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The TUC has criticised government plans to stop injured workers from reclaiming their legal costs in compensation cases against negligent employers worth under £2,000. The union body warns that the Ministry of Justice proposals, included in its Prisons and Courts Bill, will force many workers, including those on low incomes, to pay for legal advice when seeking compensation for workplace injuries or work-related ill-health. These new rules will apply even when the harm suffered is proven to be the result of negligence by their employer. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People injured at work because of their employer’s negligence shouldn't have to pay their own legal costs. This will stop many low-paid and vulnerable workers from bringing claims. These plans are dangerous and will encourage bad bosses to cut corners with health and safety.” She added: “My advice to workers is to join a union. There are 50 per cent fewer accidents at unionised workplaces.” The government stepped back from an earlier proposal which would have seen all work-related claims under £5,000 included in the small claims procedure where legal costs would not have been available (Risks 780). This would have made over 95 per cent of work-related injury or illness claims ineligible for legal costs.
The UK’s over-stretched workers gave their employers £33.6 billion of free labour last year by doing unpaid overtime, according to a new analysis of official statistics from the TUC. The TUC’s calculations were published on 24 February, to mark its 13th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. The union body says prior to this day, the average person doing unpaid overtime has effectively worked the year so far for free. More than 5.3 million people put in an average of 7.7 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2016. This is equivalent to an average of £6,301 they have each missed out in their pay packets. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady urged workers to “make a stand” on 24 February, making sure they took a proper lunch break and went home on time. Commenting on the uncertain prospects for the working time regulations, which were introduced as a health and safety measure, she said: “The government still doesn’t have a water-tight plan to stop working time protections getting weaker when we leave the EU. The prime minister should promise to put a guarantee into our future trade deals with Europe that British workers will have a level playing field with EU workers.”
Unions have backed the TUC call for an end to exploitative working hours. Speaking on the 24 February publication of the TUC’s latest analysis of unpaid overtime in the UK, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the lecturers’ union UCU, said: “These figures reveal how staff in our schools, colleges and universities are going that extra unpaid mile. People working in education are more likely than most to be found putting in extra unpaid overtime and guilty of clocking up some of the most free hours each week. The time has come for schools, colleges and universities to recognise the hard work their staff do, reward them fairly and sort out their workloads.” Kevin Courtney, general secretary of teaching union NUT, said: “Once again, the TUC has found that teachers and the education sector as a whole are subject to enormous levels of unpaid overtime. This situation is untenable. Long and unmanageable working hours are the biggest single reason cited by teachers for leaving the profession.” He added: “It is the government's obsession with continual change alongside punitive accountability and assessment measures which has created this problem.” Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the media union NUJ, said: “Unpaid overtime and long hours is a chronic problem in the media and creative industries. The NUJ is campaigning on this issue in many of our workplaces and we are pressing media employers to recognise the detrimental effects of unpaid overtime, which is often exacerbated by staff shortages and job cuts.”
Teaching staff already know they are overworked and want the government to get on and do something about it, their unions have said. The education unions were commenting after the long-overdue findings of the Department for Education’s Teachers' Working Time Survey – finally published on the TUC’s Work Your Proper Hours Day - revealed teachers in England are working on average 54.4 hours per week, with 93 per cent of teachers saying workload is a fairly or very serious problem. NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said new government guidance is “no more than a belated step in the right direction.” He said: “Teachers are calling for an enforceable limit on their working hours outside teaching time, as the open-ended nature of the teacher contract is clearly failing them and their pupils.” NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The education of children and young people will not be improved if teachers remain shackled to workload demands that are impossible to deliver.” She added: “A coherent government–wide strategy is needed which secures effective downward pressure to the workload and working hours which are driving teachers and head teachers out of the profession.” And ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said “the action plan published today is unambitious and will struggle to change cultures or to make an impact on workload levels.” She added the government “needs to better support leaders and make national level interventions relating to the things in its power. The government must tackle the key driver of workload and reform its school accountability structures and systems. And the government must conduct workload impact assessments for all policies, and control the cumulative effects of policy change and implementation.”
Airlines are not doing enough to address fatiguing rosters and this will lead to many UK pilots suffering ‘burnout’, according to flight safety experts at the pilots’ union BALPA. One year on from the introduction of EU-wide pilot duty hours regulations, the union’s head of flight safety, Dr Rob Hunter, warned that fatigue remains a huge issue for the industry, and not enough is being done to tackle it, especially ‘burnout’. Burnout can result from pilots having to fly fatiguing rosters and perform standby duties year in, year out, and can seriously impact mental and physical wellbeing in the long-term, said Dr Hunter. “Pilot fatigue is one of the biggest threats to flight safety; it acts powerfully to increase the risk of pilot error,” he said. “BALPA’s expert analysis of roster patterns across the airlines shows that pilots are being asked to work rosters that will be fatiguing. We are getting feedback from our members that they’re frequently exhausted, we believe that over time this fatigue could lead to widespread burnout – where pilots’ long-term health and wellbeing is affected.” He said many pilots are opting to go part-time because they cannot cope with the pressures. “Fatiguing rosters are not just a problem in budget airlines but rather across the industry and need to be addressed,” he said. “The future health of UK pilots is at stake if changes are not made soon. BALPA is committed to tackling this problem and will continue to work with airlines to reduce rostering patterns and ensure pilots are given the support from their employer to operate safely.”
The workers who handle the London Fire Brigade’s 999 calls are dangerously stressed by a failing control system, their union GMB has warned. The union says workers operating the clunky Vision command and control system used for call line identification and caller location identification have found it is impeding their efforts to respond quickly to emergency calls. The union’s survey in September last year found the system’s shortcomings - including addresses not on the system, slow speed of address searching and matching and typed data disappearing from the address search box - were the top source of stress for workers. GMB says the response from management to its survey findings ‘has been inadequate.’ Chris Moore, the GMB lead representative at the Control Mobilising Centre said: “Since day one the Vision system has got progressively worse. As they try to resolve one problem, more appear.” He added the system, run on a £19.6 million contract with Capita, “has been a real headache for the staff.” GMB organiser Clive Smith said: “Members taking emergency calls at the London Fire Brigade Control Room are suffering stress and anxiety caused by failings in the Vision mobilising system. There should be no further delay in sorting these issues out.” He added: “I have heard about members finding addresses more quickly on their smart phones than on this system. This is a service where every minute lost is potentially a matter of life or death. Once again a system imposed without consultation with the experienced staff who will use it has shown itself to be unfit for purpose.”
Tube workers at one of London Underground’s busiest stations are to be balloted for industrial action after one member was sacked and two others disciplined for stepping in to stop a violent assault on colleagues. In the incident, which occurred on the London Bridge line last November, a fare-dodger assaulted three members of staff, including punching in the stomach a pregnant colleague. Another staff member had his glasses stolen and another was punched twice. That member of staff has now been fired in what the union RMT describes as an “appalling miscarriage of justice.” The staff member who initially challenged the fare-dodger to produce a ticket or oyster card has been disciplined on was RMT described as the “ludicrous, trumped-up charge of ‘inciting or provoking an incident’.” A third member of staff, who defused the situation after being repeatedly threatened with violence, has also been disciplined by London Underground. RMT said this worker “should have been commended for their bravery.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This is one of the most appalling abuses of the LU [London Underground] disciplinary procedure that RMT has ever come across. This was a shocking, violent incident and those that bore the brunt of it should have been supported and commended by the company. Instead they have been sacked or disciplined in what is the most appalling miscarriage of justice.” He added: “London Underground should do the decent thing – reinstate our member, lift the disciplinary action and send out the message that fare-dodging and violence will not be tolerated and that staff in the front line will get the support and assistance that they need.”
A chef has won an unfair dismissal case after being fired for blowing the whistle on a dangerous grill and deep-fat fryer at the London bar where he worked. Marcelo Lagos was head chef at the Number 1 Bar in London Bridge. He was dismissed in 2015 - just after he raised his concerns about a burn he had sustained on faulty equipment in the kitchen - having been told the kitchen was closing. In fact, the kitchen remained open after Mr Lagos left, prompting him to go to an unemployment tribunal. In a unanimous judgment, the tribunal ruled that Mr Lagos was really dismissed for raising safety concerns about the company’s salamander grill and deep-fat fryer. The tribunal found that Mr Lagos’s disclosures were made “in the public interest because anyone who came into that kitchen was likely to be endangered by faulty equipment.” The company did not attend the tribunal, which also found that Mr Lagos had suffered racial discrimination, not been given the correct holiday pay or notice and that the company hadn’t given him a proper contract of employment. The chef was awarded £36,581 compensation. “It was an arduous and exhausting job. But thanks to GMB everything went well, I am very grateful since from the first moment I counted on GMB support and advice, from the dismissal to the final hearing,” Mr Lagos said after the hearing. GMB southern regional organiser Jim McDermott said: “This is a shocking case where the employer has failed on so many different levels to abide by well-established laws that regulate the workplace relationship. Health and safety in the workplace is a fundamental right that GMB pursues on behalf of all workers and GMB will always seek to support members who are victimised for health and safety reasons.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
Schoolchildren and teachers are being put at risk of asbestos exposure in around one in five schools across England, according to new government figures. A report from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) revealed 19 per cent of schools have not been safely managing asbestos risks and in more than 100 schools the situation has been so serious that the Department for Education (DfE) had to step in. More than 5,500 schools took part in the research into asbestos management in schools, which was conducted last year. Of those, 4,646 (83.1 per cent) reported that asbestos was present. The research results also revealed significant failures to guard against the risks of asbestos. “Around 20 per cent were not fully compliant, in that they did not have fully documented plans, processes and procedures in place at the time of the data collection; or did not know if asbestos was present,” the report stated. There were 114 schools where there was “significant cause for concern”. The findings prompted the EFA to issue new guidance, with the agency warning “poor management of asbestos in your school could endanger lives.” Responding to the report, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “It is deeply concerning that 20 per cent of those schools responding to the data collection were not fully compliant with regulations. It is shocking that 2 per cent were sufficiently concerning for the DfE to follow up with the respective responsible body.” Calling on the government to bring forward proposals for the phased removal of asbestos from schools “without delay”, she said: “Given this was a voluntary process with only 25 per cent of schools responding, it is reasonable to assume that schools who know they are not compliant would be less likely to respond, therefore the true number who are failing to comply could be substantially higher, with hundreds of schools putting pupils and teachers at risk by failing to manage asbestos effectively.” She said: “These results seriously call into question the DfE’s fundamental assumption that asbestos can be managed safely left in situ, as clearly this is not happening in too many cases.”
Five men have been jailed for running a ‘forgery factory’, churning out documents including fake construction skills cards. A raid by immigration officers in east London discovered a bedroom converted into a fully-equipped factory manufacturing British, European and Indian documents. Snaresbrook Crown Court heard that the men were all involved in creating and distributing between 50,000 to 100,000 false documents including passports, driving licences and Construction Skills Certification Scheme cards. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which runs the scheme, supported the investigation by supplying evidence on genuine CSCS cards and verifying the status of counterfeit cards and qualifications that had been produced. Sandeep Singh and Harjinder Kingre, both from east London, denied their role in running the bedroom operation, but a jury convicted them both of conspiracy to make and supply articles for use in fraud. They were each jailed for eight and a half years. Pritpal Singh admitted his role in the plot, along with another charge related to possessing one of the fake passports, and was jailed for six years. Satnman Hayer and Gurjit Singh both admitted buying forged documents to sell on for profit. Hayer was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail while Singh will face sentencing at a later date.
Islington Borough Council has received a six figure fine after a schoolboy’s finger was cut off by a sander. Southwark Crown Court heard that on 25 March 2014, the 12-year-old was in a design and technology class making animal shapes out of plywood. The class used hand saws and some pupils were using a belt sanding machine. The child who was injured was using the machine for the first time, along with fellow pupils. They were shown how to use it by another pupil, but none knew the purpose of the metal guard for the sanding belt, which was in a raised position. When the schoolboy put the shape to the belt, it flipped downwards into the gap, pulling his left hand forward and trapping it between the shape and the belt. The boy’s left hand middle finger had to be amputated down to knuckle. He was absent from school for several weeks. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the teacher had not received adequate training to recognise that the machine was in an unsafe condition or to recognise the risk of allowing pupils to use the machinery unsupervised and without suitable training. The design and technology class had been without a technician for eight weeks prior to the incident. On the day the injury occurred, the teacher was supervising the class alone. Islington Council pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £19,865. HSE inspector Jane Wolfenden said: “It is important to create a safe teaching environment for pupils where they can learn to appreciate and manage the risks they will face in life.” She added: “If the teacher had been appropriately trained on how to use the equipment for the lesson, they would have been able to show the pupils how to properly use the sanding machine. Instead a young boy sustained an extremely painful injury that could have easily been avoided.”
The operator of one of Britain’s most iconic stately homes has been fined after a domestic servant was crushed to death by a lift. Arthur Mellar, 48, a butler at Burghley House in Stamford, was killed on 12 July 2014 when a luggage lift descended on him as he was trying to free an item of luggage that had become stuck. Peterborough Crown Court heard that the lift was being used to transport guests’ bags from the ground to second floor in the private area of Burghley House, when one of the bags became jammed and the lift stopped. The butler attempted to free the jammed bags but the lift descended on him, trapping his head between the lift cage and the bannister of the stairwell housing the lift, causing fatal injuries. Examination of the lift showed that it had not been fitted with a slack rope detector. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said a competent lift engineer should have identified defects with the lift, including the lack of a slack rope detector. Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £266,000 and ordered to pay costs of £16,863. HSE inspector Alison Ashworth said: “This was a completely avoidable incident, and Burghley House admitted its role in it, but of course that will be little comfort for Mr Mellar’s family.” She added: “I would urge any business using lifts, particularly older lifts such as the one in this case, watching this case to ensure correct measures are taken in relation to maintenance of lifts and that competent lift engineers are employed when necessary to identify defects.” Burghley House has featured in movies including The Da Vinci Code and Pride and Prejudice.
Furniture retailer DFS Trading Limited has been fined £1 million after its ‘fundamental and systematic’ criminal safety failings led to a worker suffering serious neck and head injuries. Derby Magistrates’ Court heard that on 2 July 2015 the worker was unloading wooden furniture frames, when he was struck by an unsecured furniture arm that fell from an unstable load. The impact knocked him unconscious and he suffered serious neck and head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that DFS failed to adequately manage the risks of heavy loads being moved between its manufacturing sites. The court heard the company also failed to supervise the work taking place. A number of near misses had previously been reported from unsecured loads. DFS Trading Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £15,099. HSE inspector Lyn Spooner said: “DFS is a large national organisation. The fundamental and systemic failings identified in their health and safety management systems is far from what would be expected from a company of their size who has the ability to deliver higher standards of safety. Unfortunately DFS were unable to do that on this occasion and a preventable accident was allowed to occur.”
A key European Parliament committee has backed union calls for tighter rules on reproductive and cancer hazards at work. On 28 February, members of the parliament’s employment and social affairs committee accepted an amendment that would bring reproductive hazards under the scope of a revised law. The MEPs also accepted that an occupational exposure limit for crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per m3 should be phased in, half the level sought by the Commission and industry lobbyists. An exposure limit for cancer causing chromium VI of 1 microgram/m3 was also accepted, in stark contrast to the 25 microgram level proposed by the Commission and the industry. A tighter wood dust standard was also accepted. The report was presented by Marita Ulvskog, a Socialist and Democrat group Euro MP and vice-chair of the employment and social affairs committee. Speaking after the vote, which returned a resounded 38 to 6 majority in favour of the amendments, she said: “The committee is proposing to widen the scope of the EU legislation on the protection of workers from carcinogens or mutagens at work to include reprotoxic substances.” She added: “We also need to ensure that workers exposed to these harmful substances benefit from lifelong monitoring. It does not matter how long you have been exposed to these substances, you can still develop life-threatening diseases long after you have ended your job.” According to the safety unit on the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), the vote by MEPs was an ‘important victory’ for unions. But it added: “This vote is only a step towards the adoption of a directive that would save thousands of lives each year from the minimalist proposals that had been made by the Commission and had the support of industrial lobbies.” The full European Parliament will vote on the amendments in April, with the agreement of the Council of Ministers then required.
Experts with industry links dominate a committee advising the European Commission on the occupational exposure limits for hazardous substances, an investigation has found. A report published on 24 February in the French daily newspaper Le Monde revealed that 15 out of the 22 members of the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limit Values (SCOEL) have ties with companies in sectors likely to be affected by the Commission’s plans to adopt new occupational exposure limits (OELs) for certain carcinogens or mutagens at work. The paper established the links between the 15 SCOEL experts and companies including BASF, Shell and Monsanto or trade lobby groups. Laurent Vogel of the European Trade Union Institute’s (ETUI’s) safety unit said the revelations raise concerns about the credibility of the standard setting process. He told Le Monde: “Excessively high OELs are a shortcut to disaster. Workers wrongly believe that they are protected, whereas in practice such OELs are the equivalent of handing companies a licence to kill.”
The dangerous and abusive employment practices used by hitech giant Samsung have been challenged publicly by the global union confederation ITUC. In a high profile social media campaign ahead of the industry’s showcase Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona from 27 February to 2 March, the union body said “beneath Samsung’s shiny exterior as a global electronics giant is a corporate culture that is callously geared towards maximising profit to the detriment of the everyday lives of its workers. It’s a modern tech company with medieval labour practices, whose calling cards are union busting, poverty wages, and insecure and unsafe work conditions.” ITUC is calling for public support for the “largely invisible workforce of 1.5 million low-paid supply chain workers from across the globe who make Samsung products under precarious and sometimes deadly conditions.” The union body adds: “Though Samsung would have to suffer very little to raise wages across its supply chain, its workers pay a huge price for the work they do: at least 79 workers have died of cancer related diseases after being exposed to chemicals used in the Samsung production process. And did the company take responsibility? Indeed not - they refused to name the chemical that led to the deaths, citing trade secrets.” In an open letter calling for people to join its social media campaign, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “It’s time Samsung and other tech giants acknowledged the true cost of modern tech by shedding their medieval practices. With all eyes on Samsung at the Mobile World Congress right now, your shares right now will have maximum impact.”
A 2015 study revealing a sharp spike in death rates among white working class Americans, bucking a long-term downward trend, has prompted research establishing that the ‘diseases of distress’ responsible – alcohol and drug-related diseases and suicides – are linked to work factors. This associations were established by a group of work environment doctoral students at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Professor Laura Punnett explained in a posting in the public health blog The Pump Handle. “We developed a set of possible causal pathways to each of the three ‘diseases of distress.’ All three causal diagrams highlight the potential roles of workplace injury and of psychosocial stressors, such as discrimination, or jobs that are particularly demanding but in which workers have little control over how they do their job.” For suicide, “we found support for at least two of our proposed pathways to work-related suicide. One involves the impact of job loss and/or unemployment and the other is the long-term effects of psychosocial job strain.” On alcohol, she noted: “One of the potential consequences of a stressful work environment is heavy and/or binge drinking, resulting in alcohol-related deaths. Daily work stress and job strain may interact with non-work situations and individual traits to influence individuals’ ability to cope with stress.” The study took a limited look at the role of work factors in drug-related deaths, concentrating on the use of prescription opiates to treat injury-related pain. Punnett noted: “There are a number of tragic anecdotes showing that this has happened to individuals following work injuries, but again very few formal studies that help us to quantify this entire pathway and the number of people who might be affected in this way.”
Ÿ The Pump Handle. Anne Case and Angus Deaton. Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), volume 112, number 49, December 2015.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/