but he added “there is incontestable evidence now that this is a disease which hits the low paid and vulnerable hardest, so we must support every effort to vaccinate these communities.” The union leader said: “The films and materials have been developed in consultation with our health and safety experts and the union's Covid-19 taskforce. We take our duty to keep our members safe extremely seriously and, as a union, we are incredibly privileged to have ‘a standing army’ of 30,000 workplace reps embedded in workplaces across the UK.” The Unite general secretary continued: “The vaccination programme is a tremendous advancement but we need more than one club in the bag to beat back this disease… Sick pay support in this country is among the worst in the western world. It must be raised to a living level, and urgently.”
Unite news release, Stay safe, get a jab webpages and video.
 

West Midlands first responders win full Covid sick pay

Ambulance workers and paramedics in the West Midlands have won full Covid-19 sick pay after a GMB campaign. Official NHS guidance states workers should be paid in full, including average overtime, whilst isolating due to coronavirus. But their union GMB says that until now, workers at West Midlands Ambulance Service had to scrape by on limited sick pay while self-isolating - but will now be receiving an average of their overtime too. Payments will be backdated to the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020, following the successful campaign. Kirsty Hackney, GMB regional organiser said: “Frontline ambulance workers have taken power in the workplace and won material gains for themselves and their co-workers. Our ambulance service branch fought ceaselessly to make sure no worker is punished for self-isolating. Their strength as united workers means they can get on with the job of defeating Covid and saving lives.” Commenting on Rishi Sunak’s 3 March budget, GMB acting general secretary Warren Kenny said: “The lack of action on the super spreader policy of poverty Statutory Sick Pay rates is simply an abrogation of duty.”  
GMB news release and release on the budget.
 

UK infection control guidelines ‘fundamentally flawed’

Official Covid-19 infection control guidelines used across the UK are “flawed and need replacing”, a new expert report has warned.  The report, commissioned by the RCN and written by independent experts, analysed a literature review for the UK government that underpins the current guidance and found the review’s shortcomings included a failure to consider a key way in which Covid-19 is transmitted – airborne infection – about which growing evidence has emerged during the pandemic. The experts concluded the review provided only a “superficial account” of the available Covid-19 evidence and that the current guidelines based on the review need replacing. The report for RCN noted the UK approach is based on early guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that assumed droplet spread and hands to be the major transmission routes, but warned: “Updated evidence indicates that aerosol spread is much more significant and the original advice from the WHO has been superseded. The UK guidelines are still based on this outdated evidence, however. They urgently need thorough revision and replacing.” The current guidelines omit detail on the importance of ventilation and advise that higher level personal protective equipment (PPE) must only be provided in certain high risk settings like intensive care, but that it’s up to individual health trusts to decide whether or not to provide the more stringent protection more widely to other staff. Echoing earlier calls from health unions, RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The report and its findings must launch an official review and not be swept under the carpet as an inconvenience. Health care workers need to know everything possible is being done to keep them protected. It is inadequate to say they have masks if they aren’t fit for purpose. Staff are scared for themselves and their families and left any longer it’ll turn to anger.”
RCN news release. RCN Independent Review of Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of COVID-19 in Health Care Settings in the UK, 7 March 2021. BBC News Online. Morning Star.
 

OTHER NEWS

Sick days hit new record low in 2020

Workplace absences are at the lowest level since records began in 1995, latest official figures show. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the UK’s sickness absence rate declined from 1.9 per cent in 2019 to 1.8 per cent last year. It reported 118.6m working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2020, equating to 3.6 days for each worker. While the virus had caused many sick days, the measures taken to contain it, such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and homeworking, appeared to have helped reduce other causes of absence. In 2020 nearly half of all Britons did at least some of their work remotely, the ONS said, and this, together with social distancing rules in the workplace, may “have led to less exposure to germs and minimised some of the usual sickness absences.” It noted: “The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the sickness absence data in a number of ways; while the virus may have led to additional sickness absence, measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and increased homeworking appear to have helped reduce other causes of absence, allowing the general downward trend to continue.” Infections such as colds and flu remained the biggest single reason for being off sick last year, accounting for 26.1 per cent of absences, but that tally was 4.3 per cent lower than in 2019. “Since April 2020, the coronavirus accounted for 14.0 per cent of all occurrences of sickness absence,” ONS added.
Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2019 and 2020, ONS, 3 March 2021. The Guardian.
 

NUJ welcomes national action plan to protect journalists

Journalists’ union NUJ has welcomed a new UK government national action plan to protect journalists. The union said the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists’ plan, launched with cross-party support, was an important step towards ensuring journalists can carry out their work free from harassment and attack. The NUJ said its survey last year found that more than half of respondents had experienced online abuse and nearly a quarter had been physically assaulted or attacked. Announcing the initiative, which followed a lengthy campaign for action by the NUJ, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Freedom of speech and a free press are at the very core of our democracy, and journalists must be able to go about their work without being threatened. The cowardly attacks and abuse directed at reporters for simply doing their job cannot continue. This action plan is just the start of our work to protect those keeping the public informed, and defend those holding the government to account.” Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary and a member of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, said: “NUJ members have shared horrific experiences of being attacked, abused and threatened – on and offline – simply for doing their job. It’s clear that reported incidents are the tip of the iceberg and that harassment and abuse has become normalised.” She added: “This action plan, with its range of practical measures and protections, is an important step towards changing that and ensuring journalists can get on with their vital work free from harassment or intimidation.”
NUJ news release. UK government news release. National Committee for the Safety of Journalists’ plan.
 

CWU win on backbreaking low letter boxes

Postal union CWU has won another local victory against buildings with low-level letter boxes. The latest win came courtesy of Vistry Group, who own Bovis Homes and Linden Homes, who are building 250 homes on Bexley-on-Hill’s “Gateway” development site. After being alerted to the plans by a CWU health and safety rep, the union’s national safety department lobbied the house builders, local MPs and the local authority. CWU said this lobbying eventually won the support of Rother District Council’s leaders, who imposed a ban on low-level letter boxes. Greg Fitzgerald, the CEO of Vistry Group, confirmed that although the first batch of show houses on the site have low-level letter boxes, the company would back the CWU’s campaign request, meaning that the rest of the houses will be fitted with front doors with a standard mid-height letter box. He added that the matter had been taken up seriously with local business unit partners, as well as the Bovis procurement and technical teams, who will guarantee that the CWU’s demand is considered in future discussions. CWU said this the latest win for its Low Level Letter Box Campaign, which seeks to ban and outlaw front doors with letterboxes below 70cm (2ft 3ins). CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said: “Ourselves and the local branch are delighted with the swift and positive response from the local councillors. On behalf of the CWU, we expressed our sincere thanks for that support, which is much appreciated.” He added: “Presently, the union has to fight builders, landlords and developers case by case in difficult situations to convince them to follow the “non-mandatory EU Standard.”
CWU news release.
 

Abuse of shopworkers worsened in the pandemic

Retail trade union Usdaw has renewed a call for legislation to protect retail staff after new statistics showing that 79 per cent of shopworkers say abuse was worse last year. The final results of Usdaw’s 2020 survey of 2,729 shopworkers across the UK found that 88 per cent had experienced verbal abuse, 60 per cent were threatened by a customer and 9 per cent had been assaulted. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, commented: “Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers and demonstrate the need for a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law. It has been a terrible year for our members, with almost 90 per cent of shopworkers suffering abuse, two-thirds threatened and nearly one in ten assaulted. We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job.” He added: “The UK government has persistently opposed new legislation, offering little more than sympathy and objecting to the Alex Norris protection of shopworkers bill in the House of Commons [Risks 978]. However, we had a great result for our members in Scotland, as MSPs voted through groundbreaking legislation to give shopworkers the protection they deserve [Risks 981]. We are now looking for MPs to support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK government’s opposition.”
Usdaw news release, Freedom From Fear survey and petition. Morning Star.
 

Capita slashes firefighters at Clyde naval bases

Unite has raised ‘major’ safety concerns following plans by Capita to reduce the number of firefighters based at the Faslane and Coulport nuclear naval bases. The union has been notified that Capita is set to reduce the specialist fire safety crew by eight positions, or 15 per cent. In 2020, Capita won the contract for fire response services from the Ministry of Defence. Unite said the outsourcing firm had not consulted the union “on the detail of the new fire services model at the nuclear naval bases and the integrated management risk plan.” The union said it understands that Capita is set to seek local authority support from nearby fire stations to ‘back fill’ the specialist safety response, which the union has stated is a ‘recipe for disaster’ that could comprise safety at the nuclear naval bases. Unite industrial officer Debbie Hutchings said: “Unite has major concerns over the imposed plan by Capita to reduce the fire crew at the Coulport and Faslane nuclear naval bases by eight positions. The plans to reduce the fire crew and to replace it with local authority support is a recipe for disaster. The decision by Capita appears to have been brought forward purely on a cost basis and the unrealistic expectation that the local authority can back fill these cuts, which is just not possible because specialist training is required at the nuclear naval bases. We believe these plans are worse than shortsighted and in fact potentially dangerous, which is why we are asking Capita to abandon this reckless plan and get back to negotiations."
Unite news release.
 

Union action call on Sellafield ‘toxic culture’

Unions have called for action after revelations of bullying, discrimination and racism at Cumbria’s Sellafield nuclear plant. Unite and Prospect were commenting after a BBC investigation heard whistleblowers warn that a “toxic culture” of bullying and harassment at Sellafield could let serious safety concerns go unreported. In a leaked letter, the nuclear site's group for ethnic minority staff described “shocking stories” of racial abuse. Alison McDermott, a senior consultant hired in 2017 to work on Sellafield's equality strategy, said: “This is a nuclear site, where many employees are demoralised, bullied and scared to speak out.” She added: “You've got toxic materials and a toxic culture, if you put those two together then you've got a recipe for disaster.” Her contract was terminated by Sellafield in October 2018 after she submitted a critical report. Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns, responding to the “disturbing reports”, said: “Prospect and other unions will be addressing these reports with the employer as a matter of priority. Employers need to work with trade unions to ensure that leadership on workplace culture comes from all levels of the organisation, and to embed good practice as part of everyday activity.” Unite regional officer Malcolm Carruthers said: “Unite has a clear policy of zero tolerance to bullying in the workplace. The union is already working with the new management at Sellafield to address existing concerns. If any Unite members at Sellafield believes that they are being bullied or mistreated in anyway, then they should contact the union immediately, where they will receive our full support to ensure the problem is fully resolved.”
BBC News Online. Prospect news release. Unite news release.
 

Foundry fined £500k after workers hit by vibration disease

A multinational building products giant has been fined £500,000 after its workers developed debilitating hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) caused by their jobs. Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates’ Court heard that three employees at the Saint-Gobain Construction Products UK Limited foundry in Telford were diagnosed with HAVS in 2016. Despite the diagnosis, one of the workers continued working with vibrating tools, without effective measures to control the risk. The employees used tools such as hand grinders, air chisels, spindle grinders and, earlier on in their employment, jackhammers to finish or ‘fettle’ cast iron drainage products. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that until 19 December 2017, the vibration risk assessment did not identify each employee’s daily exposure to vibration and did not measure cumulative exposures from using different vibrating tools throughout a shift. Saint-Gobain Construction Products UK Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,453. HSE inspector Andrew Johnson commented: “This was an established multinational company that had the resources to protect its workers from the effects of excessive vibration, but failed to do so over a long period of time. All employers have a duty to provide effective measures to ensure the health of their staff is not seriously or permanently harmed by the work they are asked to do.”
HSE news release.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Global: Over 17,000 health workers dead from Covid-19

A new analysis by Amnesty International and the global unions Public Services International (PSI) and UNI has exposed the horrific toll of Covid-19 on frontline health workers. The research found over 17,000 health care workers had died of the infection, with the groups saying their findings demonstrate the need for governments to support a waiver on vaccine patents to ensure a faster rollout. They add it is ‘imperative’ that governments prioritise all frontline health workers in their vaccine allocation plans. “A key way to speed up vaccination and prevent further needless deaths of frontline workers is through a WTO waiver on patents, backed with grants for poorer countries that might still not be able to procure cheaper vaccines that will come with this,” said Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of PSI. “All governments must be able to acquire and administer Covid-19 vaccines for us and our communities as soon as possible. Health workers will only truly be safe once everyone is safe.” Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the global union UNI, added: “Our response to Covid-19 must spur fundamental changes in care, otherwise it will replicate the inequalities that have put so many lives needlessly at risk.”
PSI news release.
 

Global: Work health and safety must be fundamental

A death toll from work hazards that claims five lives every minute of every hour of every day around the world demonstrated the scale of the problem. That’s why, says Owen Tudor, that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference agreed two years ago that occupational health and safety should become a ‘fundamental right at work’. Tudor, the deputy general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said the ILO’s centennial conference was held nearly a year before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and changed the working world. “The pandemic has only reinforced the case for health and safety at work to be given a higher profile and a higher priority. But it still hasn’t happened,” he wrote in an Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) blog post. Later this month, workers’ representatives on the ILO Governing Body will be arguing that the final steps that need to be taken to give effect to that centennial conference decision should be scheduled for this year’s ILO conference in June. “If we can’t secure agreement, we will be demanding that at the very least, the next Governing Body meeting this November should complete the preparations, so that the final decision can be taken without further delay, in June 2022,” Tudor explained. That will mean persuading more governments and the employers’ lobby group IOE to throw their weight behind the move. According to Tudor many major employers, including those who are ETI members, already support the move. “We want to see more employers doing what ETI’s members have done, and come out publicly to support the speedy recognition of occupational health and safety as a fundamental right at work…  making occupational health and safety a fundamental right at work would reduce the toll of death, injury and illness for workers, businesses, families and communities. It would save lives at work. We must do it now.”
ETI blog and ETI member supporting health and safety as an ILO fundamental right. More on International Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April 2021.
 

Global: Union push for a nursing home Covid ‘shield’

Urgent changes are needed to help keep nursing home workers and residents safer during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, a global union has said. Marking one year since the start of the global pandemic, UNICARE - the care sector section of the global union UNI – says its new ‘Building a shield against Covid-19: Guidelines for unions to respond’ offer principles for change and case studies to guide unions in their work to combat the coronavirus and to make fundamental changes in the industry. UNICARE says its unions, which represent two million care workers worldwide, have seen their membership traumatised by the physical and mental toll the pandemic has put on the sector. It says pushing for systemic change is not easy but global solidarity and sharing of best practices will help unions make life-saving changes. “This has been a year of immense sadness and struggle as we’ve lost residents we cared for, many members of our union family, and non-union sisters and brothers,” said Miguel Zubieta, global president of UNICARE. “We mourn those we lost but we will take up the fight in their honour to use collective bargaining and new organising to ensure workers have PPE and vaccines and raise standards in the industry to help end the pandemic and make nursing homes safer for everyone.” Demands include safe staffing, effective PPE, infectious disease protocols and full union participation in workplace management of the Covid-19 threat. UNICARE is also calling for the Covid-19 blighting its members to be recognised formally as on occupational disease.
UNI news release and guide, Building A Shield Against COVID-19: Guidelines for unions to respond, UNICARE, March 2021 [Also available in French, Spanish and German].
 

India: No progress on workplace health and safety crisis

‘Incessant’ industrial accidents in India show that no progress has been made in improving occupational health and safety, IndustriALL has said. The global union’s compilation of accidents reported in the press since India’s lockdown ended in May 2020 shows that “the shockingly high accident rate in India’s factories, chemical plants and mines continues,” it said. IndustriALL added the “intensifying safety crisis” in India is made apparent by the fact that 14 deadly workplace incidents have already reported in the press in 2021 and have claimed the lives of 42 workers, with about 100 injured. According to official statistics, an average at least 1,160 workers are killed in industrial accidents every year. Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said: “In June 2020, IndustriALL Global Union warned the government of India to take swift measures to prevent another Bhopal tragedy. It is appalling to see that no significant efforts have been taken by the government of India to address the safety crisis. We reiterate that the government should immediately call for a review of safety regulations.” He added: “The principles of process safety management need to be integrated into the legislative and regulative framework. Public consultation, involvement of safety experts and unions and full transparency are required to improve safety and prevent accidents and we need to do this immediately.”
IndustriALL news release.
 
 

PUBLICATION

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The book also contains HSE and other guidance, extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.
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