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A major campaign initiative last week by unions and others campaigners (Risks 703) has already succeeding in increasing pressure on FIFA head Sepp Blatter over exploitative working conditions in Qatar. The groups, including TUC’s Playfair Qatar campaign, challenged key World Cup’s sponsors including Coca-Cola, VISA, McDonalds and Adidas, to press football’s governing body FIFA to demand the radical change needed to protect thousands of migrant workers from deadly abuse. The campaigners say a vast army of indentured labourers, 1.4m strong at the last count, suffer from horrific working and living conditions building the facilities for the 2022 World Cup, to be staged in Qatar, the world’s richest state. “There’s no escape from the dangerous sites and disgusting accommodation, because Qatar’s kafala law puts them utterly at the control of their employer,” writes Stephen Russell in the TUC’s Touchstone blog. “The World Cup’s major sponsors will be paying huge amounts to be associated with the tournament, and the unfolding human rights scandal has the potential to be sponsorship kryptonite.” The campaign is already having an effect. After two days of bad publicity and customers emailing their CEOs, VISA issued a public statement on its website, saying: “We continue to be troubled by the reports coming out of Qatar related to the World Cup and migrant worker conditions. We have expressed our grave concern to FIFA and urge them to take all necessary actions to work with the appropriate authorities and organisations to remedy this situation and ensure the health and safety of all involved.” A weaker although still critical statement was issued by Coca-Cola. Playfair Qatar’s Stephen Russell said “this is a start and shows that it is possible to rattle the financial underpinnings of FIFA’s unscrupulous empire. We still have nothing from McDonalds, Adidas (despite their explicit policy of support for Freedom of Association) or Hyundai and Kia. There’s plenty still to push for, with the added incentive that it seems to be working.”
Workers with terminal illnesses need employment protection and support, unions in the Midlands have said. A new Dying to Work campaign in the region was launched after unions highlighted a loophole in the law that allows firms to dispense with dying workers because of their illness (Risks 703). The campaign was launched at the May meeting of the Midlands TUC Regional Council. Some 70 union delegates came together to raise the profile of the campaign and pledge to promote the initiative. Midlands TUC regional secretary, Lee Barron, said: “People often say that somethings are right and left. Well this is not. This is about right or wrong. Too many people are being put in the appalling situation of fighting for their right to work whilst coming to terms with their terminal illness.” He added: “This campaign may take time. But the morality of the cause cannot be questioned and the Midlands TUC, along with our supporters will keep on fighting for the rights, dignity and respect that terminally ill workers deserve.”
Working in further education has become increasingly stressful over the past six years with staff worn down by constant change, says a report has concluded. ‘Taking its toll: rising stress levels in further education’ used the Health and Safety Executive’s stress management indicators and found the proportion of staff who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement 'I find my job stressful' rose to 87 per cent in 2014, up from 78 per cent in 2012 and 74 per cent in 2008. The survey of 2,250 staff working in further education colleges was carried out by Professor Gail Kinman and Siobhan Wray for the University and College Union (UCU). They found that 2014, 62 per cent of respondents reported they often or always experienced levels of stress they found unacceptable, compared to 45 per cent in 2012 and 40 per cent in 2008. Nearly nine out of ten (89 per cent) agreed they usually felt worn out after the working day. UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “It is clear that working in further education has become more stressful with every passing year. The report details how a lack of stability in the sector is one of the main causes of huge stress for staff. The sector and the people who work in it desperately need some stability.” She added: “For the first time we explored the problems with the constant changes staff have to deal with and we found that more than two-thirds of staff said too many changes had been introduced in their institution.” The union leader warned: “The survey shows a stressful working environment is taking its toll on college staff mentally and physically, with high numbers reporting unacceptable levels of psychological distress and exhaustion. This report sets out mid and long-term targets for colleges to alleviate stress and they should not be ignored.”
A stigma-busting, stress-tackling campaign by the union Prospect is aiming to encourage union reps to seek out preventive measures to tackle the top workplace health problem. Prospect safety specialist Sarah Page is highlighting the union’s initiative after research published by AXA PPP Healthcare in April found two-thirds of managers don’t believe stress, anxiety or depression warrant sick leave. The survey found that one in five managers would worry about an employee’s capability and one in six feared the consequences for themselves, such as it reflecting poorly on their management style or having to pick up additional work. “Our recognition of the importance of overcoming stigma as a gateway to addressing stress underpins the development of Prospect’s ‘Stress, Stigma, Solutions’ campaign,” Page writes in the union’s safety blog. “Aimed to help all types of Prospect representative, it also suggests practical, workable solutions to offer employers, such as assessing and tracking stress and training managers to spot the early signs. Preventing unhealthy levels of stress before they deteriorate into serious illness makes responsible business and economic sense.” She criticised performance management systems as “more stick than carrot”, adding: “At a time when staff ‘behaviours’ are under the spotlight, management behaviours that risk disengaging staff and creating distrust are expedited in the shadows. Few employers have a handle on their sickness data or understand that making it frightening to disclose mental ill-health simply drives up presenteeism.” She said instead of tackling stress using the Health and Safety Executive’s free management standards, employers “are allowing themselves to seduced by expensive ‘well-being’ products’,” with workers expected to “pull themselves together.”
Trades unions need to campaign for proper research into the impact of working longer according to physiotherapist Fiona Hall, with particular attention paid to the effect on women and people with disabilities. Addressing the TUC’s disabled workers conference in London, she said the increased state pension age means that employees will be obliged to work into their late 60s or even longer before they can afford to retire. She said that most of her younger colleagues expected to be working until they are 70 in a physically exacting job. Those working in paediatrics, or with older people or patients who were obese were concerned that they may not be fit for work in their late 60s. “Many physios incur injuries, including high rates among those working with musculoskeletal outpatients, in neurological rehab, and in elderly care,” said the delegate from the physios’ union CSP. “Most continue to work, but are more likely to need to retire early. I am an active member of a group of visually impaired physios, and some of our members have degenerative eye conditions which may mean they will find it increasingly difficult to stay in full-time employment as they enter their 60s and 70s.” Delegates to the TUC event agreed that unions should press for research into the effects of working longer on people with disabilities and women.
Offshore unions are set to ballot for industrial action after talks failed to resolve a dispute over changes to working patterns. GMB and Unite officials held further talks on 20 May over unilateral changes to working conditions for workers covered by the Offshore Contractors Agreement (OCA) in UK waters. In February, GMB warned it had “major concerns” over the health and safety implications of the proposed changes to shift rotas (Risks 691). GMB national officer David Hulse, speaking after last week’s talks, said some progress had been made “but sadly not enough to enable us to go back to members with proposals to resolve this dispute. We will now have to proceed with organising an official ballot for industrial action as the members asked us to do in a consultative ballot earlier this year.” He added: “We remain available for talks should the employers want to pull back from going ahead with the unilateral changes to working practices that has provoked this dispute.” GMB said in February it did not believe proper risk assessments and consultation had taken place on the proposals, adding it was “concerned that moving to new rotas will have an adverse impact on members’ safety, health and quality time.”
Demands from the business lobby for European Union reform could see a return to a system that caused deadly disasters, the union GMB has warned. The union was responding to comments made by CBI president Sir Mike Rake at the business lobby group’s annual dinner last week. Rake, who shared the platform with chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, told the audience of over 1,000 business leaders, politicians and journalists the UK electorate faces a choice “between shaping the future or retreating into the past”. Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: “Sadly it is the CBI that wants to turn the clock back.” He added: “CBI wants the Working Time Directive, Agency Workers Directive and other laws to no longer apply in the UK after the Cameron re-negotiation… The Working Time Directive is not ‘red tape’ as the CBI suggests. It was brought in as excessive hours were identified as the direct cause of the Clapham Junction rail disaster where 35 people died and 500 people were injured on 12 December 1988.” He said a wiring fault caused the signal failure responsible, following an error made by a signalling technician who had worked a seven-day week for the previous thirteen weeks. “The CBI now wants to get rid of the following laws introduced to prevent accidents arising from excessive working hours,” he said.
People with depression need more support to stay in and to return to work, a new report has concluded. The paper from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, ‘Symptoms of depression and their effects on employment’, considers the ways in which some of the symptoms associated with depression can affect an individual’s ability to remain in or to find work. It highlights the “generally poor” recognition of the symptoms most likely to influence employment – including ‘cognitive symptoms’ such as poor concentration, difficulty with decision making, and negative thinking. Where health care professionals do not recognise these symptoms they may go untreated, while poor awareness of employers may lead to the misinterpretation of symptoms as poor performance, it says. The Work Foundation’s Professor Stephen Bevan said: “The symptoms of depression currently present very real barriers to working, but by improving access to the right support, and with the right attitudes, they need not continue to be.” An April 2015 TUC report featured cases histories where unions were working to prevent mental health problems arising, or to work with employers to enable a person with a mental health condition to continue in work (Risks 697).
The Blacklist Support Group (BSG) is applying to the Home Office for ‘core participant’ status in the Pitchford public inquiry into failures in undercover policing (Risks 695). The move follows claims in the book ‘Blacklisted’ by BSG secretary Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain that undercover police officers spied on trade union activists from the construction industry and intelligence gathered was passed onto major construction firms. This information was used to blacklist union safety activists. BSG says it is the only organisation to have officially complained to the IPCC over police collusion in the Consulting Association blacklist scandal. IPCC admitted in correspondence with BSG that “every Special Branch in the country routinely supplied information about prospective employees’ in correspondence from the police watchdog.” As a ‘core participant’ in the Pitchford inquiry, set up by Home Secretary Teresa May, the BSG would be part of a central group of parties entitled to some input into the remit and to see the evidence before it is put into the public domain. BSG secretary Dave Smith said police spying on trade unionists was not an “aberration”, adding: “Hopefully by the BSG applying for core participant status, we will be able to guarantee that spying on trade unions and passing over information to private companies becomes a theme within the Pitchford inquiry.”
Construction firm Skanska is to make it compulsory for all mobile construction machines on its sites to be fitted with 360 degree all-round visibility cameras. The firm says the new standard is being introduced to help reduce the risk of accidental contact between site operatives and plant, which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says is one of the top fatality risks on construction sites. Skanska says all-round visibility cameras will help plant-operators to see workers and pedestrians within a five-metre radius and assist in overcoming blind spots. From 30 July 2015 all new plant introduced to Skanska sites will need to comply and from 29 October 2015 all current plant will need to meet the standard. Greg Craig, executive vice president of Skanska UK, said: “We have been working with our supply chain partners to help them to achieve the new standards, ready for when they come into operation later in the year.” He added: “This improvement is not in itself the answer to eliminating risk to people from plant. However, we are committed to making our sites as safe as possible and where people and plant have to work in close proximity we believe these devices will make sites safer.”
A businessman in charge of converting an old mill has been jailed, and his father, the owner of the building, given a suspended jail sentence following an incident in which a worker died in a fall. Ivars Bahmanis, a 55-year-old Lithuanian national living and working in Blackburn, was involved in building work at the former canal works building when he fell nearly eight metres. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation discovered that another employee, Juris Lesinkis, a Latvian national living and working in Blackburn, had fallen from height and broken his leg at the same site, an incident that was not reported to HSE. At a 19 May sentencing hearing, Preston Crown Court heard that Mr Bahmanis was carrying out refurbishment work involving installing metal brackets for new roof joists when the incident happened on 29 January 2012. While he was working alone he fell from the wall, “due to a complete lack of safety measures being in place”, said HSE. Three members of the same family had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to criminal charges related to the death. Tameem Shafi, 31, who was in charge of the project, was sent to prison for 45 weeks. Mohammed Shafi Karbhari, 59, the owner of the mill, was sentenced to 24 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years and ordered to pay £20,000 towards prosecution costs. Umar Shafi, 20, who was in charge of the work on the day, was sentenced to 120 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £3,900 towards costs. The HSE investigation found that the defendants had failed to plan the work at height, employ competent contractors and had cut corners to save money and “were well aware that work was being carried out in an unsafe manner using unskilled workers.”
A fertiliser company has been fined after one of its employees died when he became trapped in an agriculture spreader whilst carrying out maintenance. Kevin Alderton, 34, was working as a spreader operator for Bunn Fertiliser Limited in Seething, Norfolk, when the incident happened in February 2013. Spreader operators were expected to carry out maintenance on their own vehicles, which have complex computer controlled hydraulic systems for the four wheels. Mr Alderton was working on the vehicle while it was still running when the rear wheels turned, crushing him against the chassis. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company had failed to fully assess the risks of carrying out maintenance and had not provided safe systems of work or sufficient training or supervision, something Kevin Alderton had raised concerns about in 2009 and 2010. Bunn Fertiliser Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £19,709. HSE inspector Ivan Brooke said: “Mr Alderton’s death was entirely preventable. It is a known risk that working on machinery while it is still operating can lead to major injuries or, as in this tragic case, death. Benn Fertiliser Limited failed to properly assess those risks, put in place safe systems of work and ensure their employees were trained and properly supervised.”
A medical equipment manufacturer has been fined after two workers were injured by dangerous parts of machinery in separate incidents at its premises in West Sussex. Welland Medical Ltd was prosecuted at Worthing Magistrates’ Court after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that both incidents occurred because of guarding failures on machines. On the first occasion, on 29 June 2011, an employee from Crawley was left with a fractured finger as he attempted to make adjustments to material on a lamination line. His hand was pulled between two rollers because there was no guarding in place to prevent him from accessing the moving parts. As a result, HSE served two improvement notices requiring the company to take action to ensure the standards of guarding around potentially dangerous machines were raised to an acceptable level. However, a second worker, also from Crawley, suffered cuts and bruising to her hand on 11 September 2013 when she trapped it between a fixed and a moving part while trying to clear a blockage. Interlocks on the machine had been overridden, which HSE found had become common practice and was effectively endorsed by the company. Welland Medical Ltd was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £6,820 in costs after admitting two criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. HSE inspector Stephen Green said: “Guards had been removed on the first occasion and interlocked guards were overridden in the second. Taking guarding away from machines or overriding systems to allow access to dangerous parts should be only carried out with considerable planning and with alternative safe systems of work in place to protect workers. It must not be routine, as was the case here.”
A development company has been sentenced for repeated criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations. On 6 February 2013 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors undertook a routine inspection of a Landrose Developments Limited site in Willesden, where 10 houses and 10 flats were under construction. Breaches of work at height rules resulted in HSE requiring improvements. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that despite this action, the breaches were repeated at the construction site with HSE again demanding improvements. A 30 August 2013 inspection found further breaches, with the firm failing to provide adequate means to prevent persons, materials or objects falling a distance liable to cause personal injury. This resulted in further HSE again demanding action to improve safety on work at heights. Landrose Developments Limited was fined £16,000 with costs of £2,221 after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. HSE said “this was a proactive prosecution for repeated work at height breaches on more than one site, without any adequate means to prevent persons, materials or objects falling and causing injury.”
Truck drivers and family members left devastated by truck crashes stormed the headquarters of major Australian retailer Coles in Melbourne last week to demand that the firm sign up to a safety charter to stop “carnage” on the roads. The group delivered shopping trollies of evidence to Coles chief executive John Durkan, which they said showed how the company’s contracting practices put pressure on truck drivers to drive faster, for longer, with over-loaded vehicles and in a stressed and tired state. Protesters also blocked a busy Melbourne road during the demonstration. They say pressure on drivers leads to on average 330 deaths a year in truck-related crashes. The transport union TWU says this is the reason why trucking is Australia’s deadliest profession, with truck drivers 15 times more likely to die than other workers. “We are here to tell Coles that we demand accountability. By cutting their transport costs they are ultimately responsible for practices which see drivers under pressure,” said Tony Sheldon, TWU national secretary. “Coles: your contracts are killing people,” he told the protest, ahead of a TWU safety summit on trucking. Lystra Tagliaferri, whose husband David died in 2011 when a fatigued truck driver veered off the road, told the protest she supports the under-threat Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which examines pressure on drivers and can set safe pay rates. “I am living a death sentence and I don’t want other families to have to go through this,” she said. Dave Oliver of the national union federation ACTU called on Coles to back the safety charter and for the federal government to leave the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal in place so it can set safe rates for drivers.
Cambodia’s plans to further reduce its weak labour protections have come under attack from the international union movement. A series of new measures, being developed behind the scenes by the government, would further restrict rights for the country’s impoverished workforce. The new legislation would exclude large segments of the workforce from labour law protection, set unreasonably high membership thresholds for union registration, give the government sweeping powers to suspend unions, undermine collective bargaining rights and allow government officials to ban strikes or lock-outs without proper recourse to the courts. Cambodia is also believed to be preparing to export a first batch of workers to Qatar, following a 2011 agreement between the two countries. A Cambodia-based recruitment agency has confirmed that the authorities have now issued it a permit to send workers to Qatar, where the “kafala” system enslaves workers to their employers and where unions are banned for foreign workers. At least one migrant worker dies each day in Qatar, union say. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC said: “Cambodia’s labour laws are already seriously deficient, and these measures would tilt the balance further in favour of employers, leaving workers more vulnerable to exploitation and unjustified sanctions by government officials. On top of that, the government is now preparing to allow Cambodian workers to be sent to Qatar, where the brutal reality of work belies the promises that recruitment agencies frequently give to unsuspecting migrant workers.” Referring to last week’s tragic accident where 21 Cambodian garment workers died and several more were seriously injured when the truck they were being transported in collided with a bus, Burrow said: “Workers are too often treated as expendable commodities in Cambodia. The government needs to strengthen labour laws rather than leaving people vulnerable to employer negligence and exploitation.”
The European Union scrapped planned pesticide regulations under pressure from US officials over the controversial transatlantic trade deal TTIP (Risks 703), newly published documents have revealed. Documents obtained by the Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show a visit from high-level officials from the US Mission to Europe and the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) in July 2013 convinced the EU to drop planned rules that could have led to the banning of 31 hazardous pesticides. AmCham representatives reportedly “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances during the meeting, and US trade officials “emphasised the need for an impact assessment.” The Guardian reported that the European Commission at first resisted, claiming that though it backed TTIP “they would not like to be seen as lowering EU standards.” However EC officials relented later that same day, a letter from the desk of the Commission's secretary-general has shown. The pesticides the rules would have affected contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have been linked to occupational breast cancers (Risks 686), reproductive problems and other health concerns (Risks 660). The EU will vote on legislation to regulate EDCs in 2016 at the earliest, instead of 2014 as was planned previously. A second report released last week by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) revealed how work to define criteria for EDCs has been stalled with the European Commission as a response to heavy industry lobbying.
EU health policy on endocrine disruption collatoral damage in Commission health service SANTE's power play, PAN Europe. A toxic affair: How the chemical lobby blocked action on hormone disrupting chemicals, Corporate Europe Observatory. ChemSec news report. The Guardian. The Independent.
Taxi drivers in Calcutta should not work during the hottest part of the day during a deadly heatwave, their union has said. The West Bengal Taxi Workers' Union is urging yellow taxi drivers to stay off the roads from 11am to 4pm until the weather becomes less oppressive. The call, which has been supported by other unions, came after two drivers collapsed in their taxis, with their subsequent deaths attributed to the heat. “We are not forcing it on anyone. But we have told all drivers and taxi owners to stay away from the roads because of the extreme heat,” said Pramod Jha, the secretary of the Taxi Workers' Union. “We have asked police not to slap cases of refusal for these few days in the afternoon when our drivers are resting.” Bimal Guha of the Bengal Taxi Association, one of the oldest taxi unions, said: “We would also appeal to commuters to consider paying 15 per cent more at night because drivers have their families and they need to be compensated for the afternoon break.” Temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius combined with high humidity have led to “unbearable” conditions, the unions say. “We would appeal to commuters to be considerate if the drivers refuse,” said Sambhunath Dey, secretary of the Progressive Taximen's Union.
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