Issue date
25 Jun 2018
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 854
 
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 healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk.
 
Contents

UNION NEWS

·         Supreme Court delivers big blow to gig working

·         Union win, as government bans sexist dress codes

·         Council and HSE accused of ‘inaction’ over on-site living

·         Public sector concerns over safety and new tech

·         Injured Embassy worker in the US can sue in the UK

·         Government ministers must be held to account over Grenfell

OTHER NEWS

·         Safety experts criticise inaction following Grenfell tragedy

·         Anti-union laws kill, union presence protects, finds study

·         Job strain knocks years off your healthy life

·         Farm pox ‘that went away’ hits teenager

·         Body cams for paramedics in Wales after attack spike

·         Fireworks factory owner gets 10 years jail over deaths

·         TV studios fined after death fall

·         Balfour Beatty fined £500,000 for white finger

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

·         France: Ex-telecom execs face trial over wave of staff suicides

·         Russia: Death count of 21 ahead of World Cup kick off

·         USA: Tesla tells dismissed workers to keep quiet or else

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

·         Courses for 2018

UNION NEWS

Supreme Court delivers big blow to gig working

Plumber Gary Smith’s Supreme Court victory against his employer’s claim he was self-employed has been hailed by the TUC and the equality watchdog as an important defence of workers’ rights and safety. Smith’s employer, Charlie Mullins, has been described in the press as the ‘celebrity plumber’. The owner of Pimlico Plumbers had claimed Smith was an ‘independent contractor’. However, like over 100 other Pimlico plumbers, he had his working hours set by the firm, which also required its plumbers to wear a company uniform and drive branded vehicles leased from the company, giving the impression they were permanent employees. An Employment Tribunal and courts including the Supreme Court all agreed that Smith should be protected by equality law. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “This case has exposed how widely sham self-employment has spread. Bad employers are using every trick in the book to deny staff basic rights. It's time to end the Wild West in the gig economy. The government must get tough on rogue bosses and give unions the right to organise in more workplaces.” She added: “People shouldn't have to go to court to get a fair deal at work. Companies that treat their staff like disposable labour must be brought to book.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) funded Smith’s case throughout the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court process. EHRC chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said: “If you wear the uniform, if you drive the branded vehicle, if you only work for one business, you are employed. That means you are entitled to the appropriate protections and adjustments which go with the job, to enable you to work safely and productively. Everyone has the right to a healthy working environment and to that end businesses need to recognise their duties to their workers.” She added: “This is one of the biggest decisions ever made by the courts on workers’ rights. Thousands of workers like Gary Smith could now find themselves with the added security of benefits like sick pay and holiday pay.”

Ÿ  EHRC news release. Morning Star.

Union win, as government bans sexist dress codes

Following years of trade union campaigning against sexist dress codes in the workplace, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has now published dress code guidance for employers and employees. The wide-ranging new guidance, which covers issues including health and safety and reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, notes: “It is best to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements, for example the requirement to wear high heels. Any requirement to wear make-up, skirts, have manicured nails, certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery is likely to be unlawful.” Unions and safety campaigners have been at the heart of the campaign against sexist dress codes, highlighting the discriminatory and sometimes hazardous nature of the codes. In 2005, the union-backed Hazards magazine said the risks from prolonged standing in unsuitable shoes had been recognised as an occupational risk in ‘shop girls’ as long ago as the 1870s, leading to campaigns by doctors at that time for laws to protect workers from harm. In 2009, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCP) pointing out the long term foot problems from wearing high heels. When Nicola Thorp refused to wear high heels at work the issue attracted new media and political attention (Risks 751), leading to a House of Commons inquiry (Risks 755). The TUC gave evidence, including examples of where unions had successfully challenged sexist dress codes. The committee found unreasonable dress code requirements regarding hair, make-up, shoes and clothes objectify women and can leave them feeling vulnerable. It also cited the evidence from SCP and the TUC that high heels can cause lifelong damage to joints. The government has now taken on board the evidence that the TUC, unions and workers presented. The new government guidance on ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination’ asks employers to consult with trade unions about any proposed dress codes or changes to an existing code. According to the TUC: “Instead of waiting for individuals to complain, it is vital that employers involve workers and their unions including health and safety reps in the development of dress codes and uniform policies. Collective bargaining is central to tackling and preventing discrimination at work.”

Ÿ  TUC blog and TUC guide to working feet and footwearDress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know, Government Equality Office, 2018.
Standing problem, Hazards magazine, August 2005.

Council and HSE accused of ‘inaction’ over on-site living

Westminster council and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have been accused of inaction that could place workers lives in danger. Unite said it notified both organisations of workers living illegally on a construction site in St Johns’ Wood, London, but said both organisations have so far failed to intervene. Unite’s investigation had earlier confirmed a group of migrant workers who were involved in renovating several apartment blocks were living on the site. The renovation is being undertaken by Kunta Kinte Ltd. Unite regional officer Paul Lomax observed a green sofa, clothes hanging on a washing line, several mattresses and bedding along with several food containers at the site. Early this month, the GMB officer wrote to the chief executive of Westminster council, Westminster building control department and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) with his concerns and urged them to take urgent action as the workers were potentially in serious physical danger. But he said despite the urgent nature of his letter, he has received no response. Paul Lomax said: “It is highly alarming that after raising serious safety questions where workers face death or serious injury, Unite’s concerns have been totally ignored. Workers must never be allowed to live on a construction site, the potential for serious injury is huge and there are also massive occupational health issues that need to be considered.” He added: “It is absolutely imperative that Westminster council and the HSE immediately take responsibility for this dangerous site and ensure that no one is living on this or any other building site. Legal action needs to be taken against any companies, contractors or sub-contractors that have allowed these dangerous practices to occur.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Public sector concerns over safety and new tech

Safety, new working practices and the increased use of technology were high on the agenda of UNISON’s water, environment and transport conference. Key issues debated by union delegates included retaining flexible working practices, tackling stress and mental health in the workplace, and the risk to workers in the water industry posed by staff cuts. John Wilkinson from United Utilities spoke of a work culture where staffing levels have been cut to the bone. “There is a race to the bottom culture which is placing the health and safety of workers at risk,” he declared. Measures adopted at conference included conducting a safety review within the water industry to analyse accident statistics, their root causes and common themes, and a continued commitment to improving mental health in the workplace.

Ÿ  UNISON news report.

Injured Embassy worker in the US can sue in the UK

A government bid to stop an employee injured at the British Embassy in Washington DC from suing for damages in the UK has failed, thanks to the legal expertise of the worker’s union. PCS member Nicholas Callow fractured his wrist when opening a security door at the British Embassy in the US capital, where he worked as an administrator. He did not know the door was blocked by a ladder on the other side. The door stopped abruptly when he tried to push it open, painfully jarring his wrist and causing a fracture. Six years on, Nicholas still experiences significant pain and has been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. He said: “I’ve been unlucky in that my fractured wrist led to the pain syndrome, a condition so painful it means I can’t even hold my wife’s hand. The pain is intense, which is quite gruelling both mentally and physically as I have very little let-up. Simple tasks like getting dressed and showering are a chore.” In response to a union-backed compensation claim, the Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, argued that English law was not applicable and challenged the case. They argued that the case should be assessed under US law, which would make it subject to a compensation cap. Law firm Thompsons Solicitors, brought in by PCS to act in the case, argued successfully that Nicholas was employed under a contract of employment entered into in England and the terms of the contract implied that English health and safety standards would be adhered to as far as possible while staff were engaged in work overseas. It was ultimately the organisation located in England that had the final say over such health and safety issues, the lawyers said. PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “This case demonstrates the weight of union legal protection, fighting for the rights of members and tackling difficult issues always using experts when less specialist firms would run a mile. Our aim is always to ensure that, as far as possible, our members get the best outcome. We were proud to represent our member Nicholas in this important case, which has implications for all injured workers deployed in foreign jurisdictions.”

Ÿ  PCS news release.

Government ministers must be held to account over Grenfell

The government must be held to account for its role in Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people and left hundreds homeless a year ago (Risks 804), the firefighters’ union FBU has said. In a statement on the 14 June anniversary of the tragedy, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack noted: “This will be a very difficult day for everyone who lost a loved one in the fire, everyone whose home was destroyed and their lives upturned. It will also be a difficult day for firefighters too. Our focus from here onwards will be to achieve real justice for Grenfell.” The statement added: “We want to see prosecutions where appropriate. That means the business owners and those who failed to keep their premises safe. A year after the devastation nobody has been arrested despite the obvious fact that Grenfell was a deathtrap. Government ministers, past and present, must be held to account for overseeing a deregulation agenda that failed to keep people safe in their homes - a basic expectation of public authorities in a civilised society” (Risks 820). The TUC has said that the government’s deregulatory programme had seen rules slackened and regulators including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) starved of resources (Risks 850). In the immediate wake of the fire, TUC head of safety specialist Hugh Robertson said warnings had been ignored because of “the government’s ideological obsession with deregulation” (Risks 805).

Ÿ  FBU news release.

Ÿ  Fire safety: A TUC guide for union activists, September 2017.
 

OTHER NEWS

Safety experts criticise inaction following Grenfell tragedy

Safety and health professionals are calling on the government to explain its failure to address many of their urgent safety demands following the Grenfell Tower fire last June. Immediately after the deadly 14 June tower block fire in London, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) joined with the TUC, Unite and other bodies to call for “urgent action”. The letter to prime minister Theresa May was signed by over 1,000 safety and health professionals (Risks 806). Among the demands made in the joint letter to the prime minister was a call for “all politicians to re-emphasise the need for effective health and safety regulation and competent fire risk management.” Commenting on the anniversary of the fire, IOSH said: “We remain concerned that government has been slow to address some key demands meaning members of the public and employees might still face similar risks.” IOSH President Craig Foyle commented: “So far, there is little sign sensible changes are happening fast enough.”

Ÿ  IOSH news release.

Anti-union laws kill, union presence protects, finds study

Anti-union policies lead to a sharp rise in fatalities, while a union presence in the workplace has a protective effect, a new study has found. The US study examined the use of anti-union ‘right to work’ (RTW) laws. The author, Michael Zoorob from Harvard University’s department of government, notes: “The paper demonstrates that the protective effect of unions on workplace safety at the micro level translates into large scale reductions in occupational fatalities.” He calculated the effect “of a 1 per cent decline in unionisation attributable to RTW is about a 5 per cent increase in the rate of occupational fatalities.” Zoorob adds: “I find that diminished union membership due to ‘right to work’ legislation has led to a 14.2 per cent increase in workplace mortality.” The paper, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, notes: “Though worker fatalities have declined in the last two decades in the USA, this decline has been steeper in states with higher levels of unionisation. Moreover, this study shows that RTW legislation, under consideration in many state legislatures and nationwide, may lead to greater workplace mortality through decreasing the percentage of unionised workers. Indeed, worker fatalities have climbed somewhat since 2008, a reversal from previous years, during the same period that several states adopted RTW.” The paper concludes: “In light of these findings, policymakers in the USA and other countries might consider how declining unionisation rates may impact worker safety.”

Ÿ  Michael Zoorob. Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online First: 13 June 2018. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2017-104747

Ÿ  New pin-up-at-work poster: Unions make work safer: Fighting for your life at work, Hazards, June 2018.

Job strain knocks years off your healthy life

Individuals with job strain have a shorter health expectancy compared with those without job strain, a new study has found. The authors said their study identified a more substantial public health impact of job strain than previously recognised. The international research team noted: “In the present study, we examine the extent to which job strain is associated with healthy life expectancy (HLE) and chronic disease-free life expectancy (CDFLE) among women and men from Finland, France, Sweden and the UK between the ages of 50 and 75 years.” The findings, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, suggested “that individuals with job strain have a shorter health expectancy compared with those without job strain.” It adds: “We conclude that while earlier research has generally found significant but relatively modest associations between job strain and a number of individual health outcomes, the present study indicates that the total effect of job strain on health expectancy could be fairly substantial, particularly in regard to health expectancy based on self-rated health and among men in lower occupational positions.” The paper concludes: “This study suggests that individuals with job strain live fewer years with good self-rated health and fewer years free from chronic disease, although the association with chronic disease-free life expectancy was weaker. This is the first study to our knowledge on job strain and health expectancy, which suggests a more substantial public health impact of job strain than previously recognised.” The authors note: “The results suggest that interventions to job strain may contribute to more healthy life years in later life.”

Ÿ  Linda L Magnusson Hanson and others. Job strain and loss of healthy life years between ages 50 and 75 by sex and occupational position: analyses of 64 934 individuals from four prospective cohort studies, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 75, issue 7, pages 486-493, July 2018.

Farm pox ‘that went away’ hits teenager

A 15-year-old boy has contracting cowpox, a historical occupational disease now rarely encountered by doctors. The teenager, who lives on the Wrexham-Cheshire border, developed pus-filled lesions on his hands, arms and feet after feeding calves. Public Health Wales said the last reported human case in the country was over a decade ago. The occupational disease, which is not contagious from person to person, has all but disappeared because industrial farming methods mean fewer people milk cows by hand. The boy's mother, who does not want to be identified because her son is embarrassed, said the calves he had been feeding had nibbled on his hands, causing them to become grazed. He then developed pus-filled lesions on his hands, arms and feet. “I didn't really know what it was, so I was quite concerned. The first thing you do is look on the internet and that's when I found out it was quite rare,” she said. “My son was quite embarrassed - it looked quite a mess, they (the lesions) weren't nice and it wasn't pleasant for him. It took weeks and weeks to go, a long time. He still has some marks on his hands.” Dr Robert Smith, clinical scientist lead for zoonoses [animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans] at Public Health Wales, said cowpox had not been reported in Wales for some 10 to 15 years. Dr Aysha Javed of the Countess of Chester Hospital, who diagnosed the teenager, highlighted the case at the European Society for Pediatric Dermatology annual meeting. “We have to inform other colleagues about rare cases and, if it's something that's going to be re-emerging, public health professionals need to be alerted,” she said. “We don't really see cowpox anymore - it's one of those diseases that went away.”

Ÿ  Wales Online. BBC News Online. The Mirror. The Mail. European Society for Pediatric Dermatology.

Body cams for paramedics in Wales after attack spike

Paramedics in Wales could soon wear body cameras after a spike in ambulance staff being attacked. Ambulance staff have been assaulted more than 500 times in the past five years. Welsh Ambulance director of operations Richard Lee told a health scrutiny committee meeting: “When it's taken us longer to attend patients, our ambulance crews can come across difficult scenes when they arrive, including patients and relations who are agitated.” He added: “We do see more assaults on our staff as demand increases.” Five health boards in Wales already use the body cameras to record attacks and abuse towards hospital staff in a bid to deter violent behaviour. But Mr Lee said the ambulance service was now looking at bringing them in and had put a “host of welfare support” in place to help staff deal with stress. Paramedic Nathan Holman, the GMB branch secretary for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said the move would help to improve safety and increase prosecutions. “It's definitely an extra safety mechanism as otherwise it tends to be when you're in the back of an ambulance on your own that you get threatened and whoever's driving might not necessarily notice,” he said. “Also, looking at it from the perspective of disciplinary processes, if someone is accused of saying or doing something it's beneficial that those rumours can be quashed quickly if they're false.” The incoming union-backed Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will give harsher punishments to people who attack or sexually assault emergency workers, after getting the backing of the UK government (Risks 847). Labour MP Chris Bryant's private member's bill will double the maximum sentence for assaults against 999 staff.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Fireworks factory owner gets 10 years jail over deaths

A businessman convicted over the deaths of two men at a factory ‘rammed’ with fireworks has been jailed for 10 years. Richard Pearson was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence last month, after employee Simon Hillier and customer Stewart Staples died at SP Fireworks in Stafford in 2014. The number of fireworks stored at the unit were “up to 10 times the permitted limit”, Stafford Crown Court had heard. Pearson, 44, was also injured in the fire in Baswich. Mr Hillier, 41, and Mr Staples, 57, both from Hednesford, Staffordshire, died from inhaling combustible products. Judge Michael Chambers QC told Pearson: “You have known your true culpability from the start yet you have chosen to falsely blame others. Despite being very knowledgeable about fireworks and the risks they pose, motivated by financial profit, you have demonstrated an arrogant recklessness for the safety of others in the storage and handling of dangerous fireworks.” Pearson had denied failing to take reasonable care in the storing and handling of explosives. He allegedly told paramedics at the scene it was “rammed” with explosives and he would “go to prison” for the fire, the trial had heard. Elizabeth Reid, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: “Safety regulations and licence requirements were flouted by Richard Pearson with devastating consequences.” She added: “He had many years of experience handling fireworks and would have known full well the dangers that existed in running his business the way he did. The CPS presented evidence which showed that Pearson’s failures caused the deaths of two men and were so serious and so fundamental that they can properly be categorised as criminal.”

Ÿ  CPS news release. Birmingham Mail. BBC News Online.

TV studios fined after death fall

A TV studio has been fined after a maintenance worker fell five metres through a roof to his death. Maidstone Studios admitted criminal breaches of safety regulations following the death of Justin Newitt. The tragedy occurred during the conversion of an empty television suite into a data storage room for servers. The 38-year-old was crawling into a roof space to cut holes in the roof for vents. A lead for the electric chainsaw he was using became twisted. Trying to untangle it, the18-stone builder stepped backwards on to a piece of roof he had already cut and fell, hitting the side of a scaffold tower and then the floor. He suffered head injuries and a tear to his liver, dying from his injuries later that day. The work was planned to be carried out from below, but an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the tower scaffold used to access the roof was damaged, had not been put up correctly, and was bought second-hand by the firm with no manufacturer’s instructions. This work was not part of the general maintenance duties for the father-of-two and his team. No formal planning was recorded. Nor had Justin Newitt had any formal training on how to assemble the tower scaffold correctly. Maidstone Studios Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of safety regulations. The firm was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,487.76. HSE inspector Stephen Green commented: “Had the work been properly planned with suitable access equipment, correctly placed and erected, by those with adequate training, the work could have been done safely and this tragedy could have been averted.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Kent Online. Construction Enquirer.

Balfour Beatty fined £500,000 for white finger

Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Ltd has been fined after exposing workers to serious occupational disease risks over a nine-year period, with several workers permanently harmed as a result. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found workers at the company were exposed to hand-arm vibration between 2002 and 2011 which put them at risk of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). The permanent condition affecting the nerves and blood vessels of the hand, also known as vibration white finger, can cause pain, tingling and numbness, making it difficult to carry out everyday tasks. Sheffield Crown Court heard that workers at the company’s sites were regularly exposed to hand-arm vibration while operating hand-held power tools such as hydraulic breakers and floor saws. Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Ltd failed to assess the risk to workers’ health, failed to put in place and monitor suitable risk control measures and failed to put in place a suitable system of health surveillance. The company also failed to report to the enforcing authorities a significant number of cases of employees diagnosed with HAVS, a legal requirement. Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £500,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £195,000. HSE inspector Christine Mellor said: “The company failed to heed warnings. Early health surveillance detected ill-health but still this was not acted upon to prevent on-going exposure.” She added: “This is a particularly serious case because of the extent and duration of failures. The breaches were repeated over several years and this resulted in persistent poor compliance and significant harm to workers.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

France: Ex-telecom execs face trial over wave of staff suicides

The former chief executive of France Telecom and six other managers are to stand trial over a spate of suicides among their staff in the late 2000s (Risks 447). Prosecutors have claimed they presided over a culture of harassment at the firm that led at least 19 employees to kill themselves. The executives are accused of “moral harassment”. Ex-boss Didier Lombard and his fellow defendants deny their tough restructuring measures in 2006 were to blame for the subsequent loss of life. The push for greater efficiency came two years after the company was privatised. Lombard was trying to cut 22,000 jobs and retrain at least 10,000 workers. “I'll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door,” he was quoted as telling senior managers in 2007. Some were transferred away from their families or left behind when offices were moved, or assigned demeaning jobs. From 2008 onwards, at least 19 members of staff took their own lives, 12 attempted suicide and eight others suffered from depression and related illnesses. Among the cases was a man who killed himself during a staff meeting and a women who jumped from a window. Lombard has accepted the restructuring upset employees but rejected the idea that it led to people taking their own lives. If found guilty the defendants could face two years in prison and 30,000 euros (£26,400) in fines. A lawyer for the CFE-CGC union said that the trial was not expected before the second half of 2019. Mr Lombard, who denied any wrongdoing during an investigation of the suicides, stepped down as CEO of France Telecom in early 2010 amid criticism of his handling of the crisis. The former CEO together with an ex-human resources head and a deputy CEO have been placed under court supervision until the trial. France Telecom became Orange in 2013.

Ÿ  CBC News. Global News. BBC News Online.

Ÿ  Background: Sarah Waters. Suicide voices: testimonies of trauma in the French workplace, Medical Humanities, volume 43, issue 1, pages 24-29, 2017. Sarah Waters, Suicide as protest in the French workplace, Modern & Contemporary France, volume 23, number 4, pages 491-510, 2015. Suicidal work, Hazards magazine, number 137, 2017.

Russia: Death count of 21 ahead of World Cup kick off

As the 2018 World Cup gets underway, global building union BWI has sent its condolences to the families of the 21 construction workers who died during construction of Russia’s World Cup stadiums. “As fans of the game, we will be cheering in the stands of the newly built stadiums, but we need to also hold a moment of silence in memory of the construction workers who lost their lives in the construction of the stadiums,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of BWI. “It is in their memory that BWI will continue to call for better safety measures in future World Cups to prevent future fatalities.” Earlier this month, BWI’s world board adopted its report, ‘Foul play: Fifa’s failures at the 2018 World Cup Russia.’ The report examines how well football’s global ruling body has adhered to its human rights commitments. Based on the experience of the BWI and Russian Building Workers Union (RBWU) and 35 joint inspection visits over the period October 2016 to March 2018, the BWI report identifies “a catalogue of failures concerning workers’ rights at the stadium construction sites.” These include abusive recruitment practices for migrant workers, failure to provide employment contracts and regular and decent wages, using an exploitative practice of bonus payments instead of a transparent wage system, serious occupational health and safety violations putting workers in danger and resulting in 21 fatalities, requirements to work in extreme cold weather, and often squalid and unhygienic employer-provided accommodation. The report calls on football’s governing body Fifa to improve compliance with its human rights commitments, including mandatory provisions on compliance with national and international labour standards in bidding specifications. It also calls on Fifa to agree joint inspection mechanisms with BWI and “to adopt a policy and measures to ensure zero tolerance of fatal accidents.”

Ÿ  BWI news release.

USA: Tesla tells dismissed workers to keep quiet or else

Language in a confidential severance agreement car firm Tesla is using as part of the biggest job cut in its history is likely to deter dismissed employees from going public with worker safety concerns, according to employment law experts. A proposed severance agreement Tesla presented to one of the more than 3,000 workers dismissed last week required acknowledgment that the employee “had the opportunity to raise any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities against the company, and that if any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities were raised during your employment, they were addressed to your satisfaction.” The document obtained by Bloomberg News also barred the former worker from sharing “business-related” information; required that the ex-employee assist Tesla’s defence against claims; released any claims made against Tesla; and dictated that any disputes under the agreement will be handled in individual arbitration. “I do think the agreement will chill valid employee complaints,” said Brishen Rogers, a law professor at Temple University. “A reasonable worker would just keep their mouth shut, rather than risk losing their severance pay.” Tesla declined to say how many of the employees it dismissed were presented with severance agreements using the language or how many accepted it. Sharon Block, the executive director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Programme, commented: “The implication is, if you went to OSHA [the safety regulator] and you said, ‘Here’s something new I want to tell you about a safety concern at Tesla,’ and then OSHA asks the company to respond to that allegation, the company is going to say, ‘That employee told us that they raised everything.’” This month Carlos Ramirez, who last year worked as a director of environmental, health, safety and sustainability at Tesla, filed a lawsuit alleging that he was terminated because he complained about unsafe conditions and “refused to participate in activity that would result in a violation” of the law. The company disputes his claim.

Ÿ  Bloomberg News. Critical 16 April 2018 Center for Public Integrity report on Tesla’s safety record.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2018

Ÿ  Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

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