|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TUC has ripped apart the latest attempt by a right-wing lobby group to claim paid release for union reps comes at a cost. TUC national organiser Carl Roper said the annually regurgitated claim by the Taxpayers’ Alliance that union volunteers are a drain on the public purse and taxpayers gets picked up uncritically by sections of the media, despite the irrefutable evidence proving precisely the opposite. Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he points to research and government publications showing the union role in the workplace is good for business, the economy and the health of workers. He says this establishes five areas that benefit from the activity of workplace union reps: skills and training; exit rates, labour turnover and dispute resolution; productivity, and worker safety. He said in workplaces where there is direct trade union health and safety representation there were much lower injury rates, translating to between 34,000 and 52,000 fewer working days lost. “There are just 170,000 union representatives in the UK amongst a workforce of around 25 million. It would be difficult to find another group of employees who in addition to carrying out their regular job make such a significant contribution to the UK economy as a result of volunteer activity,” Roper concluded. “It is a role acknowledged and valued not just by unions and their members, but also by some of the UK’s biggest and most successful employers. Jaguar Land Rover, British Aerospace, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, British Airways, Morrison’s, Asda to name just a few all have and provide paid time off to union reps. Their contribution is also acknowledged by the CBI. The case for union reps and the small amount of paid time off that they receive is conclusive.”
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is urging the government not to restrict access to justice for victims of workplace accidents or diseases. Speaking ahead of the union’s lobby of parliament on 22 March 2017, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said doubling the ‘small claims’ definition to £2,000 would mean many injured workers were denied justice, as these claims do not quality for legal costs (Risks 790). John Hannett said “we believe the £2,000 limit is too high and it should remain at £1,000, which is a fair definition of a small claim. The complexity of workplace injury cases make them entirely unsuitable for a small claims court, where the costs of taking a case cannot be recovered.” He added: “Workplace injuries and diseases are often complicated cases that cannot easily be taken by individuals without proper legal representation and expert reports. Raising the small claims court limit could mean some of those costs falling on the victim, which is grossly unjust.” Citing a string of Usdaw case studies, he said reducing the ability of workers to seek legal redress for work-related injuries or ill-health would also hurt health and safety. “Our efforts to make workplaces safer would be undermined if employers were not financially liable for accidents and diseases because workers’ cannot access justice,” he said. “Less scrupulous employers will undoubtedly let safety standards slip. The government needs to think very carefully about how they proceed, to ensure that there aren’t unintended consequences for workers’ health and safety.”
Offshore workers say the Super Puma helicopters involved in a series of crashes and other safety incidents must have full official safety clearance before they are allowed back into service. The union was speaking out about the grounded helicopters after key offshore and aviation industry players gathered behind closed doors for an update on the investigation into a deadly crash in Norway. The possibility of a return to service of Super Puma helicopters was discussed as part of the meeting with manufacturer Airbus, a proposal that has been quashed by air safety regulators. RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said: “We just made our position clear that we have got to wait for the investigation to be completed before we consider the return to service. Everybody agreed that this was the case anyway. The CAA and the Norwegian CAA has not and will not change until the conclusion of the investigation, which is at the end of April.” He added: “Airbus showed us a lot of stuff that they are doing but whether that returns the aircraft to service or not is not for Airbus to decide – it is for the regulators, the oil industry and the workers to decide.” The Airbus aircraft have been grounded since a fatal crash off Norway last April killed all 13 people on board. In the wake of the tragedy off Turoey, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) stopped flights for both the model involved, the H225, and its sister chopper the AS332 L2. Although the flight ban was lifted back in October, aviation regulators in the UK and Norway decided to maintain the grounding until a full investigation into the cause of the Norway accident was completed.
New official figures showing a sharp rise in the number of workers on zero hours contracts demonstrate the need for an urgent reform of employment law, the TUC has said. Commenting on figures published this week by the Office for National Statistics, which show that the number of people on zero hours contracts has increased by 13 per cent over the past year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Zero hours contracts allow bosses to treat workers like disposable labour. If you’re on a zero hours contract you have no guarantee of work from one day to another. Put a foot wrong and you can be let go in a heartbeat. Turn down a shift because your kid’s sick and you can be left with little or no work.” She added: “That’s why employment law needs dragging law into the 21st century. Far too many workers do not have the power to challenge bad working conditions. Zero hours contracts can be a nightmare to plan your life around. And are a huge drain on the public finances. The growth in zero hours working over the last decade is costing the government almost £2bn a year.” This is because zero hours contract workers earn significantly less than regular employees, so pay less tax and national insurance. The TUC has launched a new initiative to allow workers to share experiences of insecure work anonymously. The findings of the survey will be presented in May. Insecure work has been linked to higher rates of workplace injuries and ill-health (Risks 787). A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study found insecure workers were much less able to take leave when sick (Risks 711).
The glossy launch of Healthcare Science Week by NHS Employers masks a world of overwork, stress, plummeting morale and staff shortages in the NHS, Unite has warned. The union said its survey of healthcare science members paints a picture of a dedicated workforce ‘bending to breaking point’ under the weight of the NHS financial crisis. Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “With a fanfare, the NHS Employers organisation is promoting Healthcare Science Week to highlight the profession as an attractive career. But what is being sidestepped is that the profession is on its knees. However dedicated you are, it is a struggle to perform to your best in an environment of cost-cutting, the threat of privatisation and work-related stress.” She added: “The ghosts at the banquet are the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) for England, and Unite fears that healthcare science could be centralised into regional centres making it easier to privatise, which, we believe, is the true purpose of the STP programme.” Unite’s survey of healthcare scientists found a ‘staggering’ 78 per cent blamed increased workplace stress for a drop in morale. The chair of Unite’s healthcare sciences committee, Ian Evans, said: “This survey only goes to confirm what all healthcare scientists working in the NHS already knew.” He added: “How long are colleagues expected to continue to work in an unrewarded and underfunded way is in serious doubt. These concerns have to be addressed now because we cannot be sure how much longer it will be before the service collapses.”
Retail union leader Usdaw has welcomed a clarification from Thames Valley Police, after a report in the Telegraph suggested the force “will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal goods worth less than £100”. A statement from the police force noted: “The Force would like to reassure communities that all reports of shoplifting are investigated - regardless of the value of goods stolen. In cases in which there is an immediate threat, such as a shoplifter becoming violent, the public can be assured that officers will be there for who need help.” Usdaw general secretary John Hannett welcomed the clarification. “We have long been concerned that theft from shops is not taken seriously and sometimes regarded as a victimless crime against large companies, but the reality is very different,” he said. “Shop theft is a very serious issue that leads to verbal abuse, threats and physical violence against shopworkers.” The union leader added: “Retail crime remains too high and is a growing problem, there needs to be action to protect shopworkers. Some violent criminals charged with assault do not get to court and those who do can receive derisory sentences. In other cases the offender isn’t even charged and victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted. It is time for the government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. We need the police to respond to incidents, investigate and prosecute theft from shops. Retail staff are an important part of our communities and that role must be valued, respected and protected.”
Collective bargaining from trade unions can play a key role in tackling violence against women, campaigners have said, but they add the government must also take action. Delegates at the TUC women’s conference heard how Britain has some of the highest levels of workplace violence against women in Europe. Dr Jane Pillinger said that abuse of women must be incorporated into existing equalities policies. “When this issue is recognised in government legislation, it will make it much easier to use collective bargaining power,” Dr Pillinger said. She suggested that Britain should look to the example set by Denmark, where a joint task force made up of trade unions is a model for collective bargaining agreements in tackling violence against women in the workplace. “Everyone thought that the problem had been solved,” Ms Pillinger said, “when actually it has got worse.” A Morning Star report of the TUC event said women are particularly affected in service industries like retail, as well as health and transport. It said the TUC, alongside public sector union UNISON and shopworkers’ union Usdaw has drawn up model policies but they argue that more must be done from the top first. Usdaw’s Elizabeth Williams said: “Union workers need to be active politically to hold the Tory government to account, and they need to be active in the workplace supporting women members, and on the campaigning front — understanding that it is a trade union issue.”
Almost 6,000 Transport for London (TfL) staff have received counselling for issues including stress, anxiety and the trauma of witnessing of suicide attempts since 2010, it has been revealed. Figures obtained by City A.M. show that Tube drivers were the single largest group of staff given counselling in 2015/16. In the last two years, 91 drivers were referred for counselling specifically to deal with “person under the train” incidents. The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, found that there had been a total of almost 600 suicide attempts by members of the public on London Underground since 2003. Finn Brennan, from the rail union ASLEF, told City A.M: “These figures demonstrate the pressure that Tube staff, and especially drivers, work under as they do their best to cope with the demands placed upon them. It's right that TfL support their hard working staff, especially those who have to deal with the terrible trauma of suicides on the Underground.” Stress was the main reason employees sought counselling, with 450 cases. In second place was anxiety, behind 232 cases, followed by depression in 200 cases. The ASLEF officer commented: “Tube drivers spend eight hours a day working in a small metal box deep underground while coping with the pressure of a demanding job.. it's not surprising that some suffer from stress or depression occasionally. Ensuring that people are supported when problems arise is the best way to stop issues getting worse.”
A family owned Norfolk farming company has been fined after the owner’s son died at its grain storage facility. Norwich Crown Court heard that on 9 July 2014, 21-year-old Arthur Mason took turns with 16-year-old Jamie Legg to clean inside grain bins at Hall Farm, Fincham, near Kings Lynn, run by Maurice Mason Ltd. He was standing directly on the stored grain, using a broom to clean down the exposed inner surfaces of the bin. He wore a harness fitted with a fall-arrest lanyard, which was secured to a fixed ladder inside the bin. But Arthur began to sink into the grain, which was emptying slowly through a small opening at the bottom of the bin several feet below its surface. The court heard that any such movement or cavity in grain may be enough to create a ‘quicksand’ like effect. The forces involved caused the fall-arrest component of the lanyard to unravel and extend. This caused him to sink still deeper into the grain. After alerting colleagues, who tried to assist, he swiftly became submerged by the grain and subsequently drowned, despite strenuous rescue efforts by farmworkers and emergency services. An investigation by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Maurice Mason Ltd, which is run by Arthur’s father Hugh Mason, had failed to identify adequately and manage the deadly risks associated with cleaning grain stores. There was no safe system of work in place for this task, nor had anyone involved been provided with suitable training in how to complete it safely. Maurice Mason Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £22,000. HSE inspector Paul Unwin said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young man. This death could easily have been prevented if his employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place. There should be little need for anyone to enter such grain bins as it may be reasonably practicable to clean them remotely from outside”. He added: “The dangers associated with grain storage are well known and a wealth of advice and guidance is freely available from HSE and other organisations.”
Lorry drivers moving goods in Western Europe for Ikea and other retailers are living out of their cabs for months at a time. Some drivers - brought over from poorer countries by lorry firms based in Eastern Europe - say their salary is less than three pounds an hour. EU rules state that a driver posted temporarily away from home should be ''guaranteed'' the host nation's ''minimum rates of pay'' and conditions. But companies can exploit loopholes in the law. Drivers must take 45 hours weekly rest away from their cabs under the rules, but governments have been slow to enforce them. In the Netherlands last month, a court ruled that Brinkman - which delivers Ikea flowers to the UK and Scandinavia - was breaking the law. The judge described conditions for drivers as an "inhumane state of affairs'', and contrary to EU law. Edwin Atema, of the Dutch trade union FNV, says he believes Ikea must have known of the conditions in which drivers are living. “Ikea is the economic employer of all these workers here. They have so much power,” he said. “Ikea has the tool in hand to change the business model with an eye blink.” The global union for the sector, ITF, is running a campaign to press Ikea to improve the treatment of drivers in its supply chain. It met Ikea several times last year to discuss the issue - but talks ended in November. Speaking last month, ITF head of inland transport, Noel Coard, said that “Ikea must face up to its responsibilities.” He added: “Economic employers like Ikea control the economy on our roads. Transport companies are under constant threat from the top of the supply chain: break the law or lose the contract. But Ikea has the power to end the misery that truck drivers are living. Our door remains open and we firmly believe that Ikea can be part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Asbestos has been disturbed in schools in a way that could affect the health of staff and pupils on at least 90 separate occasions in the last five years. Freedom of Information requests by Lucie Stephens, who’s mum Sue died last year aged 68 of an asbestos cancer caused by exposures while working as a teacher, revealed councils had received reports of asbestos having been “disturbed” in schools on 93 occasions over five years, meaning “possible exposure” to teachers, builders, caretakers or pupils between 2011 and 2016. She said her findings “completely call into question the guidance from the government of safe-if-not-disturbed. If it’s being managed so well in schools, then they wouldn’t be disturbing it. Saying ‘it’s safe’ is just the government trying to wash their hands.” She added: “We promised Mum we would try to do something to prevent more people suffering as she did. We have a petition to encourage the government to remove asbestos from schools, and we want all schools to produce an annual report for parents and teachers. The US already has this, and once the asbestos is gone, schools will become safer places for staff and children.”
The first Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) conference is to take place in Birmingham on 4 July and will investigate the dangers from asbestos in schools and how to protect pupils and staff. Speakers including Rachel Reeves MP, asbestos campaigners, trade unions, medical practitioners and representatives of the Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Education.
Ÿ Fee: £40. Further information from JUAC. Bookings: 0121 457 6150.
The law relating to working time is complicated. Some bad employers take advantage of this to deny staff their rights. Others may not understand what the law requires. To help clarify the issue, working time is the topic of the latest TUC ‘know your rights’ booklet. It explains weekly hours limits and night working limits and workers’ rights to breaks, rest periods and paid holiday. The TUC says the publication is just a short guide, not a full statement of the law. It advises workers, where they believe their rights are being ignored, to get advice their trade union about how to remedy the situation.
A campaign by unions in France is intent on defending a new law requiring French multinational companies to establish explicit plans to avoid and remediate violations of worker rights and environmental standards throughout their supply chains. Two days after the adoption of the law on 21 February the French Republican Party, backed by the employers’ organisation MEDEF, referred the issue to France’s Constitutional Council claiming that the law is unconstitutional. Global and European union federations are now backing the union campaign to ensure firms in France remain legally obliged to be vigilant for labour and environmental abuses. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said: “This law is a significant step towards ensuring that companies take responsibility for their entire supply chain, for the workers and communities who create the wealth from which company owners and shareholders profit. France is leading the way, and other countries should follow suit.” She said: Having lost the political argument, opponents of the law are now trying to have the law overturned on questionable constitutional grounds, even as the failed global supply chain model with all the damage it wreaks on working families and on the environment comes under the scrutiny it deserves. We fully support the work of our French member organisations and others in civil society to make sure this law becomes a reality.” Luca Visentini of the European union group ETUC said: “The ETUC urges France to go ahead, and for other EU countries to do the same. Ultimately, I would like to see EU law backing such a stance, but EU action should not hold up the pioneers.” ITUC’s Sharan Burrow added: “The corporate social responsibility industry is worth billions in terms of public relations for companies, but it is worth virtually nothing to the workers in global supply chains, millions of whom work in deplorable conditions without even the dignity of a living minimum wage or protection from occupational disease and injury.”
Qatar should be called out when it tries to hoodwink governments next week about its serious ongoing abuses of workers’ rights, the global union ITUC has said. A submission by the government of Qatar to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in the lead up to a discussion next week by ILO’s governing body on a complaint lodged by the ITUC on Qatar’s “kafala” system of modern slavery, is full of false and misleading claims, the union body says. ITUC says more than two million migrant workers in the country are still subjected to pervasive violations of their fundamental rights, forced to seek their employer’s permission to leave the country or change jobs, denied the right to form unions and bargain for decent pay and conditions, subjected to dangerous working environments and made to live in squalid labour camps with up to 12 people per room sleeping on makeshift bunks. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “The most outrageous claim in Qatar’s deceptive report to the ILO is that the notorious exit permit system has been repealed. This is a blatant lie – the truth is that workers still have to ask permission from their bosses to leave the country. In addition, figures provided by Qatar to the ILO on deaths and injuries to workers are highly misleading, ignoring for example the tragic deaths of 11 workers and injuries to 12 others in a company labour camp fire in June 2016.” The ITUC leader added: “The truth is that hundreds of migrant workers die each year in Qatar due to the appalling working and living conditions. Qatar is putting in a huge public relations effort and using its financial power to try and compel governments to close off any possibility of an ILO Commission of Inquiry, but it continues to treat migrant workers as the property of their bosses and to suppress the truth behind the façade of the 2022 World Cup preparations. None of the benchmarks for reform already set by the ILO have been properly met.” Burrow said: “Governments need to stand up to Qatar’s bully tactics and show that they will not accept the evil of modern slavery in one of the world’s richest countries… Millions of migrant workers and their families are hoping that governments at the ILO will stand with them in ending slavery, and the international trade union movement will hold governments to account.”
A strong trade union presence makes mines safer, according to the preliminary finding of a major international study. The researchers confirmed that health and safety representatives supported by a trade union were more effective in getting important safety matters addressed and resolved than health and safety representatives acting on their own. The comparative research project, led by Professor David Walters from Cardiff University, was based on the experiences of worker health and safety representatives in Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia and South Africa. The research involved interviews with trade unions nationally and regionally, miners and government inspectors, as well as other key parties. “This welcome research reinforces our message that trade unions play a critical role in health and safety awareness and training. We believe that workers have rights, employers an obligation and governments a responsibility to improve safety in mining,” said Glen Mpufane, mining director with the global union IndustriALL. The preliminary findings of the study were presented this month at a Johannesburg workshop, organised by the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry and IndustriALL. The final report is expected later this year.
The biggest employers’ group in Japan, Keidanren, and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) have agreed new monthly and annual overtime limits. The deal came after the government’s Council for the Realization of Work Style Reform proposed a 100 hours per month overtime ceiling (Risks 787). The new agreement says overtime should be limited to 45 hours a month or 360 hours a year. This monthly limit can only be exceeded six times a year, with an absolute cap of 100 hours in any one month. Rengo president Rikio Kozu said the agreement was ‘merely’ a first step. “We don’t want to send out the wrong message that companies are allowed to make employees work up to 100 hours,” he said. “Labour and management have agreed to work to bring overwork hours close to 45 hours, which is the limit in principle.” Working hours have become a high profile political issue in Japan in recent months, with legal executives at the public relations giant Dentsu facing legal charges after the overwork linked suicide of a young worker, a scandal which also led to the resignation of the company’s chief executive (Risks 782).
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