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In the face of a ‘tremendous’ union campaign, the government has at the 11th hour done an about face on its proposal to exempt almost all self-employed workers from health and safety law. In a 4 March House of Lords debate, government whip Lord Wallace of Saltaire presented a revised amendment to the Deregulation Bill. He said in addition to the short schedule of hazardous jobs still covered by the law, a revised proposal will be incorporated into regulations that “seeks to make it mandatory for the regulations to prescribe all self-employed persons who may pose a risk to the health and safety of others, thereby ensuring that they do not fall exempt from the law.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson described the government backtracking as a “considerable victory” that “only came about because of the tremendous campaigning by the trade unions on the issue, and the very strong support of the opposition, in particular Lord McKenzie, the former health and safety minister.” But he said the government proposal was still a dangerous recipe for confusion and uncertainty. “It is a complete mess,” he said. “I do not know how any self-employed person can be expected to know whether they are covered or not in those sectors not specified in the schedule. While the outcome is a massive improvement on the earlier proposal by the government, it is unnecessary legislation that no-one wanted, aimed at resolving a non-existent problem. All it will achieve is that it will add to the confusion and uncertainty that self-employed people face in knowing what they should be doing to protect themselves and others, and undermine what had been a very simple and clear piece of legislation.” The Bill now goes to the House of Commons and is likely to become law by the end of the month. The Regulations cannot come into effect until approved by both houses of parliament, which will not happen before the election. Hugh Robertson said the TUC will seek to get “the next government to reverse this proposal in its entirety by amending the Health and Safety at Work back to its previous, simple, wording.”
Passenger safety could be put at risk by a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) decision to proceed with outsourcing of its medical services, unions have warned. Unions PCS and Prospect, which represent staff at the aviation regulator, were speaking out after CAA announced it will look to outsource the Aeromedical Centre (AeMC) that provides medical services to pilots and air traffic controllers, as well as expert advice to airlines. Responses to the CAA's consultation held last year show the overwhelming views of stakeholders, including airlines, unions, pilots and aeronautical medical examiners, were against the move. The unions accuse the CAA of going through the motions in its consultation exercise and reiterated the view of staff that all medical services should remain within the CAA. They also stated they are uncomfortable that the CAA programme board did not have the medical expertise on it to safeguard safety. The unions fear that outsourcing the AeMC could result in safety being compromised for passengers and staff working in the aviation industry. Jeremy Gautrey, PCS national officer for aviation, said: “The decision to disregard the majority views of stakeholders, including one of the UK's biggest airlines, is clearly a commercial decision and not one founded on safety. The medical services provided by the CAA are recognised as market leaders across Europe and the breakup of the medical department and possible outsourcing could result in safety decisions being outweighed by commercial interests.” Steve Jary, Prospect national officer for aviation, said: "The CAA is increasingly putting cost before safety. Outsourcing essential medical services will result in a poorer service to pilots, airlines and the travelling public. The CAA executive board needs to listen and put safety, not commercial interests at the heart of its decision making.” The CAA “confirmed it is committed to exploring options” including outsourcing, but added: “No timetable has yet been set for any changes.”
UK workers gave their bosses nearly £32bn worth of unpaid overtime last year – an average of £6,050 each if these hours had been paid – according to new analysis published by the TUC. The TUC found that one in five (20.3 per cent) of the workforce regularly work extra hours for no pay. The TUC’s 11th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day – this year held on 27 February - marked the point this year when the average person who does unpaid overtime would start getting paid if they worked all their unpaid hours first at the start of the year. The study of official figures from 2014 shows that unpaid overtime was down only slightly from the previous year, by 0.9 per cent. The TUC believes this is partly due to employment growth taking some of the pressure off hard-pressed staff in some workplaces. But it says with an army of more than five million people still working an average of 7.7 unpaid hours a week there is still a lot to do to get unpaid hours down to reasonable levels. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Staff across Britain are continuing to work among the longest hours in Europe and are not even paid for much of the extra time they put in.” She said: “Millions of workers go the extra mile every week, boosting the profits of companies across the country while they lose out on thousands of pounds from their pay packets. And this is on top of the fact that one in five jobs already pays under the living wage. Bosses who encourage long hours in the office should re-think their approach as stressed, over-worked staff are often unhappy and less productive.”
The construction industry must learn lessons from the death of René Tkacik on the Crossrail project, site union UCATT has said. In March 2014, the 44-year-old highly skilled and experienced worker was crushed to death by wet concrete while working for the Bam Ferrovial Kier joint venture on the Fisher Street tunnel near Holborn, London (Risks 692). On 3 March this year an inquest jury gave a narrative verdict, while recording the death of the Slovakian national was accidental. The jury found that “unclear” processes including the method statement and the definition of the exclusion zone contributed to his death. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “This was a terrible tragedy and my deepest condolences go to Mr Tkacik’s family. This death was clearly preventable and lessons must be learned from this tragedy to prevent similar accidents occurring in the future. No issues must be covered up to prevent similar deaths occurring in the future.” He added: “If the industry wants to learn from this tragedy and improve safety then it is essential there is full transparency. We urgently need an honest debate about how the entire industry, including the union movement, can increase the safety of workers.” Commenting earlier, he said the “deeply regrettable decision” by the coroner to block two witnesses giving evidence to the inquest on Crossrail’s safety practices “could mean that vital safety lessons are lost.”
Ÿ ITV News.
Walkers pulled the plug on a new TV advert hours after construction union UCATT branded it “insensitive” and “offensive”. The controversial commercial featured ex-England footballer and now TV presenter Gary Lineker having wet concrete poured onto him from a great height for refusing to share his crisps. It aired during peak hours on Monday 23 February - the same day an inquest began into the death of René Tkacik, who died on the Crossrail project after being buried under nearly a tonne of wet concrete. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said Walkers were making light of the deadly serious issue of construction site accidents, which last year claimed the lives of 42 workers in the UK. “There is nothing amusing about accidents on construction sites and the timing of the advert could not have been worse,” he said. The crisp firm responded promptly. A 24 February statement on the Walkers Crisps facebook page said: “We have been made aware of a tragic incident that occurred on a building site last year and have taken the decision to immediately withdraw our latest Walkers advert. We did not set out to cause offence and sincerely apologise for any upset that may have been caused.” A UCATT spokesperson commented: “We appreciate Walkers have recognised the sensitivity of this issue and that their advertisement was inappropriate.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A Bradford man developed debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in both arms as a result of excessive and poorly managed use of vibrating tools. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, was employed by Incommunities Group plc worked on housing refurbishment schemes. This involved the daily use of vibrating tools including drills, stihl saws, jigsaws and kango hammers. His use of the tools was not monitored in any way for exposure to vibration and there was no health surveillance to protect him or his colleagues. The firm also failed to provide their employees with training on the risks of developing a vibration induced injury. As a result of the ongoing exposure to vibration he developed CTS, a condition which causes pins and needles, numbness, weakness of grip and pain in the hands and fingers. After reporting his symptoms, the firm took steps to limit his use of the tools but did not check the level of vibration given off by the various tools. Incommunities Group’s sick pay policy meant that he was forced to have surgery on both hands at the same time instead of treating them separately, which isn’t recommended by medical experts. When he returned to work his employers failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment or monitor the tasks they expected of him since his injury. He has ongoing symptoms and has been left with permanent nerve damage. He has now received an undisclosed sum in compensation in a union-supported legal claim. Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “It is absolutely vital as far as vibrating tools are concerned that employers put in place systems to effectively monitor and control workers’ exposure, ensure that the exposure is as low as possible through job rotation, provide quality tools and give adequate training and information on the dangers of vibration.” She added: “Our member’s employers did none of these things even after he had surgery for a condition caused by their woeful safety standards. Their complete lack of care has left a long term employee with a condition that affects him every day and will do for the rest of his life.”
An undercover officer with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) infiltrated UCATT and spied on members, the union has discovered. It says the revelation raises fresh questions about the role of the police in the blacklisting of trade unionists, an illegal practice frequently targeting workers who raised health and safety concerns. UCATT’s membership records show that Mark Cassidy was a member of UCATT from 1996 until 1998, paying his dues by direct debit and claiming to be a joiner. But Cassidy was in fact Mark Jenner, a serving police officer and member of the SDS. During his time undercover the police spy took leadership roles in organisations associated with UCATT. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “UCATT was infiltrated by the police and members have a right to know why. This sort of operation could only have been sanctioned at the highest level. I believe the truth rests with the Home Office. Who gave authority for the police to do this and how high did it go?” In response to a freedom of information request by UCATT to the Metropolitan Police regarding SDS infiltration, the Met would neither “confirm or deny whether or not the information requested is held”. UCATT’s Steve Murphy commented: “Public money was spent on police covertly joining trade unions, infiltrating groups associated with trade unions and colluding with construction employers to blacklist workers. This is a scandal that must be exposed.” He added: “The Metropolitan Police must not be allowed to hide the truth; they operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives. They must be held to account. It is increasingly clear that the only way we are going to get the full truth on the blacklisting scandal is by holding a full public inquiry which is open and transparent.”
Ÿ The Mirror.
The head of Network Rail has said the industry’s unsafe working practices are causing “appalling tragedies” and hundreds of workplace casualties each year. Former oil industry executive Mark Carne, who became chief executive of Network Rail a year ago, suggested accident rates were 10 times those in the oil sector. In a speech to an audience of leading rail industry figures, Carne said: “While our passenger safety performance is the best in Europe, about 600 railway workers a year – employees and contractors – are injured to the extent that they cannot return to work the next day. If I were back in oil and gas, a comparable figure for the same amount of activity would be between 30 and 60 people – the difference is that stark. That means that over 500 of our people are getting hurt every year, well over one a day, because our work practices have not kept pace with comparable heavy engineering industries.” Carne said pressure to get work finished quickly had led managers to “send signals that suggest we don’t care as deeply as we could about our workforce and their safety and health.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT said his union “has warned repeatedly that the safety culture on Network Rail has been diluted by savage cuts to staffing and the proliferation of agencies and contractors which has led to casualisation of safety critical work and a surge in staff on zero hours contracts. Those warnings have come home to roost with a vengeance in these shocking figures.” He added: “It is all very well Mark Carne admitting that injuries amongst our members on the railways are running at ten times the level of comparable heavy industries. But that is an appalling indictment on Network Rail and the question is what is he going to do about it?” He said the Network Rail chief should end fragmentation and casualisation, and improve conditions of employment for the directly employed workforce.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Football’s global governing body, Fifa, has been criticised for ignoring the plight of migrant workers enduring slave like conditions in Qatar. A Fifa taskforce reported on 24 February and recommended that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be moved to November and December, to avoid crippling summer temperatures. The recommendations will be taken to Fifa’s executive committee meeting in Zurich on 19 and 20 March for a final decision on the dates. But construction union UCATT said the decision fails to take into account that 2 million migrant workers, building the World Cup and the Qatar’s infrastructure, are working six days a week year round in temperatures which can reach 55 degrees celsius. It added that since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar over 1,400 construction workers from India and Nepal have died, with the total death toll for all migrant workers higher still. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Once again Fifa have chosen to worry about the health of footballers and not the health of the workers building what will be a blood-stained World Cup.” A day ahead of the FIFA announcement, global construction union federation BWI launched a ‘Fifa: Labour is part of the team’ campaign. The union body says its campaign will aim to get “national football associations, football fans clubs, and FIFA corporate sponsors to call on Fifa to respect and implement international labour standards and human rights principles in projects related to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and 2022 World Cup in Qatar.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
A two-day inspection blitz of basement projects in some of the country’s wealthiest postcodes is to be carried out by the Health and Safety Executive. Next week, construction inspectors will be focusing on sites in two London boroughs – Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham – in a bid to improve safety in the expanding sector. This action follows a succession of fatal incidents and serious injuries in the capital. Over the last 10 years, HSE has received reports of 17 construction workers having died as a result of an excavation collapsing, whilst in the same period 27 were seriously injured. HSE construction inspector James Hickman said: “The construction of basements in London is increasingly widespread. Often it is carried out under existing homes as owners seek to increase their living space without a house move. The work is technically challenging and can carry substantial risk. Standards are often poor and often vulnerable sections of the labour market are recruited.” He added: “Contractors are failing to appoint a competent temporary works engineer to design suitable propping to support excavations and existing structures. Likewise, on many projects basic safeguards are missing, such as edge protection to prevent falls from height. And all too often little thought is given to providing proper welfare facilities for site workers. Where we find poor practice that is putting lives at risk we will take action, including stopping work and prosecuting those responsible.” In December 2014, following the death of 37-year-old labourer Anghel Milosavlevici in a basement excavation collapse in Fulham, a company director was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed (Risks 684).
A Dorset farm owner and his two businesses have been fined for serious criminal safety failings after a 29-year-old worker died following exposure to toxic gases. Dorchester Crown Court heard that Matthew Pitt and David Bartlett were working at Lowbrook Farm, owned by Clifford Owen Yeatman, in Bechalwell, Blandford Forum. They were exposed to toxic gases during maintenance of an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant at the farm. The plant was developed by Biogas Nord UK, of which Mr Yeatman was sole director. On 24 June 2009, Mr Pitt and Mr Bartlett were tasked with opening the roof of the digester tank to free a stirring mechanism that had stopped moving due to a crust forming in the tank. As they did so, they were engulfed by toxic hydrogen sulphide gas. Both men lost consciousness and when Mr Bartlett came round he found Mr Pitt lying next to him but could not get a response. He alerted other people on site to get help and an ambulance was called. Two paramedics and two other farmworkers also suffered from the effects of the fumes. Mr Pitt was later declared dead without having regained consciousness. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Mr Yeatman and his company, Biogas Nord, did not assess the risks associated with the plant in general or with opening the roof. The risks from substances generated in the AD process, including explosion and exposure to toxic gases, were poorly understood. A previous incident on 1 August 2008 had never been reported to HSE. Farm worker Joerg Grondke then fell unconscious after he was exposed to toxic gas when he was replacing the clamps that held the roof seal in place. While masks were supplied after the 2008 incident, workers were never trained in their use and they were taken off once the roof was removed in the mistaken belief that the danger had passed. The masks were also not face-fitted or properly maintained. Clifford Owen Yeatman was fined £15,000 as a director of Biogas Nord UK (Ltd) after pleading guilty to two criminal safety charges. He also pleaded guilty to two further breaches of the act as a partner of CO and RA Yeatman and was fined £45,000. His company, Farmergy Ltd, was fined £10,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal breach. Mr Yeatman and Farmergy Ltd were ordered to share £75,000 in costs. Matthew Pitt’s mother, Janet Pitt, said: “We were a close-knit farming family that did everything together. We lived, worked hard and played together. All that has ended and although we carry on with our lives, behind the strong exterior lies broken hearts that will never be mended.”
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been fined after failing to report, prevent or monitor at least 23 cases of dermatitis among staff between 2007 and 2012. The Trust pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of health and safety legislation when it appeared before Torquay Magistrates. The court heard that health and hospital staff were at increased risk of developing skin issues like dermatitis as they needed to wash their hands often and had to wear gloves for some procedures to reduce the risk of infection. They were also encouraged to use hand gels. Despite the known risk, there was limited information for staff about reducing it with simple but effective methods such as drying hands fully and regularly applying moisturisers. The Trust, which employs 5,000 people, failed to carry out regular health checks of employees to detect any symptoms of dermatitis or other skin issues. As and when symptoms were reported by members of staff, they were simply told to see their GP by the trust’s occupational health team. As a result cases of work-related dermatitis were not picked up by the Trust and the issue was not seen as a priority. At the time, there was no link between occupational health and dermatology. This has since been rectified. In a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,620 for a criminal breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.
A hospital trust in Liverpool has been fined £10,000 after it emerged its workers may have been exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres. The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the fibres were discovered in the basement of its offices at Derwent House on London Road in January 2013. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that the organisation had failed to act on a survey carried out in 2006 which identified that an area of the basement may contain asbestos, and recommended that its condition should be properly assessed. An HSE investigation found that workers had regularly been visiting the basement to access patient records. The risk to them came to light on 9 January 2013 when the NHS Trust’s health and safety manager noticed that the doors to an out-of-use goods lift in the basement were damaged. The lift doors contained asbestos, which meant there was a risk of exposure to those accessing the basement. A subsequent survey found that asbestos fibres were present in several different areas of the basement. The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £696 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Imran Siddiqui said: “The Trust, in line with the 2006 survey, should have assumed asbestos was present in an area of the basement and taken appropriate action to make it safe for people working there. Instead, workers were allowed to regularly visit the basement to access patient files increasing the risk of exposure to the potentially-deadly fibres.”
A waste and recycling site in Carmarthen was in such a dangerous condition that visiting health and safety inspectors had to issue eight notices to immediately halt potentially deadly work activities. The site run by Mekatek Ltd was subject to a routine inspection by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors on 20 May 2013 who discovered access to unguarded dangerous machinery, exposure to risk of electrocution and areas contaminated by asbestos containing materials. Swansea Crown Court heard problems included the use of a ‘man basket’ on a forklift truck to allow workers to carry out work at height. This was not secured to the forks of the truck and there was no cage behind the basket to stop workers becoming trapped against the forklift truck mast. There were no suitable guards to prevent workers getting caught in the moving machine parts of a granulator, two compactors, a shredder and a paint mixing drum, and electrical cables were found trailing through liquid, leading to a risk of electrocution. In addition, exposed and damaged pipe lagging, which included asbestos containing materials, was in a poor state and exposed workers at the site to the risk of contamination. This was allowed to continue by Mekatek despite an earlier report by a specialist that had identified the presence of asbestos in the area and recommended its urgent removal. Mekatek Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of safety, asbestos and work equipment regulations. It was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs. HSE inspector Clare Owen, speaking after the hearing, said: “The conditions at this site were extremely poor and the dangers were quite clear. It’s very fortunate no-one was killed or seriously injured there.” She added that the management at the firm “relied on health and safety managers it employed for advice but failed to check if they were competent and had appropriate qualifications, particularly for the management of asbestos.”
A Cumbrian engineering firm has been fined £12,000 after a worker suffered severe injuries when he was struck by a metal frame, weighing nearly two tonnes. The 21-year-old from Carlisle, who has asked not to be named, sustained multiple cuts and fractures to his left foot and leg, and has still been unable to return to work almost a year on from the incident. Tweddle Fabrications Ltd, which trades as Tweddle Engineering, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the partially-constructed trailer chassis had swung out of control while being lifted by two forklift trucks. Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard that workers had been trying to lift and rotate the frame at the factory in Kirkbride near Wigton on 27 February 2014. Another employee, not involved in the lift, was walking across the factory floor when the 1.8 tonne chassis moved in an uncontrolled way and struck him. The court was told that the company had failed to plan the work properly, despite it requiring a complicated lift using two forklift trucks. There should also have been someone responsible for supervising the lift, and measures should have been in place to ensure that other workers were kept at a safe distance. Tweddle Fabrications Ltd was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £501 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998. HSE inspector Steven Boyd said the injured worker “wasn’t involved in the work to rotate the trailer chassis but had no way of knowing his life was being put at risk as he walked across the factory floor.”
A new book, ‘Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists’, delivers a searing indictment of the collusion between the state and the construction industry that saw thousands blacklisted. Authors Dave Smith – a founder-member of the Blacklist Support Group – and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain reveal how objecting to deadly working conditions could get you thrown out of work for good. The book demonstrates how only creative grassroots organising exposed the blacklisters and their cash-dispensing construction cronies. It also reveals this isn’t yesterday’s problem; this life-wrecking human rights scandal persists to this day. GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: “This book lifts the lid on blacklisting and on the decades of denials, lies and deceit by construction employers over the shameful treatment and damage to thousands of workers.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said the book is “a tribute to those who have had the sheer guts and determination to fight on for years to drag the blacklisting scandal into the spotlight.” Guardian journalist Rob Evans said it “could turn out be one of the most important books of 2015.”
Ÿ Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists, New Internationalist, March 2015. ISBN 978-1-78026-257-4. eBook ISBN: 978-1-78026-258-1. £9.99. Book video trailer.
Workers bear most of the burden of workplace safety failures, research for the Australian government’s safety watchdog has found, with this proportion rising rapidly. The study by Macquarie University researcher Sharron O’Neill found employers are picking up hardly any of the cost at all. The trained accountant is critical of previous research estimating the occupational health and safety (OHS) related business costs, describing the body of work as “fundamentally poor”. In the report prepared for Safe Work Australia she notes: “Rather than strategically examining the cost-benefit to business of work health and safety, the typical ‘silo’-driven analysis produces a narrow focus on a very different concept; the cost-benefit to business of health and safety interventions. This has obscured much of the potential for improving organisational productivity and operational decision-making.” She found that many of the costs and benefits to business are “hidden or externalised”, while others are “consciously ignored.” Instead of pursuing a cost-benefit approach, which is “inherently misleading”, O’Neill recommends an emphasis on cost-effectiveness, with effectiveness measured not in impossible to quantify monetary terms but in the extent to which an intervention could be expected to eliminate, or minimise, a risk of harm. Using Safe Work Australia data, she notes that only 5 per cent the economic costs of work-related injury and illness falls on business. However, “the portion transferred to injured workers has rapidly risen from 49 per cent in 2005/6 to 74 per cent by 2008/9.” Writing in his Safety at Work blog, Australian commentator Kevin Jones said the report provides “a fresh perspective on the issue that has been a source of confusion between OHS professionals, risk managers, accountants and financial officers. It goes some way to bridging the conceptual and linguistic barriers between the morality of OHS and the communication of OHS to those who can often most influence a company’s values and make workers safe.”
Employers whose kill their workers should face the prospect of manslaughter charges, Australian construction union CFMEU has said. The union call came as Allscaff Systems Pty Ltd and company director Ralph Michael Smith faced the courts after the 2008 deaths of two workers on a Gold Coast construction site with “woefully inadequate” safety systems. Chris Gear and Steve Sayer died after the swing stage scaffold they were working out of plummeted 26 storeys to the ground after a malfunction. The company was fined Aus$700,000; Smith was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence. CFMEU said the Queensland government should introduce industrial manslaughter charges for workplace fatalities. CFMEU’s Michael Ravbar said: “Queensland legislation does nothing to encourage companies to comply with safe work practices. Workers are being slaughtered because previous governments refused to act and take workplace health and safety seriously.” He added: “We want to see industrial manslaughter charges introduced and handed down to future employers who are involved in the death of workers on their sites. So far the companies involved in incidents like this, have only received a pitiful slap on the wrist penalty for their involvement and it's just not serious enough!” He was also critical of the official state safety regulator, WHSQ. “Not only are the penalties inadequate, the response from WHSQ is dismal. Instead of investigating serious safety breaches, inspectors are spending their time hassling union officials. Workers health and safety on the job will always be the top priority for this union which we make no apologies for.”
The world’s most profitable company is proving less successful in sorting out worker exploitation in its supply chain, research has found. Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period. But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese workers toiling on assembly lines producing Apple’s slick products, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labour Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labour law violations at factories across China. This evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. The findings contrast with claims made by Apple in its latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, released on 11 February this year. On its website, Apple refers to 2014 as “a year of progress,” explaining in the report that it conducted 633 audits of 459 suppliers, at which it found 700 violations of the company's supplier code of conduct. In response, Apple claims to have put corrective action plans in place for all violations, and reports that compliance of suppliers improves with every audit. But the reports from CLW, SACOM and Chan and her colleagues provide clear evidence of a lack of corrective action from 2013 to 2014 on both the part of Apple and several of its suppliers. They found violations of Chinese labour law and Apple's supplier code of conduct are commonplace. These include work hours in excess of daily and weekly limits, managerially and economically forced overtime, workplace safety hazards including locked fire exits and blocked pathways, regular intimidation and verbal abuse, an inability to take sick leave, and no opportunity for collective bargaining or resolution of worker concerns.
Ÿ Truth Out.
Almost all asbestos cancers are being missed by Spain’s official reporting system, a study has found, raising concerns that frequently terminally ill workers are also missing out on compensation. A team headed by Alfredo Menéndez-Navarro of the University of Granada looked at the number of reported asbestos-related cancer cases between 1978 and 2011. These cancers were first officially recognised in Spain in 1978, a move that was expected to result in greater recognition and compensation payouts. But, according to the paper in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, only 164 cases of asbestos-related cancer were recognised in the 33-year period under scrutiny. The researchers say this count misses almost all the cancers related to asbestos. For mesothelioma, they estimate 93.6 per cent of cases in men and 99.7 per cent in women are missing. For asbestos related lung cancers, the effect is worse still, with 98.8 per cent of bronchial and lung cancers in men and 100 per cent in women going unrecognised. The authors conclude it is essential to establish a system for information on and monitoring of asbestos-related cancers – identified as mesothelioma, cancers of the larynx, lungs or ovaries - to ensure for the victims the compensation to which they are entitled. They note the number of people affected in Spain is expected to increase in the coming years. “These findings provide evidence of gross under-recognition of asbestos-related occupational cancers in Spain,” the paper notes. “Future work should investigate cases treated in the National Healthcare System to better establish the impact of asbestos on health in Spain.”
Ÿ García-Gómez M, Menéndez-Navarro A, López RC. Asbestos-related occupational cancers compensated under the Spanish National Insurance System, 1978-2011, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH), volume 21, number 1, pages 31-39, January-March 2015. Eurogip.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/