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



Just two weeks to go to Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April

In two weeks’ time, unions and work safety advocates will observe International Workers’ Memorial Day. Every year, it is an opportunity to remember all workers who have lost their lives to fatal injury or illness just for doing their jobs. It is when we come together to renew our fight for safer work and stronger unions. The TUC is gearing up for the biggest ever 28 April campaign day - on which is already the world’s biggest single health and safety event. A new dedicated TUC #IWMD21 webpage lists planned local activities, has great downloadable graphics and spells out how and why unions mark this day and includes some pointers on how this might be done in a Covid-safe manner. A zoom meeting on 28 April will feature top speakers including Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the ‘world’s trade union’ ITUC, and TUC’s own Frances O’Grady.
TUC’s brand new #IWMD21 page. Click to tweet or share to Facebook.
Register for the TUC national zoom at 2pm on Wednesday 28 April.
Search for your local Memorial Day event or add your own.
Download posters and graphics to print off or share online.
Check ways you can get involved.  
Find out what’s going on worldwide on 28 April 2021.


TUC safe return report warns of infections ‘rebound’

The UK government and employers have been warned that “infections could rebound” if workplaces aren’t Covid-secure, the TUC has warned. The alert from the union body came ahead of the reopening of hospitality and non-essential shops on 12 April. The TUC said the vaccine rollout and workplace testing must not be used as an excuse to relax safe working rules. Over 11,000 working age people have so far died during the pandemic, with thousands of reported outbreaks in workplaces and many more going unreported. A new TUC report sets out the steps ministers and employers should take to keep people safe at work and to prevent another spike in workplace infections. It says all employers must update their risk assessments to take account of what we now know about the importance of ventilation. It points out that as the UK unlocked in summer 2020, more emphasis was placed on surface disinfection – but we now know effective ventilation should be a higher priority. The TUC adds that any activity which can be conducted outside should be, and that employers should invest in ventilation systems, as well as continuing to enforce social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. The union body wants decent sick pay for all and adds companies should seek to persuade staff to get the vaccine, but not make it a condition of employment. The TUC says that making vaccinations compulsory will damage employer-staff relations and could result in legal cases on the grounds of discrimination. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want this lockdown to be the last. But if we get workplace safety wrong, the virus could rebound. Ministers must send out a strong message to employers: act now on workplace safety.” She added: “The government has imposed big fines on individuals who break lockdown rules. But not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers or the public at risk. It’s time for the Health and Safety Executive to crack down on bad bosses.”
TUC news release and Safe Return To Work report, April 2021 [pdf version].

TUC criticises ‘miserly’ increase to statutory sick pay

A 50p rise in statutory sick pay (SSP) from £95.85 to £96.35 a week has been criticised as ‘miserly’ by the TUC. The union body’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should be plunged into hardship if they need to self-isolate. But more than a year into this pandemic many workers still don’t have access to decent sick pay.” Commenting on the 6 April increase, she said: “Today’s miserly increase will do nothing to help people who get Covid. Statutory sick pay is just too little to live on. Ministers have the power to make self-isolation effective overnight – and cut transmission immediately. They need to raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it.” She added: “The government’s failure to act is undermining our public health effort and could lead to a rebound in infections as hospitality and retail outlets reopen. Many working in pubs and shops are on low wages and face having to survive on just £96 a week if they get sick.” TUC polling published in January revealed that two-fifths (40 per cent) of workers say they would have to go into debt, or go into arrears on their bills, if their income dropped to £96 a week. The UK currently has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe and nearly two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for it – most of them women.  Workers receiving statutory maternity, paternity, adoption or additional paternity pay are currently not eligible to receive SSP. The self-employed are also excluded.
BBC News Online.

Self-isolation needs end to 'poverty' sick pay

The ‘low’ number of people with Covid symptoms who get a test or self-isolate won’t improve until the government raises significantly Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), the union GMB has said. The union was commenting after a paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggested just 18 per cent of those with symptoms said they had requested a test, while only 43 per cent with symptoms in the previous seven days adhered to full self-isolation. The authors, from King’s College London, UCL and Public Health England, concluded: “Our results indicate that about half of people know the symptoms of Covid-19, and that adherence to each stage of test, trace, and isolate is low but improving slowly. Policies that support people financially and practically, and improving communication about the testing system, will be key to increasing uptake both in the UK and internationally.” GMB said the new rate for Statutory Sick Pay of £96.35 a week leaves low paid workers with symptoms the choice of doing the right thing or being able to feed their families. Warren Kenny, GMB acting general secretary, said: “The Covid crisis has exposed SSP as utterly inadequate for all workers. Doing the right thing shouldn’t leave you so skint you can’t feed your family. It's not fair to force people into that situation and it’s no wonder many continue going into work.” He added: “Ministers have had chance after chance to sort this out – spraying billions of pounds into almost everything but SSP. The simple fact is this – self isolating and testing numbers will not seriously grow until SSP is no longer poverty pay.”
GMB news release.
Louise E Smith and others. Adherence to the test, trace, and isolate system in the UK: results from 37 nationally representative surveys. BMJ 2021; 372 doi: Published 31 March 2021.
Hao-Yuan Cheng, Ted Cohen and Hsien-Ho Lin. Test, trace, and isolate in the UK, BMJ 2021; 372 doi: Published 31 March 2021.

Self-isolation won’t work without more support - experts

As the UK government announce plans to expand a lateral flow tests rollout to all adults in England, three leading experts from UK universities are warning that testing without support for self-isolation won’t work. Authors Stephen Reicher, John Drury and Susan Michie, all of whom serve on SAGE or its subgroups as well as Independent SAGE, note that for many months, there has been concern at the low levels of adherence among those asked to self-isolate because they have symptoms or a positive test for the coronavirus, or are contacts of a positive case. In a BMJ commentary, they note government measures to address the financial pressures that stop low paid workers from isolating have been criticised as too mean, denied to most applicants and inferior to systems in place in many other countries, including much poorer nations. The commentary notes: “If the importance of self-isolation is actually greater than we thought before, it is equally true that the need to improve support for self-isolation is more urgent as a policy priority. What is more, this urgency will become yet more acute as Covid restrictions are eased over the coming weeks and months and the potential for infected individuals to mix with others and transmit the virus becomes all the greater.” It concludes: “We need to get to a point where we are able to deal with infection outbreaks through a targeted policy of rapid testing, forwards and backwards testing, and of taking infected people out of community circulation. We cannot do that without better support for isolation. So, without support for isolation, talk of a ‘road map’ that is irreversible and of never returning to lockdown is precisely that. Just talk.” Commenting on the UK government’s move to over all people in England twice-weekly Covid tests, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “mass testing won’t work if people cannot afford to self-isolate. The government must increase statutory sick pay to the rate of the real living wage and make sure everyone has access to it.”
Stephen Reicher, John Drury and Susan Michie. Contrasting figures on adherence to self-isolation show that support is even more important than ever, BMJ commentary, 5 April 2021.

Sending shielders back to work is ‘deeply irresponsible’

Workers told to shield should not have been forced to choose between their health and their livelihood, the TUC has said. The union body’s safety lead Shelly Asquith was commenting as Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown ended shielding on 1 April. Shielders are those identified as being at the highest risk of serious complications or death from Covid-19 due to their existing health conditions. This includes cancer patients, those with severe respiratory conditions and others undergoing immunosuppressive treatment. Asquith said although the government’s guidance to work from home if you can remains in place until at least June, thousands of shielding workers have jobs which can’t be done from home, in open sectors such as public services, manufacturing and construction. And employers have been given no additional guidance to consider the specific risks of those in the shielded group. In a 30 March blog post she said: “The vast majority of shielders have not received their second vaccine dose – and one in ten have not even received their first dose. The first vaccine dose gives 52-75 per cent protection from the virus. Changing advice to all shielders, regardless of their vaccination status, is deeply irresponsible.” She added: “Trade unions should seek to prevent unreasonable attempts to return shielders to the workplace before the end of restrictions on 21 June – regardless of existing government advice.” Union reps should seek to negotiate workplace policies that make clear that shielding workers should not be asked to return to workplaces before they have received both doses of the vaccine, she said, adding risk assessments conducted on an individual basis to account for health conditions, which make relevant adaptions to work duties to reduce transmission risk.
TUC blog.

Covid toll shows the need for investment in work safety

The high numbers of Covid-19 deaths linked to exposures to the virus at work reveal “the abject failure of too many to keep workplaces safe,” the union GMB has said. The union points to official figures that show that 31,000 the suspected cases of occupational exposure to coronavirus were reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) between 10 April 2020 and 13 March 2021. Official RIDDOR reports to HSE show 367 workers’ deaths were suspected to be linked to workplace exposure to the coronavirus during the same period. The figures are likely to significantly underestimate the true extent of exposure and deaths among workers, the union warns, and is calling for urgent investment to make workplaces safe and full sick pay cover so that workers can afford to self-isolate. Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary, said: “No one should go to work in fear of their life. Each worker’s death was preventable and the damning reality is that too many workplaces are still not safe.” She added: “These figures shine a new light on the abject failure of too many to keep workplaces safe.” The GMB official said: “Across the country too many people still face insecure workplaces and inadequate PPE. These figures shine a new light on the abject failure of too many to keep workplaces safe. Seven out of ten reported infections were since the start of the second wave, when the steps required to limit the spread of the virus were well understood. GMB calls on ministers to urgently meet with unions, and for full sick pay cover to be provided to end the financial pressure that is leading to presenteeism and a greater spread of this terrible disease.”
GMB news release.

NHS reeling as long Covid hits tens of thousands of staff

Intense pressures on the already overstretched NHS are being exacerbated by the tens of thousands of health staff who are sick with long Covid, experts have warned. At least 122,000 NHS personnel have the condition, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) disclosed in a detailed report that showed 1.1 million people in the UK were affected by the condition. That is more than any other occupational group and ahead of teachers, of whom 114,000 have it. Patient care is being hit because many of those struggling with long Covid are only able to work part-time, are too unwell to perform their usual duties, or often need time off because they are in pain, exhausted or have “brain fog”. The ONS found about 30,000 social care workers also had long Covid, which could affect staffing levels in care homes and among services that provide at-home care. The study’s authors warned there needed to be greater awareness of the consequences of long Covid, and on measures to treat it. National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond said: “The increase in risk was not confined to the elderly and was not uniform across ethnic groups. The findings contribute to our understanding of the long-term implications of Covid-19, both for patients and our health services.” Amitava Banerjee of UCL said: “The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of post-Covid syndrome are likely to require integrated rather than organ or disease specific approaches.” Professor Kamlesh Khunti of the University of Leicester said: “Urgent research is needed to understand the risk factors for post-Covid syndrome so that treatment can be targeted better to demographically and clinically at-risk populations.” Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, wants ministers to classify long Covid as an occupational disease and set up a scheme to compensate workers in health, social care and other public service roles who have been left unable to work because they have it (Risks 986).
ONS news release. Ayoubkhani D, Khunti K, Nafilyan V, Maddox T, Humberstone B, Diamond I and others. Post-covid syndrome in individuals admitted to hospital with covid-19: retrospective cohort study, BMJ 2021; 372 :n693 doi:10.1136/bmj.n693.
The Guardian. Morning Star.
Sign the March for Change petition for recognition of Long Covid as an occupational disease.

Covid-19 linked to mental and neurological conditions

One in three Covid-19 survivors received a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis within six months of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a study has found. Researchers examined more than 230,000 patient health records, looking at 14 neurological and mental health disorders. Professor Paul Harrison, lead author of the study, from the University of Oxford, said the findings “confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after Covid-19, and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter are much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe Covid-19.” He added “that many of these conditions are chronic.” The study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, found the estimated incidence of being diagnosed with a neurological or mental health disorder following Covid-19 infection was 34 per cent. For 13 per cent of these people it was their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis. The most common diagnoses after Covid-19 were anxiety disorders (occurring in 17 per cent of patients), mood disorders (14 per cent), substance misuse disorders (7 per cent), and insomnia (5 per cent). The incidence of neurological outcomes was lower, including 0.6 per cent for brain haemorrhage, 2.1 per cent for ischaemic stroke, and 0.7 per cent for dementia. Risks of a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis were greatest in, but not limited to, patients who had severe Covid-19. After taking into account underlying health characteristics, such as age, sex, ethnicity, and existing health conditions, there was overall a 44 per cent greater risk of neurological and mental health diagnoses after Covid-19 than after flu, and a 16 per cent greater risk after Covid-19 than with respiratory tract infections. Dr Max Taquet, a co-author of the study, from the University of Oxford, said: “Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after Covid-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections, even when patients are matched for other risk factors.”
Maxime Taquet, John R Geddes, Masud Husain, Sierra Luciano, Paul J Harrison. 6-month neurological and psychiatric outcomes in 236 379 survivors of COVID-19: a retrospective cohort study using electronic health records, Lancet Psychiatry 2021. Published Online 6 April 2021. BBC News Online.

Workers walk out in DVLA Covid strike

PCS members have taken four days' strike action following the failure of DVLA to address the lack of Covid safety measures in the workplace. The union said it had to resort to action, with the strike running from 6-9 April, because of the failure of DVLA to address serious concerns at the Swansea site. Over 1,400 staff working in unsafe conditions at the Swansea site walked out. As the strike took hold, a PCS van travelled around the DVLA sites and the local area to show support and raise awareness of the dispute. The union said the DVLA strikers received “huge support from the community and sister unions.” Local MP Carolyn Harris posted on the DVLA PCS members' Facebook page, saying: “Proud to stand in solidarity with PCS union workers striking at DVLA office in Swansea. The treatment of employees by the management and the UK Department of Transport has been shocking. Workplace safety is not a luxury - it’s a necessity.”
PCS news release and update. DVLA PCS members' Facebook page. Donate to the PCS strike fund. Sign and share the PCS e-action to tell Grant Shapps to intervene in the DVLA dispute. BBC News Online. Reel News video.

Keeping face coverings is the right move, says UNISON

The government’s decision to require continued use of face coverings in secondary schools in England is the right move, education unions have said. Education secretary Gavin Williamson said face masks would remain as a “precautionary measure”. Announcing the decision to retain masks in the classroom, at least until 17 May, the Department for Education (DfE) said: “This cautious approach will help limit the risk of transmission and enable continued monitoring of the effect of school and college returns.” But the latest DfE guidance says: “It is expected that face coverings will no longer be required to be worn in classrooms, or by students in other communal areas, at step three of the roadmap, which will be no earlier than 17 May.” Commenting on the 6 April announcement, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It’s the right decision to continue. Ministers have sensibly listened to school staff – the people who know what it’s really like to be around classrooms and corridors during the pandemic.” He added: “Wearing face coverings isn’t ideal, but they’re a valuable safety measure and will be needed for a while longer to allow schools to stay open. Keeping staff, pupils and their families safe and stopping wider infection spread is the most important thing. Any further decisions must be made according to the infection data, rather than dates.” Patrick Roach, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said: “Relaxing the rules in schools would send a message to pupils and parents that the threat of Covid has passed at a time when extreme caution is still needed. We are not out of the woods yet and maintaining the highest levels of Covid security in our schools is critical as we move into the new term in order to protect the safety and health of teachers and learners.”
UNISON news release. BBC News Online.

‘Right call’ on online learning at universities

Lecturers’ union UCU has said the UK government's decision not to lift restrictions on in-person teaching at English universities as part of the 12 April reopening was the right call. The union said ministers have belatedly listened to the union's demand to keep the majority of learning online, but added they must now be honest with staff and students and admit most courses will stay online until the end of the academic year. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “UCU has been calling for English universities to stay online until the start of the next academic year. After a year of dithering and delay from ministers it now looks like they have belatedly listened to our demands and will keep learning online until at least 17 May. But restarting in-person activities in mid-May, with only weeks of the academic year left, makes absolutely no sense as most lectures and seminars will already have finished. It would also place undue pressure on staff who are already facing burnout from the chaotic and unsustainable demands placed on them this year.” The union leader added: “Ministers now need to be honest with staff and students and confirm most courses will stay online until September. Too many universities are still calling for in-person activities and 'blended learning'. Instead, they should focus on providing proper health and wellbeing support to students and staff, as well as helping staff prepare for the next academic year.”
UCU news release.

As pubs reopen RMT calls for respect for transport staff

As pubs and outdoor hospitality reopened in England on 12 April, transport union RMT called on the public to ensure that they respect safety measures and staff across the transport sector. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We all welcome the fact that we are starting to take the first steps out of the lockdown but it’s important that we maintain the current safety measures on the transport network and that means masks, social distancing and following instructions. We must all ensure that standards are not allowed to slip.” He added: “It is also important that staff across the transport network are shown full respect and support as we move forwards from today. The union will not tolerate any abuse of the transport workforce out there on the front line and we are supporting our members every step of the way as the lockdown eases.”
RMT news release.

Usdaw urges shop customers to show respect

As non-essential retail stores opened in England on 12 April, retail union Usdaw has called on people to play their part in keeping shop workers safe. The UK government published updated safety guidance ahead of reopening which made clear that all customers should continue to follow social distancing rules, shop alone or in small groups, queue or follow one-way signs where necessary, follow hygiene rules, and wear a face covering unless they have an exemption. But Usdaw said the pandemic has seen a shocking rise in violence and abuse against shopworkers, with incidents often occurring when staff encourage customers to follow these rules. Shopworkers have been coughed on, attacked and threatened, just for doing their job, and the situation has been getting worse, the union said. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The reopening of stores offers a lifeline for many retailers, which helps to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there. We expect employers to conduct full risk assessments, follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures. Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.” He added: “Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled and Covid safety measures have now become significant flashpoints. Abuse should never be part of the job and shopworkers – who played a vital role in getting food and medicine into our homes during the pandemic – deserve our thanks and respect.” He said the UK government should follow the lead of the Scottish parliament, which in January passed a new law to protect shopworkers (Risks 981).
Usdaw news release.

Unions urge shoppers to ask about ventilation

The TUC in Yorkshire and the Humber is urging shoppers to help keep shop workers safe by asking about ventilation in stores. It says ventilation in workplaces, such as open doors and windows in shops, is a key factor in mitigating infection risk. Citing evidence from the national Hazards Campaign and “a broad consensus of scientists”, the TUC’s regional centre said it is urging shoppers to keep their distance, think about ventilation, and speak up for shop workers if you think something isn't right. Commenting on the 12 April easing of restrictions, TUC Yorkshire and Humber regional secretary Bill Adams said: “As we reopen the economy, we must not drop our guard on workplace safety. If workplaces aren’t Covid-secure, coronavirus cases could spiral out of control again. Ministers must tell the Health and Safety Executive to crack down on bad bosses who play fast and loose with workers’ safety. It’s a national scandal that not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers or the public at risk.” He added: “Vaccinations can't be a substitute for comprehensive health and safety measures to make workplaces safe. And the government needs to wake up to the fact that a lack of decent sick pay undermines safe return to work. Ministers must raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it.”
TUC news release. Hazards Campaign ventilation factsheet.

Virus fears over Lewisham hospital cleaning cutback

A union is asking for the support of residents in its campaign against a dangerous cut to cleaning within their local hospital, barely a year after a previous jobs cull. Private contractor ISS, which holds the cleaning, portering and catering contract within Lewisham and Greenwich NHS, has revealed it plans to cut 495 hours out of the cleaning contract at Lewisham hospital. GMB says this is the second hours and jobs cull the company has introduced since they took over the contract in February 2020. It says there is increasing unrest in the hospital around the risk of cross-infection as cleaners are already struggling with impossible workloads and the company is advising ‘spot cleaning’ rather than thorough cleaning in some areas of the hospital. GMB regional organiser Helen O’Connor said: “Many of our members have been seriously unwell with coronavirus themselves and they are very concerned that cuts to cleaning during a pandemic will kill hospital patients who are already unwell and very vulnerable.” She added: “GMB members will not stand by and allow a private company raking in huge profits to put patients at risk.”
GMB news release.


Unite warns safeguards needed on hi-tech work monitoring

Safeguards need to be fully implemented in the workplace to protect workers from the ‘unintended consequences’ of hi-tech monitoring, Unite has warned. The union was speaking out as more hi-tech monitoring equipment for construction workers was put on the market. The company Kenzen is selling a ‘monitoring platform’ that constantly tracks a worker’s heart rate, over-exertion and core body temperature, in order to detect when they encounter heat distress. The union says this technology raises questions about medical privacy, companies failing to prevent risks until monitoring data flags up a problem and the use of the findings “to target the workers who suffer most from heat stress and then get rid of them from the workforce.” The Kenzen device comes ‘hot on the heels’ of Unite warning about potential misuse of personal information generated from hi-tech hard hats that are designed to ensure social distancing (Risks 984). Unite national officer Jerry Swain said the technology targeted a real problem but warned “unintended consequences of this form of hi-tech monitoring are very serious and there is a real danger that employers will either fail to implement preventative matters, or use the data to victimise workers. It is ironic that construction workers are increasingly under the highest level of monitoring but have the fewest employment rights.” He added: “If such technology is to be introduced it is vital to secure the support of the workforce and that there are clear agreements on what the monitoring can and can’t be used for. To ensure the necessary safeguards are in place such agreements should be made with the relevant union. If an employer is found to be using any form of hi-tech monitoring unfairly or inappropriately and it affects a Unite member, the union will use all possible avenues to secure justice.” A report from the TUC and legal experts last month warned that “huge gaps” in British law over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) at work could lead to “widespread” discrimination and unfair treatment at work (Risks 991).
Unite news release.
Technology managing people – the legal implications, Robin Allen QC and Dee MastersCloisters. A report from the TUC by the AI Law Consultancy, March 2021. The TUC AI manifesto.

‘Big Brother’ fears over Teleperformance webcam plan

Working from home call centre workers say the installation of cameras to monitor remote workers is a “Big Brother” tactic and have said they fear the technology could be open to abuse. Webcams are being sent out this week to thousands of Scottish staff who work for Teleperformance –the largest contact centre company in the world. Teleperformance will be able to access live footage of an employee’s home work station. In a statement, Teleperformance told the Daily Record workers “opt in” to switch on the cameras - but the paper says it has seen an internal memo that states camera access is “mandatory” for random visual checks of workers. It is also “mandatory” to allow “random” demands for access for “detection of a third person within an employee’s workspace”. An estimated 80 per cent of the 8,000 UK Teleperformance staff are now home-based. Its clients include the NHS, RAF, Royal Navy and the Co-op. Craig Anderson from the union-backed Call Centre Collective said staff were deeply concerned they will be asked to extend the periods of webcam access when the system beds in. “This is a complete invasion of privacy and in reality, there is nothing voluntary here. Call centre work is low paid, exploitative and precarious and workers are too scared to say no because they need their job to survive.” Teleperformance has said it is “redefining the new normal” of working from home with employers benefiting from “reduced physical space costs and increased productivity”. Phil Taylor, professor of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The worry is that the mandatory installation of webcam surveillance will become normalised across the industry.” In February, global union UNI accused Teleperformance of being one of the most successful “pandemic profiteers,” with its strong profits coming on the back of exploitative and unsafe working conditions for its staff (Risks 987). Announcing record revenue figures on 12 April, Teleperformance chair and CEO Daniel Julien said: “Teleperformance set a new growth record in first quarter 2021, with revenue up by almost 36 per cent like-for-like. This excellent quarterly performance confirms the positive trends observed in the second half of 2020 despite the uncertainties associated with the global health crisis.”
Teleperformance news release. Call Centre Collective. Daily Record.

Teachers face routine abuse in class

Teachers face routine abuse, violence and threats from pupils in the classroom, a union conference has heard. The NASUWT conference condemned schools and colleges that claim “unacceptable” student behaviour is “part of the job.” A survey of over 4,700 union members found 38 per cent had been verbally abused, and 10 per cent threatened with violence. “We need to reclaim our classrooms, but we cannot do it alone,” said NASUWT executive member Wendy Exton. Teachers are often left with no access to appropriate support and many school and college leaders do not receive adequate training, a motion passed at the conference said. Exton said criminal issues such as drugs, violence, knives and county lines “spill over” into the classroom, and go unreported “as schools are afraid of the repercussions.” The survey of 4,700 NASUWT members found that in addition to verbal abuse and threats, 6 per cent of teachers had been subjected to physical violence by pupils in the last year. Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said the union was “unequivocal” that teachers should not have to endure any form of abuse in the classroom or online. “The union is continuing to take steps, up to and including industrial action and refusal to teach ballots, where members report to us that serious pupil indiscipline or abuse is going unchallenged by their school,” he said. “Our action is securing successes, but members should not be forced to seek our protection in order to be able to go to work in safety. Improved training for school leaders and a whole school approach to promoting positive behaviour, coupled with a consistent and robust approach to dealing with incidents of verbal and physical abuse against staff should be embedded in every school. Schools have a duty of care to their staff and it is about time that all schools took that responsibility seriously.” Teachers said Covid pressures were leaving them ‘shattered’.
NASUWT news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian. The Standard. The Independent.

Empower schools to tackle sexism, harassment and abuse

Schools must be empowered to do more to address harassment abuse aimed at female pupils and staff, teaching union NEU has said. Commenting on an emergency motion passed at the NEU’s online annual conference, joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Sexism has real negative consequences for girls and for female staff, who disproportionately experience sexual violence and harassment. If we want different outcomes for girls, we need to start doing things differently. Schools must be empowered to do more. Schools must be given curriculum flexibility and shown national leadership that says that wellbeing and social development really is the key business of schools.” The NEU leader said: “The NEU wants all schools to be able to develop a whole-school approach to prevent the attitudes and sexist ideas about girls that fuel sexual harassment,” adding: “There must be clear school policies on sexual harassment which are talked about, and referenced, regularly. Women and girls must be supported to speak out about what sorts of language, jokes and incidents constitute harassment and we need more training for schools and school staff.” She concluded: “Education policy must help schools to create the capacity and opportunity for the social and emotional aspects of education and subjects like Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Using the curriculum to challenge sexism and sexual harassment must be a central part of the government’s re-imagining of education as we recover from Covid-19 and reflect on its lessons.”
NEU news release.

Under pressure teachers being driven out of the job

The vast majority of teachers are overworked, worried about their wellbeing and blame the government for failing to listen to them, union research has found. Findings of the National Education Union’s (NEU) State of Education survey of more than 10,000 teaching staff reveal seven in 10 teachers, leaders and support workers reported that workload has increased over the past year, with almost all respondents — 95 per cent — worried about the impact on their wellbeing. Over a third of respondents (35 per cent) said they would “definitely” no longer be working in education in five years’ time. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said it should come as “no surprise” that so many are thinking of leaving teaching. “These findings come after a year in which the education profession has been afforded few safety protections, has had to improvise solutions where government had simply left a void, and has been awarded a pay freeze for their troubles,” he said. “To create an environment in which so many are overworked and looking for an exit, it is a scandal that so little effort has been made by government to value the profession. Instead, they feel insulted, and for many there comes a point where enough is enough.” He said the “perennial issue” of workload was driving people away. “The solutions are perfectly clear to anyone willing to listen. It is the ‘dead hand’ of Whitehall, Ofsted and an obsession with ‘data, data, data’ that is getting in the way of a fulfilling working life for too many education professionals,” he warned. “Our survey shows it — the government knows it.”
The State of Education: Poverty, the Pandemic and Recovery, NEU, 7 April 2021. Morning Star.

Woolwich Ferry workers threaten strike over victimised rep

Workers operating the Woolwich Ferry, now run by Transport for London (TfL), are holding a ballot for strike action over the victimisation of a union rep amidst concerns over safety, pay and casualisation. Unite said the ballot of its 57 members will close on 29 April, the day after International Workers’ Memorial Day. Unite said the ferry has been dogged by poor employment relations in recent years which led TfL to take over its operation from the discredited Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd. Besides the victimisation issue, the staff are angry at the failure to agree a new pay and reward scheme, the excessive use of agency staff, and the failure to provide adequate health and safety training to new employees. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “No union can stand by while its representative is victimised. It is a fundamental principle that our members understand – when workers come forward to stand as union representatives, bravely putting their heads above the parapet, they will have the full support of the union, using every means at our disposal, including industrial action.” He said Unite was “keen to engage constructively with TfL management during the ballot process so we can resolve these outstanding issues and ensure that the Woolwich Ferry can be operated in a fashion that truly benefits the users and the workforce.” 
Unite news release.

Devonport tugboat crew strikes over rostering dangers

Plymouth tugboat crews have taken two days strike action in a dispute over hazardous rostering patterns. About 40 Unite tractor tug crew members employed by Serco Marine at Devonport’s naval base walked out on 9-10 April, as part of a long-running dispute over the imposition of a new three weeks ‘on’ and three weeks ‘off’ roster. Unite said there were serious health and safety risks for its members, including excessive tiredness, with the new three week system introduced in December. Speaking ahead of the action, Unite national officer Bobby Morton said: “This is a long-running dispute which has health and safety at its heart. The new roster system of three weeks ‘on’ and then weeks ‘off’ has meant increased fatigue for our members who do a very responsible job. The new system may suit the Serco management as a way for the outsourcing giant to increase its profit margins, but it is completely unacceptable to our members.” He called for the previous one week ‘on’ and one week ‘off’ pattern to be reinstated. Unite said the dispute has been simmering since last year and strikes were planned for the Christmas and New Year period, but Unite suspended them as an act of goodwill for talks under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas to take place. However, it said these talks have reached an impasse.
Unite news release. Business Live.

Bus drivers vote for strike action over ‘remote sign-on’

More than 4,000 bus drivers working for Metroline in London have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over a new ‘remote sign-on’ policy, Unite has said. The union said that unless remote sign-on is scrapped dates for strike action would be announced. Metroline has stated it is only pausing the introduction of ‘remote sign-on’. This move came after London mayor Sadiq Khan instructed the bosses at Transport for London (TfL) to introduce an immediate moratorium, which will not be lifted until detailed research into ‘remote sign on’ is completed (Risks 991). Unite said 96 per cent of Metroline West and 97 per cent of Metroline Travel members voted for strike action on Metroline routes which cover north and west London. The company employs about 16 per cent of all bus drivers in the capital. The union has warned the practice raises concerns over lack of access to toilets and canteens, increased driving hours and fatigue and drivers waiting for the bus in unpredictable weather. Unite regional officer Mary Summers said: “The bus drivers at Metroline have delivered a massive mandate for strike action over ‘remote sign-on’ which has serious health and safety implications for our members. This unpopular policy should be jettisoned immediately.” She added: “Unless we receive confirmation that ‘remote sign-on’ will be scrapped then we will issue notice for strike action which could take place as early as the end of this month.”
Unite news release and remote sign-on campaign.

Unite push to protect Turkish and Kurdish workers

Unite is stepping up its campaign to eradicate the pay and employment abuses affecting members of the Turkish and Kurdish communities in London. The union said last year, as the pandemic took hold, it joined forces with community organisation Day-Mer to kickstart a workers’ rights campaign aimed at the Turkish and Kurdish community in the north London boroughs of Enfield, Hackney, Haringey and Islington. Problems with low pay, lack of access to sick pay and poor working conditions were identified, in sectors where workers from these communities were concentrated, including retail and catering, wholesale outlets, hotels, restaurants, shops and supermarkets and on industrial estates in the four boroughs. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We want to build links with the army of non-unionised, unorganised workers within these boroughs from the Turkish and Kurdish communities. These workers have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.” He said a new leaflet in Turkish “will highlight to workers their statutory rights, and raise awareness in the continuing battle to improve pay, conditions and safety at work. A key demand is that where workers have to self-isolate, they must remain on full pay.” Hornsey councillor Adam Jogee said: “Decent pay, workers’ rights and a safe working environment have never been more needed than now… I urge members of the community to join a union, to speak up and be counted and to ensure that their voices, views and needs are heard loud and clear by those in power.”
Unite news release.

Waste firm fined £1m over binman's death

A waste contractor has been fined £1m after a young refuse collector was killed under his own bin lorry. Kane Beard, 22, from Daventry, Northamptonshire, was working in a four-person crew when he died from head injuries after falling under the reversing lorry on 8 April 2016. Northampton Crown Court heard how the death could have been prevented if Kane’s employer, Enterprise Management Service Ltd, had not failed to carry out risk assessments. His Honour Judge Rupert Mayo said in sentencing: “In my judgment, it is the failure of Enterprise Management Services Ltd [EMSL] to install and maintain an effective supervision structure. I make it clear as day that Kane's life was beyond price. The amount of any fine should not be seen to place a value on his life.” Bin lorry teams are advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to only ever reverse if there is no other option, the court heard. Speaking after the sentencing, HSE inspector Michelle Morrison said: “This tragic incident led to the death of a young man, which could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out a suitable and sufficient route risk assessment and identifying where reversing could be avoided.” The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £1.02m, payable within three months. It was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £60,476. Enterprise was the environmental services contractor for both Daventry and Northampton from 2011 to 2018.
HSE news release. BBC News Online. Northampton Chronicle.


Canada: Quebec farmers to get Parkinson's compensation

For people working in the agriculture industry who have developed Parkinson's as a result of long-term exposure to pesticides, claiming benefits from Quebec's workplace health and safety board (CNESST) is about to get easier. With Parkinson's added to the province’s list of accepted occupational illnesses, people working on farms will no longer have to prove the disease is related to their work. But, similar to a law introduced in France in 2012, Quebecers who seek compensation will have to prove they have had direct exposure to pesticides through contact or inhalation over a period of at least 10 years. The Parkinson's diagnosis must also have been made within seven years after the end of exposure to pesticides. According to a statement from the Labour Ministry, this change represents the government’s acknowledgement of “the evolution of scientific advances” which show that “exposure to pesticides, without the prescribed precautionary measures, can have harmful effects on human health.” In a statement, Quebec minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, André Lamontagne, said: “By promoting better access to the compensation plan for the thousands of men and women who work daily to feed Quebec, we are ensuring that everyone is treated fairly.” Elizabeth McNamara, 71, who like her husband developed Parkinson’s after exposure to herbicides on their dairy farm, called the Quebec government's decision “a light at the end of the tunnel.” She is a member of the Association of Quebec Pesticide Victims, which lobbied hard for this change. “We did it for employees but we didn't do it for ourselves,” she said. “We thought an employee would get hurt by a machine, not from an airborne pesticide.” McNamara also wants to see other conditions related to pesticide exposure added to the occupational health list, including Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's and fertility issues.
CBC News.

USA: Meat plant line speed-up thrown out by court

In a major victory for workers in America’s pork industry, a federal district court in Minneapolis has ruled that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) acted unlawfully when it eliminated limits on the speed at which plants run their slaughter lines without considering the increased risk of injury to workers. “The court’s decision recognised that Trump’s USDA violated basic principles of administrative law when it refused to consider the impact of its actions on plant workers and claimed, contrary to its longstanding practice, that it was not allowed to do so,” said Adam Pulver, the Public Citizen attorney who serves as lead counsel on the case. “An agency can’t put its hands over its ears and refuse to consider facts that cut against its policy preferences, as USDA did here in ignoring workers and public health advocates, and blindly following industry’s wishes.” Marc Perrone, president of the union UFCW, which brought the legal challenge, said: “America’s essential workers in pork plants across the country have put their health and safety at risk every day during this pandemic to help families put food on the table,” adding the ruling “is a victory for all of these brave men and women – finally ending the dangerous Trump USDA policy that allowed pork plants to push workers to the breaking point with unsafe line speeds that increase the risk of injury and put the safety of our food supply in jeopardy. With the success of this lawsuit, our country’s essential workers have sent a powerful message that the safety of America’s food and workers is not for sale and that these companies will finally be forced to stop these dangerous practices.” The court held that USDA acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it refused to consider the impact of eliminating line speeds on worker health and safety in a rule it issued creating the “New Swine Inspection System” (NSIS) in October 2019. Fast line speeds have been linked to high rates of Covid-19 infections in meat plants (Risks 967).
UFCW news release. Public Citizen news release. Daily Kos.

USA: Amazon grovels after pee-in-vans denial

Amazon has apologised to a US politician for falsely denying its drivers have been forced to urinate in plastic bottles. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, referenced Amazon making “workers urinate in water bottles” in a tweet (Risks 991). The official Amazon Twitter account then replied: “If that were true, nobody would work for us.” The company has now apologised after evidence emerged of drivers having to urinate in bottles. “We owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” Amazon said in a statement. “The tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfilment centres.” Mr Pocan had criticised Amazon for opposing efforts by workers to unionise a major facility in Alabama. Amazon's retraction added: “We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed.” Mr Pocan rejected the apology, tweeting: “Sigh. This is not about me, this is about your workers - who you don't treat with enough respect or dignity. Start by acknowledging the inadequate working conditions you've created for ALL your workers, then fix that for everyone and finally, let them unionise without interference.” Amazon has successfully fought off unionisation efforts in the US. However, most of its European facilities are unionised.
Amazon statement and Amazon twitter exchange with Rep. Pocan. BBC News Online.



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