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

Today, 28 April is International Workers’ Memorial Day. We remember those who have lost their lives at work, or from work-related injury and diseases. We renew our efforts to organise collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work. Find out more.



PM must set timetable for Covid-19 public inquiry

The TUC is calling for an immediate public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The call came as workers around the world prepared to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, in memory of those who have died, been injured, suffered work-related ill-health or been infected at work. The union body is asking members of the public to observe a minute’s silence at midday. Official figures show more than 11,000 working age people have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. The TUC says that alongside scrutinising the quality of decision-making across the pandemic response in government, the public inquiry must specifically look at infection control and workplace safety, including the failure to provide adequate financial support to self-isolate, PPE availability for health and care staff and other frontline workers throughout the crisis, the effectiveness of test and trace, and the failure to enforce the law on workplace safety. It adds it should examine the unequal impact of Covid-19 on different groups of workers, specifically Black and Minority Ethnic workers and insecure occupations among whom Covid mortality rates are disproportionately higher. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Any public inquiry must look at why workers were put at risk – be it through inadequate PPE or being unable to afford to self-isolate. This isn’t about settling scores. It’s about getting answers and learning the lessons to save lives in future. On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember those who have died, and pledge ourselves to fight for safe workplaces for everyone.” Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: “An independent, judge-led statutory public inquiry is vital to making sure we learn lessons and save lives during the pandemic and for any future waves.”
TUC International Worker’s Memorial Day activities. TUC report calling on the government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks of their staff team returning to work outside the home. TUC Yorkshire and Humber news release. BBC News Online.  
Napo news release. NUJ news release. PCS news release.  POA news release. UCU news release.
Check out what’s going on worldwide on 28 April 2021.

PM ‘bodies pile high’ allegation adds to pressure

The prime minister’s alleged comment that he would rather see ‘bodies pile high’ than approve a third lockdown shows why a public inquiry is needed now, the union GMB said. Boris Johnson chaired a cabinet meeting on 27 April, as he attempted to shift the focus from a series of claims and questions over his conduct. Mr Johnson and No 10 strongly denied he said the phrase, as the PM described multiple reports as “total rubbish.” The GMB – which represents hundreds of thousands of frontline key workers – says the PM must come clean on why they were put in harm’s way and why he thinks it’s ok to let them die. Throughout the pandemic, GMB said it has called continuously for Covid-19 to be made an industrial disease for those who worked through the crisis - and for better occupational support to be put in place for those suffering from long Covid. Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary, said: “We urgently need a proper public inquiry.” She added: “The ‘bodies’ the prime minister callously seems to believe are an acceptable consequence of keeping so many non-essential outlets and services open are people’s loved ones. They are our members who have shouldered an incredibly heavy burden to see us through - and we’re not there yet.” Commenting on 27 April, she said: “GMB members deserve to know why they were put in harm’s way unnecessarily and if the PM thinks it’s ok for them to die. Before Workers’ Memorial Day this week, ministers must classify Covid as an industrial disease and put more occupational support in place for long Covid sufferers. The prime minister needs to show people their lives matter.”
GMB news release. BBC News Online. Morning Star.

Unite backs call for Covid public inquiry

The families of Unite members who lost loved ones to Covid-19 are to walk the memorial wall in London this International Workers' Memorial Day. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey and the families will also join with TUC representatives to observe the minute's silence at midday on 28 April. Unite said it is throwing its weight behind calls for a statutory public inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic, recently rejected by ministers, and is backing the campaign for the National Covid Memorial Wall in Lambeth, south London, to be made permanent. The memorial wall is made up of 150,000 individual painted hearts, one for every UK person who lost their life to the disease in the past year. The wall is around half a kilometre long and takes around 10 minutes to walk. Len McCluskey will join Hannah Brady and Leshie Chandrapala, who both lost their fathers to the disease last year. Hannah's father caught the virus while travelling to his work in a factory, while Leshie's father was one of 27 London bus drivers who died of the disease between March and May last year. Speaking ahead of his visit, Len McCluskey said: “Unite offers the bereaved families our full support in securing a permanent home for this incredible wall, and in the continued battle for the full and frank public inquiry the country needs.”
Unite news release.

Science advisers admit need for better PPE

A year after campaigners and unions first called for better standard PPE for health care workers potentially exposed to Covid-19, the government’s scientific advisers have finally admitted they were right all along. A document by the government's scientific advisory group (Sage) says higher grade masks may be needed when caring for Covid patients. Current guidance says that less protective medical or surgical masks are adequate, outside of intensive care units. A long list of healthcare unions and professional bodies has been making appeals for the FFP3 respirators. These are designed protect workers from airborne viruses. Unions have argued consistently since the early stages of the pandemic that evidence of the risks of airborne transmission, believed by many experts to be the primary exposure risk, also required more emphasis on effective ventilation. Now a technical document released by Sage concludes that healthcare workers may need higher standards of respiratory protective equipment (RPE). It says that where there's “an unacceptable risk of transmission” and other measures have already been applied, “it may be necessary to consider the extended use of appropriate RPE (such as FFP3 masks).” The new scientific assessment has yet to be adopted by the authorities in charge of the rules on PPE. But at least 23 hospital trusts have already broken with the official guidelines by giving the Covid-facing staff FFP3 masks. The Sage paper notes hospital employers should: “Ensure compliance with their legal obligations to consult with trade unions and employee representatives by ensuring they are engaged in the risk assessment process. Worker engagement in this process is critical to establishing effective control measures.”
Masks for healthcare workers to mitigate airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2, 25 March 2021 (finalised 9 April 2021), 23 April 2021. BBC News Online.

Care workers’ mental health has worsened in pandemic

A looming care workers’ health crisis is looming, the union GMB has warned, as new research found that threequarters of care workers have experienced worsening mental health as a result of their work during the pandemic. GMB’s survey of more than 1,200 care workers conducted between December and January found that 75 per cent say that their work during the Covid-19 pandemic has had a serious negative impact on their mental health. Care workers report anxiety levels are almost half as high (44 per cent higher) than all employees in the wider economy. The union said the findings should be a wake-up call for the social care sector. It added research carried out before the pandemic found that care workers are at a significantly higher risk of dying by suicide. GMB said that low pay, insecure working, and inadequate sick pay were all contributing factors to poor mental health in the sector. The union is campaigning for higher wages, full sick pay so care workers can afford to self-isolate, better support from employers including separate recording of mental health absences, and national funding for new mental health services for care workers, including talking therapy and specialised PTSD support. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer for care, said: “If any good is to come out of this pandemic then it must include urgent reform of the sector. Ministers and employers need to explain how they are going to care for the people who have cared for us. As a minimum, this must include dedicated national mental health services, a substantial increase in pay, and full sick pay cover so that care workers can afford to self-isolate when they are ill – no-one should be asked to live on £96.35 a week.”
GMB news release.

Workers suffering mental health ‘epidemic’

Workers are suffering a mental health ‘epidemic’, a UK and Ireland-wide survey of Unite workplace representatives has revealed. Unite said there is a ‘clear link’ between the increase in stress brought on by the pandemic and called on employers to help prevent the crisis being carried forward as the country opens up. The health and safety-focused survey of 1,400 Unite reps, from across all sectors of the economy, found that 83 per cent are dealing with an increase in members reporting mental health-related problems. Mental health issues also came top of workers’ concerns during a similar survey last year. However, there has been a ‘huge’ 18-point increase from the 65 per cent reported in 2020, Unite said. The survey also found that regulators and health authorities carrying out workplace visits are not routinely speaking to union reps. These organisations include the Health and Safety Executive, local authorities, Public Health England/Wales and others. Only a third of respondents whose workplaces had been visited reported that inspectors had spoken to reps during the visit, despite this being vital to gaining an accurate picture of health and safety on site. Unite called the finding ‘alarming’ as it had previously raised the 'potentially dangerous' issue with regulators, who it said all insisted that speaking to reps during visits is a matter of course. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said employers should work “in partnership with trade unions implement mental health friendly policies to help prevent the psychological toll of the pandemic being carried forward longer than it needs to be.” She added: “The survey also revealed a worrying trend of regulators not speaking to union reps during workplace safety inspections. This means regulators are not getting a full and accurate picture of the environments they are visiting, which is potentially dangerous. Unite has raised this issue before with all the relevant regulators and health authorities, but it is clear it is not being addressed. Direction requiring them to publish records of speaking to reps during visits is now needed.”
Unite news release and full survey findings.  

Covid-19 heightening ‘always on’ work culture

Despite the sharp increase in homeworking and perceived flexibility benefits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than threequarters (77 per cent) of employers have observed ‘presenteeism’ – people working when unwell – in employees who are working from home in the last year. The figure is slightly up on last year (75 per cent), according to the latest CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report. The survey of 668 human resources professionals, representing 2.7 million employees, also found ’leaveism’ – working outside of contracted hours or using annual leave to work or when ill – is an issue, with seven in ten (70 per cent) employers observing this unhealthy behaviour over the same period. While more organisations are taking steps to address these issues compared with last year, over two-fifths of those experiencing presenteeism (43 per cent) and leaveism (47 per cent) aren’t taking any action. The CIPD/Simplyhealth research found that unmanageable workloads is by far the top cause of work-related stress (59 per cent of respondents), which could contribute to presenteeism. CIPD senior policy adviser Rachel Suff commented: “The Covid-19 pandemic has put a huge strain on employers and individuals.” She added: “Employers should take a strategic and preventative approach to wellbeing in order to tackle work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism and leaveism and this must be role modelled by those in senior positions. They should also recognise the important role that line managers play in supporting individuals with their health and wellbeing. Managers should be equipped with the appropriate training, support and guidance needed to do this effectively.”
CIPD news release. 2021 CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report.

Scottish bosses warned of £1bn Covid compo bill

Care homes, the Scottish government and employers in Scotland could face £1 billion in Covid compensation claims, a legal expert has warned. Patrick McGuire, head of personal injury specialists Thompsons Solicitors in Scotland, said: “The pandemic is being painted as an unavoidable hazard – something that was inevitably going to happen. But we just don’t accept that in terms of employment and health and safety legislation, and in terms of the duties that employers, care homes and other public sector institutions were required to live up to.” He added: “Yes, it is a horrible virus that spread through the world but that doesn’t mean everyone is absolved of all responsibility. Care home operators and other employers still have to take responsibility for not infecting employees or customers. The public were told to stop the spread but the fact is that many employers didn’t stop it and that led directly to people becoming seriously ill and dying.” The personal injury law specialist said: “There are tens of thousands of people out there who have contracted this disease in circumstances where they should not have done, and that could have been down to negligence. Where a death has occurred – whether that is in a care home or in any other workplace – there could be a dozen people making a claim. It is a guess, but an educated one, that claims could run to over £1billion.” In Scotland, a total of 679 deaths have occurred among people in employment aged between 20 and 64. National Records of Scotland (NRS) has revealed the highest number of fatalities were among workers employed as “process, plant and machine operatives”. There were 129 deaths in this category which included taxi and bus drivers, food and drink processing staff and maintenance and repair workers. People employed in construction, hospitality, supermarkets, cleaning and security jobs were next most likely to die. There have been 100 deaths among people working in skilled trades such as carpenters, plumbers, joiners and electricians. Meanwhile, 71 care workers – including care home staff and NHS employees – lost their lives.
Daily Record. Scottish Construction Now.


Wrongly accused Post Office worker took his own life

A former post office worker killed himself after he was wrongly accused of stealing. Martin Griffiths took his own life in 2013 at the age of 59. He had worked for the Post Office in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, for 20 years when he was accused of taking money from the branch after an accounting system wrongly displayed a shortfall of £61,000. He had delved into his own savings to make up for the deficit. Mr Griffiths is one of many post office workers who died with convictions against their names and whose lives were “irreparably ruined” after they were wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office. On 23 April, dozens of former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal. Lawyers representing 42 former employees said evidence of serious defects in the Horizon system was “concealed from the courts, prosecutors and defence”, in order to protect the Post Office “at all costs”. Their convictions were referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) last year following a High Court case against the Post Office. Announcing the Court of Appeal ruling, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects. But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable” and “effectively steamrolled over any sub-postmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge added. In a statement after the ruling, Post Office chair Tim Parker apologised and said: “We are contacting other postmasters and Post Office workers with criminal convictions from past private Post Office prosecutions that may be affected, to assist them to appeal should they wish.” Paula Vennells, the former chief executive of the Post Office at the time of the scandal and an ordained Church of England minister, stepped down from church duties and quit her roles on the boards of Morrisons and Dunelm in the wake of criticism.
Evening Standard. BBC News Online. The Guardian and related story. Morning Star. More on work-related suicide.
ACTION! Use the Hazards e-postcard to tell the HSE to recognise, record and take action to prevent work-related suicides.

RMT condemns outsourced Mitie over tracking app

Rail union RMT has demanded the withdrawal of a stress-inducing app that giant outsourcing outfit Mitie is attempting to force on staff and which would track their movements. Mitie is insisting staff download the app to their own personal phones. RMT has condemned the imposition of the app without any consultation and is taking legal advice. It says among other unacceptable measures, the app would be used to police the location of staff. If the company queries the location of a staff member, the worker will be required to take a ‘live photo’ of themselves at the location, clearly displaying the site building/logo in the background and send it immediately to management. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The issues with this application are extensive and it is truly shocking that the company have proposed this idea without any discussions. The union has some serious concerns over privacy with the tracking facilities and the downloading of the app to personal property. The app will clearly have an impact on peoples work-life balance and will cause unnecessary stress at work.” He added: “RMT's National Executive Committee has considered this matter and has instructed me to seek legal advice on the attempt to bulldoze this threat to workers personal and civil liberties through without any discussion with the union whatsoever.”
RMT news release.

Ministers urged end long hours abuse of chefs

Ministers need to tighten up legislation to stop chefs - one of the groups of employees from being pressurised into working more than 48 hours a week. The call from Unite came ahead of Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April which commemorates all those killed, injured or made sick during the course of their work. Unite is continuing to highlight the health and safety concerns relating to stress and the excessive hours worked by chefs and the long-term health impacts. The issue has been further underlined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which registered that 82 chefs  had succumbed to Covid-19 in 2020. Unite said ministers need to change the law so that chefs are automatically protected by UK rules introduced under the Working Time Directive – still in place even though the UK has left the EU – which limits the working week to 48 hours. Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said: “It has become standard practice for hospitality bosses to insert the voluntary ‘opt-out’ from the Working Time Directive into employment contracts. This means that by signing these contracts chefs and other workers automatically ‘opt out’ without actually proactively wanting to do so.” He added: “We are calling all chefs to protect their wellbeing by opting back into the 48-hour maximum working week and that contracts which make a 48-hour ‘opt out’ an employment condition to be outlawed.”
Unite news release.

Another gig employer told to treat workers right

Private hire firm Addison Lee is the latest gig economy firm to have the courts reject its ‘bogus’ self-employment model, the union GMB has said. The Court of Appeal last week ruled the company will not be able to fight Employment Tribunal rulings that drivers are entitled to workers’ rights. The decision was made in light of the recent Supreme Court judgment stating that Uber drivers are entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage and holiday pay. Addison Lee’s appeal to the Court of Appeal had been put on hold in anticipation of the Supreme Court judgment. The original case, brought by GMB, saw both the Employment Tribunal in 2017 and the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2018 reject Addison Lee’s arguments that their drivers are self-employed contractors running their own businesses. Steve Garelick, GMB regional organiser, said: “We urge Addison Lee to accept the various rulings of the court and sit down with GMB to discuss how improved conditions for drivers makes for a better workplace for all.” Liana Wood, a solicitor in the employment team at Leigh Day, which acted in the Uber case, said: “This is a huge decision in favour of Addison Lee drivers and yet another blow to big firms operating in the gig economy.” She added: “This decision follows hot on the heels of the landmark Uber judgment in the Supreme Court. At Leigh Day we hope that other companies with a similar business models to Uber and Addison Lee recognise that they cannot continue to deny people basic rights such as holiday pay and the national minimum wage.”
GMB news release.

Government fire adviser pick a 'harbinger of doom'

Firefighters must be ready to fight ‘tooth and nail’ for their service, the FBU has said, after a service slashing fire boss was appointed as a government adviser on forthcoming reform to fire and rescue services in England. The firefighters’ union was commenting on the selection of former National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) chair Roy Wilsher as the person who would advise the Home Office ahead of a white paper, due later this year. The FBU said the proposals are expected to include a series of damaging attacks to the way fire and rescue services are run, with ‘operational independence’ being granted to fire chiefs and firefighters facing attacks on their trade union rights, their role, and their pay. The FBU says the appointment of Wilsher, who helped to oversee cuts of £140m to fire and rescue services in England between 2017 and 2021, is a ‘harbinger of doom’ for the service and for firefighters who work in it. Prior to his role at the NFCC, Wilsher was Chief Fire Officer at Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, where firefighters were forced to take strike action as he oversaw the closure of two fire stations, the loss of 40 firefighter posts, and the removal of a specialist high-reach appliance. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said Wilshire’s appointment “will be seen a harbinger of doom for the service by frontline firefighters. We know the government’s proposals for the fire and rescue service in England will not make pleasant reading and that the pay, conditions, jobs, and the very right of firefighters to have a union negotiate their pay will all be on the table. Firefighters will have to be ready to fight tooth and nail to stop these political attacks.”
FBU news release.

Transport operator fined £1.5m after worker electrocuted

Tyne & Wear Metro operator Nexus has been fined £1.5m after a maintenance worker was electrocuted. Nexus pleaded guilty at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Crown Court following the death of John Bell at the company’s South Gosforth depot on 6 July 2014. The court heard the 43-year-old died while working at height carrying out maintenance work on high voltage overhead cables. He was electrocuted after contacting a wire he believed to be isolated from the power supply but, due to the incorrect installation of equipment, was still live. In its investigation, industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found safety critical procedures were ignored and some of the breaches continued for a substantial period after Bell’s death. These included: allowing work to be carried out without the appropriate instructions for staff to prevent injury; work being undertaken without the required safety critical permits; and serious inadequacies in policy documents covering ‘live line working’, which failed to include a requirement for staff to test all electrical wires before carrying out work. ORR found lessons were not learned over a number of years and problems persisted despite the death of Bell, putting other workers at risk for a ‘substantial period’. ORR chief inspector Ian Prosser said: “Nexus’ working practices were poor and continued so for a long time. This meant Nexus did not have the right measures in place to assess whether the Metro was being maintained safely.” He added: “This sadly contributed to the events which caused the death of Mr Bell. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Mr Bell and I hope this result brings them some peace.” Mr Bell had previously been injured in an incident when working on overhead line equipment in February 2002. Nexus was subsequently prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for a criminal safety offence and fined £16,000. In that incident, Mr Bell suffered serious head and chest injuries and was off work for more than a year.
ORR news release. Construction Enquirer. Newcastle Chronicle.

Director evades jail after a decade of crimes

A buy to let property developer and company director have been fined for poor health and safety standards on a construction site in Cardiff. Cardiff Magistrates’ Court heard that JNR Developers Limited had consistently performed below required legal health and safety standards over a period of 10 years, despite interventions from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and enforcement action to remedy poor practice. HSE inspections of refurbishment projects under the control of JNR Developers Limited in February, March and April 2018 uncovered serious management failings that had resulted in site activities being performed unsafely. A subsequent HSE investigation into JNR Developers Limited and its director, Mehrdad Chegounchei, identified a long history of enforcement by HSE at construction sites under the control of Mr Chegounchei dating back over 10 years. The investigation also identified that poor safety management and leadership had continued at sites controlled by Mr Chegounchei, despite him receiving director health and safety training as a result of previous HSE enforcement action. JNR Developers Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £32,000 plus £8,000 costs. Mehrded Chegounchei pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and received a six month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.
HSE news release.

Action call as agriculture deaths show steep increase

An analysis of workplace deaths in agriculture by Unite has shown a steep increase in fatalities in the sector. Last year -2019/20 - there were a total of 20 deaths in the agricultural sector, but according to the Health and Safety Executive’s fatality list for 2020/21, by the third week of February there had already been 33 deaths, an increase of 61 per cent. The union notes there are likely to have been further deaths before the end of the reporting year on 1 April 2021. Unite said even before the latest figures emerged, agriculture was considered to be the most dangerous sector in the UK, with a fatality rates 18 times the national average. Unite released its analysis on the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day, Wednesday 28 April, calling on the government, the HSE and agricultural employers to take urgent action to improve safety. Unite national officer for agriculture Bev Clarkson said: “The high number of fatalities demonstrates that far too many employers are willing to cut corners or ignore safety rules, which leads to tragic consequences. In order to ensure that the entire agricultural sector improves its safety record there needs to be a steep increase in inspections, enforcement activity and prosecutions.” She added: “Unite has long championed the creation of accredited roving safety reps to vastly improve safety in the industry. The government and the HSE must bite the bullet and support such a scheme in order to improve safety. Only the genuine fear of prosecution will drag the worst employers into line and ensure that workers are better protected.”
Unite news release. Health and Safety Executive fatality list for 2020/21. Morning Star.

‘Work should support life – not endanger it’, says IOSH

IOSH, the largest organisation of safety professionals’ worldwide, says 28 April’s International Workers’ Memorial Day is a reminder of the importance of the role played by the occupational safety and health profession in protecting workers. Jimmy Quinn, president of IOSH, said: “Our members – occupational safety and health professionals – have had a crucial role in responding to the pandemic. They’ve helped to ensure that safe practices and procedures have been introduced and implemented in the workplace to protect workers, customers and suppliers.” He added: “If ever there was a time for our members to demonstrate the value of their knowledge, skills and experience, it has been now. IOSH has supported them by producing and sharing up-to-date guidance, continuing to be a trusted and authoritative source of information throughout the pandemic. Yet we also remember that even before the pandemic 2.78 million people were dying each year from work-related illness and injury. These deaths are even more tragic because they are preventable.” IOSH points to figures released by the global union confederation ITUC showing the scale of the challenges in protecting people at work: “Every day 7,600 workers die of work accidents or disease; every minute 730 people are poisoned by pesticides; worldwide, one health worker dies from Covid-19 every 30 minutes.” The IOSH president commented: “These shocking facts remind us of the need to redouble our efforts with governments, business and labour to bring about radical change in how work is organised. Work should support life. It should not do the opposite – endanger life. This is the overarching message from IOSH on this day of remembrance and motivation to protect workers around the world. IOSH has always advocated that the best approach is prevention first.”
IOSH news release.


Global: Why unions make a stand on 28 April

As workers around the world who have lost their lives to workplace accidents and disease are commemorated on 28 April, trade unions are pressing two key demands to save lives, says the global union confederation ITUC. First, it says occupational health and safety must be given the status of a fundamental right by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). A landmark decision by the ILO Governing Body in March means this should happen at the ILO Conference in June 2022. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Making occupational health and safety a fundamental ILO right will increase the accountability of governments and employers to stop the carnage and give more leverage to unions and workplace safety representatives. Only bad employers would resist this and we are prepared to fight hard to save lives.” The second priority is for Covid-19 to be classified as an occupational disease. Last year, global unions called on the ILO to list Covid-19 as an occupational disease and an initial ITUC survey of 58 countries shows that, so far, only 26 have taken this step. In some cases this coverage is restricted to workers in the health sector. “While we welcome coverage of health workers, it is wrong that some countries have excluded others such as meat packing and warehouse workers who, through poor regulation and employer neglect, have seen high rates of infection,” said Burrow. “Every worker deserves to be covered. Those countries that have failed to act must do so without further delay, and ILO listing would encourage that.”
ITUC news release. ITUC photostory – Why occupational health and safety must be a fundamental right at work. EN | ES | FR. ITUC/Hazards 28 April fundamental factfile.

Global: Union frees seafarer after years on abandoned ship

Seafarer Mohammad Aisha last week boarded a plane en route to his native Syria, ending a four-year battle where he was forced to live on an abandoned ship in the Suez Canal while the vessel waited to be sold. He is free because the global seafarers’ union ITF offered to have one of its union representatives in Egypt take Mr Aisha’s place and become the legal guardian of the vessel. Mr Aisha was the chief officer onboard the Bharani-flagged MV Aman for just two months before the vessel was detained by Egyptian authorities due to expired safety equipment certificates. When the owner abandoned the ship an Egyptian court designated Mr Aisha the vessel’s ‘legal guardian’ – preventing him from leaving the Aman until the ship was sold or a replacement guardian found. The vessel had no power and was covered in insects and rodents. Mr Aisha had to swim ashore to charge his phone, and for food and water. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the global union federation for seafarers, has been representing Mr Aisha’s case to Egyptian port and immigration officials on an almost daily basis. ITF Arab World and Iran network coordinator Mohamed Arrachedi: “When we put forward one of our ITF contacts to take Mohammad Aisha’s place it was accepted by the court and we were then able to advance the necessary immigration processes and arrange the Covid PCR tests to start to get him home.” However, Mr Aisha’s case is not yet over, as ITF fights to recover the seafarer’s wages – a battle often required when shipowners abandon their vessels. “It is absolutely unacceptable that it is always the seafarers who are made to pay the very high costs of abandonment. Abandonment is the cancer of the maritime industry and it needs to be eradicated,” said Arrachedi.
ITF news release. The Independent.

Global: Work to keep garment factories safe must continue

In the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, in which over 1,100 garment workers died, the groundbreaking Bangladesh Accord was created. The legally binding agreement has transformed factory safety in Bangladesh’ garment industry, saved lives, supported freedom of association and increased collective bargaining. The New York Times has called it “the most effective campaign of the globalised era.” A recent European Commission study on due diligence in supply chains, praised the effectiveness and impact of the Accord model and its binding nature. But the Accord expires at the end of next month. In an opinion piece, global unions IndustriALL and UNI argue global fashion brands must continue to guarantee safe working conditions at their suppliers in Bangladesh and step up to ensure that workers in their supply chains globally have safe factories to work in. They are putting a simple choice to brands - recommit to a binding agreement with the global trade unions that will continue making factories safe in Bangladesh and other countries or turn their backs on millions of garment workers and return to the failed system of self-certification. They note: “We call on brands to step up and sign up, once more, to keep the legacy of the Accord in place. The lives of garment workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere are depending on you. They have not forgotten Rana Plaza – have you?”
UNI news. IndustriALL news release and related story. Thomson Reuters Foundation Op Ed. Toronto Star. Related news: CLC news release. Clean Clothes Campaign news release.

Global: Big Mac makes little move on gender-based violence

Following significant international pressure by workers and unions to deal with systemic sexual harassment and gender-based violence in its restaurants, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski has announced new “Global Brand Standards” related to working conditions for the brand’s two million workers worldwide. Although the move has been welcomed by unions, the global food and farming union IUF noted: “The announcement fails to mention cooperation with trade unions, an ‘essential element’ in ILO Convention 155 on occupational safety and health; prior efforts to end the systemic sexual harassment have proven ineffective due to lack of enforcement and involvement by trade unions.” It added the response from the fast food giant comes after years of international pressure by McDonald’s workers and their unions to get McDonald’s to adopt and implement genuine measures against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, including the filing of an OECD complaint last year. Beginning in January 2022, McDonald’s says: “The new Brand Standards prioritise actions in four areas: harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention; workplace violence prevention; restaurant employee feedback; and health and safety. These standards were informed by a cross-functional global team, reviews of global market practices and perspectives from across the McDonald’s System.” The standards will apply to all McDonald’s restaurants, corporate-owned or franchised. However, the IUF and unions “battling for the right to represent McDonald’s workers in the face of widespread resistance from the company believe the Standards will be completely ineffective without trade union representation in the workplaces,” IUF said.
IUF news release. McDonald’s news release.


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