|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 email@example.com.|
A government-commissioned review of insecurity at work has failed to grasp the ‘game-changing’ improvements required to solve abusive employment practices, the TUC has said. The Taylor Review said all work in the UK's economy should be “fair and decent” with its author, Matthew Taylor, saying “fairness demands” that people, particularly those on lower incomes, have routes to progress in work. The report, which looked at issues include employment in the ‘gig’ economy, recommends that firms which control and supervise their workers should pay benefits including National Insurance. It also recommends a new category of worker called a ‘dependent contractor’, who should be given extra protection. Commenting on the review’s recommendations, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the review was right to also call for equal pay for agency staff and sick leave for low paid workers, but added: “It's no secret that we wanted this review to be bolder. This is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity at work. A ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours is no right at all for many workers trapped on zero-hours contracts. And workers deserve the minimum wage for every minute they work, not just the time employers choose to pay them for.” Calling for the prime minister to act on the review’s recommendations, she added that additional action was required. “We need a proper crackdown on bad bosses who treat their staff like disposable labour. And an end to employment tribunal fees that price workers out of justice,” she said. The review called for a ‘more proactive’ approach to workplace health, noting: “The shape and content of work and individual health and well-being are strongly related.” A new report in Hazards magazine examines evidence on these health effects. ‘Make or break’ concludes: “‘Insecure employment’ covers a lot of sins – fear of losing your ostensibly ‘permanent’ job, inability to find permanent work, scratching a living from multiple jobs or working on short-hours or zero hour contracts, at the whim of someone who claims not to be your employer. They all have one thing in common – they are far more likely to damage your health than secure, permanent work.”
Ÿ Good work: The Taylor review of modern working practices, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 11 July 2017. TUC news release. The gig is up: Trade unions tackling insecure work, TUC, June 2017. BBC News Online. The Guardian.
Unions have reacted with disappointment to the recommendations of the Taylor Review of modern workplace practices. Commenting on the findings of the government-commissioned review, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This review raised the prospect that the scourge of insecure working in this country would be tackled. It raised the hope that work would once again pay and there would be no profit in exploitation. It indicated that fairness and dignity would be restored to working life. But it has spectacularly failed to deliver on any of these.” He added: “More and better can and must be done to ensure that, in the fifth largest economy on the planet, working people are granted the dignity and security they deserve. This union will continue that fight.” Dave Ward, general secretary of union CWU said: “For workers across the UK the labour market is like the Wild West. Exploitation is exploitation whether it’s in a sweatshop or at the end of an iPhone and the Taylor Review falls way short of addressing the problems workers face.” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the review was “weak and business friendly,” offering nothing to the “growing army” of people in insecure work. Criticising the report’s claim that “the best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance”, Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “The exploitation of insecure workers is a deliberate and a core part of company business models, where any loophole is exploited to pay workers less and make more profit for employers. This isn't a quirk of the system, this is the system – and without regulation this system will inevitably continue.” Janet Newsham of the national Hazards Campaign said “regulation is vital” to the protection of health, safety and decent conditions at work.
Parched workers on the sweltering London Underground system are being denied access to drinking water, unlike their ‘cheapskate’ managers based in air-conditioned offices, Tube unions have said. A change by Transport for London (TfL) of the contractor providing water coolers secured a ready supply of chilled water for the top brass in the company’s upmarket London offices. But Tube unions are fuming that water coolers have been removed from the tea points and mess rooms used by drivers and other frontline staff. Instead workers are being told to wait for their breaks and use a tap. “When your working day is spent in a metal box deep underground, cool clean drinking water isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Finn Brennan, ASLEF’s organiser on London Underground. He added: “It beggars belief that senior TfL management think it’s ok to treat train drivers like this and are utterly careless of the impact on their passengers. They should try getting out of their air-conditioned offices and spending eight hours a day in a train cab on the Bakerloo line, where temperatures peaked at 31 degrees last August, before trying to save a few pounds by taking access to clean cool water away from drivers trying to provide passengers with a first-class public service.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “What makes this sickening is the sheer hypocrisy and double standards in that managers who work in air-conditioned offices, usually not doing shift work out in the heat, are still being provided chilled water.” He added: “We are now in full summer heat and this needs to be rectified urgently. What a bunch of cheapskates and hypocrites these Tube bosses are. You wouldn’t treat a dog the way our members are being treated in this heat. The mayor should intervene right now and fix this appalling double standard on the most basic of working conditions.”
Seafarers onboard a ship detained in the UK port of Runcorn have been forced to live in cockroach-infested conditions without fresh food, a union investigation has found. Checks by Tommy Molloy, an inspector with the UK seafarers’ union Nautilus and the global transport union ITF, also found unpaid wages as low as 85 US cents an hour. He has lodged protests with the ship’s Turkish owners and the Panama ship registry over the ‘shocking’ conditions facing the Turkish and Indian crew on the 1,596gt general cargoship Seccadi. The union ship inspector said there was no fresh fruit, vegetables or meat onboard the ship and there was a cockroach infestation in the galley. “When crew are not paid for more than two months, not repatriated and do not have the basic food requirements to sustain a healthy diet, then they are considered to have been abandoned,” he said. “Human beings - in the form of crew - seem to be nothing more than a necessary evil to them; 85 cents per hour - when lucky enough to get paid — and no food or repatriation doesn’t seem like too many levels up from slavery to me.” He said an appeal had also been made to the vessel’s insurers - Lodestar Marine - to meet their obligations to pay and repatriate the crew. “They have told us their enquiries are continuing and in the meantime the UK Border Force has given notice to remove - deport - the crew, and I can only conclude that the insurers would prefer this, with all of the negative ramifications for the crew, rather than paying out as we believe they are required to.”
Postal workers’ union CWU has repeated its call for legal action against irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs after a postwoman was savaged by two Dobermans. Sharron Singer received 19 separate injuries, some requiring reconstructive surgery and skin grafts, when she was pounced on by the large, powerful dogs at an address in Wrangle, near Boston on 3 July. The attack came at the start of Royal Mail’s Dog Awareness Week (Risks 807). Royal Mail has suspended deliveries to the address and CWU is assisting Sharron and her husband David, with whom she shares the round. CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce, who spearheaded the union’s ‘Bite Back’ campaign that won tougher dog control laws, said: “Sharron has been through what can only be described as a terrible, terrifying ordeal, which I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. A police investigation is underway and those responsible for the irresponsibility and reckless ownership of these potentially dangerous animals should face the full force of the law in due course if, as expected, the Dangerous Dogs Act has been breached.” Noting that seven postal workers are injured in dog attacks every day, he said: “Postal workers deserve, and are entitled, to be safe at work wherever they go and to go home at the end of the day as fit and as healthy as when they arrived in the morning – not as in too many cases, when they end up like Sharron, being taken to hospital in an ambulance with serious life changing injuries.”
The lessons of the Piper Alpha tragedy, which killed 167 workers in the North Sea on 6 July 1988, must not be forgotten, offshore union Unite has said. Marking the 29th anniversary of the tragedy, the union warned that the slump in the oil price that led to the cost-cutting on maintenance and safety found to be the cause of the blast mirrors the situation offshore today. “We look now to the North Sea, where jobs are being lost, costs are being cut and the price of oil has plummeted and hope and trust that platform operators have learned lessons from Piper Alpha,” the union said. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “This is a tragedy that could have been avoided. When costs become more important than safety, the result can be catastrophic. We will continue to remember those lost on Piper Alpha, they serve to remind us that corners must never be cut and that the job done by workers in the North Sea is one of the most dangerous around.”
Workers at risk from Tube nano dusts
Tube union RMT’s concerns about what it believes are dangerous levels of airborne dust in the London Underground system have been confirmed by the company’s own measurements. Peaks measured by Transport for London (TfL) and released to The Sunday Times in response to a freedom of information request found that dust levels on the Central line exceeded two million particles for every litre of air. Professor Stephen Holgate of the British Lung Foundation told the paper: “The particles in underground railways are rich in iron and other metals such as copper, chromium, manganese and zinc. Metal particles increase our risk of asthma, lung and cardiovascular disease and possibly dementia.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “RMT has been raising issues of major concern over the contents of air for a long time.” He said the company had ‘fobbed off’ the union. “The fact that millions of passengers and thousands of staff on a daily basis are exposed to poor air quality and with raised iron levels and who knows what else is a scandal. We demand with immediate effect that a high level face-to-face meeting with RMT and the other unions is called and that RMT's concerns for its thousands of members breathing in this polluted air are acted on.” Calling on the London mayor to “act now to protect his staff and Tube passengers”, he added: “RMT also recognises that emergency measures may have to be taken with immediate effect to protect passenger and staff health and safety.”
An official failure to acknowledge the serious risks faced by women at work means there is little pressure for preventive action, a new report has warned. ‘Women’s work?’ says while many jobs dominated by women can be more physically and emotionally arduous than traditionally male jobs, a serious emphasis on addressing these risks is missing because of the relatively low occupational fatality rate in women, with 7 killed at work last year compared to 137 men. The report in Hazards magazine notes these headline Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics do not tell the whole story, with overall injury rates far closer for males and females – but these figures are “relegated to a background excel file”. It warns that other evidence of the true extent of the problem has been buried by the safety enforcer. “HSE’s 2016 statistics annual report says nothing on the gender breakdown of either occupational injuries or diseases. In fact, neither ‘gender’ nor ‘women’ are mentioned at all. Ditto HSE’s statistics A-Z, which does however find space for specific entries on ‘cost to Britain’, ‘job tenure’ and ‘European comparisons’,” the report notes. It adds: “HSE’s main publications, including its annual statistic report and its headline occupational disease figures have no gender breakdown. Look behind the HSE’s chosen message and a more concerning picture of the risks faced by women begins to emerge. For stress, depression and anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders, the two most prevalent work-related conditions making up about 80 per cent of the total, the 2015/16 figures show the occupational rates for women are higher.” It concludes: “If the occupational risks to women go unrecognised, then prevention will be another casualty.” The report recommends that to ensure health and safety concerns of women workers are taken serious, union safety reps use the TUC gender checklist. The resource is included in the union body’s new guide to ‘Gender in occupational health and safety.’
Ÿ Women’s work? Ignore occupational risks to women and you hurt us all, Hazards, number 138, 2017. Gender in occupational health and safety, TUC guide including safety reps’ action checklist, 2017.
A personal assistant at a London property investment firm who was harassed and discriminated against by her boss after being diagnosed with breast cancer has been awarded £47,000 in compensation. Eimear Coghlan, 34, was initially treated with “sympathy and concern” by Poonam Dhawan-Leach, chief executive of exclusive The Hideaways Club in Kensington, after learning she had an aggressive form of the disease in December 2014. She had been Mrs Dhawan-Leach’s assistant for more than a year, enjoying an “amicable” relationship, Central London employment tribunal heard. However, relations began to “fray” as Ms Coghlan needed to go for medical appointments. Ms Coghlan had been given flexible working conditions, including being able to work from home if she felt ill, but they were ended, the tribunal heard. She was told to produce letters from her doctors confirming she was well enough to work, and had to take at least half a day of sick leave, on reduced pay, if she had a medical appointment. The Hideaways Club fought the claims, arguing it had treated Ms Coghlan fairly and made decisions in the interest of her welfare. But Judge David Pearl ruled that Ms Coghlan, who resigned in September 2015, had suffered disability discrimination, harassment and “injury to feelings”, awarding her £47,700. The judge found that demands for medical letters “violated her dignity” and that the rule on taking sick leave for medical appointments was “irrational”.
More than half of trainee hospital doctors have had an accident or near miss on their way home after a night shift, according to a new study of fatigue among NHS staff. The research, published in the medical journal Anaesthesia, found 1,229 (57 per cent) of 2,155 trainee anaesthetists questioned had been involved in an accident, or come close to having one, while driving, motorcycling, cycling or walking home after working all night. Almost all the doctors admitted that the incidents were their fault, although were caused by exhaustion. More than eight out of 10 (84 per cent) respondents said they had felt too tired to drive home after a night shift. About 90 per cent said they used caffeine-based drinks in order to stay awake. Seven out of 10 (72 per cent) said that work-related fatigue had negatively affected their physical health, while almost as many said it had damaged their psychological well-being (69 per cent) or personal relationships (66 per cent). Over half (53 per cent) of the trainee anaesthetists said fatigue had impaired their ability to do their job. “These are very worrying findings. Junior doctors are putting their lives at risk due to fatigue resulting from their shift work and the lack of rest facilities at their hospitals both during and after shifts,” said Dr Laura McClelland of the University Hospital of Wales, a co-author of the survey. Extreme tiredness among doctors could also lead to them making mistakes when they are working at night, McClelland warned. In 2005 the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health warned junior medics working long shifts were twice as likely to be involved in a car accident leaving work. They were also five time more likely to have a “near miss” than colleagues on shorter hours (Risks 785).
Ÿ Association of Anaesthetists news release. The Telegraph. The Guardian.
A company director has been jailed after a golf ball collector drowned in a freezing course lake. Dale Pike, 25, “stood by and watched” as Gareth Pugh dived into the lake with a weighted belt to fish out balls. Mr Pugh's body was found in the water at Peterstone Lakes Golf Club, near Newport, after he lost his breathing equipment and drowned in February 2016. Pike received a 32 months jail term after admitting manslaughter by gross negligence. Cardiff Crown Court heard Pike raised the alarm when he noticed a constant stream of bubbles rising to the lake's surface and a floatation device carrying Mr Pugh's air supply floating towards the edge. Emergency service staff pulled him from the water 70 minutes after he first entered and he was found with his feet pointing upwards, weighed down by a weighted belt and a 16kg (35lbs) bag of 341 golf balls he had retrieved. The court heard Pike, who ran Boss Golf Balls which sells-on balls retrieved from lakes, had investigated using trained divers to carry out the work, but this would have cost about £1,000 a day. But instead he employed Mr Pugh, who had ADHD and learning difficulties, and paid him £20-40 a day. Sentencing Pike, Judge Keith Thomas said: “Mr Pugh was an unsuitable contender for the diving work you employed him to undertake, but you allowed him to take those risks to make a quick buck. The risk of death or serious injury was obvious to you, but your cavalier attitude towards safety was the cause of Mr Pugh's death.” Iwan Jenkins, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said Pike “stood by and watched” as Mr Pugh entered the water “knowing that safety regulations were being breached. His deceit and callousness resulted in Gareth losing his life.”
The boss of an upmarket property firm has been jailed for 14 months and his company fined after the deaths of two employees when they plunged from the balcony of a multi-million pound central London flat. Polish workers Tomasz Procko, 22, and Karol Symanski, 29, died in an “entirely foreseeable and preventable” incident on 21 November 2014, while hoisting a sofa up from the pavement through a first floor balcony of the luxury Belgravia apartment. Jurors at the Old Bailey heard that the workers leaned against a 130-year old Victorian cast iron ‘balustrade’ as they pulled the sofa up to the balcony. The railing gave way and two of the men fell to their deaths, while a third was only saved by other workers as he started to fall. The court heard that delivering the “big and cumbersome” sofa safely required a lift which would cost £848. But Martin Gutaj, the director of Martinisation (London) Limited refused, saying they “do not have time for all that”. At an earlier hearing, the jury found the company guilty of criminal health and safety breaches and two charges of corporate manslaughter, while Gutaj, 44, was convicted of two criminal health and safety offences. Sentencing Gutaj to 14 months imprisonment for each death - to run concurrently - Judge Gerald Gordon said: “Those who are wilfully blind to the risks despite warnings – as you were – have got to expect to go immediately to prison.” Gutaj was also disqualified from being a company director for four years. His company was fined £1.2 million for each death and £650,000 for criminal safety offences.
Global food union federation IUF has signed an international agreement with catering and services multinational Sodexo on measures to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. The IUF-Sodexo Joint Commitment, which IUF says is based on a ‘shared recognition’ that sexual harassment is a human rights violation and that women working in the services are exposed to high levels of risk, sets out a policy and procedures for ensuring zero tolerance. According to IUF: “The Joint Commitment acknowledges that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, a major health and safety hazard and a form of violence which disproportionately affects women. It provides a comprehensive description of what constitutes sexual harassment and establishes a framework for awareness-raising, training, reporting and procedures which protect the victims of sexual harassment and those reporting incidents.” IUF says the agreement with the French multinational will be implemented at local and national level through engagement between Sodexo management and IUF-affiliated unions, and adds that the text establishes a regular international review procedure.
Korean authorities have for the first time recognised officially a case of work-related leukaemia resulting from exposures in a Samsung LCD factory. The Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (COMWEL) ruled that Kim, a 33-year-old worker who was diagnosed with leukaemia after working for five years and seven months in a Samsung Display - formerly Samsung Electronics - LCD factory had contracted the illness in the course of his employment. Although there have been earlier awards to workers in the company’s semiconductor factories, this is the first time that leukaemia contracted from working in an LCD factory has been recognised as an occupational disease. After conducting an epidemiological study of the factory, COMWEL determined that the illness was work-related, despite the low level of exposure to harmful substances. “Considering the fact that Kim did not wear adequate protective gear and worked long hours, it is likely that he was exposed to carcinogens and harmful substances in greater concentrations than were found in the epidemiological study,” COMWEL wrote in the judgment. “Working at Samsung Electronics was Kim’s first job, and taking into account the latency period for leukaemia and the fact that he received the diagnosis at the young age of 25, we acknowledge that there is a significant causal relationship between Kim’s leukaemia and his occupation.”
A deadly fire in a Peruvian warehouse has raised questions about exploitive working conditions and the use of child labour in the country’s vast informal economy. Four workers, one just 15-years-old, who were locked into storage containers that doubled as work spaces, are missing and presumed dead. The 22 June blaze also injured at least 15 people, according to news reports. It took more than 500 firefighters five days to extinguish the flames. The fire broke out in Nicolini Gallery, a building used for retail and manufacturing, located in the Las Malvinas area of Lima, Peru’s capital. Crammed with formal and informal businesses, the building included a fifth “floor” where metal shipping containers, ostensibly for storage, were used by JPEG SAC company as a workshop to produce counterfeit light bulbs. JPEG SAC employees included workers under 16-years-old, who were not registered with the labour authorities. The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) said that workers were killed “not by mistake, happenstance, destiny or bad luck,” but rather they were victims of an “exploitive model that privileges profit by any means possible.” The day before the fire, more than 400 labour inspectors and assistant labour inspectors went out on a national strike to call for the strengthening of the National Superintendence of Labour Inspections (SUNAFIL). According to the US Solidarity Center, “more than 200,000 workers toil in slavery-like conditions similar to the victims of the Nicolini fire, without labour rights or the information that would help them defend their rights. Seventy per cent of Peruvian workers labour in the informal sector, most without contracts, social benefits, family-supporting wages or health and safety training and protection.”
The Spanish airline Iberia has said it will stop requiring female job candidates to take a pregnancy test after being fined for the practice. The International Airlines Group-owned firm had been discovered by labour inspectors to be requiring the test in the Balearic Islands, and was fined €25,000 (£22,000). The airline argued it had only been trying to “guarantee that [pregnant women] did not face any risks.” The airline’s practice was uncovered after a campaign on the Balearic Islands to combat discrimination in the workplace, reports El Pais in English. Inspectors subsequently found Iberia had required a recruitment company, Randstad, to carry out the test on candidates along with other medical checks, the paper says. Iberia insists it did not turn down candidates discovered to be pregnant, saying five had been hired. It also reportedly argued that requiring pregnancy tests is commonplace in Spain. But health minister Dolors Montserrat said she “rejected” the practice. “Maternity can in no way be an obstacle for access to a job,” she told reporters. “There is no reason to justify it,” the Unión General de Trabajadores said in a statement. It added that if a company did ask for it, “we would evidently be faced with a clear case of discrimination.” Maria Teresa Garcia Menéndez, Iberia’s health and safety officer confirmed: “Given the controversy, arising from the current protocol in place to protect pregnant women, we will no longer include a pregnancy test in the medical examination for new hires.” Iberia is part of the International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox