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



Most not getting paid time off for vaccine

Less than half (45 per cent) of companies surveyed are giving staff paid time-off to get vaccinated, the TUC has found. The union body’s poll of more than 1,000 private sector employers shows that too many are not taking simple practical steps to make sure as many of their staff as possible get vaccinated. The TUC says that getting as many people vaccinated as possible is the way out of the pandemic – and that employers should play their part by encouraging vaccinations. It says every worker should get paid time off for their vaccine appointments – and that employers and the government should act. The poll revealed that large companies surveyed (49 per cent) are only marginally better than small companies (43 per cent) at supporting workers with paid time-off for vaccine appointments. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:  “Every worker should be entitled to paid time off for their vaccination appointments, and to recover from any side effects. It must be as easy as possible for everyone to get vaccinated – including people in insecure work and precarious jobs. The government must be loud and clear with companies about supporting their workforces to get vaccinated.” The TUC is opposed to mandatory vaccinations. “Forcing staff to get vaccinated is counterproductive,” said O’Grady. “As well as damaging trust and employee relations, it may be discriminatory and open up employers to legal challenge.  Employers should instead encourage their workers to get vaccinated and make it as easy as possible, for example by giving them paid time off for the appointments. And businesses must not use vaccination or testing programmes as an excuse to slack on coronavirus safety at work. As the UK prepares to open more workplaces over the coming months, every employer must make sure their workplaces meet Covid-secure rules.” 
TUC news release.

‘Damning verdict’ on failure to prevent bus driver deaths

Evidence an earlier lockdown last year would have saved bus drivers’ lives is a “damning verdict on the failure to protect vulnerable key workers,” Unite has said. The union, which represents over 20,000 bus drivers in London, was commenting on a March 2021 report from University College London (UCL), which found that 80 per cent of the bus workers who died of Covid-19 in the first wave had ceased work by 3 April 2020. The report noted: “An earlier lockdown would likely have saved lives, with many of the drivers who died having underlying health conditions, putting them at greater risk.” Unite lead officer for London buses John Murphy said: “This is a damning verdict on the government’s failure to introduce an earlier lockdown. The government had the information about the danger of Covid-19 and it failed to act, which dramatically and tragically increased bus driver deaths.” He added that London bus drivers “were left needlessly exposed by government inaction. When the government should have been locking down and saving lives, it was still talking about herd immunity.” The Unite officer concluded: “From well before the lockdown was announced, Unite was forcing bus operators and TfL to stricter safety measures to protect drivers. This culminated in the closing of front doors and the full sealing of the cabs to protect drivers, alongside a host of other measures. The government has a moral duty to end the delay in launching a full public inquiry into the pandemic. The reasons for its failure to act and introduce a lockdown earlier must be fully understood and explained.”
Unite news release. UCL news release. Report of the second stage of a study of London bus driver mortality from Covid-19, UCL Institute of Health Equity, 19 March 2021. BBC News Online.

‘Rogue bus service’ probed for serial safety breaches

The ‘rogue bus service’ run by Go North West in the Greater Manchester area is under investigation for serial Covid-19 safety failures and breaches of other vital safety regulations. Go North West, which is part of the multi-billion pound Go Ahead group, launched its ‘rogue bus service’ rather than seek a negotiated settlement to the dispute with Unite, the UK’s leading union, over plans to fire and rehire its bus drivers on vastly inferior terms and conditions. As a result, over 400 bus drivers have been on all-out strike action since 28 February. Earlier this month, Unite revealed Go North West’s ‘rogue bus service’ was operating dangerously overcrowded buses. In response, the company claimed it was a one-off incident. But Go North West bus drivers have been compiling a detailed dossier on all the safety failings of the ‘rogue bus service’. The dossier details problems with the sub-contracted buses run by 10 operators. The union says the illegal activity included: overcrowding and ignoring reduced capacity rules to prevent Covid-19 transmissions, allowing passengers to stand (often close to the driver), a failure to tape off seats around drivers, a complete absence of screens to protect drivers from Covid transmission and a failure to properly seal screens if they were in place. The dossier was initially sent to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which has confirmed: “Your concerns have been forwarded to the appropriate Bus Compliance Unit for your area and the appropriate Regional Intelligence Unit for your area for further investigation.” Unite regional secretary Ritchie James said: “For three weeks Go North West has been operating its ‘rogue bus service’ without scrutiny, which has risked the health of bus passengers, their families and the general public in Greater Manchester.” He added: “The DVSA investigation is welcome and will be able to nail Go North West’s lie that the previous incidents of overcrowding were one offs, when the truth is that they are flouting regulations across their ‘rogue bus service’.”
Unite news release.

Covid-secure ‘mockery’ exposed by serial outbreaks

A third coronavirus outbreak at a major chicken processing factory in Scotland has made “a mockery” of the idea of Covid-secure workplaces, a leading expert in occupational health has said. Professor Andrew Watterson was commenting after a third outbreak at the 2 Sisters Food Group’s (2SFG) chicken factory in Coupar Angus, this time affected more than two dozen of its workforce of around 1,000 people. The first outbreak at the factory came in August 2020, with 200 testing positive and all staff sent home to self-isolate for two weeks while the premises were shut down (Risks 963). More positive cases were identified after Christmas, with the number rising significantly through January (Risks 981). Prof Watterson, from the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University, said: “The third outbreak in the same meat factory is making a mockery of the idea of Covid-secure workplaces. Scotland and the UK urgently need to move to Covid safe workplaces based on the Zero Covid strategy that has been advocated but ignored for months.” He added: “The third outbreak at this plant reveals the set up in Scotland is not fit for purpose. Public health bodies, local authorities and Food Standards Scotland are simply not the best bodies to lead the investigation and inspection of workplace clusters in the food industry. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors – not the spot check inspectors from the private sector – should lead interventions with support from public health and councils, not the other way round.”
The National.

MPs told the virus put a spotlight HSE funding crisis

The experience of the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the underfunding of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee have been told. Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect, the union representing health and safety inspectors at the HSE, made the comments at a committee session on 17 March. Clancy highlighted that the HSE had suffered cuts of 54 per cent in real terms since 2010, reducing the ability of the organisation to respond to the virus. He said the vast majority of proactive site visits conducted by the HSE in response to Covid have been conducted by external contractors “such as debt collection agencies” – 52,000 compared to 12,000 carried out by trained HSE inspectors. Clancy told the committee that a “lesson had to be learned” about the impact of cutting capacity and the inability to turn the tap back on to respond to a crisis. Speaking after the session, Mike Clancy said: “Smart health and safety regulations require trained expert inspectors with the right tools to do the job. It is an inescapable fact that we don’t have enough people with the right powers to properly enforce these regulations across the economy. Government has to change tack and provide a long-term funding settlement to HSE. This is the only way to restore inspector numbers and boost the confidence of businesses, workers and consumers that health and safety at work is something we take seriously as a country.”
Prospect news release. Work and Pensions Committee oral evidence, 17 March 2021.

Health workers need better protection from Covid

Too many official bodies are failing to stand up and recommend the level of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) needed to a stop health care workers (HCW) developing Covid-19, a paper in the journal Occupational Medicine has warned. Occupational physicians Paul Nicholson and Dil Sen – formerly a senior occupational doctor with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – state that despite “overwhelming evidence supporting aerosol transmission” of the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19, “this has not translated into appropriate, consistent policies on RPE for HCWs.” They write: "The lower prevalence of infections among HCWs considered to be at highest risk is likely attributable to better air exchange rates and provision of FFPR [filtering facepiece particulate respirators – FFP2 and FFP3 respirators] and conversely, in other hospital areas, to lower standards of cleaning and disinfection for shared areas such as changing rooms and toilet facilities.” Nicholson and Sen note that limiting supply of these respirators to those with a risk of droplet transmission was a mistake, adding “the distinction between aerosol and droplet transmission is a false dichotomy because the respiratory tract produces particles in a continuum of sizes, all of which can transmit SARS-CoV-2, and therefore is relevant to social distancing and respiratory protection interventions.” The paper concludes: “Many professional bodies have demonstrated leadership by seeking to influence policy makers to better protect HCWs; others have been conspicuous by their silence. We believe the evidence supports upgrading RPE for all HCWs; whether it be FFP2, FFP3 or PAPR [powered air-purifying respirators] and that government agencies and employers must act to ensure HCWs have access and learn lessons so that HCWs are better protected for future pandemics. Unions have argued consistently that health and care staff should all be provided the more protective FFP3 masks (Risks 980). Official UK guidance still recommends provision of the more protective respirators to a relatively small proportion of health and care workers.
Paul J Nicholson, Dil Sen. Healthcare workers and protection against inhalable SARS-CoV-2 aerosols, Occupational Medicine, kqab033, 18 March 2021. SOM blog.

More must be done to protect care homes

More must be done to protect care homes from infection spread by addressing problems including lack of access to decent sick pay and ‘heavy-handed employers’, UNISON has said. The union was commenting after a study, published as a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at a sharp rise in positive PCR tests for new Covid-19 variants in care home staff and residents in England between October and December. The University College London (UCL) analysis found that, among the samples it had access to, the proportion of infections caused by the new variant rose from 12 per cent in the week beginning 23 November to 60 per cent of positive cases just two weeks later, in the week beginning 7 December. Commenting on the findings, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care homes should have been inside a protective ring from the start. But this is sadly still not the case. To make matters worse, many care workers only get statutory sick pay if they need to isolate away from work for safety’s sake. There’s a chasm between government promises to curb infection spread and the reality on the ground.” She added: “Vaccination is of vital importance. But the heavy-handed approach of a small number of care employers is undermining the rollout. Staff need encouragement if they’re to come forward, as in the NHS, not threats. These ongoing issues underline why care must be considered a core public service, on a par with the NHS, and given adequate funding.”
UNISON news release. UCL news release.
Maria Krutikov, Andrew Hayward, Laura Shallcross. Spread of a Variant SARS-CoV-2 in Long-Term Care Facilities in England, New England Journal of Medicine, 16 March 2021doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2035906

Covid strike ballot to open at prisons across England

Strike action could be on the cards at prisons across England as a ballot opens for UCU members at the country's largest prison education provider, Novus. The ballot is over Covid health and safety concerns and will close on 9 April. If UCU members back strike action, educators at 49 prisons and young offender institutions across England will walk out. UCU says the row centres on Novus's failure to meaningfully engage with the union over Covid health and safety concerns and on-site provision. Novus has refused to drop complaints and investigations against staff who have raised safety concerns. As these staff are UCU's health and safety representatives, UCU believes it is impossible for the employer to meaningfully engage in health and safety discussions until this intimidation stops. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Prison educators should not be forced into a position where they have to withdraw their labour to protect themselves. Covid death rates on the prison estate are incredibly worrying, as are the increased levels of violence our members are reporting across the youth estate. Novus staff are just asking for improved safety measures to protect them from danger during a pandemic. It is incredible that Novus is ignoring offers to go to Acas to resolve these issues and is risking industrial action across prisons in England instead of taking our concerns seriously.” The UCU leader added: “Staff have done all they can to continue to support offenders throughout the pandemic. Yet Novus seems intent on risking their safety to deliver on government contracts. Novus must withdraw its complaints and investigations of our health and safety representatives so we can have meaningful discussions free from intimidation.”
UCU news release.

Workforce decimated after ‘incoherent’ DHL safety move

DHL’s workers and customers have been put at “unnecessary danger” after the company allowed a manager in Manchester with flu-like symptoms to return without taking necessary measures, the union CWU has claimed. Large numbers of workers at DHL Parcel UK’s depot on the Trafford Park industrial estate have now been off work sick with Covid-19, with a third so far infected. Numbers spiked after a manager who had flu-like symptoms returned to work without taking the mandatory self-isolation period off, or getting a coronavirus test. Concerned workers raised the matter at a works meeting but were told that the shift manager was “confident” he didn’t have Covid-19. This is despite the manager having come into close contact with another shift manager who had tested positive – and who has since died from the virus. Over a third of workers at DHL Trafford Park have tested positive for the virus since the manager returned, prompting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be called in to examine how to implement measures to protect employees. CWU Greater Manchester central branch secretary Jim McNicholls said: “Unfortunately, this worrying development is not completely unexpected. Throughout the pandemic, DHL Parcels have continued to operate a ‘business as usual’ approach, even though their policy decisions impact the spread of the virus. It is simply wrong and is putting employees and customers in unnecessary danger.” CWU general secretary Dave Ward, alongside Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Trafford council leader Andrew Western and local MP Kate Green have all written to DHL Parcel UK chief executive Peter Fuller to raise their concerns over the lack of any nationally applied policy.
CWU news release. Morning Star.

STUC welcomes go slow on reopening workplaces

Scotland’s national union body STUC has welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a gradual reopening of the country’s economy. The step-by-step plan aims to see something approaching normality return by early June. All retail premises, libraries, museums and galleries, tourist accommodation and the hospitality sector are set to reopen on 26 April. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer commented: “We welcome this cautious approach that is entirely reliant on continuing progress in suppressing the virus. The implications for public health and sustainable economic recovery of moving too fast would be catastrophic. We have no doubt that the first minister will continue to be subject to sustained pressure from bosses in many sectors, including hospitality, to move more quickly but this must be resisted.” She added: “We believe that effective test, trace and isolate measures are essential, along with the flexibility to increase local restrictions when necessary to control any outbreaks. For the sake of the public’s health and the safety of workers we need the future return to work to be a steadily managed stream and not a torrent.” The STUC leader added: “We urge employers planning the return to work to learn from previous mistakes made during the emergence from the first lockdown. They must ensure that all continuing guidelines on social distancing and face coverings in the workplace continue. They must respect any ongoing fears and concerns of their own workers and, critically, fully consult with employees both on what is expected of them and on the protection they have a right to expect. Any worker with concerns should contact their union or the STUC.”
Scottish government news release. STUC news release. BBC News Online.


Lord Tebbit’s blacklisting admission must be investigated

Revelations that Norman Tebbit was regularly briefed by Special Branch on the activities of trade unionists while he was employment secretary underscore the need for both a public inquiry into blacklisting and for the Mittings Inquiry into undercover policing to investigate the matter, Unite had said. Lord Tebbit made his comments at a 16 March parliamentary meeting about the Mittings Inquiry, organised by Labour MP Richard Burgon. Replying to a contribution from Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group, Lord Tebbit said that the level of briefing he received from the police was so detailed that he knew where trade unionists went on holiday. Responding to the comments from the Tory grandee, Dave Smith said “during our long campaign and at the public inquiry we have continually asked how high up the political chain intelligence about union members gathered by police spies was shared. Thank you for confirming that it went all the way to the top of government.” Following the discovery of the Consulting Association blacklist of construction workers in 2009, it was revealed that information on some workers could have only have been supplied by the police or the security forces. Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett commented: “Norman Tebbit's shocking revelations have confirmed what trade unionists have always suspected: Not only were they spied on by undercover police… but that information was passed onto the highest levels. In the first instances the Mittings Inquiry into undercover policing has a clear duty to investigate exactly what information was passed to the government, about whom and for how long.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “It is absolutely essential that a full public inquiry is held to finally reveal the full truth behind blacklisting to reveal who was involved in ruining the lives of thousands of construction workers.” Union reps raising safety concerns were routinely blacklisted by firms, documents obtained from the Consulting Association revealed.
Unite news release. Blacklist blog. Morning Star.

Threats to media at lockdown protest condemned

The journalists’ union NUJ has condemned threats and harassment targeted at its members during an anti-lockdown protest on 20 March. NUJ members told the union they were targeted at the anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine protest that saw thousands march through the capital. Photographers and videographers were verbally abused and threatened, including death threats. Several journalists removed their masks in the crowd to avoid being targeted and others said they considered leaving the event for fear of violence. Protestors tried to block the media from working, taking photographs of journalists and sharing with other protestors to coordinate the harassment of media workers, the NUJ said. The union said the low-key police presence at a demonstration with clear hostility towards reporters left the media feeling especially vulnerable. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Throughout this pandemic, reporters and photographers have continued doing their jobs as key workers, ensuring the public remains fully informed and documenting important events during an unprecedented time. It is wholly unacceptable that in carrying out this vital work that reporters and photographers are being abused and threatened.” She added: “The policing of demonstrations and protests must ensure that journalists are able to do their job safely and without fear of attack, and that those who seek to curtail the right to report should be dealt with robustly.” She said the NUJ would be raising its concerns directly with the Metropolitan Police.
NUJ news release. BBC News Online. Sky News.

Unions slam sleep-in appeal decision

The 19 March judgment by the Supreme Court that social care staff are not entitled to the national minimum wage for every hour they work, including sleep-in shifts, is a huge blow for thousands across the country, UNISON has said. The ruling marks the end of a long-running UNISON-backed case taken on behalf of care worker Clare Tomlinson-Blake against her now former employer Mencap. Ms Tomlinson-Blake – who provided 24-hour support to two men in their own home – argued that every hour of her night shifts should count as working time. She was required to keep ‘a listening ear out’, provide support where needed and to respond to emergencies. An employment tribunal initially found in her favour, but the Court of Appeal overturned the decision in July 2018. Then in February 2019, the Supreme Court granted Ms Tomlinson-Blake permission to appeal, with UNISON continuing to support this case. In their ruling, the Supreme Court said workers must be paid national minimum wage when they are awake and working, but they do not need to be paid this when they’re asleep. Commenting on the decision, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Everyone loses until the government intervenes to mend a broken system that relies on paying skilled staff a pittance.” She added the “judgment shows ministers can’t disregard the desperate need for major reform a moment longer. That includes a well-resourced national care service that ensures staff are paid fairly to help resolve soaring job vacancies.” Sue Harris, GMB’s legal director, said: “Not many people would be able to sleep knowing they could be called to action at any moment.” She added: “This was a chance to address one of the reasons for the low pay of carers, it's a shame it wasn't seized upon.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “We believe that those staff who sleep-in at their workplace are, in fact, working. Their first and only commitment is to those they care for during the night and they are ‘on call’, and work through the night when required.”
UNISON news release. GMB news release. Unite news release. The Guardian.

Contract changes will make British Gas 'less safe'

Contract changes being imposed by British Gas will make the work ‘less safe’, the company’s skilled engineers have warned. Thousands of British Gas workers responded to a GMB survey on the planned contract changes, with 87 per cent of respondents saying that the reduced times allocated for jobs would make them less safe. In the ongoing dispute, British Gas engineers walked out again from 19-22 March, in response to the company imposing a pay cut and increased ‘flexibility’ – which they say would severely impact on workers’ home lives and caring responsibilities. Those not accepting the worse contract have been told they will be fired. GMB has called repeatedly for ‘fire and rehire’ to be taken off the table so the union and British Gas could reach a deal. Speaking on 19 March at the start of the latest strike action, GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said: “British Gas workers are on strike today and the next four days in days 35 to 38 of action since January.” He added: “These new survey results from the frontline show that the changes don’t just mean less pay or time at home with the family, but less safe working conditions too.” He added: “British Gas can still see sense, and we implore them to do so.”
GMB news release.

Tesco accused of ‘morally bankrupt’ fire and rehire tactics

Tesco is facing a legal challenge to its ‘morally bankrupt’ fire and rehire tactics. Thompsons Solicitors, last week issued High Court proceedings against the supermarket giant, supported by the retail union Usdaw. A total of 74 workers employed at three Tesco distributions centres in England, two in Daventry and one in Lichfield, are at risk of having their terms slashed through the fire and rehire process. The controversial process involves employers firing employees before rehiring them immediately afterwards, on less favourable terms and conditions often affecting pay, benefits and working hours. Neil Todd of Thompsons Solicitors said: “Tesco’s behaviour can do nothing but breed insecurity and stress for its hardworking and loyal staff. It is well known that this kind of heartless behaviour by management can have a serious impact on both the physical and mental health of workers. Fairness at work is not just decent practice, it is good business practice – and it appears it is in dangerously short supply at Tesco.” The trade union law specialist added: “Tesco has used the uncertainty of job security in the pandemic to manipulate its workers into taking worse terms because they are so scared of losing their jobs – and this comes not long after Tesco reported its pre-tax profit last year was £551 million. This is a slap in the face to its staff who have worked to the bone during the pandemic.” Usdaw national officer Joanne McGuinness said: “Tesco can stop this now by doing the right thing and withdrawing their threat to these longstanding staff, who have worked throughout the pandemic to keep stores stocked with the essential items we all rely on.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release. Usdaw news release.

MPs and industry leaders back better workers’ rights

Ahead of the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, a poll of MPs and industry leaders on their post-pandemic priorities has found strong support for improving workers’ rights and for better sick pay. Unite, which commissioned the Survation poll, says that the findings should see the government 'seize the initiative' and move to outlaw the horrific practice of fire and rehire. The polling found a majority of MPs and industry leaders favour an improvement to workers’ rights and more generous terms and conditions for sick pay. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “These findings show that there’s no clamour for going back to business as usual after the pandemic. Given the wide support among MPs – including one fifth of Tory MPs - and business leaders for improved workers’ rights, I urge the government to build on this. Seize the initiative and move to arrest the latest abuse of UK workers’ rights, the disease of fire and rehire that is ripping through our workplaces. Millions of workers are now fighting to hang onto the wages that support their families as contracts signed in good faith are being destroyed by bad employers without consequence.” The Unite leader added: “There is also agreement that the pitiful level of poverty sick pay in this country must be raised. Matt Hancock admitted that he could not live on the miserable pennies of support we give to workers who have to isolate during the pandemic. It must be improved, and the majority of business leaders agree that this should happen.”
Unite news release. Survation poll of MPs and business leaders.

Wilko workers ready to strike over sick pay

Wilko workers are ready to strike after bosses cut their sick pay entitlement - while management kept theirs. A consultative ballot saw 88 per cent vote for action up to and including a strike following the ‘savage’ cuts. GMB said the discount high street chain remained open throughout the pandemic thanks to the hard work and dedication of their employees. It said Wilko has repaid this loyalty by announcing devastating cuts to the sick pay of their staff. Currently Wilko employees are entitled to up to four occasions of sickness on company sick pay before reverting to the first three days of sick leave unpaid. But under the new system if a Wilko employee has a single day of sickness they will have no further entitlement to company sick pay for the next 12 months. Many of the affected workers are on minimum wage, low hours and also have no entitlement to statutory sick pay, so will have no income if they become ill. Management are exempt from these changes. GMB national officer Roger Jenkins commented: “Wilko key workers are furious – and no wonder. They’ve worked through the pandemic - risking themselves and their families - dealing with a lack of social distancing, increased threats and abuse from customers. Now bosses have told them they’re slashing their sick pay entitlement, while management are keeping theirs. It’s grotesque.” He warned: “If Wilko will not negotiate then strike action across Wilko’s is now inevitable.”
GMB news release.

RMT set for nationwide rail dispute

RMT is moving onto a “national dispute” footing with Network Rail after it was revealed the government controlled company is planning thousands of job cuts by September and a wholesale dilution of safety standards, including a halving the frequency of safety critical maintenance work. The attack on jobs and safety comes on top of an attempt by the company to implement an open-ended pay freeze on Network Rail workers and a wide-ranging attack on working conditions, the union said. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Under orders from the government, Network Rail is using the Covid-19 drop in passenger numbers and service levels to rush through the most radical restructuring of the railway infrastructure since privatisation. Rather than the post Covid-19 return to rail recovery which our economy and climate desperately needs this is a return to the disastrous days of Railtrack where cutting costs and corners led to a string of fatal accidents.” The RMT leader added: “Rail staff, who have been essential workers throughout the pandemic, have already had a kick in the teeth with an attempt to impose the government’s pay freeze. Now they are threatened with the loss of thousands of jobs accompanied by a drastic dilution of safety tasks, which will have catastrophic consequences for rail safety. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the secretary of state, Grant Shapps, but in the meantime RMT has no alternative to move to a national dispute footing to protect the livelihoods of our members and the lives of rail passengers and workers.”
RMT news release.

Site worker killed by high pressure jet of grease

Specialist plant hire firm Ruislip Plant Ltd has been fined for a criminal safety offence after a worker was fatally injured while undertaking maintenance on a piling rig. Reading Crown Court heard that, on 13 May 2014, Ben Wylie was assisting Ruislip Plant director Noel Kearney, who has since died, with the maintenance of a high-pressure grease track adjusting mechanism at a construction site in Maidenhead. During the process, the grease nipple assembly and a stream of high-pressure grease was forcibly ejected from the mechanism and struck Wylie in the shoulder and chest causing fatal injuries. An HSE investigation found that the components had been forcibly ejected on the previous day and had sustained damage in that event, reducing the pressure at which it would subsequently fail. The damaged parts should not have been refitted. When it was used again, pressure built in the system and at a critical point the damaged and modified components were again ejected, causing Ben’s fatal injuries. Ruislip Plant Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £99,000 and ordered to pay costs of £116,973.36. HSE inspector John Glynn commented: “This incident could have been avoided if Ruislip Plant Ltd had instead undertaken a risk assessment and devised a safe system of work.” He added: “No control measures were put in place by Ruislip Plant Limited and that sadly led to the death of Ben Wylie.” Wylie’s family was supported by campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK). His mother Mylene Bensley said: “Ben’s death was not immediate, and I will have the visions of my son standing up after being shot by oil and a piece of equipment and stumbling across a building site saying he felt sick and spewing out blood and then falling down forever etched into my mind, due to the inadequate provision for his safety.” She added: “I am so grateful that FACK were so helpful because without their help and support this whole horrible experience would have been so much worse.”
FACK news release. HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Uber ‘finally does the right thing’ says GMB

It took losing four court battles but Uber has finally done the right thing, the union GMB has said, and given its drivers employment rights. The union was commenting after the ride hailing company announced that from 17 March all 70,000 drivers would be paid holiday time, automatically enrolled into a pension plan and would earn at least the minimum wage. The move came after a February Supreme Court ruling in GMB's favour, with the country’s highest court determining that Uber drivers are not self-employed, but are workers entitled to workers’ rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. It was the fourth time Uber has lost in court over its treatment of drivers (Risks 986), Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Uber had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing, but finally they’ve agreed to follow the ruling of the courts and treat their drivers as workers.” He added: “Other gig economy companies should take note - this is the end of the road for bogus self-employment.” Commenting on Uber’s decision, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Gig economy workers deserve to be treated with dignity at work, and to be given the same basic rights as everybody else. We will check the small print of this offer. But this appears to be a big step in the right direction from Uber.” She added: “Now the company must recognise trade unions. The TUC stands ready to host talks with Uber and private hire unions to begin that process.”
GMB news release. Leigh Day news release. ITF news release.


Asbestos campaign conference, 16 April

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 on organising and John McClean of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) on asbestos in schools.

Asbestos: The Campaign Against All Fears, half-day (9.30am-1.30pm) online conference, Friday, 16 April 2021. Register.


Work, health and Covid-19 literature review

With work a key vector of Covid-19 transmission, a new report from the European Trade Union Confederation’s research union ETUI examines why it is critical that occupational health and safety measures take centre stage in mitigation policies. ETUI notes: “Besides recognising Covid-19 as an occupational disease and providing adequate protection to workers across sectors, it is important for OSH [occupational safety and health] measures to go beyond workplace exposure to the disease and to include the various factors increasing exposure because of work. Policy recommendations include better representation of workers at all levels of employment, sector specific OSH measures, broader EU wide policies and infrastructures, improved job security and sick leave policies, disaggregated data collection and inclusive messaging.”
ETUI publication alert and full report, Work, health and Covid-19, A literature review, March 2021.


Global: IUF and Sodexo sign safety declaration

Global food and farming union IUF has signed a first of its kind ‘Declaration of intent on health and safety’ with the catering transnational Sodexo. The declaration references the international standards contained in International Labour Organisation (ILO) health and safety conventions, with a particular emphasis on its risk assessment and hierarchy of control approach and the central role for elected union health and safety representatives. The declaration explicitly rejects ‘bahaviour-based safety’ approaches, and commits IUF and Sodexo to ongoing work and regular review to ensure protection of workers from the risk of occupational illness and injuries. Denis Machuel, chief executive officer for Sodexo Worldwide, said: “The declaration of intent is a critical step towards collectively restating that ensuring our employees’ health and safety is pivotal to everything we do and the way we work at Sodexo. Together with the IUF, we are committed to partner with unions, employee representatives and clients to raise the bar on health and safety standards and help drive improvements across the industry.” Sue Longley, IUF general secretary, said: “Health and safety has always been a priority for workers, but the Covid-19 pandemic has underlined its fundamental importance and the need for joint union-management action. This agreement represents a real opportunity for unions to strengthen their representation on safety and health. We will be working with our affiliates to give it life at all levels – local, national and international.”
IUF news release and IUF-Sodexo Declaration of intent on health and safety, March 2021. Hospitality and Catering News.


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