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Trillion-dollar corporate behemoth Amazon’s announcement that it will increase the wages of its lowest paid workers in the UK and US shows that pressure from national and international unions is having an impact, unions have said. However, they warn the pay rise comes with a cut in benefits and the company still shows no sign of improving working conditions and ending its global anti-union strategy. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If Amazon is really serious about looking after its workforce it must recognise trade unions. And it must end the exploitative working practices that have seen hundreds of ambulances called to its UK warehouses. All workers deserve decent conditions at work – not surveillance, inhuman targets and the threat of a disciplinary if they to go to the toilet.” GMB general secretary Tim Roache, whose union has been organising Amazon workers in the UK, said even the company’s ‘PR blitz’ about a pay hike was a con, with the company not “mentioning a dicky bird about cutting staff benefits. This is a basically a stealth tax by the employer on its own wage increase - a clear case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Meanwhile, workers still graft in horrific conditions to impossible targets and Amazon refuse to listen to or engage with a trade union.” He added: “If Jeff Bezos – the richest man in the world – really wants to give hardworking staff a payrise he should let them keep their share options as well as increasing their hourly rate.” The GMB leader continued: “GMB has heard horrific tales from the shop floor, of a woman in late pregnancy having to stand for a 10-hour shift, hundreds of ambulance call outs to Amazon warehouses and nearly 90 per cent of our Amazon members saying they experience constant pain at work [Risks 866]. GMB are ready and willing to help sort that out, but they won't let a trade union through their doors. So this isn't 'job done' by any stretch.” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said the company “is a top-predator in the corporate greed stakes”, adding: “Amazon has an appalling record on workers’ health and safety, and imposes work practices on them that would have been unacceptable 100 years ago, let alone today. Trade unions will keep up the pressure on this company until it changes its feudal corporate culture.” Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the global transport union ITF, said: “If Amazon was serious about reform it would make sweeping changes to its transport supply chain.” He added: “Along with our allies across the labour movement, transport unions worldwide will continue piling pressure on the company until that day arrives.”
Ÿ TUC news release. GMB news release. ITUC news release. ITF news release. Amazon UK news release. Amazon USA news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online. Morning Star. More on Amazon’s poor health and safety record.
The government's own papers show that crashing out of the EU without a deal would put the UK’s workplace health and safety regulations at risk, the TUC has warned. Hugh Robertson, the union body’s head of safety, said the government’s Brexit no-deal scenarios expose real threats to the chemical regulation REACH, with no plans to include REACH-style participation of unions and consumers in related technical committees. Instead, the UK government refers to setting up a transitional “light touch notification process”. Robertson, in a detailed blog article, notes: “This is at odds with the European Commission approach as there are plans to strengthen REACH in the future.” He adds: “The reality is that unless there is an agreement with the EU that includes a commitment to match or exceed future EU regulations, it is highly likely that once any post-exit transition period is over parliament will be free to re-write our health and safety laws and no assurances given by the current government will be able to prevent that. That is why we must ask for respect for EU health and safety standards to be at the heart of any future partnership agreement between the UK and EU to ensure that UK regulation remains, as an absolute minimum, at the level afforded to EU workers both now and in the future.” He concludes: “The best way to guarantee this would be for the UK to remain in the single market, which is why the TUC is calling for the government to change course before it’s too late.” According to ‘A right mess’, a feature in the current issue in Hazards magazine, the situation is compounded by a ‘stunted’ health and safety regulator and a Brexit secretary who has “previously called for Britain to use negotiations with the European Union to scrap workers’ rights”, with workplace safety regulations singled out for attack.
In the run up to World Mental Health Day on 10 October, civil service union PCS is urging all union branches to hold workplace events to promote good mental health – but is also calling for action to address the workplace causes. The union cites Health and Safety Executive figures that show stress, depression or anxiety are now the greatest cause of work absence in the UK. It adds that government figures released in January 2018 revealed over a quarter (26 per cent) of all sickness absence in the civil service is due to mental health conditions. “PCS reps report that an increasing number of members’ cases they support are for mental-health-related work absence,” the union says. “Mental health awareness training is important for union reps – understanding the ‘signs’ and symptoms of stress that can trigger mental health conditions, gaining some knowledge about protections that apply, and learning about sources of help to sign-post members toward are vital elements of the rep’s toolbox.” PCS offers one- or two-day reps’ courses on mental health awareness. But it adds: “As a union, we also need to take a proactive, campaigning approach. The hard work of union reps in supporting individual members is valued and important, but we don’t want just a ‘sticking plaster’.” The union notes: “If members are unhappy because they feel pressure to work over their contracted hours, if they are struggling to pay bills because of low pay, leaving them feeling desperate that they cannot cope, if their manager is also under pressure and bullying staff, or the office is under threat of closure – all of these issues impact on our mental health. Organising around core trade union issues, building union strength to fight for improved conditions must be explicitly part of fighting for better mental health in PCS.” The TUC has also stressed the need to address the factors at work that cause or exacerbate mental health problems alongside providing support for those affected (Risks 866).
Teaching union NEU is urging the government to reduce teachers’ workload after new research revealed that unnecessary tasks are the main reason for teachers quitting. The union’s report says that 78 per cent of secondary school teachers and 69 per cent of primary teachers think that the amount of marking they do is unmanageable. Just a quarter of primary teachers and less than a fifth of secondary teachers have seen any review or change in practice at their schools since the government’s 2016 pledge to lighten workloads. The union said it has long been concerned that unnecessary practices surrounding marking, planning, and data collection in schools is having a significant impact on teacher workload. NEU added that its latest survey of 11,341 primary and secondary teachers working in 6,908 schools, “shows that we are right to be concerned.” Kevin Courtney, NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “So long as the main drivers of a performance-based system are still in place, schools will continue to hyper-regulate themselves, out of a fear of the consequences of failure. In the short-term, government and Ofsted have to be more forceful in their messaging; but there is also an urgent need to remove the drivers themselves from the system. The clearest signal which government could send to schools that they are committed to a new approach, would be to announce that Ofsted will be replaced by an organisation dedicated to the support of school improvement.” Earlier this year, NEU said the problem of excessive teaching workloads is “not only demoralising but is unsustainable mentally and physically” (Risks 844).
Disturbances last weekend at Long Lartin prison are a further illustration of the crisis engulfing Britain’s prison system, the prison officers’ union POA has said. In the wake of a weekend of riots at the prison, the union said its call for protective measures to help staff quell the ‘unprecedented levels of violence’ had been vindicated. Several staff were hospitalised as a result of injuries sustained in the violence. Two staff are reported to have received facial injuries, another sustaining a suspected fractured arm while others were treated for head injuries. POA national chair Mark Fairhurst commented: “This incident yet again highlights the intolerable working conditions POA members endure in the most violent and hostile workplace in western Europe. We need staffing levels restored to pre-austerity levels, the protective measures in place to quell violence and an investment in our prisons that ensures decent living and working conditions.” He added “Once again, it was brave prison staff that responded and restored order. Expecting prison officers to work in this environment until they are 68 is unrealistic and must be addressed. We now expect that the judiciary react and ensure the full weight of the law is afforded to the perpetrators.”
A six figure fine handed to Pirelli after two workers were injured in separate incidents on the same machine demonstrates that health and safety regulations should never be diluted, Unite has said. The union was commenting after the tyre multinational was fined £512,000 at Carlisle magistrates’ court following separate incidents in 2013 and 2015 where workers were injured by inadequately guarded machinery. Unite regional officer Malcolm Carruthers said: “The case of the Pirelli tyre factory at Carlisle shows the vital importance of health and safety legislation diligently built up over decades in UK law. There have been historic problems with health and safety at this site that were caused or exacerbated by the attitude of looking to blame individuals, who had an accident, in a blame-shifting exercise, rather than address the root cause of the accident.” He added: “This case shows that lessons were not learned from the first incident that should have prevented a further occurrence. Senior reps on-site have said that they are encouraged by what appears to be a better approach in recent times to health and safety. Unite has well-trained safety reps on site and their knowledge and experience in these roles should be appreciated for the benefits they can offer.” The court hear how, on 29 November 2013, a Pirelli employee was loading the stripline machine when his left arm was pulled in by a roller. On 31 August 2015 a second employee had his left arm pulled in by the same roller whilst trying to make an adjustment during a production run. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the machine, which was manufactured by Pirelli in 2003, was still not properly guarded, despite the first incident. Pirelli Tyres Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £512,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,820.
The government’s announcement of a partial ban on the future use of some flammable cladding does not go far enough, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. Commenting after housing secretary James Brokenshire told the Conservative Party conference that new high-rise residential buildings, hospitals, registered care homes and student accommodation will be covered by the ban, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This is not the outright ban on combustible cladding that firefighters have been calling for. The Westminster government continues to allow cladding of limited combustibility for any building work in the future. The FBU called for a universal ban on these flammable materials.” The firefighters’ union leader added: “These measures do not deal with the existing cladding on nearly 500 buildings across England where people live and work every day. The government’s proposals only apply to buildings over 18 metres high, plus hospitals, care homes and student accommodation – when they should apply to all buildings, whatever their height or use.” James Brokenshire’s announcement at the Tory party conference came as the bereaved, survivors and residents begin to give their testimony to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Wrack said: “This announcement is designed for political convenience, not for thoroughgoing change. The failings in the fire safety regime are far wider than just the materials used. The whole deregulated system and weak guidance needs to be overhauled.” He added: “Many residents of high-rise residential buildings and firefighters wanted more comprehensive action taken against flammable cladding. This government has failed to deliver.” Safety professionals’ organisation IOSH and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said any ban on combustible cladding in the UK should apply to all new high-rise buildings.
Members of the train drivers’ union ASLEF working on the London Underground’s Central line took 24-hour strike action on 5 October after a breakdown of industrial relations with London Underground. Finn Brennan, ASLEF’s organiser on the Underground, said: “The strike on the Central line is the result of management’s failure to deal with the issues our reps have raised regarding service control problems affecting our members; abuse of the attendance at work procedure; breach of agreements regarding managers driving trains; abuse of the case conference procedure; harsh and unfair use of the disciplinary procedure; and imposition of new and unsafe ‘flash and dash’ working practices.” He added: “What links these issues is a basic failure to treat drivers on the line with fairness and respect. Management seem to think of drivers as an appendix of the trains they operate, not as human beings. We have seen drivers dismissed because of one mistake after a quarter of a century of excellent service or reduced in grade because they had the temerity to take time off sick after a traumatic incident.” The union organiser continued: “London Underground management has had ample opportunities to resolve this dispute. But they have chosen not to, because they believe they will get what they want by using sticks instead of carrots! They have abused the disciplinary and attendance procedure to try to create a climate of fear on the Central line. But our drivers will not be bullied by management. And the huge ‘Yes’ vote for industrial action has shown that our members will not be easily intimidated.” ASLEF members voted 9-to-1 in favour of the action.
Crime levels on Northern rail services are climbing because ‘greedy’ operators are putting profits before passengers by shedding staff, rail union RMT has said. The union said the problem will worsen if the company succeeds in removing safety-critical guards from trains. The union was commenting as RMT members at Northern continued their industrial action over the axing of rail guards and as drivers on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line took strike action over a “complete breakdown” in industrial relations. RMT obtained new statistics from British Transport Police which revealed in the last year in the area covered by the Northern franchise there were 7,611 offences, including 382 serious assaults, 809 common assaults, two firearm/explosive offences, 167 sexual crimes including 100 sexual offences against females, and 1,522 instances of theft of passenger property. Violence against the person was up 19.38 per cent. At 330 unstaffed stations on Northern routes, protection and assistance for passengers and the train driver at stations is currently provided by guards who are on all trains. Northern is planning for at least 50 per cent of services to have no guards, with many lines and routes completely unstaffed. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The rising crime on Northern revealed in the new statistics from the British Transport Police exposes the madness of removing the guard from the train. No guard on the trains, combined with the de-staffing of stations, is a toxic cocktail that gives the criminals a free hand on Britain’s violent railways.” Speaking later, as Northern ran out long-overdue new trains on 4 October, the union leader said: “The North is desperate for these new trains, but rail passengers across Britain are also clear that they need guards aboard to keep them safe and accessible.” He added: “These new trains are configured to operate with a guard, but the company would rather run them without – and no wonder, because fewer staff means less cost and more profit.”
An academic journal has conceded that agrochemicals giant Monsanto didn’t fully disclose its involvement in published research that claimed Roundup, the world’s best selling herbicide, is safe. The ‘Expression of Concern’ issued by Critical Reviews in Toxicology, a journal that analyses health risks of chemicals, may bolster arguments that Monsanto, acquired by Bayer this year, ghost-wrote safety reviews. Monsanto has defended the independence of the 2016 review of glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient. However, on 26 September 2018 the publisher of Critical Reviews in Toxicology said it was issuing the Expression of Concern linked to four papers because the authors “have been unable to provide an adequate explanation to why the required level of transparency was not met on first submission.” Bayer faces litigation by more than 9,500 plaintiffs in the US, mostly farmers, who blame exposure to glyphosate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), with an NHL cancer court settlement to a former school groundsman this year spurring renewed calls for a ban (Risks 867). A ‘probable’ cancer association made earlier by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had already led to an industry backlash (Risks 863). The correction stems from the journal’s requirement that any potential author conflicts must be disclosed. The initial disclosure statement indicated Monsanto’s involvement was limited to paying a consulting firm to develop the journal supplement entitled ‘An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.’ It declared that no Monsanto employees or attorneys reviewed manuscripts submitted to the journal. However, internal emails filed in litigation revealed that Monsanto scientists were heavily involved in organising, reviewing and editing article drafts. Elaine Devine, a spokesperson for Critical Reviews in Toxicology, said the Expression of Concern “will remain on the scholarly record.” A co-author of two of four the criticised studies, Douglas L Weed, has previously rallied to the defence of the petrochemicals industry, after research linked low level exposures to benzene to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, the same cancer now linked to glyphosate (Risks 862). Weed was criticised for failing to make clear that CONservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe (Concawe), which provided financial support for his paper, is a research and lobbying organisation wholly financed by oil refinery companies. Critical Reviews in Toxicology had faced earlier criticism for publishing a paper claiming chrysotile asbestos presents a low risk to health, where the authors failed to acknowledge their study was bankrolled by the global asbestos industry.
Ÿ Bloomberg News. 26 September 2018 Expression of Concern and main article: Williams GM, Aardema M, Acquavella J, Berry SC, Brusick D, Burns MM, de Camargo JLV, Garabrant D, Greim H, Kier LD, Kirkland DJ, Marsh G, Solomon KR, Sorahan T, Roberts A, Weed DL. A review of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate by four independent expert panels and comparison to the IARC assessment, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, volume 46 (supplement 1), pages 3-20, September 2016.
Women who work at night, especially during pre-menopause, may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has found. The study comes two years after an Oxford University study claiming there was no association was rebutted and dismissed as ‘bad science’ by work and breast cancer experts (Risks 781). The new analysis of surveys in Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain looked at nearly 6,100 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 7,000 who had no diagnosis. Participants answered self-administered questionnaires or telephone interviews about their occupation and about risk factors for breast cancer. The findings, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, revealed the rates of certain breast cancers increased with the number of hours worked per night, as well as the number of years spent on the night shift. However, the risk seemed to diminish two years after going off the night shift. “Women who work at least three hours between midnight and 5am run a 12 per cent greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who have never worked at night,” said study co-author Anne Grundy, a research associate at the University of Montréal's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. “Among pre-menopausal women, the risk associated with working at night increases to 26 per cent.” Night workers who work shifts longer than 10 hours have a 36 per cent increased risk of breast cancer, again compared to women who have never worked nights. The risk is as high as 80 per cent among women who work night shifts in excess of 10 hours for more than three nights per week. “Women who were still working nights at the time of the study had a breast cancer risk that was 26 per cent higher than those who had stopped working at night at least two years previously,” said Grundy. “We need to go further in our research so that labour policies ultimately take into account this risk for women, and so that companies take preventive action and adjust work schedules.”
Ÿ University of Montreal news release. Emilie Cordina-Duverger and others. Night shift work and breast cancer: a pooled analysis of population-based case–control studies with complete work history, European Journal of Epidemiology, volume 33, issue 4, pages 369–379, 2018. doi: 10.1007/s10654-018-0368-x
A construction company and its managing director have been sentenced for criminal health and safety failings on a London site. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors had visited the site in Sherborne Gardens, London, following an incident in January 2017. They found evidence of poor health and safety conditions on site including dangerous work at height, a lack of suitable equipment, and untrained operatives working without adequate supervision. An investigation by the HSE found the construction company, CJ Langs Limited, failed to plan, manage and monitor the work on site and its managing director Kewie Doherty was responsible for the poor conditions on site. CJ Langs Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,000. Company MD Kewie Doherty pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid community work and to pay costs of £1,673. He was also disqualified from being a company director for a period of three years. HSE inspector Kevin Smith said: “Dutyholders should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
A Bedfordshire waste company has been sentenced after two of its employees suffered burns when flammable aerosol containers exploded, one suffering ‘life changing’ injuries. Luton Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 12 July 2016, the two workers were processing the aerosol canisters using an industrial plastic shredder at B&W Waste Management Services Ltd. The canisters were highly pressurised and, while using a gas operated forklift to lift them into a shredder, a spark from the forklift ignited a cloud of gas created by the shredded aerosols, leading to an explosion. Both workers were injured, with one suffered serious third degree burns that left him in an induced coma for 10 days on a life support machine. He has undergone several operations and has been left with considerable permanent scarring and a lifelong dependency on medication for nerve pain. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work was not suitably planned, not supervised by a competent person nor was it carried out in a safe manner. B&W Waste Management Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,603.14. HSE inspector Andrew McGill said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in the safe system of working. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life changing injuries suffered by one employee could have been prevented.”
Mondelez worker Milkhi Ram was killed in late September while operating a moulding machine in the company's Baddi, India plant. Global foodworkers’ union IUF said the death of the 35-year-old father of two followed ‘massive’ workforce reductions accompanied by a ‘voluntary separation scheme’ initiated by Mondelez India management, which workers were pressured into accepting. “The severe understaffing levels that had Ram working alone at the time of the accident are believed to have contributed to the unsafe conditions in which he was killed,” IUF said. “Prior to the workforce reductions, Ram had been working as part of a four person team. He had requested staffing support prior to his death, but his request was denied.” According to the global union, “the job destruction at Baddi, India is part of a much larger problem at Mondelez. The company's drive for immediate and unsustainable profits has resulted in the elimination of some 16,000 jobs globally since 2015 and this in turn has increased the health and safety risks for the remaining employees. Although there is a safety committee at the site, as required by law, it was not meeting regularly and was not functioning. The union at Mondelez Baddi reports that several recommendations made in the safety committee to improve safety were also not implemented.” When Ram's death was discovered, workers stopped work and protested in front of the Baddi factory, denouncing the company's drive for profit at the expense of safety and workers' lives. The work stoppage continued from Ram's death on 21 September until 27 September. Management issued a notice declaring the work stoppage illegal and described the refusal to work in unsafe conditions as an ‘illegal strike’. Food multinational Mondelez owns household names including Cadbury, Oreo and Toblerone.
On 2 October, 48 airports in 13 countries saw simultaneous demonstrations as workers demanded fair pay and conditions and airport safety and security. Under the banner Airport Workers United, the protests took place at airports controlling 36 per cent of global air travel and that see nearly 4 million people pass through every day. According to the global unions ITF and UNI, liberalisation of global aviation has seen profits soar for the few at the top whereas pay and working conditions have been eroded for the majority. They say while airlines are projected to make US$38.4 billion in profit globally during 2018, airport workers such as baggage handlers, ramp workers, caterers, cleaners, security officers and wheelchair attendants continue to endure poverty wages and challenging, unsafe working conditions. The global unions say outsourcing to “irresponsible contractors” is driving down wages, eliminating full-time jobs, intensifying work and threatening airport safety and security. Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary, said: “The global airline industry is leading a race to the bottom that's hurting communities across the globe. Airline companies keep coming up with new ways to drive down wages, cut benefits, and increase workloads. However, the world's airport workers will be at every corner to fight these injustices. Our movement to win fair pay and union rights is catching on and spreading all over the world.” Christy Hoffman, UNI general secretary, said: “The struggles of the airport workers are a microcosm of what needs fixing in the global economy. Whether it’s the cleaners and security guards that UNI represents or crew and pilots represented by our sister global union, the story is the same: an irresponsible cost-cutting business model where the only winners are senior management and shareholders. We say today enough is enough.”
Ÿ ITF news release and ITF/UNI report, Fix what is broken: Why airport workers demand change.
A union representing workers at a Turkish airport construction site where hundreds were arrested last month for taking strike action over safety concerns has said the employer wants to treat them like ‘slaves’. More than 500 were arrested in night-time raids, with many taken away “in pyjamas and slippers” after bosses handed a list of names to the authorities (Risks 868). Dev Yapi-Is union president Ozgur Karabulut said the workers were engaged in “a fight to be human,” adding: “They are attacking us to make us slaves.” He told the Morning Star that those employed on the site were made to sign an undated letter of resignation when they started work, which is then used by the consortium to threaten them with the sack. “This is union-busting and is common across the construction industry in Turkey,” he explained. “If workers join a union or raise a complaint, they produce the letter and say: ‘But you don’t work here. You quit last week’.” The union say workers have been forced to work up to 70 days without a break to meet a 29 October deadline for completion of the airport. They are provided with rotten food, the union says, adding that the dormitories are infested with cockroaches. The strike action followed a shuttle bus crash in which site workers died.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Tiger shrimps produced for export to European supermarkets are being processed in ‘outrageous’ conditions in Vietnam, a Danish labour standards group has found. Danwatch uncovered practices including 17 hour shifts and exposure to chlorine gas that has left workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets questioned by Danwatch claimed they did not know about the horrific working conditions in the processing plants. Ngoc Anh, 37, works 83 hours a week on average, peeling shrimp at the Vietnamese shrimp factory. She has chronic sinusitis caused by inhaling chlorine and her body aches from dragging heavy boxes of the shrimps that are sold to European supermarkets. In compiling the report, Danwatch interviewed researchers, doctors, health professionals and shrimp workers in Vietnam. The group found shrimp workers suffer from chronic sinusitis, fatigue and dehydration, and every month there are cases of employees fainting at the factories. Intensive production methods have also led to the routine administration of antibiotics to the shrimp dams. Food quality and worker health concerns have been linked to the excessive use of antibiotics in food production. In July 2018, global food and farming union IUF warned that workers involved in raising and processing meat and poultry “are routinely exposed to AMR [antimicrobial resistant] pathogens due to the reckless overuse of antibiotics in the meat production chain and the contamination of farms and processing facilities. Once exposed, they in turn become potential vectors for transmission” (Risks 860).
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