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The ‘terrible conditions’ and poor treatment of workers in Amazon warehouses have been exposed in an investigation by the union GMB. The union says hundreds of ambulance callouts, people in constant agony and heavily pregnant women being forced to work standing, have also been uncovered. A series of freedom of information requests submitted to ambulance services across Britain revealed ambulances have been called out 600 times to 14 Amazon warehouses in the last three financial years. In more than half of the cases, patients were taken to hospital. During the past three calendar years at Amazon’s Rugeley site, ambulances were called 115 times, including three for women for pregnancy or maternity related issues and three for major trauma. Other ‘disturbing’ examples in the GMB dossier on Amazon include electrocution, unconsciousness, building on fire and chest pains. The union says at a similar sized supermarket distribution warehouse a few miles away, there were just eight call outs during the same period. A separate survey of GMB members working at Amazon warehouses revealed 87 per cent are in pain some or all of the time due to their workload. GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “Hundreds of ambulance call outs, pregnant women telling us they are forced to stand for ten hours a day, pick, stow, stretch and bend, pull heavy carts and walk miles – even miscarriages and pregnancy issues at work. I've never seen figures like this - Amazon Rugeley must be one of the most dangerous places to work in Britain. Amazon should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.” He added: "GMB is here to provide a voice for our members and achieve dignity at work. Companies like Amazon should be treating staff with respect, not treating them like robots.”
Rail union RMT has challenged transport secretary Chris Grayling to meet staff that have had faced the full force of passenger anger for the rail timetable chaos, cancellations and delays on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern rail services. “The total chaos unleashed by Chris Grayling on our railways has left staff at the sharp end abandoned to their fate by his private train operators,” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said. “I am challenging the transport secretary to come and meet some of the men and women bearing the brunt of the backlash against the timetable changes his department signed off. RMT members across the north and the south are being hung out to dry as human shields for a failed Tory privatisation dogma. That is a disgrace and Chris Grayling should have the guts to get out of his bunker and come and talk to them.” The union leader added: “For over two years these rail companies have been attacking their staff and setting them up for abuse, with Govia Thameslink even launching their infamous #strikeback campaign which was blatant incitement to violence against their own employees. They are responsible for the consequences now being reported by our members, often women and lone working, who have been set up to take the hit.” He said the rail safety regulator should step in and support these under-attack rail workers. He said the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) “have not lifted a finger and are as culpable for the consequences as the private train companies who fund them. They are a disgrace and always end up siding with their paymasters come the crunch. RMT is demanding protection and support for our members caught in the crossfire of this timetable chaos before we have a major incident on our hands.”
TV and film production union BECTU has launched the latest phase of its campaign against the long damaging hours culture in film and TV production. The #EyesHalfShut campaign, launched last October, highlights the dangers to health that film and TV workers face every day in an industry BECTU says is beset with unnecessary long hours working. The union says the long hours culture causes real health problems, yet days of ten or eleven working hours – often with many hours of overtime – are the norm in many parts of the film and TV industries. Working days of 21 hours and sometimes longer were reported in BECTU’s survey last year of members. According to the union, the expectation that crew ‘opt out’ of the EU Working Time Directive is almost universal. BECTU’s survey showed a majority of respondents work more than their standard contractual hours either every shift or for a majority of shifts. In BECTU’s latest campaign push, the union spent this week “promoting the need for more first aid skills so that members can recognise the signs of illnesses such as stroke or understand the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).” BECTU negotiations officer Caroline Hemmington said: “We aim to help our members negotiate working hours that don’t damage their health or even their lives. BECTU has already made significant improvements through our negotiations and we will continue this work.” She added: “There is an expectation for people to work extremely long hours in the film and TV industry. Because these industries are crewed by freelancers, many feel they have no option but to work long hours or risk future employment opportunities. We understand the reasons that the film industry relies on long days, but our members overwhelmingly believe that the industry could do a lot more to manage itself better and improve the work-life balance of crew – without damaging the productivity of the industry.”
Disturbing new figures from the union GMB show more than one in ten school support staff who responded to a survey have experienced sexually inappropriate behaviour from pupils. GMB said the ‘shocking’ statistics come from its nationwide survey of members, which found the abuse was leaving some staff intimidated and ‘mentally scarred’. More than 4,600 school support staff responded to the question ‘Have you experienced sexually inappropriate behaviour from pupils (including verbal comments, innuendo, inappropriate touching and the taking of inappropriate pictures - sometimes known as 'up-skirting')?’. More than 10.5 per cent said they had, with the rate fractionally higher among classroom-based staff. Karen Leonard, GMB national officer, said: “These testimonies from our dedicated school staff make very tough reading and bring home the difficult situations many of our teaching assistants, school administrators, lunchtime supervisors and others experience every day.” She added: “It’s not surprising many are left stressed, intimidated and even with mental scars. But schools must make sure they have proper policies, guidelines and principles to support staff when these incidents do take place. GMB demands a zero-tolerance approach – with proper, reliable support systems in place for those who do experience it.”
A move this month that means fire appliances in Tyne and Wear will be crewed by just four firefighters has been branded as ‘dangerous’ by their union. The FBU said the cutbacks comes on the heels of a major fire in Sunderland last month, where resources were ‘stretched to breaking point.’ The blaze at a recycling plant saw 13 appliances and 48 firefighters in attendance, with as few as eight fire appliances and 40 firefighters left to respond to other incidents in Tyne and Wear. From the start of June, the service has had two fewer fire appliances between midnight and 9am. Russ King, secretary of the FBU in Tyne and Wear, said: “Never ending budget cuts are leaving the fire service with threadbare resources. Let’s be clear; every time we have a major incident from now on fire service resources will pushed to the limit. Lives are being put at risk.” He added: “If there are fewer fire appliances with fewer firefighters, the lifesaving work they perform will be compromised. We are urging the fire authority to reverse the decision to remove the engines from the night time fire cover.” Commenting on the reduced staffing levels, he said: “Having a crew of four also puts firefighters at increased risk of serious injury. At least five firefighters are needed for example at a house fire so that they can follow proper firefighting procedures designed for their own safety.” Tyne and Wear Fire Authority voted in December last year to cut fire crews to four despite severe criticism and warnings from the union.
The UK’s security professionals have a lower life expectancy than people born in Afghanistan or Iraq, GMB has said. The union’s research found security guards die 20 years younger than the national average. An official estimate for GMB by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the mean age of death of people working in security professions is 61.9 years. The average age of death in the UK is 81.4, while global life expectancy is 72. Afghanistan has a life expectancy of 62.7 and Iraq 69.8 years. The figures show by far the biggest cause of death in security professions is ischaemic heart diseases, cancers of the trachea, bronchus and lung and chronic lower respiratory diseases. GMB national officer Roger Jenkins said: “It is absolutely shocking security professionals here in the UK have a lower life expectancy than people born in Afghanistan. These are the people we rely on, the first on the scene after atrocities like Westminster Bridge or the Manchester Arena.” He added: “Despite the enormous responsibilities they have, there is a misconception in this country that security work is somehow an unskilled profession. What our security members need is more support in dealing with the stress, mental health and other related health issues that can often go hand in hand with this kind of potentially traumatic work. Security employers need to pledge to work with GMB to tackle this shameful problem.”
A new law on drones does not go air enough to keep our skies safe, pilots’ union BALPA has warned. The legislation introduced in the Commons this week would mean some UK drone users would have to pass online safety tests. Restrictions around airport boundaries have also been clarified, stopping any drone flying within 1km of them. In addition to the safety tests, people who own drones weighing 250g or more will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Some drones, usually cheaper models, weigh less than 250g. But most - especially those with built-in cameras - weigh more. BALPA had previously called on the government to tighten laws on drones after the steep rise in near-misses with aircraft in recent years. However, the proposed new law includes limited restrictions that will allow drones to be flown up to 400ft just 1km from an airport boundary. BALPA says that this is a ‘very dangerous’ situation as aircraft will already be lower than this at this point on approach to an airport, so the new regulations must go further to avoid potential collisions. BALPA flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, said: “We’re pleased the government is taking near-misses seriously and making changes to the law, but it is crucial that these go further to avoid a potential catastrophe. We hoped we would see something similar to the regulations introduced in Australia, which state that unmanned operations must not be flown within 3 nautical miles (around 5.5km) of an airfield. Safety in the UK is no less important than in Australia.” He added: “BALPA is not anti-drone and we understand the commercial considerations in not making laws too restrictive, but a hobbyist drone has no business being flown near an airport and allowing this to happen increases the risk of a catastrophic collision.”
Cosmetic brand Lush has been praised by campaigners for its nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the ‘spycops’ scandal, which has seen union, safety, environmental and other activists’ groups infiltrated by undercover police officers. Displays condemning the police strategy appeared in Lush stores last week. Customers were also asked to sign a postcard urging home secretary Sajid Javid – who has criticised the Lush action - to appoint a panel of experts to the inquiry, expand its remit to Scotland and to release the personal files of victims. Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith, who was blacklisted for his union safety activities and was involved in groups infiltrated by undercover officers, praised Lush founder Mark Constantine. “He promised to publicise the spycops issue in every store across the UK and he has lived up to his word.” Smith criticised secrecy in the ongoing Mitting inquiry into undercover policing, adding: “In its current form, the public inquiry is heading towards being a good old-fashioned Establishment whitewash.” Union construction safety campaigns were among those infiltrated by undercover police officers. The Metropolitan Police has admitted passing the information it obtained on construction safety campaigners to the Consulting Association, an illegal blackilsting organisation financed by major construction companies. The association was shutdown by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009. Leading politicians, lawyers, union officials and victims of the undercover policing scandal have all signed an open letter defending Lush in the wake of criticism of the company’s campaign. The shadow chancellor John McDonnell and union leaders Len McCluskey, Matt Wrack and Manuel Cortes are among the signatories.
Sainsbury's is to plough ahead with contract changes for all workers that will mean up to 9,000 of its staff will lose out. On 1 September, the grocer's minimum wage will increase from £8 to £9.20 an hour. But accompanying the pay hike is a plan to scrap paid breaks and axe Sunday 'premium' pay. It is a move Sainsbury's admits will leave up to 9,000 of the firm's most loyal workers out of pocket - some of them losing £3,000 a year. More than 100,000 people signing a petition calling for the retailer to protect the workers that stand to lose out. Unite has said warned of a legal challenge to the move. The union has said workers will see the pay rise eroded by changes such as the removal of premium Sunday pay. Unite food and drink officer Joe Clarke said: “Sainsbury’s needs to stop threatening loyal hardworking staff with the dole and start engaging more positively with Unite by giving workers the assurances they have been seeking.” Retail union Usdaw said it remained concerned that some workers would lose out but said it had persuaded Sainsbury’s to make some concessions after “extensive consultation.” Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh has written to prime minister Theresa May urging her to take action to “ensure that no staff will face a pay cut.” The letter said the business was using the pay rise as a “smokescreen” to cover up the pain workers will face. “We are completely dismayed that a company of Sainsbury’s reputation would use an increase in basic pay as a smokescreen for a whole array of deplorable decisions that will hit hardest their most dedicated, loyal and long-term staff,” the letter said.
Having a stressful job is associated with a higher risk of a heart rhythm disorder, according to new research. The study found the most stressful jobs, linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, are psychologically demanding but give employees little control over the work situation – for example, assembly line workers, bus drivers, secretaries, and nurses. The findings, which used data from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH), have been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The study found that being stressed at work was associated with a 48 per cent higher risk of atrial fibrillation, after adjustment for age, sex, and education. Lead author Dr Eleonor Fransson of Jönköping University, Sweden, said: “We need people to do these jobs but employers can help by making sure staff have the resources required to complete the assigned tasks. Bosses should schedule breaks and listen to employees’ ideas on how the work itself and the work environment can be improved.” Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia). Symptoms include palpitations, weakness, fatigue, feeling light headed, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Atrial fibrillation causes 20–30 per cent of all strokes and increases the risk of dying prematurely. Dr Fransson said: “In the general working population in Sweden, employees with stressful jobs were almost 50 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. The estimated risk remained even after we took into account other factors such as smoking, leisure time physical activity, body mass index, and hypertension.” She concluded: “Work stress should be considered a modifiable risk factor for preventing atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease. People who feel stressed at work and have palpitations or other symptoms of atrial fibrillation should see their doctor and speak to their employer about improving the situation at work.”
Ÿ ESC news release. Eleonor I Fransson, Maria Nordin, Linda L Magnusson Hanson, and Hugo Westerlund. Job strain and atrial fibrillation – Results from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health and meta-analysis of three studies, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 30 May 2018. DOI: 10.1177/2047487318777387
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is under-funded, leading to resource shortages and modernisation plans being put on hold, a report from the Auditor General has found. Caroline Gardner's report said the service had been hamstrung by a funding shortfall from completing the integration of the eight former services into a single body. Commenting on the findings, Denise Christie, regional secretary of the FBU in Scotland, said many areas of the report are ‘extremely concerning.’ She said: “The auditor’s report confirms that there are increasing demands on the service but fewer resources due to the loss of frontline firefighters to carry out work. This adds to increased pressures within the workforce and an increase in absence levels due to work-related stress.” She added: “The FBU has continually raised concerns over the need for sustainable funding and the impact a reduced workforce has on capacity levels to deliver any transformational proposals.” She said evidence suggests falling resources have come at a time of increasing demand.
Styrene, a key component for many plastics and synthetic rubber, is "probably carcinogenic to humans", according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). An assessment this year by an IARC expert working group said there was now sufficient evidence to change its cancer rating from group 2B – possibly carcinogenic to humans – to 2A, a probable cause of cancer in humans. Globally, manufacturers produce about 20m tonnes of styrene a year, according to the International Styrene Industry Forum (ISIF). This is used primarily as a monomer in the production of plastics, particularly polystyrene, which accounts for about half of global production. The evidence from human studies – which focused on workers making reinforced plastics – was ‘limited’, said IARC’s monograph working group, in a summary paper published in The Lancet Oncology. The studies did provide “credible evidence that exposure to styrene causes lymphohaematopoietic malignancies”, but there was no way to rule out “confounding, bias or chance.” Animal studies provided “sufficient” evidence of a cancer association. Professor Henrik Kolstad of Aarhus University in Denmark, a member of the IARC working group, said: “The most recent styrene study shows the risk of acute myeloid leukaemia, a rare form of leukaemia, is doubled. Out of the more than 70,000 people included in the research project, we found 25 cases of acute myeloid leukaemia, where you would statistically expect to find 10. Research also found a five-fold increase in the risk of sinonasal adenocarcinoma – nasal cancer – among those who are exposed to styrene in the plastic industry.”
Ÿ Manolis Kogevinas and others. Carcinogenicity of quinoline, styrene, and styrene-7,8-oxide, The Lancet Oncology, volume 19, issue 6, pages 728-729, 2018. Chemical Watch. Daily Mail.
A defunct waste paper company has been convicted of a criminal health and safety offence that resulted in the death of one of their employees. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how RRS London Waste Papers Ltd worker Krysztof Pawlak was found dead inside the compaction chamber of a baling machine. The 40-year-old had suffered fatal crush injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 27 March 2017 incident found Mr Pawlak had fallen down the loading hopper into the compaction chamber of the baling machine. He was most likely attempting to clear a blockage, but falling into the chamber initiated the compaction sequence. The investigation found that this could have been prevented had RRS London Waste Papers Ltd devised and instructed workers on a safe method for clearing machine blockages. Climbing up the baler to clear machine blockages exposed workers to the risk of falling a significant distance either into the compaction chamber or the surrounding concrete floor. RRS London Waste Papers Ltd was convicted of a criminal safety offence and was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,639.77. HSE inspector Nicholas Wright commented: “This tragic incident, which led to the avoidable death of a father, was easily preventable and the risk should have been identified. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery. Maintenance work should only be carried out when the piece of equipment is isolated and confirmed safe.” Companies House records show RRS London Waste Paper commenced winding up proceedings on 8 February. HSE said that collecting a fine from a defunct company was a matter for the court.
A luxury yacht builder has been fined following an engineer being knocked unconscious when he was struck on the back of the head by a solid metal bracket weighing 147kg. Poole Magistrates’ Court heard how the Sunseeker International Limited employee was working under the hull of an 86-foot yacht adjusting the height of a prop when the bracket came free. The worker suffered a large laceration to the top of his head and was knocked out. He suffered concussion for several weeks and pain in his neck from a torn muscle. He was off work for six weeks and received physiotherapy for 15 months. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 28 January 2016, found that the company failed to provide a safe system of work for realigning the brackets on the hull of the yacht. Sunseeker International Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £167,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,000. The company's turnover in 2016 was £245m. HSE inspector Victoria Bailey commented: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to inform, instruct and train their workers in the safe system of working. If a suitable, safe system of work had been implemented prior to the incident, the serious injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”
Pressure to meet fast fashion deadlines is leading to women working in Asian factories supplying Gap and H&M being sexually and physically abused, according to unions and labour rights groups. More than 540 workers at factories that supply the two retailers have described incidents of threats and abuse, according to two separate reports from Global Labour Justice on gender-based violence in Gap and H&M’s garment supply chains. The reports claim these allegations, recorded between January and May this year in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, are a direct result of pressure for quick turnarounds and low overheads. Jennifer Rosenbaum, US director of Global Labour Justice, said: “We must understand gender-based violence as an outcome of the global supply chain structure. H&M and Gap’s fast fashion supply chain model creates unreasonable production targets and underbid contracts, resulting in women working unpaid overtime and working very fast under extreme pressure.” Debbie Coulter, of the Ethical Trading Initiative, of which both Gap and H&M are members, said: “These allegations are deeply concerning. Gender-based violence is unacceptable under any circumstances, and brands need to make sure that women working in their supply chain are protected. We expect H&M and Gap to investigate these allegations, and to work with supplier factories so that any women affected have swift access to remedy. ETI will be in regular contact with these members and will offer support where appropriate to ensure a swift resolution for all workers affected.”
Union members from Marriott hotels in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Americas came together in Geneva on 29 May to call for action to end the ‘endemic sexual harassment’ that plagues the industry. Global union IUF, the federation covering hospitality unions, said surveys around the world have indicated that a large majority of hospitality workers - up to 89 per cent in some countries - have experienced sexual harassment in the course of their working lives. The Marriott workers, led by the IUF, took their call for a global agreement directly to two Marriott hotels and into the United Nations' International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, to press the case for a global ILO convention on violence and harassment in the workplace. Long-time Marriott employees told the Geneva meeting of their personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault by guests, of management’s ‘blame the victim’ mentality and failure to take adequate measures to protect workers, and of the lasting trauma such incidents inflict. Workers also spoke of management efforts to undermine union organising by pressuring workers to resign their membership and by firing activists and supporters. The meeting, convened to highlight the vital link between sustainable tourism, decent work and gender equality, forcefully underlined the importance of freedom of association in eliminating sexual harassment at the workplace. Employer action is urgently required, but for this to be effective unions need a secure legal framework in which to organise and negotiate, the unions said.
IndustriALL has said there is clear evidence of under-reporting of fatalities by multinational Glencore at its Zambia mining operations. The global union for the sector has received reports of three deaths at Glencore’s Zambian operations in 2017. Glencore has reported only one fatality and Glencore’s Zambian subsidiary claims it was fatality-free. Glencore mines for copper in Zambia through its majority shareholding in Mopani Copper Mines. The union concerns were raised after Glencore chief executive officer Ivan Glasenberg claimed “the one area we did have a lot of success is African Copper where we only had one fatality in 2017, which is the lowest in history in one of these asset regions and this is where we have spent a lot of work. It seems that we’re achieving success there…” However, an IndustriALL mission to Glencore’s Zambia copper mines in March 2018 received reports from Mopani workers and managers of the three deaths in 2017, two involving contractors and one a child in a Mopani pond near one of the tailings dams. Mopani made over 4,000 workers redundant in 2015, and some of the remaining miners must frequently work 24 hours straight underground, IndustriALL said. In a letter to Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg, IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches noted: “Glencore needs to publicly account for the three deaths at its Zambian mines in 2017 and explain why it only reported one of these while its subsidiary reported none. Glencore also should cease its widespread practice of threatening negative consequences for reporting of health and safety incidents since this promotes under-reporting rather than prevents fatalities.”
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