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



Less than a week to go to Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April!
Next Wednesday, 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 marks the day 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 what is already established as 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.

Five ways to get involved on Workers’ Memorial Day:
  1. Register for the 28 April TUC national zoom with special guest speakers (2-3pm).
  2. Check out the historical timeline of workplace tragedies and the fight for safer work
  3. Visit the online memorial and pay tribute to a worker who lost their life
  4. Search for your local Memorial Day event or add your own
  5. Download posters and graphics to print off or share online
Want more? TUC has lots of pointers on how you can take part.
Check out what’s going on worldwide on 28 April 2021.



‘Stark’ Covid death rates skewed towards insecure jobs

Covid-19 mortality rates during the pandemic are twice as high in insecure jobs than in other professions, a TUC analysis of official figures has found. The analysis shows the Covid-19 male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared to 24 per 100,000 people in less insecure occupations. The female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations. According to the TUC’s analysis, sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work – compared to managerial, professional and admin sectors which have some of the lowest. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Too many workers are trapped on zero hours contracts or in other sorts of insecure work, and are hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay.” She added: “Ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it – including those on zero hours contracts and other forms of insecure work.” The TUC leader warned: “If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound. No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table. And ministers must tackle the scourge of insecure work by finally bringing forward their promised Employment Bill. It’s time to ban zero-hours contracts, false self-employment and to end exploitation at work.”
TUC news release.

Job centre workers 'feel unsafe returning to work'

Many job centre workers currently do not feel safe about returning to the office due to continued concerns about the coronavirus, their union has warned. PCS surveyed 1,299 members and found that three in five workers feel unsafe about going back. It says “a majority" of in-person interviews to discuss benefits claims should be done remotely over the phone. PCS found that only 21 per cent of staff surveyed could say for certain that they “felt safe” dealing with face-to-face claimant appointments in job centres across the UK. The union said it fears the real driver for requiring 18-24 year old Universal Credit claimants and those in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance to attend job centres could be linked to reinstatement of the previous “conditionality regime” that saw thousands facing sanctions and removal of benefits. “These results reflect the anger and frustration our members feel every day,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka. “Thousands of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff have been providing support to claimants safely from home throughout the pandemic - the only logical reason they would insist on fully reopening is because management's obsession with sanctioning vulnerable claimants.” He added that the statistics collected by the union “should send a strong signal to ministers” that they needed to meet with staff soon “to avoid potential industrial action.”
PCS news release and survey findings. BBC News Online.

Big outbreak at Welsh cake bakery

A Covid-19 outbreak affecting dozens of workers has hit a Welsh cake bakery. An Incident Management Team (IMT) has been set up to control the outbreak at the Cake Crew production facility in Bala, Gwynedd Council said. The bakery, which employs 330 people, is now working with agencies including Gwynedd Council, Public Health Wales and Betsi Cadwaladr health board in attempts to contain the outbreak. A statement on behalf of the ITM noted: “An Incident Management Team (IMT), comprising of representatives from the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Gwynedd Council, Public Health Wales and Shropshire Council, has been established to manage an outbreak of Covid-19 at the Cake Crew food manufacturing facility in Bala. The multi-agency team is working closely with the company to control the situation.” It added: “The latest information shows that there are a total of 42 Covid-19 cases amongst the Cake Crew workforce. All staff who have tested positive or who have been identified as contacts are being asked to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus. Everyone who is affected are being contacted by the local Test, Trace and Protect teams and provided with additional advice for themselves, their household and other contacts.”
Denbighshire Free Press. BBC News Online.

New strike action at DVLA over Covid safety

PCS has told the vehicle licensing agency DVLA of its intention to take a further four days of strike action from 4 to 7 May. The union said the move follows a strike from 6 to 9 April that saw over 1,400 PCS members walkout over health and safety concerns at the DVLA sites. PCS says DVLA senior leadership must take health and safety concerns seriously and reduce numbers on site, from the current 2,000 who have been told to go into the Swansea workplace. It said the branch executive committee (BEC) met last week to discuss what would constitute an acceptable deal. The committee decided, “given the lack of movement from the employer and to maintain the momentum delivered by the first strike, that a further set of strike days should be called. The BEC’s recommendation was put to an all members meeting on Monday 19 April where members voted 94 per cent in favour to endorse a further 4 days of action, from Tuesday 4 May to Friday 7 May.” The union said its negotiating team will continue to meet with management to see if an agreement can be reached to resolve the dispute.
PCS news release.

Forcing care staff to have the jab is wrong

Unions have urged the government to carefully examine potential pitfalls of a proposal to require care home staff in England to be compulsorily vaccinated for Covid-19. The comments from unions came after the government launched a five-week consultation on whether to make care worker vaccinations mandatory. NHS data has shown that care home staff vaccination rates in the majority of English local authorities are below the level recommended by SAGE scientists. GMB organiser Kelly Andrews commented: “Mandating vaccination is an incredibly bad idea. There will undoubtedly be care workers who cannot receive the vaccine due to health or pregnancy reasons, and they will be left outside of the scope of the scheme. Let’s face it, this isn’t really about vaccine reticence but rather an unwillingness to set Statutory Sick Pay at a rate which means workers can afford to take time away from work if they develop side-effects from vaccination.” UNISON senior national social care officer Gavin Edwards said: “Time would be much better spent encouraging staff and making it as easy as possible for them to have their jabs. Attempting to force staff to comply with threats to their livelihoods is just plain wrong and won’t work either.” Unite national safety advisor Rob Miguel said: “Unite is promoting uptake of the vaccine when offered, however this has to be on the basis of consent, which has proved effective in the past.” He added: “Unite will fully support any of its members whose employment is threatened because they are unable or choose not to be vaccinated.” There are concerns mandating vaccines will exacerbate an acute staffing shortage in the notoriously poorly paid sector.
UNISON news release and related news release. GMB news release. Unite news release. Department of Health and Social Care news release and consultation. RCN statement. The Independent. Nursing Times.


Contract dispute coffee factory labelled ‘toxic’

Conditions for staff working at the JDE coffee factory in Banbury are becoming unsafe because of increasing pressure on workers, staff have warned. JDE(Jacobs Douwe Egberts) workers have voted for industrial action in protest at a 'fire and rehire' process that aims to force them to accept different contracts. The workers have voted overwhelmingly for an overtime ban from 1 May possibly leading to a full strike in June following JDE's decision to consult on 'fire and rehire' process in its bid to get workers to accept the new contracts. However one staff member told the Banbury Guardian the situation as the factory was 'chaos', with management holding secret meetings and exhausted employees workers being 'dragged' into private consultation meetings to discuss the 'inferior' contracts the Dutch company wants to impose. He said workers were ‘mentally exhausted’ by the ‘toxic environment’. The workers’ union, Unite, said the workforce has ‘performed outstandingly’ during the pandemic year and has improved the company's profits by 9 per cent. This week Joe Clarke, Unite national officer for the food and drink sector, said: “It is a great shame that recent managerial actions have soured what were harmonious employment relations for half a century.” In earlier comments, the Unite officer noted: “We're in a position of strength. We've had a number of meetings of the whole workforce in regular Zoom meetings with all shifts. We're in a discussions with Acas and are open to continuation of these but the company are saying they only want to discuss the contract changes and not the retraction of the fire and rehire notice. The overtime ban will more or less stop production. We are in a strong position. There's a lot of solidarity and support in there.”
Unite news release. IUF news release. Banbury Guardian.

Food delivery firms must address rider safety concerns

Food delivery companies such as Deliveroo should be forced to investigate accidents and address risks facing their Scottish couriers, according to campaigners. The call comes as the Workers’ Observatory – an Edinburgh project supporting fast food couriers – prepares to launch a manifesto in response to rider safety concerns such as traffic hazards. Developed with the support of the STUC and Edinburgh University, the manifesto calls for riders to have better protections at work, and asks councils to step into gaps left by legislation by monitoring riders’ road accidents. Riders – who are still considered by many companies to be self-employed despite a ruling by the UK Supreme Court that Uber drivers should be classified as workers – fall outside of UK health and safety laws. The Workers’ Observatory collective, working with Edinburgh University sociologist Karen Gregory, claims that company policy of pay-per-delivery “incentivise risk taking”. The group has gathered examples of traffic accidents and “near misses” experienced by Edinburgh food delivery couriers. Riders have told researchers they feel “pressurised” to take jobs in areas that feel unsafe because they worry refusing an order will affect the allocation of jobs. Karen Gregory, who published a study on related safety issues last December, said: “The structure of paying riders “per drop” incentivises workers to deliver quickly, so that they are ready for the next delivery assignment. This can mean pushing it on city streets or racing through the city on a bicycle or scooter to minimise your delivery time.” Cailean Gallagher, coordinator of the Workers’ Observatory, said: “Just like in other workplaces, when gig workers have accidents or injuries at work, these should be reported and monitored. Councils should be able to receive accident reports and then share the information with riders so that they can monitor the risks and hazards of their work and develop appropriate demands.”
The Ferret. The Workers’ Observatory.

Rail disaster report shows need for action

An interim report into the crash at Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire which claimed the lives of three people – driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62 – and in which six other people were injured (Risks 962) has exposed Network Rail’s failures, unions have said. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report on into the 12 August 2020 tragedy exonerated the driver of the train and has found it was caused by “debris washed onto the track near Carmont, Aberdeenshire, following heavy rainfall. The washout was caused by unusually heavy rain. The subsequent derailment resulted in the death of three people, injuries to the six other people in the train and catastrophic damage.” Kevin Lindsay, Scottish organiser with the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “Blame for the accident has been laid firmly at the door of Network Rail for failing to maintain the area around the track. It was the landslip – the debris washed onto the track – which caused the train to derail, with the subsequent loss of life, injuries, and catastrophic consequences. We are urging Network Rail to examine every mile of track for which it is responsible, to ensure something like this can never happen again.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said “clear deficiencies” in Network Rail’s approach demonstrated the need for a new approach. “That means a robust and regular inspection, maintenance and improvement programme that means our railway infrastructure is fit for a future where extreme weather may become more regular and more challenging. We need a well-maintained railway that will need a hands-on approach to maintenance and improvements and not just leaving matters to predictions and forecasts.” TSSA general secretary Manual Cortes said the atrocious weather at the time of the crash was linked to climate change. “It is essential that both Westminster and Holyrood governments address the causes and consequences of climate change, investing in greener economies and in the urgent repairs and upgrades we need to protect our railways against future flooding,” he said.
Interim report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch. ASLEF news release. RMT news release. TSSA news release. BBC News Online.

RMT launches 'No cuts at Network Rail' campaign

Rail union RMT has launched the latest phase of its campaign to derail Network Rail plans that could increase risks and result in thousands of job losses by September. The union says the move would result in a “wholescale dilution of safety standards, including a halving the frequency of safety critical maintenance work.” As well as preparing for “a national dispute the length and breadth of the railway”, the union this week launched its new ‘No cuts at Network Rail’ campaign with a high-profile social media roll-out and campaign materials mailed out directly to all Network Rail members. RMT says 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 wholescale attack on working conditions. Launching the campaign on 19 April, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “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.” He added: “Every rail worker and every rail passenger has a stake in this fight and we intend to focus and target the opposition through RMT's ‘No cuts at Network Rail’ campaign.
RMT news release and campaign webpage.

Network Rail fined for injuries after ignoring safety warnings

Network Rail has been fined almost £700,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence that left an employee with serious burns. The worker suffered third degree and mixed depth burns in a fire at the at Godinton substation in Kent at the end of 2018. An investigation found Network Rail failed over a significant period of time to prevent water leaking into the building and to maintain dehumidifiers installed inside. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found the conditions were unsafe, and that the failures led to an electrical arc and a fire as Network Rail’s employees were working on a circuit breaker. The conditions inside the substation on the day of the incident were described as “like a sauna.” Sentence was passed by District Judge Barron at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court, following ORR’s prosecution. ORR chief inspector Ian Prosser said: “Network Rail knew of the water leak at Godinton for nine months and despite concerns raised by staff and contractors, the required work was repeatedly delayed.” He added: “This was a known risk and the failure to deal with it effectively led to staff working in unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries to one employee. This case reinforces the importance of acting effectively on known concerns to protect the health and safety of employees on Britain’s railway.” Network Rail was fined £696,666 and ordered to pay £33,647.45 in costs.
ORR news release.

Nothing smart in government motorways response

The UK government’s changes to the way it runs Smart and All Lanes Running (ALR) motorways will not remedy serious problems unless it also addresses staffing shortages among the traffic officers and a lack of capacity at the regional operating centres responsible for road safety, the union Prospect has warned. Smart and ALR motorways use the hard shoulder either all the time or part of the time, which can be dangerous if someone breaks down as they have no safe place to pull over. The new proposals say there will be no new Smart motorways without additional safety measures, which are to include the use of new technology which can spot when a car is stationary. Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, commented: “The government review into Smart and ALR motorways makes some important recommendations, in particular the upgrade and introduction of new technology to make them safer. What it doesn’t address is the fact that we simply do not have enough traffic officers or regional operating centre (ROC) operators to make the system work.” He added: “Technology can identify breakdowns but you need an operator in an ROC to spot the problem, and then you need traffic officers to resolve it. Numbers of both are in decline and without a marked boost in overall funding and in baseline pay, they will continue to do so. The review also falls short on addressing the unsafe nature of managing an incident on ALR motorway. Incursions into closed lanes have gone up significantly since the introduction of ALR motorways, putting traffic officers at risk.”
Prospect news release. DfT written statement to parliament. BBC News Online.

Workers want a ‘right to disconnect’

Almost 6-in-10 workers across the UK want to see a new ‘right to disconnect’ policy in the forthcoming Westminster Employment Bill, new polling from the union Prospect has found. Oveall, 70 per cent of those in Scotland and 59 per cent across the UK would support the policy, which would require companies to negotiate with their staff and agree rules on when people could not be contacted for work purposes. Many countries have adopted similar policies in light of the rise of remote working, with Ireland introducing new rules this month and the European Parliament supporting similar proposals in January. The Canadian government has recently established a Right To Disconnect Advisory Committee comprising business leaders and unions to set out new rules on a digital switch-off. The potential downsides of prolonged remote working were explored in the research, which found 30 per cent of UK workers report their work-related mental health got worse during the pandemic. Over a quarter (26 per cent) said they are finding it hard to fully switch off from work. Prospect said the figures reveal the ‘dark side’ of remote working and that legislative change is needed to help deal with the consequences of the continuation of mass working from home after the pandemic. Prospect has written to UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng urging him to include the Right to Disconnect in a consultation in advance of an Employment Bill, which is expected to be included in May’s Queen’s Speech. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “The new guidance in Ireland is another step forward. It is time that workers in the UK were protected too with a legal right to disconnect from work.”
Prospect news release. TechRepublic.

Short notice shifts are unsafe

The failure of many businesses to provide adequate notice of shift patterns is damaging workers’ health and destroying family lives, Unite has warned. The union was commenting after a survey by the Living Wage Foundation found where workers operated on variable hours or shifts, more than three-fifths (62 per cent) were only given notice of a week or less about when they would be working. The union said the problem of variable shift working is found in many of Unite’s industrial sectors, but is a particular problem in HGV driving, delivery driving, warehousing and logistics. Unite said it has found that workers who are most affected by changing shift patterns and unclear finishing times are often the lowest paid and frequently have multiple jobs, where a lack of consistency has an even greater impact on their health and family lives. Unite national officer Matt Draper said: “Lack of notice of shifts and the failure to ensure workers have sufficient rest, is destroying workers’ long-term health and leaving them permanently fatigued. It is not just workers’ physical health which is damaged, constantly changing work patterns undermines family and social lives, making isolation and loneliness a big problem, which in terms impacts on workers’ mental health.” He added: “Where Unite has organised workplaces, one of the union’s key priorities is to regularise work patterns, in order to tackle the problems of short notice shifts. The problem of short notice and ever-changing shift patterns is only going to be tackled by workers becoming organised, joining a union and working collectively to tackle exploitative and damaging working conditions.”
Unite news release. Living Wage Foundation news release.

Global: Make safety a fundamental right at work

IndustriALL is calling on its affiliates worldwide to join the campaign for recognition of health and safety as a fundamental right at work. On 28 April – International Workers’ Memorial Day –  the global union for chemical, manufacturing and mining unions says affliates can share local actions and activities to ensure this recognition is agreed at the International Labour Organisation’s 2022 conference. In a letter to affiliates, IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said unions could make use of its posters and associated materials for educational activities on 28 April and negotiate “a joint declaration with the employer committing to making health and safety a fundamental right at work.” The letter added union members could “take photos, selfies, videos etc of the signing of the joint commitment while practicing social distancing and/or wearing masks.” Global union confederation ITUC noted that on 28 April 2021 “unions can send a message that health and safety protection at work must be recognised as a right for all. Whether it is Covid or occupational cancers, or workplace injuries and industrial diseases, every worker should have a right to a voice and a right to protection. No-one should have to die to make a living.”
IndustriALL news release and poster.
ITUC photostory – Why occupational health and safety must be a fundamental right at work. EN | ES | FR.
ITUC/Hazards 28 April fundamental factfile.
It’s Fundamental: Making work safety an ILO Fundamental Right at Work – Hazards magazine, April 2021.

China: Truck driver suicide sparks anger vehicle tracking

Truck driver Jin Deqiang took his own life on 5 April this year after he was fined 2,000 yuan for driving while his satellite positioning system was offline. Jin was stopped at a checkpoint in Tangshan, Hebei. After officials insisted he pay the fine, Jin drank a bottle of pesticide. China Labour Bulletin (CLB) reports that with only 6,000 yuan in savings, three children, and a mother in her 70s to support, 51-year-old Jin left a suicide note saying that he hoped that the authorities would take this matter seriously. He added that, working as a truck driver for the last ten years, he “had not saved much, but had incurred many illnesses.” CLB cited a report into the working conditions of truck drivers that found that sitting upright for long periods and their irregular schedules meant they have a much lower life expectancy and a higher risk of chronic illness. The report also noted that, of the more than 30 million truck drivers in China, 35 per cent had paid 1,000 to 3,000 yuan in fines per year from typical earnings of 5,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan per month. The State Council mandated the installation of smart monitoring in trucks in 2016, ostensibly to eliminate road accidents. Drivers have to purchase and install the devices, which are of poor quality and need to be replaced after a year or so. In addition to paying an installation fee, drivers must pay service fees of 600 to 1,200 yuan, and some also pay training fees. In a video viewed over 800,000 times on Weibo, one driver described the tracking system as a “punishment tool.” He added that non-payment of fines leads to trucks being confiscated.
China Labour Bulletin. More on work-related suicide.


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