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New online guides from the TUC will help combat the exploitation of migrant workers, the union body has said. ‘Working in the UK’ is available in 13 languages, including Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian. The TUC says it provides workers with information and guidance on crucial issues such as pay, employment contracts, working hours, sick pay, and health and safety. It also explains how trade unions help workers deal with mistreatment, such as bogus self-employment, and bargain for better pay and conditions. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unscrupulous employers have taken advantage of the fact that migrant workers are often unaware of their employment rights. Migrant workers are regularly forced to accept appalling working conditions, low wages and a complete absence of rights. The issue of migrants undercutting existing workers has been exploited by some politicians to win support for anti-immigrant policies that only increase social tension and do nothing to clamp down on bad bosses and improve conditions for all workers.” The TUC leader added: “Only when local and migrant workers are part of a trade union can they bargain with employers to be treated on equal terms, so that everyone receives decent contracts and a fair wage. The Working in the UK guide will enable migrant workers to find out in their own language what their rights are at work and how to join a union.”
Ÿ The TUC Working in the UK guide is available in Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Slovakian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French and English.
Transport workers’ union Unite is demanding for a fair deal for HGV drivers amid warnings they are being forced to put themselves and the public at risk by working more than a “whopping” 60 hours a week. Low pay and rising demands from employers to do more increase the chances of serious accidents on the roads, the union warned as it launched its professional drivers’ charter. The union is calling for a maximum 48-hour working week and an end to minimum wage pay for professional drivers. Unite is urging haulage firms to sign up to the charter “to halt the race to the bottom on Britain’s roads.” Adrian Jones, Unite national officer said: “This deeply worrying situation is intolerable for many drivers. The public needs to know what’s going on because lives are being put at risk.” He added: “Low pay rates mean drivers are being forced to take chances, working long hours just to make ends meet. Accidents are quite literally waiting to happen because employers are refusing to play fair. We need minimum standards across the industry to end the race to the bottom and keep Britain’s roads safe.” Cliff Henden, a professional driver for more than 50 years and chair of the Unite hire and reward section, said: “HGV drivers are very highly trained. It’s a scandal that many are paid no more than the minimum wage. For the good of all Unite wants drivers to get the terms that truly reflect the crucial nature of their work.” Australian transport union TWU is running a highly successful and high profile ‘Safe Rates’ campaign, with the strapline: “Aussie lives depend on it”.
Firefighters should refuse to take part in terror drills as part of their ongoing dispute with ministers over pensions and the retirement age, their union has said. The Morning Star reports that fire chiefs initiated a programme of rehearsals for terrorist incidents following the massacres at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris earlier this month (Risks 686). However firefighters’ union FBU “strongly advised” its members not to take part because of a work to rule over government plans to enforce an older retirement age of 60, which the union says will see many firefighters lose their jobs on fitness grounds. The terror drills involve special units of firefighters in bullet proof vests and other protective equipment being trained to deal with gangs of “marauding” gunmen with automatic weapons. In a letter, FBU assistant general secretary Paul Dark said members should not take part until safety had been assured and there had been “appropriate payments for the increased activity and potential risk.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
Rail union ASLEF has expressed concern over plans to split off the transport police service in Scotland. Smith Commission (Risks 683) proposals require the devolution of ‘legislative competence in relation to railway policing in Scotland.’ At the moment, the British Transport Police (BTP) is responsible for railway policing throughout Great Britain. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “Government proposals in ‘Scotland in the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement’ will devolve the functions of the British Transport Police. We are concerned that the BTP’s expertise in dealing with rail specific policing issues will be undermined if it is subsumed into a large organisation which could result in it becoming a small and inefficient branch of Police Scotland.” He added: “We take the view that the national railway network should be policed by one force providing a dedicated service able to give due priority to the policing of the railways. The safety and security requirements on the railway demand no less. This is an issue which unites train operating companies, trade unions and passengers.”
Nautilus has welcomed a UK government pledge not to outlaw ransom payments to secure the release of seafarers held hostage by pirates. The union had written to ministers to express concerns over the potential for proposed counter terrorism laws to restrict or prevent ransom payments to secure the release of ships and seafarers held by pirates (Risks 683). In a response to Nautilus, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the government intends to maintain the distinction between ransom payments made to criminals and those made to terrorists. “It is already an offence to make ransom payments to terrorists,” the minister said. “The situation is different in piracy cases. Whilst the government strongly advises against making ransom payments to pirates, doing so is not illegal under UK law.” Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson welcomed the response. “This is the clarification we have been seeking and it is very important, because we believe that any attempt to make the payment of ransoms illegal — or even to delay the payments — would jeopardise the safety of seafarers held captive and that pirates would have little reluctance to carry through threats to kill and/or cause environmental damage if they are not paid.”
The TUC’s global solidarity charity has been helping to give workers a voice at the Vietnamese furniture factories supplying British companies. TUC Aid has been supporting an Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) programme in Vietnam that aims to tackle health and safety problems and low wages. Companies joining ETI agree to a ‘base code’ of ten core labour rights which include freedom of association, a living wage and safe working conditions. However, TUC says the audits used by companies to establish whether these rights are being respected rarely reveal whether workers are able to have a say in their pay and conditions and may not pick up on abuses. The TUC Aid supported ETI programme is conducting research at factories to identify the barriers to freedom of association and the health and safety problems in these factories. The programme is working with representatives of government, the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), trade union solidarity support organisations and local grassroots unions affiliated to the global union federation BWI.
A chemical spill that led to a CWU member requiring skin grafts has resulted in a £40,000 fine for Royal Mail. Dacorum Borough Council prosecuted the company for criminal health and safety breaches at the Home Counties North mail depot in Hemel Hempstead last year. An investigation by the local authority’s environmental health officers found an employee, who had been working outside in the rain, suffered severe chemical burns to his leg while cleaning a heavy goods vehicle with a powerful detergent. The investigation found the company had failed to carry out risk assessments which could have revealed that the dispensing pump for the caustic cleaning chemical was defective. The cleaning liquid leaked, causing the concentrated chemical to spill on to the employee’s leg. The CWU member, who has not been provided protective equipment, received immediate hospital treatment and skin grafts and required eight months off work to recover. Royal Mail pleaded guilty at Watford Magistrates Court to two criminal safety offences and was handed the maximum fine of £20,000 for each separate breach and ordered to pay almost £4,000 in costs. CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said the case was a “damning example of what can happen when managers fail to manage and monitor the health and safety of the workforce through careful attention to law.” He added that the firm had “accepted their responsibility and the fact that they failed in their duty of care to our members and has worked with our safety reps to change its procedures and now operates a safer vehicle cleaning operation at the office concerned.” CWU is now pursuing compensation for the injured worker.
An aircraft fitter was forced to retire from work after falling at work and suffering severe back and leg injuries. Timothy Powell, 58, from Bristol, was working for GKN Aerospace Services Ltd when he slipped on a pool of water on the shopfloor after a machine used for polishing aluminium components leaked. The excess water from the machine usually flowed into a container but this had been displaced, causing the water to leak directly onto the floor where Timothy and his colleagues were working. Unite member Timothy had previously reported the fault to GKN Aerospace Services but the company failed to fix the leak. As he walked across the shop he slipped on the water, which caused him to fall and land heavily on his back, aggravating a previous injury. He also twisted his right knee as he fell. He was unable to work for a year, after which time he was advised by his doctor to retire on the grounds of ill-health. His injuries continue to cause him pain and he is forced to wear a leg brace, which severely affects his mobility. In a union backed compensation claim, he secured an undisclosed payout. Timothy said: “I am extremely frustrated about the events that led up to this life changing accident, and how I was treated afterwards. I had already told my employers about the leak and they failed to fix it. As a result, I have suffered painful and limiting injuries and was forced to give up my job.” He added: “Even after I had retired, GKN Aerospace Services failed to pay my pension for more than two years, which had a huge impact and financial strain on me and my family. I was determined to pursue a claim for compensation; the negative impact it has had on my life and on my family has been very hard and all because my employer failed to meet basic health and safety standards.”
Government plans for dramatic increases in the cost of going to court could have a ‘profound impact on access to justice’, according to personal injury lawyers. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) warns that a claim valued at £12,000 would come with a court fee increase of almost a third under the new regime. It adds the fee for a claim of £200,000 for a serious injury would be over five times (560 per cent) higher than it is today. “The government’s claim that fees are not a major factor in a person’s decision about whether or not to go to court is completely disingenuous,” said APIL president John Spencer. “This move is bound to discourage people from making valid claims – people who have every right to make them. And the idea that seriously injured people making higher value claims are more likely to be able to afford the new fees is outrageous. The severity of an injury has nothing to do with the injured person’s capacity to pay. This new regime will dictate that some seriously injured people will be expected to pay £10,000 up front to bring their cases to court, and many simply won’t be able to afford it.” He said the planned increases have sparked criticism from both the judiciary and Civil Justice Council. “These people do not ask to be injured,” the APIL president said. “They are injured because someone else is negligent. To expect them, on top of all that, to pay a court fee which represents more than the actual cost of the service is simply unacceptable.” Unions provide free legal support for members suffering injuries or diseases related to their work.
A community physiotherapist was the first cyclist killed on London’s roads this year. Stephanie Turner, 29, died in the 8am collision with a lorry on 20 January, as she cycled to a patient appointment. The Evening Standard reports she was a keen and experienced cyclist, who relished the opportunity her job gave her of cycling between clinics to visit patients. The driver of the lorry stopped at the scene and was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. A vigil organised by Stop Killing Cyclists took place on 26 January at the north London scene of the crash. Vigil co-organiser Abby Taubin said: “What people across Britain want to see is real investment in making our streets safe for humans, not billions more for the motor lobby.” The campaign group said safety improvements to improve the ability of lorry drivers to see cyclists and pedestrians, which will be required under EU law from 2022, must be made mandatory immediately. Most deaths on the road while working – the most common type of work-related fatality, outnumbering all other workplace fatalities by more than 3 to 1 – are not included in the Health and Safety Executive’s annual workplace fatalities count.
Ÿ The Standard.
A major North Sea oil firm failed to get approval for the deferral of 159 safety-critical work orders. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found 182 outstanding jobs when it carried out an inspection on Talisman Sinopec’s North Sea Clyde platform, 159 of which had not been approved for deferral. The trade website Energy Voice reports that Talisman has since been issued with an improvement notice following the evaluation last year. The HSE notice said: “Upon receipt of this information and with regard to the deferral processes described in your procedures, I formed the opinion that you had failed to properly implement your procedures. Consequently, in my opinion, you had failed to give effect to such arrangements as are appropriate for the effective control of your preventative and protective measures.” A spokesperson for Talisman said: “We can confirm that it has received an improvement notice from the Health and Safety Executive regarding our processes for approving the deferral of maintenance on safety-critical items.” Last week the firm announced it was shedding 300 jobs in its North Sea operations (Risks 687). Pilots’ union BALPA warned that safety must not be put under threat by the industry downturn and related cutbacks in the industry.
Ÿ Energy Voice.
The managing director of a metalworks company has been sentenced for manslaughter after one of his workers was crushed by heavy machinery. The victim, Shenol Shevka-Ahmed, was a Bulgarian national with a wife and two young sons at home in Bulgaria. His employer Mohammad Babamiri, 59, was given an 18-month sentence suspended for two years at Snaresbrook Crown Court. He had been found guilty of manslaughter and breaching health and safety legislation at an earlier hearing. Forklift driver David Hawkins, 31, was acquitted of manslaughter but found guilty of health and safety offences. He was handed a six-month sentence, also suspended for two years. Babimiri's firm, RK Metalworks, was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws and fined a total of £150,000. Hastingwood Securities – a property management company – was also found guilty of breaking health and safety laws and will be sentenced at a later date. On 11 January 2013, Shenol Shevka-Ahmed had been working at the firm, which operated from a unit owned by Hastingwood Securities Ltd, for a few weeks. The company was moving equipment as it relocated to a smaller unit on the industrial estate. As workers tried to move a large metal guillotine with a forklift truck, it fell over, trapping Mr Shevka-Ahmed underneath. A car jack was used to lift the machine off his body and he was treated at the scene before being transferred to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. He died later that afternoon from crush injuries. Babamiri was arrested that evening and Hawkins the following morning. HSE inspector Kevin Smith, who supported the joint HSE and police investigation, said: “The circumstances surrounding Shenol's tragic death are barely comprehensible. How anyone could have considered moving the guillotine with such inadequate equipment and an apparent absence of any planning as a safe and acceptable practice frankly beggars belief.”
A construction company with a lengthy record of endangering the lives of its workers has been fined after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found once again it was putting workers at serious risk of falling from height. Inspectors who paid a routine visit to an AM Construction Ltd site in West Bromwich on 15 May 2014 found men working on the first floor without scaffolding, edge protection, airbags or other fall prevention or mitigation measures. A prohibition notice – the company’s ninth in ten years and the eighth relating to work at height – was served by HSE putting an immediate halt all work at height. The firm was fined £5,300 and ordered to pay £1,157 in costs at Black Country Magistrates’ Court after admitting a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations. HSE inspector Gareth Langston said: “Work at height is the biggest cause of death in the workplace and remains a priority area for HSE. When companies regularly fall below the minimum legal standards and repeatedly ignore advice prosecution is inevitable.” He added: “AM Construction Ltd has become a repeat offender in ignoring HSE’s advice and failing in its duty to ensure the safety of its workforce. It is extremely lucky that no-one was killed or hurt.”
A director of a vet practice in Maidstone has been given a conditional discharge for allowing an employee to x-ray her own foot after a horse stamped on it. Maidstone Magistrates heard that the employee, a 25 year-old vet and equine intern at Pet Emergency Treatment Services Ltd, was afraid the foot was broken and she might be unable to do that evening’s on-call duty. As a result, she rang a practice director, John Kenward. As they were both concerned she could be held up in hospital A&E, Mr Kenward suggested she use the in-house x-ray kit. He gave her the settings to use and she carried out the test, which showed no break so she continued to work as normal. Another director, who acts as radiation protection supervisor, later noticed a human image on the digital processor. This led him to notify other practice board members of his intention to interview staff about the suspected breach of site radiation safety policy. He was immediately told by Mr Kenward not to discipline the vet intern as he had suggested that she use the x-ray. As a result the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was contacted and an investigation confirmed a breach of radiation regulations. John Kenward was ordered to pay £1,296 in costs after admitting a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Rob Hassell said: “Any vet practice using ionising radiation for medical exposures must ensure that the x-ray equipment is properly maintained and that the requirements of the Ionising Radiations Regulations are complied with. The view of HSE and the Department of Health is that it is highly unlikely that all these conditions can be met by a veterinary practice. It follows therefore that x-rays must not be taken of human beings at practices.”
A Powys firm has been fined for serious criminal safety failings after a woodworker had his right arm severed while clearing sawdust from underneath a circular saw. Brian Morris, 59, was working at Stagecraft Display Ltd’s factory just outside Llandrindod Wells when the incident happened on 23 February 2012. Llandrindod Wells Magistrates’ Court was told that at the time of the incident Mr Morris had finished sawing for the day and his last task after an 11-hour shift was to clean the saw and saw well. He stopped the machine and opened the door of the well while the blade was still running down and was on one knee blowing air into the well to clear the dust. At the same time a forklift truck drove into the factory and he turned his head to look. As he did so the moving blade caught the sleeve of his work jacket and cut his right arm. Although he managed to pull himself free, the arm was almost wholly severed. Mr Morris was taken to hospital, where he remained for a month, but doctors were unable to successfully reattach his arm and he underwent an amputation below the elbow. He was unable to return to work because of his injuries and has since died from an unrelated illness. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that although the machine was fitted with an interlock that stops power to the saw when the door to the saw well is opened, the saw took more than 30 seconds to stop completely. A self-employed machine maintenance engineer inspected the saw three months before the incident and told one of the company’s managers that it should be taken out of service or fitted with a brake which would stop the blade much sooner. Stagecraft Display Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £11,865 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach.
An East Lothian firm has been fined for serious criminal safety failings after a worker was left paralysed when he fell almost four metres through a fragile rooflight. Neil Knox, then 69, is confined to a wheelchair after suffering irreparable damage to his spinal cord in the incident on 14 March 2013 as he replaced plastic rooflights on a farm shed in Lauder, in the Scottish Borders. Jedburgh Sheriff Court was told that Mr Knox, a time served and experienced worker without any formal training in roofwork, was employed by David Miller Contracts Ltd to carry out roof repairs at the farm. Mr Knox had climbed onto the roof using a ladder and crawlerboards to allow him to access the rooflights. He removed three of them before being called down for a tea break. A colleague subsequently found Mr Knox lying on the floor underneath a rooflight which had a large hole in it. He was airlifted to hospital with broken ribs, a broken sternum and punctured lungs. His spine was fractured in two places, damaging his spinal cord, which has left him confined to a wheelchair with no movement or sensation in his legs. He only has 50 per cent lung efficiency due to partial paralysis of his chest muscles. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that David Miller Contracts Ltd had identified that the roof surface was likely to be fragile but failed to carry out a site-specific risk assessment and subsequently failed to plan the work properly. The company also failed to identify that the work to replace the rooflights could be done from a working platform beneath the roof, or by using safety nets or harnesses to keep workers safe. David Miller Contracts Ltd was fined £50,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
Firefighters who worked at a training facility in the Australian state of Victoria have a higher incidence of skin, testicular and brain cancers, a comprehensive study has found. The study, conducted by Monash University, examined cancer and death rates linked to the Country Fire Authority’s (CFA) Fiskville site between 1971 and 1999 (Risks 565). It found 69 cancers among the 606 people who worked and trained there, resulting in 16 deaths. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews told reporters the research confirmed “beyond any reasonable doubt” that there was a statistically significant increase in cancers in firefighters who worked at the site. “This is a very tragic report,” he said. “The evidence is becoming clearer and clearer each day that people have become sick because of this place. People have died because of this place.” Researchers found a cancer cluster in the high-risk group - those who worked full-time on the site training firefighters, and who were exposed to flammable chemicals, combustion, foams and recycled firewater. Of 95 high-risk workers traced, 25 had cancer and six had died from their cancer, the study found. A parliamentary commission of inquiry launched in December 2014 is expected to conclude in June this year. The United Firefighters Union (UFU) Victorian branch, which had campaigned for recognition of the cancer risk to its members, welcomed the report and called for the immediate resignation of CFA chief executive Mick Bourke. UFU’s Mick Tisbury said: “He and the CFA have been denying there was anything wrong with the place for years, they have put our health and safety at risk. We’re not expendable. We have families. We are people.” Research co-investigator Professor Malcolm Sim said: “Their death rates from other causes of disease, like heart and respiratory disease, were quite low, because these are healthy, fit people. That’s why their cancer results stood right out. There was a big gap between cancer and other diseases you don’t usually see in people like this, with healthy lifestyles.” He added: “The problem is the firefighters studied came into contact with a cocktail of exposures and chemicals, and we don’t know which ones may be contributing to their cancers.”
Ÿ ABC News.
Ÿ The Age.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Global union federation IndustriALL has signed a landmark agreement with Total, the French oil and gas giant, guaranteeing employee rights across the company’s international operations. As part of the agreement, Total, which employs 100,000 workers in more than 130 countries, has undertaken to uphold the rights of workers to form trade unions and to “recognise that health and safety of contractor and supplier employees is as important as the health and safety of its own staff.” The agreement also includes clauses barring any discrimination because of union activity and a commitment that maternity absence will have no negative impact on employees’ pay or career progression. IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said the agreement “sends a strong message to Total’s suppliers and provides new levels of protection for workers.” ILO director-general Guy Ryder, who witnessed the agreement, said: “Companies such as Total have a major role to play in promoting decent working conditions in their host countries and in ensuring that their employees benefit from tangible measures to improve their work life.”
New research into Italian shoe and garment factories shows that competition with Eastern Europe and Asia is driving down wages and working conditions in Italy. The survey conducted by Campagna Abiti Puliti, the Italian section of the Clean Clothes Campaign, found that big brands including Louis Vuitton, Armani, Prada and Dior are buying back old factories that were previously uneconomic. The report says these factories now compete by adopting the low wages and poor conditions of their international competition. Researchers found subcontracting firms hiring workers on low wages and requiring them to work excessive hours if they want to keep their jobs. “In response to the global race to the bottom, Italy is moving towards an increasingly insecure and flexible labour market which reduces social protection and leaves workers increasingly alone and exposed to the effects of the crisis,” said report author Francesco Gesualdi. “Big brands moving back to Italy is certainly good news for employment opportunities, but it is catastrophic if the same poverty wages, lack of trade unions, fear over job security and poor factory safety typical in Bangladeshi or Moldovan factories, comes too.”
Ÿ Can you earn a living wage in fashion in Italy?, Clean Clothes Campaign report.
American Airlines pressured workers to skimp on federal safety procedures and threatened discipline if they reported too many maintenance flaws, union reps have charged. The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) said the actions by maintenance managers violated labour laws. A union lawsuit filed on 20 January in the United States District Court in Chicago is demanding punitive damages, an injunction to restrain airline managers from making further threats, as well as a trial by jury. The action could bring additional regulatory scrutiny into the safety protocols at American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by passenger traffic since it merged with US Airways in December 2013. “We continually and consistently work with our regulators so that American’s maintenance programmes, practices, procedures, and overall compliance and safety are second to none,” airline spokesperson Casey Norton told Reuters by email. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is reviewing American Airlines’ progress in merging its operations with US Airways, said it is investigating the allegations. According to the lawsuit, Chicago-based mechanics reported “conflicts with management” over repairing lightning strike damage on planes, hydraulic leaks, a contaminated wiring system and other items. When Dallas-based mechanics complained they had been assigned unfamiliar tasks that required extra time to perform, one director said they “should not worry about missing maintenance discrepancies… since the FAA would not punish them,” according to the lawsuit. The mechanics’ union local TWU 591 says the airline has tried to “subvert” the FAA investigation. In a letter to members, it adds: “Local 591 officers trying to support our members’ efforts to express their safety concerns have been subjected to surveillance and threatened with arrest and termination.”