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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos this year become the world’s first 100 Billion Dollar Man - but one man’s fortune is built on a world of pain, the union GMB has warned. Alarming numbers of UK warehouse staff leaving work by ambulance and are forced by the ‘furious’ work pace to urinate in bottles, the union revealed earlier this year (Risks 852). But in a new feature in Hazards magazine, GMB director of safety Dan Shears says his union’s “not buying it,” as it continues its high profile organising drive. Part of the problem at the Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’, he says, is the company’s use of insecure, agency staff. “The precarious nature of their employment, means they are vulnerable by design. Any infraction – lateness for work, leaving early due to illness, not being able to turn up for work due to ill-health or sickness – can result in disciplinary action. Cumulative disciplinary points can result in a worker’s contract being revoked, or hours no longer being offered. Workers do not have the protection necessary to air concerns about wages, working conditions or health and safety problems,” he notes. After GMB research found ambulances had been called to attend to workers over 600 times in three years at 14 Amazon UK warehouses, the union undertook a follow-up bodymapping exercise at seven Amazon sites. Almost nine out of ten (87 per cent) workers reported ‘constant and occasional pain’ in at least one body part. Only three per cent reported they experienced no pain. Saying the union would continue its efforts to organise Amazon workers, a drive that included new protests last week outside Amazon’s Rugeley warehouse, Shears noted: “This business model has provided Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos a very health bank balance. On the back of labour exploitation, unhealthy workplaces and cost-shifting to the public purse, his global firm was valued in September 2018 at $1 trillion. Bezos himself is the world’s first $100 billion man.”
Ÿ Dan Shears. Rich pickings? Exploitation is part and parcel of the Amazon business model, Hazards, number 143, September 2018 and accompanying That’s rich! poster. GMB news release. Daily Express. Birmingham Mail. Morning Star.
There must be justice for the victims of the Grenfell fire and those harmed by workplace sexual harassment, unions have said. Delegates to the TUC Congress, held from 9-12 September in Manchester, called for politicians to be held to account over the decisions that led to 72 people dying in the Grenfell Tower blaze last year. Firefighters’ union FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said it was chilling that Grenfell Tower's refurbishment had turned it into a death trap, with ventilation and safety systems not functioning and the cladding meaning the whole building was “effectively wrapped in petrol.” He told TUC delegates: “Grenfell Tower was safer in 1974 than in 2017. That raises some pretty fundamental questions.” The motion on Grenfell backed by delegates also called for an end to outsourcing of health and safety and building control functions as well as a ban on combustible materials on the external walls of buildings. Union delegates also agreed that workers who have been sexually harassed should have more time to lodge claims against their employers. They endorsed a motion from performers’ union Equity calling for changes in the law to empower victims. It said the use of non-disclosure agreements should be investigated and a workplace equality questionnaire reinstated as a legal requirement.
Every worker who has serviced Sea King helicopters since 1969 should be offered checks for the effects of asbestos exposure - not just those currently employed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the union Unite has said. The union said it believed that there were more than 1,000 former MoD employees who could have been exposed to asbestos while repairing and maintaining the Sea King helicopters, which first came into service nearly 50 years ago. Unite stepped in after the MoD issued a Defence Information Notice (DIN) to current employees advising them to fill in a personal asbestos record and provide a copy to their GP (Risks 864). However, there is no indication of the same advice being provided to former employees who worked on the Sea Kings. Unite national officer for the MoD Jim Kennedy has written to the MoD. “There are in excess of 1,000 ex-MoD employees who were or could have been exposed to asbestos while working on the Sea King repair and maintenance facility,” his letter notes. “You will know that the MoD duty of care to the health and wellbeing of their employees does not cease on exit from employment, if in the performance of their duties employees have potentially been exposed to asbestos the MoD has a duty of care to notify those concerned of this new information and to offer guidance as the MoD has done for current employees.” Kennedy adds: “As someone who has campaigned throughout my working life to highlight the dangers of exposure to asbestos and the devastating effect it can have, through pleural plaques, mesothelioma, or other fatal diseases, I am extremely concerned regarding the identification of exposure to asbestos of maintenance personnel working on Sea King helicopters. This is an issue Unite the union takes extremely seriously.”
Half of school support staff have experienced ‘shocking’ violence at work, with incidents including stabbings and attempted strangulations, a study by the union GMB has found. The union points to a ‘horrifying’ case identified by its survey, where a pregnant teaching assistant suffered a miscarriage after being kicked in the stomach by pupil. More than half of school staff had first-hand experience of violence at work – with more than 16 per cent suffering attacks every week, the new GMB figures show. The union said its ‘disturbing’ findings show assaults suffered by GMB members include stabbings, attempted strangulation and pupils trying to chop off a teaching assistant’s fingers with scissors. Other members of staff have had faeces thrown at them, been spat at and had their hair cut off. Parents have threatened school support staff, while school crossing patrol staff report cars being driven at them by angry motorists. The GMB survey of almost 5,000 school support staff identified “terrible injuries from the attacks, including broken jaws, broken noses, knee replacements, suspected heart attacks and broken necks.” More than 2,400 said they had experienced violence at work, with 778 saying they were attacked every week. GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “These stories from the frontline by GMB’s school staff members are truly disturbing. They can face a litany of violence that would constitute criminal offences in other jobs.” She added: “No-one should be physically threatened at work. Violence from parents in particular is completely inexcusable.” The union is asking schools “to sign up to GMB’s code of conduct to ensure attacks on members, when they happen, are dealt with properly,” she said.
Intolerable cuts, restructuring and rocketing stress levels are becoming the norm in UK schools, according to a survey of school support staff by UNISON. The study highlights a funding crisis the union says is having a ‘devastating’ effect on workloads and morale. The 12,120 school employees who completed the survey include teaching assistants, technicians, caterers and office staff. Almost nine in ten (87 per cent) said that cutbacks in their schools have had a noticeable detrimental effect. More than 70 per cent said they were carrying out duties that should be performed by someone at a higher level, and 35 per cent that they were doing tasks without sufficient training. The study report, ‘Lessons in Austerity’, notes that school employees reported feeling overwhelmed and anxious by the increased demands being made of them. More than four in five (83 per cent) said they have experienced stress as a result of their workload in the past five years, with one in five (20 per cent) having to take time off sick as a result. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “School support staff who haven’t already lost their jobs are buckling under intolerable workloads and mounting stress levels. They play a vital role in keeping children safe and schools running smoothly, they shouldn’t be seen as surplus to requirements when money is tight.”
The need to address the factors at work that cause or exacerbate mental health problems must be prioritised alongside providing support for those affected, the TUC has said. TUC Education’s freshly updated ‘Mental health in the workplace’ workbook (Risks 865) acknowledges “there is growing awareness of the important role that unions can play in supporting those with mental health issues”. But TUC head of safety Robertson points out that the new edition of the guide “places more focus on the need to link supporting individuals with the importance of preventing mental health problems being caused, or made worse, by work. It also makes the role of the union representative clearer with more emphasis on changing workplaces.” According to Robertson: “This is likely to be a useful resource, not only in training, but also when an individual representative wants to take up the issue in their workplace.” The guide also deals with the TUC’s concern that Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is being introduced in the workplace at the expense of preventive efforts. It argues mental health awareness is a more productive approach for union reps (Risks 864). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this week announced it had appointed Joanna Wilde, an expert on gig working and mental health, to its Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC).
Ÿ Mental health in the workplace, TUC Education workbook, 2018. TUC mental health awareness training. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, 2018. HSE news release.
Poor mental health affects half of all employees, according to a survey of 44,000 people carried out by the mental health charity Mind. But only half of those who had experienced problems with stress, anxiety or low mood had talked to their employer about it. Fear, shame and job insecurity are some of the reasons people may choose to hide their worries, the survey found. Mind says around 300,000 people lose their job each year due to a mental health problem. The charity - along with The Royal Foundation, Heads Together and 11 other organisations - has created an online resource for employers and employees with information, advice, resources and training that workplaces can use to improve wellbeing. Poor relationships with line managers, along with workload, have the biggest negative impact on employees' mental health, the survey found - closely followed by poor relationships with colleagues. Launching its news mental health at work online ‘gateway’, Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Now is the time for a step change in how we think about mental health at work. All employers need to make it a focus and support their staff. It’s clear from our research that when employers support their managers properly, it can make a big difference to the whole organisation. The gateway gives managers the tools they need.” One toolkit covers ‘Workplace stress: fulfilling your responsibilities as an employer.’ Research by employers’ group CBI this week found that two in three (63 per cent) of businesses saw workplace health and wellbeing as an important issue, but most find it difficult to take practical actions because they are unclear about what works.
Barratt Developments has launched a safety review after injury rates on its sites increased by over 20 per cent. A statement from chief executive David Thomas in the company’s final results for the year to 30 June, published last week, said: “Increased activity levels across the industry in terms of site openings and production volumes combined with shortages of skilled workers has contributed to an increased risk of accidents on sites. We remain fully committed to the highest standards of health and safety on our sites.” The house builder added: “In the year, our reportable injury incidence rate has increased with 462 (2017: 379) reportable incidents per 100,000 employees. We have already undertaken a review into factors that have contributed to this increase and will be working with our management teams to drive improvements in the prevention of injuries.”
Ÿ Barratt final results for the year ended 30 June 2018, 5 September 2018. Construction Enquirer.
A Birmingham supermarket firm has been fined £36,000 plus £3,268 costs after a member of staff had four fingers mangled in an unguarded meat slicer. The shopworker's hand got stuck in the mincer's screw feed mechanism as he fed meat into it on 12 April last year. The employee had to be cut from the machine by firefighters. However, the feed unit could not be removed from his hand at the premises and he was then taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital with the union attached. Supermarket MAS Bazar Birmingham Limited pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety offences at Birmingham Magistrates Court. A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council, which brought the case, said: “The metal guard, which should have been in place to prevent access to the feeding mechanism, had never been fitted to the machine in the two years it had been in use.” He added that the court was told that “MAS Bazar Birmingham Limited had also failed to ensure that employees had been trained to use the machine by a competent person and that other employees had used the unguarded machine.”
A Michelin-starred gastropub has been prosecuted after an apprentice fell into a deep-fat fryer and severely scalded his foot. The 18-year-old had been told to clean an extractor fan at The Cross in Kenilworth when his foot slipped and fell into the fryer, which was running at roughly 180°C. It was later found he had not received health and safety training, information or instruction. Nor had also not been informed of any risk assessments regarding the task. Owners the 3A Pub Company pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety offence and was fined £25,200 at Coventry Magistrates Court and ordered to pay £5,900 in costs. The victim, who received months of medical treatment following the incident, is still employed by the restaurant. The prosecution was brought by Warwick District Council. Andreas Antona, owner of The Cross, said the company was “deeply regretful” and had “accepted responsibility”, but added the restaurant was considering challenging the penalty. “We employed specialist health and safety consultants prior to the accident to advise on these matters and following the incident we employed a further health and safety consultant to review our health and safety management system. The recommendations made following that review have been implemented,” he said. “We are considering our position regarding an appeal as we feel the level of the fine to be unduly high.”
A company that carries out maintenance and repair of motor vehicles has been fined for not having the legally required employers’ liability insurance. Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard how AE Motors Birmingham Ltd was unable to produce a certificate of insurance during an inspection during an enforcement initiative with West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the discovery in January 2018, found that the company did not have the required insurance. Employers’ liability insurance ensures employers have at least the minimum level of insurance to cover against claims brought by employees that are injured at work or become ill as a result of their work. AE Motors Birmingham Ltd pleaded guilty to breaking the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 and was fined £726 and ordered to pay costs of £557. HSE inspector Karen Sweeney said: “Employers carrying out a business in the United Kingdom must have employers’ liability insurance in place. There have been over 7,000 injuries and 33 fatalities during the past five years in motor vehicle repair shops. Should an incident have occurred at the premises the failure to have insurance would mean that employees may not get any compensation for any injuries or ill-health attributable to their work.”
Workers at two Amazon warehouses are being subjected to ‘horrific’ pressure to meet daily targets and are afraid to use the bathroom outside of specified times, a media investigation has found. Fairfax Media found that casual employees aren't hired by Amazon, but by a third-party labour hire firm Adecco. The working day begins with a group stretching session where they're forced to share an 'Amazon success story' before senior staff then lead a team chant, with words such as 'Quality!', 'Success!', 'Amazon!', or 'Prime!' shouted - often while jumping in the air, according to Fairfax. Workers have anonymously told the investigation that their every move is being monitored and analysed each day. They said they are under copious amounts of pressure to meet their daily targets or risk losing their jobs. One worker told Fairfax that employees avoid drinking water at work so they do not have to go to the bathroom outside 'designated break times'. Workers also said that if they did not meet performance targets, they would be told to leave and get a text saying their next shift is cancelled. Workers were also scared of reporting injuries as they were under the impression that if they did, they wouldn't get shifts. One described Amazon’s warehouse as ‘a hellscape’. Tim Kennedy, national secretary of the National Workers’ Union (NUW) said workers “should have a job that provides leave when you are sick, financial security to get a home loan and the ability to collectively bargain with your workmates to improve wages and condition.” The union said: “No worker should be expected to perform under the kind of pressure that leads to high levels of stress and anxiety. All workers have the right to a job they can count on and the power to bargain collectively.”
Authorities in Japan have accepted for the first time that a worker at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant died from a radiation-related cancer. The man, who was in his 50s, died from lung cancer. Japan's government had previously agreed that radiation caused illness in four workers, who were compensated, but this is the first acknowledged death. The worker had spent his career working at nuclear plants around Japan and worked at the Fukushima Daiichi plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power at least twice after the March 2011 meltdowns at the station. He was in charge of measuring radiation at the Fukushima No.1 plant shortly after its meltdown and had worn a face mask and protective suit, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said. He worked at the plant until December 2011 and was diagnosed with cancer in February 2016. The man was not publicly identified and his family have asked that the exact date of his death remains private. After hearing opinions from a panel of radiologists and other experts, the ministry ruled that the man's family should be paid compensation. The Fukushima meltdown was the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reports that 17 plant workers have filed for compensation. It says along with the four who had their claims accepted, five claims have been rejected. Another five are pending, and two have been withdrawn.
A worker driving a company van narrowly escaped injury after her boss remotely turned off her vehicle while she was going through a roundabout, causing the van to stop abruptly in traffic. The woman said she was almost hit by a truck and had to then push the van to a nearby petrol station. Vehicles can be turned off remotely via a GPS tracker immobiliser - but neither the Police, Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport nor safety regulator WorkSafe have regulations or policy on its use. The Blenheim vineyard employee said she stopped at a petrol station to buy a drink while taking workers to the site. As she pulled out and entered a busy roundabout about 50 metres down the road, the engine went dead. “I'm halfway through the intersection and all of a sudden my van is immobilised with workers inside and a semi-trailer is coming at me through the roundabout,” she told Radio New Zealand. She said she had absolutely no control. “All I could do was just try and wave my hands out the window. I couldn't put it up or down or start my keys.” Her boss told her he was concerned she was not following the exact route to the vineyard, and told her he believed she was parked when he turned off the engine. She was afraid to take the matter further as she needed to keep her job, but has since heard from colleagues it had happened to them. Julian Dunster, who runs the company Obsessive Vehicle Security, said a GPS tracker could have an immobiliser fitted to the starter motor, the fuel pump or the ignition. But he said while he’d fit the devices to a starter motor so the vehicle couldn’t start, he would not connect a tracker to the ignition or fuel pump, because “I refuse to do anything that's going to bring it to a halt while moving.”
Global unions have welcomed the announcement by Qatar on 4 September of new legislation that means many migrant workers, who have faced exploitative and dangerous work conditions, will no longer have to seek their employer’s permission to leave the country. Commenting on the amendment to the labour code, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Today marks a huge step for workers’ rights and the end of the kafala system for migrant workers in Qatar. An estimated 1.5 million workers will now have the freedom to leave Qatar without their employer’s permission with this elimination of a central part of the kafala system of modern slavery, which is still in place in other Gulf countries. Fundamental reforms are underway, and this latest move sets a distinctive example for the region.” Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the construction global union BWI said: “This is a significant advancement of workers’ human rights in Qatar. Now the next step is for the effective implementation of the new legislation so that it will have definite impact on the ground for migrant workers working in Qatar, many of them in construction.” Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the global transport unions’ federation ITF, said: “For the ITF this means a potential sea change for transport workers and those in aviation, in ports, and in public transport. We are working to build protections for them as workers, recognising international standards and best practice, and will be monitoring any employers who seek to flout these new workers’ rights.”
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