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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Number 672 - 20 September 2014

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Union News





Union News

Fire ‘fiasco’ exposes strikebreaking dangers

A fire ‘fiasco’ has highlighted why the government should rethink its plans to undermine the fire service pension scheme instead of prolonging an industrial dispute, firefighters’ union FBU has said.  The union was speaking out after strikebreakers lost control of a fire during a training exercise in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, causing the roof on their training centre to catch fire. North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had to resort to calling in professional firefighters to work alongside their training staff to extinguish the 15 May blaze, with five fire engines and one aerial appliance attending. At present, brigades across England and Wales are having to find cover in the event of strikes called by the FBU over the government’s attacks on firefighter pensions, which the union says are unworkable, unaffordable and unfair. The union says many firefighters could be retired early under fitness rules if the retirement age is pushed back to 60, and lose a big slice of their pension entitlement as a result (Risks 653). Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The people who want to break our strikes are trying to undermine the work of firefighters, this fiasco demonstrates that their abilities are about as impressive as their sense of solidarity and civic duty.” He added: “The government keeps claiming that the temporary cover provided by these people is robust. That is utter nonsense and this latest Keystone cops episode just confirms it.”

FBU news release.

Tribunal fees are denying workers access to justice

New employment tribunal statistics show that the system of charging upfront fees is resulting in a major drop in claims. Describing the fees system as “a victory for Britain’s bad bosses”, the TUC said workers, who can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities, were being priced out of justice. The new statistics are the third quarterly set of figures since the new fees system was introduced and show individual claims were down overall by 70 per cent in April-June 2014 compared to the same quarter in 2013, dropping from 12,727 to 3,792. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Early conciliation through Acas is a welcome step that is helping in some cases when things go wrong at work, but it can’t explain such a large fall in the number of employment tribunals. The fees system is a victory for Britain’s bad bosses who are getting away with harassment and abuse of workers.” She added: “Tribunal fees are pricing workers out of justice and have created a barrier to basic rights at work. The government has put Britain in a race to the bottom that is creating an economy based on zero-hours jobs and zero-rights for workers.” Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told the TUC’s conference last week Labour would review the “unfair” and “unsustainable” tribunal fees system (Risks 671). Neil Carberry of the employers’ group the CBI said it supported some change. “Fees should not remove access to justice for those with legitimate claims, so a review of the level set is something businesses could support,” he said.

TUC news release. CBI news release. Usdaw news release.

HSE inspectors not so keen on charging fees

A review of the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) ‘Fee for Intervention’ (FFI) scheme designed to recoup the cost of regulating workplace health and safety from law-breaking businesses might have found it effective and concluded it should stay (Risks 671), but HSE inspectors on the ground are not so convinced. Sarah Page, health and safety officer with their union, Prospect, points to the government ordered Triennial Review of HSE (Risks 638), which earlier this year concluded FFI was a “dangerous model, which links, directly or indirectly, the funding of the regulator to its income from ‘fines’.” Page says the subsequent inquiry into FFI by an independent panel was not sufficiently thorough and says it was rushed, adding: “Prospect is not satisfied that reasonably practicable steps were taken to establish the views of stakeholders. Our observation is that there is far more discontent amongst inspectors and duty-holders, most of whom share considerable concern about the adverse impact of FFI on their relationships, than was reported by the panel.” She added: “Frustratingly, its time constraints have also prevented the panel from adequately exploring alternative models of cost recovery to FFI, such as via the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act (‘ELCI’), which Prospect believes is viable. It seems possibilities are being ignored by a government bent on a dogmatic (disproved by Professor Löfstedt) refrain that health and safety requirements are a burden on businesses.” She said the HSE inspectors’ union now wants “an informed debate to ensure that HSE is effectively funded in a way that maintains the confidence and support of all stakeholders and ensures that the UK remains a world leader in setting standards for health and safety.”

Prospect health and safety blog.

Stress tops the workplace concerns of UNISON reps

UNISON health and safety reps have identified stress as a top hazard in the workplace. Responding ahead of next month's European Health and Safety Week, 9 out of 10 reps placed stress and related issues including bullying and harassment, violence and threats, overwork and long hours, as their most serious workplace concern. UNISON says its survey findings reinforce the union’s call for branches to support the stress-themed European Health and Safety Week, which this year runs from Monday 20 October to Sunday 26 October. The union is urging branches to check that employers have a policy and procedure on workplace stress and that it includes the 'pointers' identified in UNISON’s guide on stress. It adds that they should ensure the employer “has risk assessed stress as a workplace hazard and put in place appropriate measures to prevent and control”, and “that these policies, procedures, and risk assessments either take into account or take a similar approach to the HSE’s management standards for work-related stress.” UNISON says its reps should “raise these issues with the employer as appropriate.” The union is also encouraging its union reps to participate in the TUC’s National Inspection Day, on Wednesday 22 October (Risks 668).

UNISON news release and European Health and Safety Week webpages. TUC European Health and Safety Week webpages and National Inspection Day webpage.

Glasgow protest over ‘preferred’ blacklister

The Scottish government should intervene and reverse the decision of Dundee City Council to name blacklist linked construction firm BAM as the ‘preferred bidder’ for a major construction contract in the city (Risks 671), the union GMB has said. The union’s general secretary Paul Kenny delivered a letter by hand to the Glasgow constituency office of Nichola Sturgeon, the Scottish government’s deputy first minister, during a 16 September protest over Dundee City Council’s announcement that BAM Construction is its preferred bidder for the £45m tender to build Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum of Design. GMB is urging Nicola Sturgeon and first minister Alex Salmond to intervene and reverse the decision. The union says Scottish government policy bars blacklisters from the procurement process until they have compensated those they blacklisted. The GMB letter notes that both companies tendering for the contract were blacklisters. “This is a betrayal of blacklisted Scottish workers,” the letter states. “All the words about no more public work for blacklisters until they compensate their victims are just words. We are bitterly disappointed. We need you and Alex Salmond to intervene and reverse the decision in Dundee.” The letter concludes: “I respectfully ask you to stand up for those workers, who are the real victims, in a spirit of real justice.”

GMB news release.

Unions show Qatar the red card

Delegates to last week’s TUC Congress in Liverpool joined together and showed Qatar the red card for its exploitation of migrant construction workers. Hundreds of delegates, during a debate on labour rights abuses in the oil rich state, waved football-style red cards in protest at Qatar’s selection to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. A motion condemning the abuses, moved by UCATT’s Neil Vernon, was passed unanimously. It calls on the TUC and unions to place pressure on FIFA to demand that either the exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar ends or FIFA should re-run the vote and select a new host for football’s premier global event in 2022. Unions agreed the tied labour ‘kafala’ system must end and there must be independent labour inspections. The conference heard that since 2010 over 1,380 migrant workers from India and Nepal have died while working in Qatar. The vast majority of these deaths are recorded as natural causes. UCATT’s Neil Vernon said: “In recent years over 1,000 workers have died in Qatar… slaughtered to fuel a construction boom.” He added that “thousands more workers will die before the World Cup in 2022 unless action is taken now.” GMB’s Justin Bowden told the conference that Qatar is a corrupt autocracy and should be an international pariah — “but in FIFA they found a partner as rotten as them.”

UCATT news release. Morning Star. Re-run the Vote campaign.

Union links justice changes to suicides

Justice secretary Chris Grayling has “blood on his hands” after the suicides of two probation officers and a convict’s murder of an ex-partner, the general secretary of the probation union Napo has said. In a speech to last week’s TUC conference, Ian Lawrence criticised the government for splitting the probation service in two. High-risk offenders will still be dealt with by the state, but private “community rehabilitation companies” (CRCs) will deal with the rest. Mr Lawrence said: “Since the split, we’ve seen two members take their lives and in one case there’s a clear empirical link. Grayling, you have blood on your hands.” He continued: “One prisoner slipped through the net of the CRCs and murdered a former partner.” He added that Napo, the Prison Officers Association (POA) and UNISON would be taking joint legal action against the justice secretary in the High Court.

Morning Star. More on work-related suicides.

Unions say keep the self-employed covered

Self-employed workers should remain subject to health and safety law, unions have said. The TUC’s Congress agreed a motion condemning the government's erosion of health and safety rules in UK workplaces. Unions warned about the risks to safety from a government Bill, due to be debated in the House of Lords in October, which would mean most self-employed workers would be exempted from all health and safety legislation, unless their industry or activity is on a short ‘prescribed list’ (Risks 662). TV and media crafts union BECTU, which has already raised concerns about the move (Risks 667), says in the entertainment industry, freelancers carrying out electrical work, handling explosives, or building scenery, will still be covered by the law, but almost everyone else will be exempted, raising fears about corner-cutting on health and safety. BECTU’s John Handley told the conference: “Health and safety should not be negotiable, and the Health and Safety at Work Act is the only piece of legislation that protects all working people including the self-employed. No one should go home from work in an ambulance or a coffin.” BECTU says it also supports the creation of ‘roving safety representatives’. It says this would enable union interventions in settings where self-employed members currently have no rights to conduct inspections or the opportunity to raise health and safety concerns.

BECTU news release.

Rail unions protest as dangerous franchise move

A protest at London’s Blackfriars Station by rail workers concerned at cuts to jobs, services and safety took place on 15 September. Rail unions RMT and ASLEF say they were highlighting dangerous changes introduced by the newly merged Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise. The government has awarded the company Govia Thameslink the new TSGN franchise. But the unions say the new operator, which will operate under the name Govia Thameslink Railway, won the franchise after agreeing to extend driver only operation (DOO), cut station staffing and close ticket offices. RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said the protest “marks the beginning of a rolling campaign opposing the new franchise’s proposals for driver only operation and the sacking and reducing of the role of train guards and conductors, station de-staffing and the closure of ticket offices.” He added: “Passengers can now expect to see fares go up and a less safe service as the franchisee tries to squeeze as much profit as it can from the operation. Privatisation of the railways has been a total disaster. Rather than creating a new super-franchise the government should be bringing this essential service back under public control.” Recent rail tragedies in Canada (Risks 669) and the US (Risks 530) have highlighted concerns about the risks of a move to driver only operation, with the essential safety role of the train guard or conductor removed.

RMT news release.

Train conductor injured in platform collapse

An RMT member has urged others to sign up for union protection after he was seriously injured due to the negligence of his employer. The train conductor, whose name has not been released, was making sure passengers were getting off a Northern Rail train safely when the edge of the platform crumbled suddenly, causing him to fall between the train and the platform. His right knee was severely injured and he had to undergo an operation and intensive physiotherapy. In an effort to aid his recovery, the railway worker also underwent a course of highly painful shockwave therapy. Three years after the incident, his knee remains painful and he will never fully recover. The injury has meant the man is unable to stand for long periods and had to leave his role as a conductor and go on light duties. The former conductor said: “The injury meant I lost earnings because I was off sick for so long. It was a nightmare and Northern Rail never even bothered to apologise.” But he said the support from the union had been “fantastic”, adding: “It shows that union membership and the legal service it offers is worth every penny. The RMT stood up for me when no one else did.” Amanda Dixon of Thompsons Solicitors was brought in by RMT to represent the injured worker. She said: “This could have been a fatal accident all because Northern Rail failed to carry out a proper risk assessment of the platform. There is a consequence of failing to keep up health and safety and our client suffered for it.” Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, said: “Our member’s case shows how important the union legal service is.”

Thompsons Solicitors news release.


London Fashion Week gets a dressing down

Protesters marked the opening of London Fashion Week on 12 September with the message ‘Don’t mention the garment workers’. The protest action – which included a banner bearing the slogan suspended from Waterloo Bridge - was intended to expose an event which promotes the creativity of the UK’s fashion industry, but is silent over the millions of workers who produce clothes for high street chains. Anti-poverty campaign War on Want, which organised the protest, says these workers are often working long hours on poverty pay in unsafe conditions. Senior campaigner Owen Espley said: “London Fashion Week is a glittering showcase for the fashion industry. But fashion’s dark side is kept in the shadows. The British Fashion Council would rather we all forget about those who often work long hours, on poverty pay, in unsafe conditions to produce the clothes we love.” He added: “We can love fashion, but hate sweatshops and want a fashion week that lives up to its responsibility to all the workers who make the fashion we buy. The time has come for London Fashion Week to mention the garment workers.” War on Want says all major UK brands who are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative have signed a pledge to pay workers a living wage, but none currently does so. It adds that London Fashion Week claims orders estimated at £100 million will be placed during the event - enough to pay a month’s wages for 2.4 million Bangladeshi garment workers who earn just £42 each month.

War on Want news release.

HSE accused of failure and denial on asbestos

A leading asbestos campaigner has accused the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of “overseeing” the worst asbestos cancer epidemic in the world and of making “unjustified” claims to ministers that its policies are working. The charges come from Michael Lees, a founder member of the Asbestos in Schools campaign and whose teacher wife Gina died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Noting that many people dying of asbestos cancers today were exposed after HSE was created in 1974, he claims the watchdog has “overseen the worst mesothelioma incidence in the world.” Lees adds: “The proof that HSE policies over the last 40 years have failed is that the mesothelioma incidence in Britain continues to rise inexorably [Risks 662]. We have the worst mesothelioma incidence in the world, by far, with twice of many people dying from asbestos related disease than are killed on the roads.” On asbestos risks in schools, he says HSE has given the education minister and the education select committee unjustified assurances… that all is well and HSE policies are working, the teachers, support staff and former pupils’ deaths are from exposures anywhere other than from schools and that they are just a legacy of the past.” He adds that an assurance from senior HSE staff that there was “no evidence” children faced a greater asbestos cancer risk than adults was discredited last year when the government’s Committee on Carcinogenicity concluded precisely the opposite (Risks 609). He warns that with the publication of the government’s future policy on asbestos in schools expected at any time, “HSE has conveniently provided the justification if they decide to change nothing.”

Asbestos in Schools, update 134, 15 September 2014.

Pulmonary fibrosis asbestos link found

Many cases of a common lung disease that were assumed to be of no known cause are in fact the result of exposure to asbestos, UK scientists believe. Researchers from Imperial College London found a correlation between death rates in England and Wales from the known asbestos-related conditions asbestosis and mesothelioma and from “idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis” (IPF). In findings presented to the European Respiratory Society (ERS) international congress in Munich, they warn that at present people with a history of asbestos exposure may be missing out on appropriate care, as they are not currently able to access new treatments for IPF. According to the researchers, asbestosis is the name given to the lung fibrosis developed by people with a known history of exposure to asbestos; IPF is an identical condition, just without the asbestos association being made. Their analysis of Office of National Statistics data revealed national and regional correlations between the three diseases. This supports the theory that a proportion of IPF cases are due to “unknown” exposure to asbestos. They also identified high rates of IPF deaths in particular regions in the North West and South East of England with a history of shipyard work and potential exposure to asbestos dust. Lead researcher Dr Carl Reynolds from Imperial College London said: “The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that a proportion of IPF cases are likely to be caused by unknown exposure to asbestos. More research is needed in this area, particularly as patients known to have asbestos exposure are not currently considered to be candidates for new treatments for IPF and this may be inappropriate.”

ERS news release.

'Ignorant' crane boss fined over death

A company and its director have been fined a total of £150,000 after a worker was killed when a crane wheel he was dismantling "exploded like a bomb". Kenneth Cooke, 62, died in March 2011 while using cutting equipment to separate a split rim wheel while the tyre was inflated. Denbigh-based Sanders Machinery Ltd and director David Geoffrey Sanders, 70, were convicted last month of criminal health and safety breaches. The court had heard how Mr Cooke, 62, suffered catastrophic injuries from which he died at his workplace. On 9 September the firm was fined £110,000 at Mold Crown Court and David Sanders fined £40,000. A claim by Denbighshire County Council for £128,000 in costs will be considered at a later hearing. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Rhys Rowlands said the death was “entirely avoidable.” He added: “The offences are particularly grave because the serious consequences that followed were so obvious.” He said Sanders was sentenced on the basis of “sheer ignorance” because he was not aware of health and safety guidelines. He told the court, Sanders knew “precious little” about what was required of him to ensure the safety of his employees. Sentencing the company director, Judge Rowlands told him: “You fell very far short of the standard required of you.” Shortly after Mr Cooke’s death, a business acquaintance sent Sanders risk assessments on which Sanders arranged to have his own company details imposed.

Denbighshire County Council news release. Wales Online. BBC News Online.

Exploding vessel lands two firms in court

A Kidderminster carpet company and a Surrey-based inspection firm have been fined after a large pressure vessel, in which carpet fibres are dyed and processed, exploded, propelling the vessel’s quarter-tonne lid six metres into the air. No-one was injured in the incident at Brinton Carpets Ltd’s site in Telford on 4 June 2013, but the dangerous incident could have been prevented. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Brintons Carpets Ltd and Allianz Engineering Inspection Services Ltd, who were contracted by the carpet firm to carry out periodic thorough examinations of the dye vessels. Telford Magistrates’ Court heard that each of Brintons Carpets’ four stock dye vessels, described as industrial pressure cookers, were pressurised while in use. During a production run, one of the vessels exploded. The lid, which weighed approximately 250kg, was torn off its locking mechanism and hinges and hit the roof of the factory six metres above. The collision left a dent in one of the factory’s roof girders. One worker was standing just a few feet from the where the lid came to rest. The explosion was found to have been caused by a failure of the vessel’s regulator and pressure relief valve. HSE found the periodic legally-required thorough examinations had not been completed for three years. Allianz Engineering Services Ltd had carried out the statutory examinations on the other pressure equipment on site, but the four stock dye vats had been overlooked. Brintons Carpets Ltd was fined £10,000 plus £1,174 costs. Allianz Inspection Services Ltd was fined £13,000 plus costs of £1,111.

HSE news release and safe work with pressure systems webpages.

Contractors fined after leisure centre roof fall

Two building contractors have been fined after a worker broke his back when he fell four metres from a roof. The 36-year-old man from Tamworth fractured a vertebra in his lower back after falling from the roof at Southview Leisure Park, Skegness, on 8 March 2013. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted SJ Roberts Construction Ltd and Seaton Heating and Engineering Services Ltd in connection with the incident. Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard that SJ Roberts Construction Ltd had been appointed principal contractor for the installation of a new flume tower and swimming pool extension at the leisure park. Subcontractor Seaton Heating and Engineering Services Ltd was retained to install a new air-handling unit and associated pipework for the swimming pool. The injured man, an employee of Seaton Heating and Engineering Services Ltd, was working on the roof of the swimming pool extension, which was accessed by internal stairs. While working, he was standing on a narrow plywood area around half a metre wide, close to the open edge. The plywood gave way and he fell four metres. He landed on his feet but then fell backwards, landing on concrete and rubble and suffering the fractured vertabra. SJ Roberts Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach and was fined £10,000 plus £645.60 costs. Seaton Heating and Engineering Services Ltd also pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay costs of £519.60

HSE news release and work at height webpages.

Timber firm fined after agency worker loses fingertip

A Lincolnshire timber company has been fined after an agency worker lost the top of his finger in an unguarded machine. Grantham Magistrates’ Court heard that the 23-year-old, from Holbeach was helping to clear a blockage on a woodworking machine at Select Timber Products Ltd’s premises in Donington, when the incident happened on 15 July 2013. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found two of the machine’s guards had been removed. The machine operator had lifted the main guard to clear the blockage, while a fixed guard on one of the machine’s six cutting heads had also been taken off to make cleaning easier. However, the machine was still under power, so when the agency worker reached in his left hand came into contact with one of the moving cutting heads. Surgeons had to amputate the top of his middle finger on his left hand. He also suffered severe lacerations to two other fingers and only has partial movement in these and his middle finger. Select Timber Products Ltd was fined £9,900 plus £1,193 in costs after pleading guilty to three separate criminal breaches. HSE inspector Neil Ward said: “About 30 to 40 similar incidents are reported to HSE every year. Nearly all result in amputation injuries and most, including this one, could have been prevented if the cutters had come to rest before operators approached them.”

HSE news release. Lincolnshire Echo.


Hazardous drugs in healthcare

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the US government’s occupational health research agency, has published an updated dangerous drugs listing to accompany its guide to the hazards posed to healthcare workers by the medicines they administer. The new list is a supplement to its 2004 guide ‘Preventing occupational exposures to antineoplastic and other hazardous drugs in health care settings’. In the introduction to the updated drugs list, NIOSH notes: “Hazardous drugs include those used for cancer chemotherapy, antiviral drugs, hormones, some bioengineered drugs, and other miscellaneous drugs.” It adds: “The actual risk to health care workers depends on what is done with the drugs - how they are manipulated, how often they are handled, and what type of engineering controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) are used.”

NIOSH news alert, 2004 guide and updated drug list, NIOSH List of Antineoplastic and Other Hazardous Drugs in Healthcare Settings, 2014.


Cambodia: Global unions back garment workers

Three global unions, representing millions of workers around the world, are mobilising to back Cambodia’s overworked, underpaid and exhausted garment workers. IndustriALL, UNI and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) joined Cambodian garment workers in a day of action on 17 September to mark the start of a campaign calling for a rise in the minimum wage from US$100 to US$177. It comes after revelations that some under-nourished workers had collapsed from exhaustion at work, with some even believed to have been worked to death (Risks 668). In early October, the Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) in Cambodia is set to announce a new minimum wage for workers in the garment, textile and footwear industry, which generates US$5 billion in revenue for the country. Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said: “Cambodia is an important sourcing country to the fashion industry and yet pitiful wages mean that garment workers live in poverty and are forced to work exhausting hours to survive. We urge the Cambodian government to listen to workers’ demands for a peaceful path to a just wage - or seriously risk jeopardising brands’ confidence in the country as a sourcing partner.” Philip Jennings, general secretary of UNI, said: “Cambodia has a choice, either to take the high road to becoming a sustainable, ethical, fair play industry or the low road that leads to the bottom. The eyes of everyone from consumers to brands are on Cambodia.” And ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow added: “The impoverishment of workers in supply chains is a global scandal. In Cambodia, garment workers’ labour supports a multi-billion dollar industry, while wages are insufficient to cover basic expenses, including adequate food and shelter for themselves and their families.”

ITUC news release. IndustriALL news release. More on deaths from overwork. Cambodian campaign facebook page.

Liberia: Ebola burial teams face terrible pressures

As the Ebola death toll mounts in Liberia, burial teams are having to contend with physical risk and trauma as they take charge of safely burying the dead, often in the face of local anger. Up to 6 September, the current Ebola outbreak had killed 1,224 Liberians, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with over two-thirds of the deaths in the preceding three weeks. Government and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) burial teams initially took charge of burying the dead but had to recruit and train local teams to cope with the volume of corpses. In the first months of the outbreak, overwhelmed burial teams would only get to bodies three or four days after they had died, greatly upping the risk of transmission to family members as the virus remains active even in a dead body. Now the pick-up rate is usually within the day, said Fiyah Tamba, secretary-general of the Liberian Red Cross. But pick-up gaps are still leading to bodies piling up, particularly in Monrovia, which is experiencing ongoing protests as a result. Workers have faced stress from the nature and pressure of the work, as well as anger from relatives of the dead and local communities. WHO figures up to 6 September 2014 include 4,269 probable, confirmed and suspected cases and 2,288 deaths reported in the current outbreak by the health ministries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), WHO and affected governments have repeatedly called on other nations to step up their response if the disease is to be contained.

IRIN News.

Pakistan: Unsafe garment industry needs unions

Two years after 259 workers died in an 11 September fire at a factory owned by Ali Enterprises in Karachi, Pakistan, the report of an official commission into the cause and the responsibly for the tragedy remains unpublished by the government. Ali Enterprises was not registered under Pakistan’s factory Act; the building structure was not legally approved by the building authority; the majority of the workers did not have appointment letters; and all worked under an illegal third party contract system with working hours ranging from ten to 14 hours a day without overtime. And as there was no trade union, there was no right to collective bargaining. The failure of effective oversight was brought into sharp relief when it was revealed the factory had received a clean bill of health from an international social auditing company just two weeks before the inferno broke out, certifying that it met all required standards. More than 600 workers were trapped inside the factory which had no functional fire extinguishing system, windows that were closed and covered with iron rods and locked exits preventing the workers from escaping. After spending five months in jail, the owners of Ali Enterprises were released on bail. Monika Kemperle, assistant general secretary of the global union for the sector, IndustriALL, said: “Unsafe textile factories are not only found in Bangladesh. The problems are many and complicated in Pakistan and there is no Accord on Building and Fire Safety to set legally binding standards.” As in Bangladesh, IndustriALL and national unions say increased union membership and collective bargaining rights are crucial steps towards making the Pakistan’s garment industry safe. Many of the workers and families affected by the fire have not yet received any compensation; others have only received small amounts that do not cover the loss of income for the survivors and their families.

IndustriALL news release. Clean Clothes Campaign webpage. Accord on Bulding and Fire Safety.

USA: Government can help businesses raise standards

The US government could use its massive purchasing power to demand improved working conditions around the world, a new report has concluded – but it doesn’t use this power effectively. According to a posting on the blog of the US national union federation AFL-CIO, “our government does very little to ensure our tax dollars are spent responsibly, whether it’s through buying uniforms, electronics or food from businesses that support decent conditions in the thousands of workplaces in the United States and around the world.” A new report by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), however, lays out some clear ideas to improve government purchasing and the capacity to protect and respect human rights of workers in its own supply chain. It shows how to build respect for labour rights into the government purchasing process and give incentives to contractors to take the high road. Some proposals borrow solutions that have been implemented by local and state governments and universities to clean up supply chains. There are many innovative and effective solutions to these problems, the report concludes, such as the union-driven Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which shows how major purchasers can use their power to improve conditions in supply chains.

AFL-CIO Now blog. Report by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR).


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