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Are you ready for the biggest health and safety event on the calendar, anywhere? International Workers’ Memorial Day is set for Friday 28 April, highlighting how inequalities at work can be seriously bad for your health. Protests, marches, training days, workplace inspections and flash mobs are being planned. There’s a good chance there will be an event near to you – if not, there’s still time to organise one. Even if it is just a minutes silence at noon in your workplace.
TUC Workers’ Memorial Day 2017 events listing. Find out what’s happening worldwide on International Workers’ Memorial Day.Order posters, forget-me-knot ribbons and other 28 April resources from the Hazards Campaign, tel: 0161 636 7557; email: email@example.com
Ÿ Face it. We are all sickened by inequality at work, editorial by ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow, April 2017.
Ÿ Unsafe and unfair – discrimination on the job hurts us all, ITUC briefing for 28 April 2017.
Trade union safety reps are being advised to take differences between men and women into account when identifying health and safety concerns at work. A new TUC guide for trade union representatives, ‘Gender in occupational health and safety’, says that historically the health and safety needs of men in the workplace have been prioritised over women. It observes that risk prevention has focused on visibly dangerous work – largely carried out by men – in industries like construction and mining, with an assumption that the kind of work that women do is safer. However, the guidance argues that a gender-stereotyped or ‘one size fits all’ approach is out-of-date. The groundbreaking new resource has been issued in the run up to International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, which has a theme this year of ‘good health and safety for all workers – whoever they are’. Where the differences between men and women are taken into account when assessing risk and deciding suitable risk control solutions, there is a greater chance of ensuring that the health, safety and welfare of all workers is protected, says the TUC. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People come in all shapes and sizes and when it comes to health and safety, the ‘one size fits all’ approach is old-fashioned and dangerous. Nowhere is that clearer then when looking at gender. Pressing for healthy, safe workplaces for everyone is part and parcel of the union rep’s role, and the TUC’s new gender checklist will help reps to pursue issues around gender in the workplace, and make sure that all workers have the best possible protection from illness or injury.” She added: “Safety studies show that workers are twice as likely to be seriously injured in a non-unionised workplace. I would urge any man or woman worried about their health and safety at work to join a union, to make sure that their concerns are heard and that their interests are protected.”
Ÿ TUC News release, https://www.tuc.org.uk/node/126748 and guidance, Gender in occupational health and safety, April 2017.
The firefighters’ union FBU has condemned a violent attack on two on-duty firefighters who were threatened with an imitation firearm. The union said the ‘deplorable’ incident took place on 10 April in Spalding, as the firefighters tackled a house fire. Both firefighters received medical attention at the scene, with one taken via ambulance to Pilgrim Hospital in Boston for treatment of facial injuries. Ben Selby, secretary of the FBU in Lincolnshire, said: “Firefighters are there to keep the public safe, preserve life and perform rescues when people are in trouble. The idea that someone could attack firefighters whilst they go about their lifesaving work is appalling.” He added: “Both members are now back at work and responding to emergencies. Although this act is pitiful, it will not stop brave firefighters, like the two attacked in Spalding, from doing their duty and keeping their communities safe. The matter is being investigated by the police and an arrest has been made. The FBU will continue to ensure measures are put in place to see greater support for our members when they find themselves in difficult circumstances like these.” Research published in 2016 showed that in the preceding two years, fire crews in the UK had been the victims of over a thousand attacks.
London Underground (LU) union RMT has confirmed that station staff across the London Bridge and Waterloo groups have voted for both strike action and action short of a strike after one member was fired and two others disciplined for intervening to stop a serious assault by a fare-dodger on fellow staff members, including one who was pregnant (Risks 793). The ballot result will now be considered by the union’s national executive. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This is one of the most appalling abuses of the LU 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 multiple miscarriage of justice.” He added: “LU have flouted their own zero tolerance policy, their own duty of care to their staff and have sent out a message to fare dodgers and yobbos that staff can be treated as punch bags with impunity. That is an outrage that has enraged every single Tube employee who risks their neck on the stations and platforms against a backdrop of a growing pattern of abuse and violence.” The union leader urged: “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 third of care workers in England are stuck in precarious, zero hours contracts, their union GMB has said. The union’s analysis of industry data shows that an estimated 117,679 out of England’s 369,340 care workers are trapped in insecure work – almost 32 per cent. It said the figures compare to a national average of workers on zero hours contracts across all occupations of just 2.8 per cent. The figures come after a GMB analysis showed that suicide rates among care workers are almost twice the national average (Risks 793). Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “GMB’s care worker members do an incredibly difficult job - one they love and one that is vital for maintaining the fabric of our society and giving people dignity in old age. The figures are horrifying, but what lies under those figures are real lives.” He added: “It's a sorry state of affairs when the people who care for our nearest and dearest are among the lowest paid members of the workforce, labouring with poor terms, conditions and little job security.” He said: “Our social care system is in crisis, one of the first things we can do to tackle the problem is invest in the health and well-being of our carers. With our ageing population – this problem isn’t going away.”
Almost half of young teachers say mental health concerns could force them to quit the profession, research by the union NUT has found, with thousands citing heavy workloads and lack of support as a problem. The union’s survey of more than 3,000 teachers under the age of 36 suggests more than four in 10 (45 per cent) may choose to leave within five years. Almost threequarters said they were working 51 hours or more per week, and nearly a quarter said they were doing more than 61 hours. Responding to the survey, led by the NUT’s Young Teachers Working Party, more than threequarters (77 per cent) said their morale had declined since starting teaching, and a third (32 per cent) of newly qualified teachers specifically said they felt they had not received adequate support in their first years in the profession. Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, said the fact that so many teachers were being forced to work 50-hour weeks was unacceptable. “Mental well-being is a key issue for young teachers and a decent work-life balance is therefore essential to facilitating good mental health,” he said. “The government needs to accept its responsibility in this crisis and take positive steps to resolve the issues behind the problems of teacher workload that are clearly blighting the profession.” Commenting in a stress debate at the union’s annual conference, the union leader said government policies were linked to rising mental health problems in the profession. “Even more disturbingly, data on occupational suicides published by the Office for National Statistics in March 2017 shows that female primary and nursery school teachers have a heightened risk of suicide – they are 42 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the average woman,” he said. “Although it may not always be possible to demonstrate a direct causal link between the stresses of teaching and such tragedies, possible links with excessive workload and stress must be taken seriously.” Delegates at the conference in Cardiff voted to support action short of strike, as they emphasised that teacher stress was leading to poor learning conditions.
Work worries are driving teachers to drink, drugs and the brink of suicide, a survey by the NASUWT has found. Over two thirds (68 per cent) told the union their job prevents them from giving adequate time to their partner, family and friends and over half (58 per cent) say their family and friends get fed up with the pressures that teaching puts on their relationship. The teaching union’s survey found more than four out five (84 per cent) teachers say that they frequently worry about work problems when they are not working and just 11 per cent say they are able to relax at home. Nearly six in ten (59 per cent) say their job has adversely impacted on their mental health in the last 12 months and over half (52 per cent) say it has had a detrimental impact on their physical health. Teachers report turning to medication, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine to help them cope with their job, with 22 per cent reporting increased use of alcohol, 22 per cent increased use of caffeine and 5 per cent increased use of tobacco to help them manage work-related stress. Overall, 12 per cent say they have undergone counselling, 7 per cent have used or increased their reliance on prescription drugs, 11 per cent have used or increased their reliance on anti-depressants to help them cope and 4 per cent have been admitted to hospital as a result of work-related illness. The survey found 2 per cent of teachers say they have self-harmed as a result of work-related pressures. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “It is clear that for too many teachers the job is taking an unacceptable toll on their health and well-being and that this is affecting all aspects of their personal and professional lives.” She added: “Teachers are often made to feel that they are failing if they admit to experiencing stress, exhaustion or health problems in the workplace, yet concealing the problem inevitably makes it worse.” The union leader called for additional ‘mental health first-aid’ for staff, but added “prevention is better than cure and the driving factors behind the rise in teacher stress, including excessive workload and working hours, need to be effectively addressed by government to tackle the growing epidemic of low morale, burnout and stress which is conspiring to make teaching an increasingly unattractive profession.”
A lack of staff toilets is leading to bowel problems and urinary infections in school staff, teaching union ATL has said. The union’s conference heard that at some schools, teachers were having to share facilities with pupils. Others were being forced to trek to distant buildings and stand in loo queues during breaks. A motion mandating the union to commission research into toilet provision and to make guidance available to schools was passed overwhelmingly after a succession of teachers relayed bathroom break horror stories. Saying the union needed to get to “the bottom of the matter,” Birmingham delegate Caroline Milne said: “Supply staff are often not told where toilets are: this must be a health and safety issue.” She said that having to share bathrooms with kids denied teachers privacy. Lancashire teacher Les Ridings warned that a shortage of toilets could exacerbate “bowel problems and waterworks problems, and it’s causing all sorts of issues.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
The ‘deeply worrying’ findings of research on asbestos risks in schools by the teaching union NUT confirm concerns that ‘a ticking time bomb’ is not being safely managed. The union said a survey conducted last month found nearly 50 per cent of all respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. NUT said this is alarming given that the majority of schools (86 per cent) contain asbestos. Of the 46 per cent of respondents who had been told that their school contained asbestos, half had not been told where the asbestos was located. The majority of respondents (85 per cent) had not been shown their school’s asbestos management plan. NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The presence of asbestos in our schools is putting children and school staff at risk of developing mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused by exposure. The government’s casual approach to the health of staff and children in our schools is totally unacceptable and needs to stop.” Delegates to the union’s annual conference this month endorsed a call for the government to bring in asbestos air tests to assess the dangers posed to children and teachers. NUT leader Kevin Courtney commented: “The NUT will continue to work with its partner unions through the Joint Union Asbestos Committee. We are calling for government to undertake a national audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in our schools and to begin a long-term phased removal of asbestos from our schools, with schools in the worst condition prioritised. This ticking time bomb has to be eradicated from our schools.”
Seafarers’ union Nautilus has welcomed the prosecution of a shipping company that failed to act on a report warning of the presence of asbestos on one of its vessels. The enforcement action came after the union alerted authorities to the problem. At Southampton Magistrates Court, Tarmac Marine Ltd was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £10,424.57 costs, after admitting four offences under merchant shipping health and safety and asbestos regulations. The criminal breaches including failing to carry out a risk assessment of exposure to asbestos by the crew, failing to have an asbestos management plan in place and failing to provide relevant information to workers. The court heard the company had failed to act on a survey report that identified the presence of asbestos in pipework onboard the dredger City of Westminster in January 2014 and recommended that it be dealt with immediately. The problems came to light in January last year, when the ship was asked for an asbestos-free certificate before going into drydock. Shore-based management asked crew members to cover the affected areas with standard paint, but they refused the request and the company was forced to disclose that the pipework did contain asbestos. One crew member alerted Nautilus about the situation and the union informed the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) under its whistleblowing policy, pressing for the company to be investigated and prosecuted. Charles Boyle, head of Nautilus legal services, commented: “We deal with many cases involving members suffering from the terrible effects of asbestos exposure and we take this issue very seriously indeed. We hope that this case will send out a strong message to companies of the need to comply with their responsibilities and that negligence of this kind is wholly unacceptable.” Captain Jeremy Smart, head of the MCA Enforcement Unit, said Tarmac had shown ‘scant regard’ for its employees. “We are grateful that this case was brought to our attention through the intervention of one of the crew concerned and I would urge anyone in a similar position who knows of serious non-compliance of health and safety rules, pollution control or anything else untoward to contact the Agency,” he said.
The UK parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has called for government action to oblige UK-based companies to ensure recognition of trade unions before they sign contracts with suppliers, alongside a stronger legal duty on employers to prevent human rights abuse in their operations. The recommendations, that come with a suite of others in a wide-ranging report on ‘Human Rights and Business’ released on 5 April, would – if implemented – transform rights for workers around the world denied access to the support necessary to protect themselves from long hours, low pay, deadly health and safety conditions and other abuses in the workplace. The report highlights a scathing criticism of company auditing processes from Owen Tudor, the head of the TUC international department, who said that despite a succession of major disasters in routinely audited factories supplying major multinationals, “we have also seen a major increase in the amount of industry auditing that is going on. Multinational companies are spending enormous amounts of money on auditing. They accept that it does not work, but it persuades some of their customers that they are doing something about it.” Welcoming the report, TUC general secretary France O’Grady commented: “We welcome the proposal that there should be stronger requirements on trade union recognition, including in businesses’ supply chains. The government should work with trade unions to crack down on businesses behaving badly.” She added: “We hope the government will respond positively to the committee’s proposals. Good business need better protection against unfair competition from companies that mistreat UK staff, or turn a blind eye to slavery and abuse in foreign supply chains.”
A company has received a six figure fine after a teenage employee lost four fingers in a machine. Factory worker al Ghazi Sulaiman was using an emery cloth on a rotating lathe to reduce the size of metal rods when he was seriously injured at Sankey Laminations in Bilston. The 18-year-old had not been properly trained for the job, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard. There had been a ‘serious and systemic failure’ to assess health and safety risk, said Harpreet Sandhu, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). “This had been allowed to persist for several years and it was through luck that no incidents of this magnitude had occurred earlier.” The firm had failed to carry out a risk assessment of the work for three-and-a-half years and did not realise official guidance identifying the dangers of using emery cloths in these circumstances had been issued 10 years before the teen was injured on 15 October 2014. The engineering information sheet highlighted the risk of entanglement and warned this method should only be used as a ‘last resort’. “The guidelines were ignored through lack of knowledge, exposing a number of workers to significant risk,” said Harpreet Sandhu, prosecuting. The firm had a grinder which could have completed the same task with less risk, the court heard. The young worker had been ‘encouraged’ to use unsuitable gloves which stuck to the emery cloth, leading to four of his fingers being amputated after his right hand became trapped. Sankey Laminations was fined £400,000 with £14,200 costs.
A Birmingham electrician has been ordered to carry out unpaid work in the community after his trainee fell three and a half metres through a plasterboard ceiling. Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard that the apprentice electrician, Soheil Afrapour, spent 23 days in hospital after suffering head injuries. He was installing wiring above the false ceiling for electrician Soheil Alipour. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was not the necessary planning for work at height and Alipour did not fulfil his duty of care. Soheil Alipour pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations and was instructed to undertake 120 hours unpaid community work and ordered to pay full costs of £1,152.24. HSE inspector Gareth Langston said: “It’s important that employers put the safety of their workers, especially young inexperienced apprentices, at the forefront of their plans and consider precautions when working at height. This incident could have been prevented if there was proper planning in place using boards above or scaffolding below.”
Two family run companies have been fined after admitting criminal health and safety failings at a site in Manchester, where they were carrying out a basement conversion. Manchester Crown Court heard how Hatters Taverns Limited had appointed sister company Hatters Hostel Limited as the main contractor for the basement conversion beneath a hostel in Manchester city centre. The project involved the full strip out and refurbishment of the basement, a former restaurant unit, into a bar venue. An unannounced visit by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered there had been no asbestos survey carried out before workers started stripping out. Asbestos was found in a fire retardant paint in a section of the building that had not yet been ripped out. Hatters Taverns Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £10,000. Hatters Hostel Limited also pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the regulations and was fined £24,000 and ordered to pay the combined costs for both defendants of £10,232.50. HSE inspector Matt Greenly said: “Both Hatters Hostel and Hatters Taverns have failed in their duty to protect their workers, subcontractors and visitors to his site from harm.” He added: “The cost of an asbestos survey is not great but the potential legacy facing anyone who worked on this site is immeasurable. Exposure to asbestos fibres can potentially cause life shortening diseases in the long term and Hatters Hostel Limited and Hatters Taverns Limited should have taken more care to protect workers from a totally preventable exposure. This case sends a clear message to any company that it does not pay to ignore well known risks on site.”
Four years after the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed, killing over 1,100 most women workers, a similar tragedy has been averted thanks to union action. In the wake of the 24 April 2013 disaster in Bangladesh, local and global unions persuaded multinational enterprises to join the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord and commit to trade union rights. “Four years on, the case of the Ananta textile factory in Dhaka suggests that it’s working, on this occasion saving 3,000 workers from suffering the same fate as Rana Plaza’s workforce,” notes Owen Tudor, head of the TUC’s international department. Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he reports that at 5pm on Wednesday 5 April, a two-storey brick structure adjoining the Ananta Apparel factory in Dhaka collapsed. Cracks appeared in the 15-storey reinforced concrete Ananta building producing ready-made garments for global brands like Next, H&M, C&A, Inditex (Zara), Mango, Marks & Spencer, River Island, GAP, Levis and Abercrombie & Fitch. Ananta’s seven companies exported $240m of garments last year. Tudor notes that in contrast to Rana Plaza, where workers without union protection were afraid to act, the workforce was represented by the Ananta Fashion & Apparels Workers Union (AFAWU), a part of the garment unions’ federation NGWF. AFAWU leaders called on Ananta to evacuate the building, and after just 15 minutes, they agreed to close the factory for two days. A series of protests followed, pressing for an official inspection of the building and necessary remedial work. According to TUC’s Owen Tudor the union workers “successfully used the Accord and the government department concerned to force the management to close the factory until the completion of emergency remediation.” NGWF’s Shahidul Islam Shahid commented: “This is a great victory for the workers, the union and the NGWF and a testimony of success of partnership between trade unions and the Accord.”
Global union confederation ITUC has called for international action to stop the trade in deadly chrysotile asbestos. The union body says a key step would be for potent cause of cancer and other diseases to be included on the UN’s Rotterdam Convention list of particularly hazardous substances that must be accompanied by a health warning when exported. Trade unions and the great majority of government representatives will be pushing for the listing at the next international Rotterdam Convention conference in Geneva, starting on 24 April. They want a change in voting rules that currently allow a handful of asbestos-linked governments to block listing. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Asbestos, including chrysotile, is one of the biggest industrial killers of all time. Tens of thousands of people die from it each year, and it is scandalous that more than a hundred million people are still exposed to chrysotile asbestos. Getting it on the Rotterdam list is an important step towards protecting those, especially in developing countries, who are increasingly being exposed to it.” ITUC is concerned that a ‘front organisation’ for the global asbestos industry, the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), has “managed to get the recommendation for listing blocked for a decade. The ICA is notorious for spreading false and misleading information to keep the chrysotile trade afloat.” According to ITUC’s Sharan Burrow: “This is about protecting workers and the general public, especially in developing countries, by reducing their exposure to a substance that kills. We call on all governments to support the listing of chrysotile, and for a change in the voting rules of the Rotterdam Convention to stop just one or two countries from blocking the listing of these hazardous substances. This change will simply bring the Rotterdam Convention into line with voting rules in other conventions. This would be a major step in encouraging more countries to join the 60 who have already banned chrysotile and ending the deadly trade in chrysotile altogether.”
Ÿ ITUC news release. Rotterdam Convention Conference of the Parties, 24 April-2 May 2017. IndustriALL news release. Inside Story. RightOnCanada.ca
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is calling for truck drivers to continue coming forward with accounts of exploitation while moving goods for IKEA. The union body says since a recent BBC exposé of exploitation in IKEA’s supply chain (Risks 792) it has seen a rise in the number of drivers and their families coming forward with their own horror stories. Head of ITF inland transport, Noel Coard, said: "We have been investigating exploitation in IKEA's supply chain for some time, but we know that these unsavoury practices are widespread and we have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. After the BBC report we saw an increase in the number of people coming forward with their stories. Drivers and their families should know that they can contact us with their experiences and we can help make their voices heard.” He added: “Every worker deserves respect and IKEA needs to take responsibility. What are they waiting for?” A new ITF film documents the story of a driver living out of his cab for weeks and months on end while driving around Western Europe and working for IKEA. “We are discriminated against,” says Lucian, the driver in the film. “Between a Romanian and a Dutch person, working in the same company, my income is probably less than half of what the Dutch person gets. But we do the same work. That’s how it is, the law is violated. All of us are exploited."
Hong Kong supermarket giant Wellcome is now providing chairs for all on-duty cashiers, after a creative union campaign. “Wellcome has always valued the occupational safety of our staff. Starting from April, chairs will be provided at cashier counters at all stores for staff to sit down occasionally to rest as needed,” a spokesperson for Wellcome told the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP). The supermarket chain came under fire in January after the Retail, Commerce and Clothing Industries General Union reported that none of the 154 Wellcome outlets surveyed provided seats to cashiers during working hours. Artist Ching Chin-wai led a campaign last year urging members of the public to put pressure on Wellcome and another supermarket giant, ParknShop. He said ParknShop began providing chairs for its cashiers shortly after he wrote to the company, but Wellcome stood firm on its policy. Wellcome eventually started a pilot programme last December to introduce chairs for cashiers at four branches. It promised to provide seating for cashiers at the rest of its 281 branches in the city at a later date. According to an occupational health guide issued by the Labour Department, retail employers are advised to ensure the safety and health of their workers by providing seats at their workplaces. But the retail union said the guide, which is not legally binding, is not enough to protect workers’ rights. It has demanded the government body include leg fatigue in its list of compensable occupational diseases, and enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance against employers who violate the law. The retail union is a member of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.
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