|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.
Non-disclosure agreements must not be used to prevent sexual harassment and other workplace abuses being exposed, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has said. Writing in the Guardian, the union leader noted the young agency ‘hostesses’ at last month’s sleazy Presidents Club fundraiser (Risks 835) “were made to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) beforehand. The organisers clearly expected bad behaviour from their all-male guests – but they were more concerned about the event’s reputation than about the well-being of their staff.” She added the women “may well have got the impression that they had signed away their right to complain about inappropriate – not to mention illegal – behaviour. But agency workers still have rights. Your statutory protections against sexual harassment can’t be signed away. And in today’s world of work, it should go without saying that all women workers deserve to be treated with respect. NDAs cannot be used to sweep abusive behaviour under the carpet.” Commenting on a forthcoming government review of NDAs, the TUC leader indicated “unions will use every opportunity to influence the review and make sure that this misuse is stopped. Scaring workers into staying silent cannot become common practice.” Employers should be made responsible for protecting staff from harassment by clients and customers, she wrote, adding: “While existing rules on vicarious liability provide some protection, a strong new law would send a clear message that employers need to set out to protect their staff from harassment and abuse before it happens.”
Ÿ The Guardian. Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace: A TUC guide for trade union activists, TUC, July 2016. Protection from sexual harassment, TUC, November 2017. It’s not OK: Sexual harassment at work is more blue collar than red carpet, special report, Hazards, December 2017. Hansard, 22 January 2018.
Unions play a crucial role in empowering workers to resist sexual harassment, London School of Economics (LSE) researchers have found. LSE professors Sarah Ashwin and Naila Kabeer found organisations working in partnership with local trade unions or worker representatives are more likely to succeed in addressing sexual harassment and violence. They say global codes of conduct, by comparison, have proven ineffective. “Where legal protection is weak or absent, a code of conduct will clearly be harder to enforce. But even in the presence of a suitable legal framework, a code of conduct is not a very effective tool for redressing a power imbalance,” they note in an LSE blog. But unions did work, they said, citing research by Tufts University. This found that collective bargaining agreements had a direct impact on reducing concerns regarding sexual harassment and verbal abuse, improving worker satisfaction with the outcomes of complaints and encouraging workers to raise concerns with trade union representatives. The LSE academics concluded: “Working in partnership with local trade unions or worker representatives to address sexual harassment and violence is more likely to bring success than top-down initiatives. Such approaches offer women a protected voice which is the best antidote to the shaming and silencing that comes with sexual abuse.”
A new international occupational health and safety (OHS) management standard which was heavily criticised by unions throughout the drafting process is due to be launched in March. The International Organisation for Standardisation’s (ISO) certifiable ISO45001 standard will replace the non-certifiable British standard OHSAS 18001. The TUC is calling for unions to be vigilant as the ISO standard rolls out. “It is likely to be most commonly used in multinational corporations that will seek to have a standard OHS system across the entire globe.” The TUC remains concerned about flaws in the standard, notably the absence of rights to necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) without charge, to refuse dangerous work with protection from victimisation and to OHS training in work time, all of which are in International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards. He said the TUC will be “producing guidance for workplace representatives on how to negotiate with management to ensure that, if your employer does seek to gain ISO45001 certification, it is done in a way that genuinely improves workplace protection and worker involvement rather than just being a tick-box exercise to achieve another ‘badge’.” International union organisations fear that this ISO standard may appeal to employers for a number of reasons – it is weaker and its certification is a commercial and not a regulatory arrangement, with the TUC earlier criticising the initiative as a bid to ‘privatise’ safety standards (Risks 677). The TUC is concerned that safety regulators might treat ISO certification, paid for by firms and undertaken on a commercial basis, as an alternative to official scrutiny. Further, changes to ISO standards can be made by ISO, without reference to unions, who have no formal role at ISO.
The number of serious injuries suffered by education staff in attacks has shot up by 24 per cent compared to five years ago, the union GMB has said. Victims have suffered loss of sight, brain damage, loss of consciousness, asphyxia and amputation. There has also been one fatality. The union based its analysis on figures obtained from the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE). These revealed that 477 assaults were reported to the HSE in 2016/17, up from 385 in 2012/13. GMB said only the most serious categories of injury are reported to the HSE. Of the 2016/17 total, 385 education workers were so badly injured that they had to take more than seven days off work. Ten per cent of the education injuries reported to HSE last year were caused by acts of violence – up from eight per cent in 2012/13. GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “These figures back up what our members tell us – school staff experience violence and abuse on a daily basis. Obviously these serious injuries are particularly horrific – but all abuse has consequences and can lead to a climate of stress and fear.” She added: “Our members love their jobs and want to carry on doing their best for the children. But their schools must make sure they have proper policies, guidelines and principles to back staff up when attacks do take place. GMB demands a zero-tolerance approach to violence in schools – with proper, reliable support systems in place for those who do experience it.” She concluded: “Throughout 2018 we will be asking schools to sign up to GMB’s code of conduct to ensure attacks on members, when they happen, are dealt with properly."
Rail union RMT has confirmed that members working on South Western Railway will be taking further industrial action from 16 February in a dispute over safety, the role of the train guard and a roll out of driver-only operation. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is frankly disgraceful that South Western Railway point-blank refuse to engage with the union in meaningful talks over their plans to run trains without a safety-critical guard on board across this franchise.” He added: “It is the intransigent attitude of the company which has forced us to put on this latest phase of industrial action in an effort to force them to see sense and to drive them back to the negotiating table for genuine and meaningful talks. We know that this action will have a serious impact on services and the responsibility for the disruption caused will be wholly down to South Western Railway and their pig-headed attitude. It is time for the company to get out of the bunker and start talking.”
Ministers have been accused of a “shockingly cavalier” approach to fire safety after it emerged some new schools are being built without sprinklers. Since 2010, just 35 per cent of new schools have been fitted with sprinklers. The revelation has prompted union leaders to write to education secretary Damian Hinds to demand action. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the National Education Union (NEU) say the Grenfell Tower fire “should have been a defining moment” on fire safety, but they warn a rush to build new schools cheaply is instead driving decisions. Andy Dark, FBU’s assistant general secretary, said: “The government’s attitude toward fire safety is shockingly cavalier. Sprinklers play an important role in preventing the growth of fire, limiting damage to buildings and saving lives.” He added: “The cost of fitting sprinklers represents a very low investment when weighed against the potential threat to life, the damage to buildings and the disruption of children’s education if there is a fire in a school. It is essential that the government act immediately to make it a legal requirement for sprinklers to be fitted in all new school buildings.” Kevin Courtney, NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “Grenfell Tower should have been a defining moment in the way we view safety in public buildings but it seems that health and safety is still seen as an opportunity to cut corners and save money.” He added: “The same protections which apply across Wales and Scotland should cover England too. It’s clear that the only way forward is for the ‘expectation’ that sprinklers be fitted to new school buildings to become a legal requirement. Otherwise the policy will continue to be flouted.”
The TUC has said the government action on gig worker rights is only ‘a baby step - when it needed to take a giant leap’, with 1.8 million workers left without key protections. Prime minister Theresa May announced this week the government is to give gig economy workers new rights, including holiday and sick pay, for the first time. Its Good Work plan is in answer to last year's Taylor Review which recommended changes in conditions to reflect modern working practices (Risks 809). The government has accepted most of the review's recommendations. It adds it is going further than the Review's recommendations by enforcing holiday and sick pay entitlements, giving all workers the right to demand a payslip, and allowing flexible workers to demand more stable contracts. It will also monitor and report on the quality as well as the quantity of jobs in the economy and take steps to make sure flexible workers are aware of their rights. Theresa May said: “Our response to this report will mean tangible progress towards that goal as we build an economy that works for everyone.” Business secretary Greg Clark said: “The ‘Good Work plan’ puts the UK at the front of the pack in addressing the challenges and opportunities of modern ways of working, it is an important part of the Industrial Strategy and will enhance our business environment as one of the best places to work, invest and do business.” But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government has taken a baby step – when it needed to take a giant leap. These plans won’t stop the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment. And they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections.” She added: “Ministers need to up their game. At the very least they must end the Undercutters’ Charter that means agency workers can be paid less than permanent staff doing the same job.” Sharan Burrow, head of the global union confederation ITUC, warned last year: “Low pay is in all probability the most clear indicator of the degree of health and safety risk a worker will face.” Studies show insecure work is a far more unhealthy option than permanent work, and is bad for mental and physical health (Risks 808).
A courier for the parcel giant DPD who was fined for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes collapsed and died of the disease. Don Lane, 53, from Christchurch in Dorset, missed appointments with specialists because he felt under pressure to cover his round and faced DPD’s £150 daily penalties if he did not find cover. DPD delivers parcels for Marks & Spencer, Amazon and John Lewis but only pays couriers per parcel delivered. It treats its couriers as self-employed franchisees and they receive no sick or holiday pay. The company’s system of charging drivers if they cannot cover their round has been described as appalling by the chair of the House of Commons’ work and pensions committee, Frank Field (Risks 791). Lane had collapsed twice, including once into a diabetic coma while at the wheel of his DPD van during deliveries, when the company fined him in July 2017 after he went to see a specialist about eye damage caused by diabetes. He collapsed again in September and finally in late December, having worked through illness during the Christmas rush. He died at the Royal Bournemouth hospital on 4 January this year, leaving behind a widow, Ruth, and a 22-year-old son. He had worked for DPD for 19 years. MP Frank Field described Lane’s death as “a new low for the gig economy” and called on Theresa May to urgently introduce new legislation to protect “this small army of workers at the bottom of the pile… who are being badly exploited”. He added: “DPD have been told time and again that their punitive regime is totally unjust, particularly as their workers are labelled ‘self-employed’. Such mistreatment of workers smacks of sweated labour from the Victorian era.”
Work and Pensions secretary Esther McVey has resigned from the advisory board of the Samaritans after accusations of hypocrisy. While serving as minister for disabled people under David Cameron, McVey was accused of introducing benefit sanctions to force people with disabilities into work. Unions and disability rights groups said the policy was driving desperate people to suicide. The Morning Star reports that trade unionists and other activists expressed concern when Theresa May made McVey work and pensions secretary in January. They were also aghast to discover she had joined the advisory board of the charity, which offers help for people contemplating suicide. Now the Samaritans has announced that the cabinet minister has stepped down from the role “due to her commitments” in government. McVey’s appointment as the secretary of state responsible for work and health and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had earlier been criticised because of her link to a dangerous firm. She had served as director at her family’s demolition company at a time the firm had was found by the Health and Safety Executive to have committed a number of criminal safety breaches so serious work had to be stopped immediately (Risks 833).
The Department for Education (DfE) is under fire from MPs for ‘failing to get a grip’ on teacher retention in England, with excessive workload the top reason for the teacher haemorrhage. A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report concluded the DfE does not have a coherent plan to tackle teacher retention and development. The report said the number of qualified teachers leaving the profession - for reasons other than retirement - increased from 6 per cent (25,260) of the qualified workforce in 2011 to 8 per cent (34,910) in 2016. “The failure of the department to get to grips with the number of teachers leaving puts additional pressure on schools faced with rising numbers of children needing a school place and the teachers to teach them,” the report noted. The PAC report identified workload as the main reason driving the exodus of teachers. “We do not expect the department to prescribe how many hours teachers should work but do expect it to understand and have a view on the relationship between workload and retention,” it added. Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, commented: “The reasons for this crisis should by now be crystal clear to this government. Ever rising workloads, particularly driven by oppressive marking and assessment regime and administrative tasks. Uncompetitive salary levels as a result of years of cuts, caps and freezes. Teacher burnout manifesting itself in spiralling levels of mental and physical ill-health. Deep anger and frustration across the profession.” She added: “Unless the government accepts the mounting evidence, grasps the nettle and takes action to address effectively the problems they have created the position will only deteriorate further.”
Tata Steel has been fined £1.4 million for its criminal safety failings nearly eight years after a crane crushed and killed an electrician at its Scunthorpe steel plant. Hull Crown Court heard how, on 23 April 2010, Thomas Standerline was examining a crane as part of his inspection duties as a maintenance electrician. While carrying out this work, an overhead crane travelled over the cage he was in, trapping and then crushing him. He died instantly. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Tata Steel had failed to enforce its own safety procedures, despite having two previous incidents with ‘shared features’ before Standerline’s death. The HSE investigation also found Tata Steel failed to put in place essential control measures which would have prevented the overhead crane that killed Standerline from even being in operation. Tata Steel UK Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £1.4 million with costs of £140,000. HSE principal inspector Kirsty Storer commented: “This tragic loss of life could have been avoided had the company adhered to and enforced its own safety procedures. Despite two previous incidents sharing features with the one which ultimately cost Mr Standerline his life, the company failed both to take these as a warning sign and to act on safety recommendations.” Speaking after the hearing, a family member said: “Every day we think about what might have been if he had still been here. We would like to thank, once again, all those who have helped and supported us over the course of the last eight years. It means a great deal to us.”
A skip hire company has been fined after a lorry driver was fatally crushed between two vehicles. Leicester Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 4 November 2015, MAC Skip Hire Limited employee Beverley Upton was crushed between her lorry and the bucket of a shovel loader while it was being loaded. They had been trying to remove some overhanging waste when the incident happened. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to implement and follow systems and site rules for loading operations at its Hinckley site, resulting in a failure to suitably segregate pedestrians and vehicles. MAC Skip Hire Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,500. HSE inspector Mark Austin commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure to ensure that basic site controls and rules were being managed and enforced, such that pedestrians were not at risk from these large vehicles working in the area.”
The national Hazards Campaign has produced new resources for International Workers’ Memorial Day, including commemorative purple ‘forget-me-knot’ ribbons, ‘union workplaces are safer workplaces’ car stickers, ‘organising for safety’ high-vis waistcoats and free posters. The campaign says safety reps can make use of the resources in preparing for their 28 April event.
Ÿ Hazards Campaign 28 April 2018 resources. TUC 28 April 2018 webpages. Email details of UK events to the TUC health and safety office to be included in the TUC listing. ITUC/Hazards 28 April 2018 campaign website and theme announcement in English, Spanish and French.
Canada’s highest court has ruled that a human rights duty to accommodate people with disabilities is applicable in the case of workplace injuries. The legal case was brought by public service union CUPE and injured workers’ groups in Ontario and Quebec. The union says the ruling means employers are now required to accommodate workers with functional limitations due to a work-related injury. “The legislation provides a broad range of options for adapting workstations,” said CUPE-Québec president Denis Bolduc. “We are going to ensure that no one who is able to work is unjustly excluded from their workplace.”
At total of 82 journalists and media staff were killed doing their jobs in 2017, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has said. ‘Time to end impunity’, the global media union’s report, said the number of work-related killings of journalists fell to their lowest level in a decade, but added “the death toll in journalism remains unacceptably high.” Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said “the best tribute we can pay to the victims is to unrelentingly mobilise and work tirelessly to lift the shadow of impunity which has been over journalism for far too long.” The report highlights the “pressing challenges” to journalists’ safety across the globe. IFJ said these range from opposition to the media as ‘a crucial pillar in democracy’ in certain parts of Africa, to the failure of holding accountable those who kill journalists in some European countries, to the ‘reign of terror’ by organised crime in Latin America, terror attacks in Asia Pacific and the Middle East and the Arab world, where the problem is compounded by frontline violence. IFJ is proposing a new international convention on the safety and independence of journalists and other media professionals, which it wants adopted by members of the United Nations. The convention aims “at providing a real means to enforcing existing laws in order to hold accountable those who attack journalists,” IFJ says.
Workers in ‘digitised’ working environments are facing new psychosocial risks and problems with work-related violence and harassment, a study for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found. The UN body’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) commissioned the research from University of Leicester business professor Phoebe Moore. She says the new study highlights the ways in which new technologies are being used for management purposes in the workplace, whether that is in factories, on streets or in the home. “This includes the ’gig economy’, automation practices and algorithmic management, people analytics, computerisation, wearable tracking. Overall, it’s about the use of big data and quantification to make selective, predictive and prescriptive decisions related to work, workers, and the workplace,” the Leicester University academic said. “Violence and harassment unfortunately thrive when rights at work are often non-existent.” The paper is part of a research package prepared for ACTRAV ahead of consideration of a proposed labour standard on ‘Ending violence and harassment towards women and men in the world of work.’ This will be discussed at the ILO’s International Labour Conference in June 2018. “The study by Professor Moore articulates several decent work deficits that contribute to violence and harassment at work. The good news is that trade unions are becoming more and more active in addressing the issue and that the forthcoming ILO standard has the potential to be the milestone for labour law and collective agreements”, said Anna Biondi, deputy director of ACTRAV.
Ÿ ILO news release and report, The threat of physical and psychosocial violence and harassment in digitalized work, ILO ACTRAV, February 2018.
New technologies are being used to monitor employers’ behaviour at work – and potentially outside the workplace. Online retailer Amazon has patented designs for a wristband that can track precisely where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction. The concept, which aims to streamline the fulfilment of orders, adds another layer of surveillance to what a succession of reports have identified as an already challenging working environment (Risks 716). Other technology has the potential to takes the process much further. Contract cleaners working for a property management company in the US are being required to upload a Labor Sync app to their personal mobile phones, which uses GPS to monitor both their whereabouts and working hours. The workers are only paid when inside a house, not when travelling between jobs. Some safety and union activists have expressed fears the app could be used to identify where workers are meeting together, inside and outside work - for example, organising or union meetings. Other technologies are more invasive still. Last year, Wisconsin tech company Three Square Market, also known as 32M, held a ‘chip party’, where 41 of its 85 employees agreed to be voluntarily microchipped. Some workers declined, citing concerns about possible long-term health effects.
Poultry workers in the United States have won an important victory after campaigning against an industry’s attempt to remove the maximum line speed. If the petition by the National Chicken Council to the Food Safety and Inspection service (FSIS) had been successful it would have reversed an Obama administration decision to limit the number of birds processed to 140 per minute. The limit was designed to protect workers from strain injuries and other risks. Marc Perrone, president of the food union UFCW, and Stuart Applebaum, president of its retail affiliate RWDSU, both praised union members who campaigned in support of the line speed limit. They went door-to-door, made phone calls, and spoke directly with fellow members at worksites, urging them to send postcards and messages to federal agencies. Perrone said: “In addition to putting poultry workers at greater risk of injury, eliminating line speeds puts consumers at risk by making it more difficult for both federal inspectors and quality control workers to properly check birds for contamination. It was unbelievable to see major poultry industry groups ignore these well-known risks and lobby the USDA [US department of agriculture] to eliminate line speeds.” According to global foodworkers’ union IUF: “They defeated a proposal that would have put workers at greater risk of injury and consumers at greater risk of illness, by making it more difficult for both federal inspectors and quality control workers to properly check birds for contamination.” The fight now moves to the pork industry, following a USDA decision last month to eliminate line speeds in pork processing. UFCW president Perrone said this was a decision “driven entirely by corporate greed and which defies common sense” (Risks 835).
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
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).