A college lecturer has been awarded £159,000 in damages in a stress compensation case against Bradford College. The judge at Bradford County Court found that art and design lecturer Kate Rawnsley suffered depression and anxiety resulting from the negligence of her employer. Kate, a member of the union UCU, was awarded damages by the court after Bradford College was found to have failed in its duty to protect her, with work-related stress eventually causing her to leave her job. In the summer term of 2011, Kate was told her course would be relocated in September to a different room she considered unsuitable for art students. In July 2011, Kate wrote to the Dean of the college to notify him that the relocation proposals were affecting her health. The judge said Kate's emails represented actual notification to the college that she was suffering, or likely to suffer, from stress-related ill-health. The Dean however took no action, with UCU saying he failed to meet with Kate, did not inform her line managers of her concerns about the relocation, and did not refer her to occupational health services who would have undertaken a risk assessment. She was subsequently moved to the new room. In failing to take any action, the judge said that the Dean had not followed the college's own policy with regards to stress or acted as a prudent employer. UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, said: “This case shows how important it is for colleges to follow procedures that are in place for dealing with workplace stress.” She added: “Our member could so easily have been supported when she first raised her concerns in emails to the college but, as the judge found, those concerns were swept under the carpet and the net effect was very severe for her health. She came to the union desperately in need of support and UCU has guided her through a lengthy legal process which has resulted in a substantial award for her. We hope this case acts a warning to other colleges not to dismiss staff when they raise concerns about stress at work.”
An ethical labour standard award to leading blacklisting company Sir Robert McAlpine has been described as ‘shocking and disgusting’ by the construction union Unite. In October, the company became the first construction contractor to be awarded the ‘Ethical Labour Sourcing’ standard by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). But Unite says Sir Robert McAlpine was at the centre of the Consulting Association blacklisting operation, supplying both the first and final chair of the organisation and being one of the principal users of the blacklisting process which ruined the lives of thousands of workers, many targeted for raising safety concerns. Unite is currently suing Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd on behalf of victims of blacklisting, having already secured millions of pounds in compensation for blacklisted workers from firms involved with the Consulting Association. The union says its concerns about the firm have been reinforced by MPs, with 75 signing an early day motion calling on the company to be stripped of the contracts to refurbish Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower because of its involvement in blacklisting (Risks 822). Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Awarding an ethical standard for labour sourcing to Sir Robert McAlpine is both shocking and disgusting. There is nothing ethical about blacklisting workers and ruining their lives.” She added: “While BRE’s intentions to monitor and improve the recruitment of construction workers should have been a step forward, the organisation has shot itself in the foot by glossing over the stench of blacklisting which permeates from Sir Robert McAlpine.”
Unite has called on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate the lack of welfare facilities being provided to contracted-out housing maintenance workers in Birmingham. The union has obtained the advice given to the council’s outsourced maintenance and repair workers on the Keepmoat contract, who have been directed to use toilets at McDonalds, Tesco and KFC. Unite says the workers are actively discouraged from using the company’s depot during working hours. Despite the workforce undertaking often hot dirty work, washing facilities consist of the workforce being supplied with protective cream, hand cleaner, hand sanitiser and paper towels. According to Unite, workers are told they can sit in the cab of their van for rest breaks. It says an additional problem is that workers have their jobs sent to them on handheld Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and the jobs are scheduled without any scope for welfare breaks. The union adds that Wates and Fortem, who manage the other Birmingham housing maintenance contracts, also have ‘woefully inadequate’ welfare arrangements. Unite regional officer Stuart Baker said: “Housing contractors in Birmingham are flouting welfare regulations. This is about the dignity of the workers and the lack of welfare facilities can cause long-term health problems. In the 21st century workers are entitled to expect to be provided with decent welfare provisions. Contractors can’t simply provide a map of McDonalds, some hand gel and a few paper towels and think that everything is hunky dory.” He added: “Managers are more concerned with monitoring workers every move through trackers fitted in their vans, than providing their workforce with decent welfare facilities. The HSE has consistently said that it takes welfare regulations very seriously and now it has the opportunity to get involved and at least ensure these provisions are dramatically improved.”
Firefighters’ union FBU has warned of a ‘huge’ safety threat as official figures showed the number of firefighters employed by fire and rescue services has been reduced by over a fifth in the past decade. A Home Office report revealed that in 2017, 33,049 firefighters were working in the UK. This was a 4 per cent decrease compared with the previous year - 34,395 in 2016 – and a 17 per cent decrease compared with five years ago (39,678 in 2012). It is 22 per cent down compared with ten years ago (42,385 in 2007). FBU says the cut in firefighter posts mirrors a decline in fire prevention work, with the number of fire safety audits declining by 14 per cent over the last year and by 36 per cent since 2010. The union said it was deeply concerned about the figures and warned the drop in firefighter numbers was a ‘huge threat’ to public safety. The Home Office report also reveals that 11 per cent of staff have left the service within the last year, prompting fears that low morale is leading to firefighters seeking employment elsewhere. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The fire and rescue service is in crisis. Seven years of budget cuts have left the public at greater risk as there are far fewer firefighters left to respond to emergencies.” He added: “Disasters like the fire at Grenfell Tower show how important and valued our emergency services are. MPs from all parties should support investment into the fire and rescue service in order to maintain a world class, professional service that keeps us all safe.” Latest government figures show response times to most types of fire have increased significantly since 2010 and are at their slowest for 20 years.
Tube union RMT has said all London Underground stations should be staffed, or closed when unstaffed, after another dangerous incident at an unstaffed station. The union’s alert came after an incident at Ruislip station on 20 October. As a train was pulling into the platform, a young person jumped from the platform onto the tracks. The driver’s quick reactions meant he was able to bring his train to an emergency stop, which prevented the youth being hit. It subsequently emerged that the young person had accessed the track a number of times and had been seen playing around near the platform edge with friends. Had this station been staffed, police and other authorities would have been summoned far earlier to prevent it from escalating to a life-risking incident. RMT said it was ‘a serious concern’ that the driver had to deal with the whole incident alone. It added that ‘near miss’ incidents can have a profound impact on drivers and said it is imperative that they have as much support as possible as quickly as possible. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Another day, another unstaffed station, another serious incident. London Underground need to get an urgent grip on unstaffed stations – the appalling station jobs cut programme known as Fit for the Future continues to leave an unsafe legacy of daily unstaffed stations.” He added: “Whilst RMT have had a major victory in getting 325 jobs back, unstaffed stations are still a regular occurrence. If stations can’t be staffed, they must be closed. It’s only a matter of time before a fatality occurs.”
A letter sent to MPs by transport secretary Chris Grayling over the on-going guard’s safety disputes has been slammed by the rail union RMT as “a wholly misleading work of fiction that damages the prospects of reaching a negotiated [agreement] with the train companies for clearly politically motivated reasons.” The letter from the cabinet minister said: “What the RMT is insisting on is that trains full of passengers, which are perfectly capable of operating safely, should be cancelled just because a second staff member, a guard or conductor, is taken ill or delayed on an inbound train.” In a written response to the transport secretary, RMT general secretary Mick Cash accused the minister of “putting anti-union politics before passengers.” Commenting on the minister’s role in the dispute, the union leader said: “This letter from Chris Grayling nails down once and for all the core fact that it’s the government who are imposing Driver Only Operation on the train operators and who are directing the attack on Britain’s train guards from the centre. Instead of allowing normal industrial relations to run their course the train companies are boxed in by central diktat from Chris Grayling and the DfT.” He added: “Chris Grayling’s letter to MP’s shows that the government are driving the current rail disputes for their own politically-motivated reasons. That damaging and dangerous behaviour needs to stop right now and normal industrial relations should be reinstated.”
Up to 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems have to leave their jobs each year, a report has concluded. It also claims poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99bn each year. Prime minister Theresa May, who commissioned the report, said it showed “we need to take action.” She is asking NHS England and the civil service to accept the report's recommendations. Paul Farmer, co-author of the ‘Thriving at work’ report and chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “Opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure that employees who may be struggling get the support they need. In many instances employers simply don't understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.” The review makes 40 recommendations about how employers and the government can better support employees to remain at work, such as through creating an online wellbeing portal and using digital technology to support workers in the gig economy. It also recommends the “government sets clearer expectations of employers through legislation, and makes Statutory Sick Pay more flexible to better support people with mental health problems to make voluntary phased returns to work where appropriate.” Companies are also being encouraged to include a section on employee mental health in their annual reports. Currently only 11 per cent of companies do this, the report found. The review says employers should: Create a mental health at work plan; build mental health awareness by making information and support accessible; encourage open conversations; provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance; promote effective people management, with line managers holding regular conversations about health and well-being with their staff; and routinely monitor employee mental health. The government said it is considering the legislative changes suggested in the report.
Ÿ DWP/DoH news release. Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers, an independent report for DWP/DoH, 26 October 2017 [pdf]. The Guardian. BBC News Online.
Government plans to improve mental health at work will founder unless cuts to mental health services are reversed and workers are given better legal protection, unions have warned. Unite, which represents mental health nurses and applied psychologists, welcomed the findings of the ‘Thriving at work’ report but stepped up calls for government to reverse cuts in mental health services and to start properly funding services. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “It is all very well the government welcoming the report but ministers need to invest in mental health services which have been cut to the bone since 2010.” Dave Munday, lead professional officer for mental health at Unite, said: “Mental health staff are continually papering over the cracks and holding the service together but such unselfish commitment can only last so long, staff are at risk of burn out and making themselves ill.” Dan Shears, safety director with the union GMB, said: “This report shows the urgent need for legislation and how the voluntary approach to work place mental health has utterly failed. The modern workplace puts incredible strain on employees.” He added: “Workers need support and reasonable adjustments for existing conditions, and preventative action to stop mental ill health developing. Getting this right would save the UK economy almost £100 billion per year.” Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the union Prospect, said the government could not ignore the impact of funding cuts and other “aggravating factors in the increase of mental health, such as increased workloads, long hours working and work-related stress.”
Half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study, a BBC survey has found. Of the women who said they had been harassed, 63 per cent said they didn't report it to anyone, and 79 per cent of the male victims kept it to themselves. The ComRes poll for Radio 5 live surveyed 2,031 British adults and found that 37 per cent of all those asked – 53 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men - said they had experienced sexual harassment, ranging from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults, at work or a place of study. Of those who had been harassed, the survey suggested one in 10 women had been sexually assaulted. More women than men were targeted by a boss or senior manager – 30 per cent compared with 12% per cent - and one in 10 women who had experienced harassment said it led to them leaving their job or place of study. The focus on sexual harassment at work switched this week from the entertainment industry (Risks 822) to politics, with a series of scandals linking MPs to abusive behaviour directed at researchers, secretaries and party activists. It also emerged that a binding code of conduct proposed by David Cameron while he was prime minister, intended to protect Commons researchers and secretaries from sexual harassment, could have been in place three years ago but for opposition from Conservative MPs. The Evening Standard reports the proposal was blocked by senior Tory MPs on the powerful backbench 1922 Committee. Studies have linked sexual harassment at work to higher rates of sickness absence and to psychological and physical ill-health.
A health care provider has been fined after it failed to act on workplace health concerns raised by an occupational health nurse. Southwark Crown Court heard how on 28 June 2014 the nurse, Lynne Betts, raised concerns with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) relating to the running of the internal occupational health service of Ramsay Health Care (UK) Operations Ltd. The HSE investigation found the company had not appointed sufficient occupational health professionals to run the service, a failure that compromised the health and safety of its employees, patients and members of the public, putting them at risk of ill-health or infections. HSE served four improvement notices as part of the investigation. HSE also found the company had failed to provide adequate health surveillance for its workers. As a consequence, a nurse working at Boston West Hospital, Lincolnshire, was diagnosed with occupational dermatitis on 12 January 2015, the condition subsequently spreading from her hands to her arms and legs. Ramsay Health Care (UK) Operations Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £550,000 and ordered to pay costs of £36,320.44. HSE inspector Emma Page said: “Healthcare providers should be aware of their legal duty to protect the health and safety of their employees as well as their patients and service users. HSE will not hesitate to hold those accountable who do not fulfil their legal obligations.”
A clothing and textile recycling company has been prosecuted after a 76-year-old worker was fatally injured by a reversing delivery vehicle. The Magistrates’ Court in Mansfield heard today how on 26 April 2016 Bella Richards, an employee of Savanna Rags International Limited, was walking from the weighbridge towards the smoking shelter in the rear yard during her afternoon break. A delivery vehicle driven by a visiting driver reversed from the weighbridge towards the rear yard to deliver goods. Mrs Richards was struck by the rear of the vehicle, sustaining fatal injuries. Savanna Rags International Limited pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £650,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £3,300.25. HSE inspector Aaron Rashad commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks arising from the movement of vehicles and implement safe systems of work. This meant the company failed to put in place a number of simple safety measures including segregating vehicles and pedestrians and reducing the need for vehicles to reverse.” He added: “HSE is currently in the middle of targeting waste and recycling premises with an inspection initiative that will look at certain activities to ensure effective management and control of risk. We are calling on anyone working in the industry to take the time to refresh their knowledge of our advice and guidance, available for free on our website. Every worker has the right to return from work safe in the knowledge that their employer takes their health and safety seriously.”
A contractor from London has been given a six-month prison sentence suspended for eighteen months after an employee was seriously injured in a site fall. Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 11 November 2016, local builder James Gibson was undertaking a refurbishment project when a worker fell through an unprotected hole in the ground floor. The worker fell through the hole measuring approximately 1.5 metres by 3 metres, into a basement below and suffered serious head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found failures in health and safety management, including a lack of sufficient edge protection to prevent workers from falling through the opening in the floor. James Gibson pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the work at height regulations. He was given a six-month prison sentence suspended for eighteen months and ordered to pay costs of £8,442. HSE inspector Matt Raine commented: “Falls from height remain one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. Had the employer in this case, James Gibson, implemented adequate control measures to protect the health and safety of his workers, this incident could have been prevented.”
A free seminar on the topic ‘Grenfell: from social harm to social murder?’ is to be held in London on the afternoon of 15 November. Speakers at the event, taking place at Queen Mary University London (QMUL), are Aditya Chakrabortty of The Guardian, Open University criminology experts Vickie Cooper and Steve Tombs and Pilgrim Tucker, a housing campaigner and supporter of the Grenfell Tower Action Group.
Ÿ Grenfell: from social harm to social murder?. Seminar, ArtsOne lecture theatre, QMUL, London, 2-4pm, Wednesday 15 November 2017 Register for the free event.
The US Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has launched the country’s first-ever database of state prosecutions of health and safety ‘Crimes Against Workers’, including case files, court decisions, media clips, and advocacy resources. CPR says: “We're hopeful this database will serve as a resource for prosecutors, advocates, reporters, and others who are seeking to ensure that those who commit crimes against workers are punished accordingly and that other potential bad actors hear the message that they will be held accountable for criminal misconduct. We also invite users to provide new or updated case information, submit documents, and ask questions.” The organisation adds: “Thousands of American workers are killed on the job every year. These people are not just a statistic – they are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, siblings, spouses, fiancés, recent graduates, neighbours, and beloved members of their communities. Everyone deserves to return home safe and secure at the end of a hard day's work, and those who aren't given that chance deserve justice.”
Victims seeking redress for corporate human rights abuses are suffering intimidation, harassment, detention and in some cases even murder, a group of UN experts has said. The UN group sets out new proposals to give victims a key role in the processes designed to protect their rights and provide effective remedies. “The idea is simple: victims must be at the centre of the mechanisms that are meant to provide them access to effective remedy. Yet this is often far from reality,” said Surya Deva, chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, presenting the expert group’s report to the UN General Assembly in New York. The report, based on real-life obstacles faced by victims and which was informed by evidence from asbestos victims’ organisations and other groups, sets out recommendations for States and businesses to ensure that remedial mechanisms are responsive to the diverse experiences and expectations of rights holders. For businesses found to have caused “irremediable harm”, it notes “preventive remedial responsibility will be particularly relevant where, for example, exposure of workers to hazardous chemicals may result in irreversible health conditions, pollutants from a plant may destroy rare wildlife or industrial activities may have a significant impact on climate change.” Deva commented: “The main responsibility to protect people against victimisation rests with States, but businesses should also play their part. They need to ensure that action to defend corporate interests, such as pressing defamation charges, do not discourage people from exercising their right to access remedies.”
Two explosions and a subsequent blaze at a fireworks factory on the western outskirts of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta have killed at least 48 people and injured dozens more, officials have said. Commenting on the 26 October tragedy, police spokesperson Argo Yuwono told Metro Television: “From the manifest we obtained there were 103 workers.” He said in addition to the dead, over 40 workers were injured in the explosion, and were being treated at three nearby hospitals. Witnesses told local media there were two explosions, one at about 10am and another about three hours later, both of which could be heard miles away. Reports say some of the workers in the factory were as young as 15, illegal in Indonesia where the work is judged to be hazardous. Police arrested Indra Liyono and Andri Hartanto, the owner and the operational director of the factory, for allegedly employing underage workers, violating regional minimum wage standards and negligence causing death. They face up to five years in prison if found guilty. Deadly fires are not uncommon in Indonesia due to poor safety standards that are routinely flouted. Seventeen people were killed when a fire ripped through a karaoke bar on Sulawesi island in 2015. In 2009, a fire killed 20 people at a karaoke bar in Medan, on Sumatra island.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has welcomed a commitment from the government of Qatar to end the kafala system of modern slavery. The global trade union body said it now plans further meetings with Qatar’s labour minister on implementing labour rights for two million migrant workers in the Gulf State. “The new guidance from Qatar signals the start of real reforms in Qatar which will bring to an end the use of modern slavery and puts the country on the pathway to meeting its international legal obligations on workers’ rights. Following discussions in Doha there is a clear government commitment to normalise industrial protections for migrant workers,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “These initiatives have the support of the ITUC, and we hope that implementation will be also supported by the ILO with its technical expertise. Much remains to be done, but these steps open the way for workers to be treated with dignity and for their lives and livelihoods to be protected.” The ITUC said it has called consistently for Qatar to end modern slavery and make the 2022 FIFA World Cup a tournament with rights for all workers. The union body has exposed repeatedly the “appalling” fatality rates among migrant workers building facilities for football’s premier event (Risks 781). It has also called on the government to abolish the system of exit permits, put in place a minimum wage to end the race-based wage differences, allow workers representation, eliminate contract substitution and to put in place a grievance procedure to settle disputes. “These conditions have been met, and we congratulate the Emir and Qatar’s labour minister for their commitment to modernise their industrial relations system,” said Sharan Burrow. Steve Cotton, general secretary of the transport workers’ global union ITF, commented: “For the ITF this means a potential sea change for transport workers, in aviation, in ports, and in public transport. We will now work within this agreement to build protection for them as workers, with good, sustainable jobs, recognising international standards and best practice.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/