|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.|
A Prospect member criticised and reduced to tears by a senior manager after going public about sexual harassment in a previous job has won a victimisation tribunal with the union’s support. Lizzie Walmsley spoke out via Twitter and then in an anonymous interview with The Times about her experiences of sexual harassment while working for an old employer. Lizzie, a public affairs manager at the Big Lottery Fund, an arm’s length body of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, had sought the permission of various managers to conduct the anonymous press interview. After the interview with the Times, however, an email from a senior manager criticised her for lack of judgment in trusting journalists, the potential exposure of the Big Lottery Fund and breaches of Big Lottery Fund’s ethics and social media policies. This was followed up by a meeting with the same manager at which Lizzie was reduced to tears. She said she felt like it was a disciplinary meeting and as if she “was being scolded.” She raised a grievance about the issue, but left the job shortly afterwards. The employment tribunal found the manager’s conduct, the manner of the meeting and the email were unacceptable and Lizzie was therefore disadvantaged and her sense of grievance justified. She was awarded £6,000 in damages for “injury to feelings” plus £483.94 in interest. Lizzie said: “I’m so glad this is over and that the tribunal has found in my favour. If we as a society are to eradicate sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour it is vital that women are permitted to speak out about their experiences without fear or retribution and that the law protects us when doing so.” She said: “Big Lottery Fund suffered no reputational damage from my actions and for them to come down so hard on me in the manner which they did was wholly unjustified and I am glad the tribunal recognised that.” Lizzie added: “I can't change that I have been sexually harassed, but I can refuse to stay silent about it. I could not be more grateful to Prospect whose unwavering support and advice has brought us to where we are now. Without a doubt, they were integral to this win.”
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Entertainment unions have challenged the industry to ‘change the culture’ and tackle harassment in the creative sector, with many workers saying they fear speaking out. A conference organised by the Federation of Entertainment Union’s (FEU), as part of its Creating without Conflict campaign against bullying, harassment and discrimination in the media and creative industries, featured the launch of a new FEU equalities e-course and updated guidance. Sarah Ward, BECTU’s national secretary, said unions had long been aware of the problem and the creative industries had been identified in a TUC report as a ‘hotspot’ for harassment. Isabelle Gutierrez, the Musicians’ Union’s (MU) head of communications, related how she had reported someone for sexual harassment and despite being in a secure job and having the support of her boss it had been a harrowing experience. The perpetrator had appealed and accused her of lying. “Even having support, I ended up on medication and had many sleepless nights. But if it had happened to me, it had probably happened to others and would have gone on happening unless he was stopped,” she said. A BECTU survey of over 700 members revealed more than half of women (51 per cent) and a quarter of men (28 per cent) working in creative industries have encountered sexual harassment at work. The findings, published in January, revealed fear of repercussions and a lack of trust in managers were major barriers to speaking out, with 43 per cent saying they wouldn’t trust managers to deal with an issue and 42 per cent saying they would be concerned about the impact on their career. Workers also harboured fears of damaging their working relationships, being blamed by colleagues and not being taken seriously.
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Frustrated CWU union reps have raised disturbing examples of how workers with mental health problems are continuing to be failed by unsympathetic managers and inflexible processes in BT and Openreach. The union says that despite general agreement that BT’s group-level policies and online advice for those undergoing mental health crises are industry-leading, speaker after speaker at a special CWU branch forum cited ‘troubling examples of how fine words are all too often not being put into practice’ – with sometimes devastating consequences for those affected. That stark message was delivered to BT’s global health and wellbeing clinical lead, Bruce Greenhalgh, and senior BT employee relations personnel at a specially convened meeting on 29 January. The union said the ‘highly constructive’ meeting signalled a shared desire to work together to ensure good policies are translated into much improved practice. CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes commented: “The points made by the branch representatives were really powerful – the key message being that the company already has great policies but it is in the implementation of those policies that it is sometimes falling short. There’s clearly an issue we need to deal with regards to new starters, deficiencies in mental health awareness that need to be addressed and a particular issue with the training of managers that our reps are keen to see happen quickly.” He added: “These are all things the CWU national team have raised with the company previously, but I think that giving BT the chance to hear direct from CWU reps who are dealing with this issue on a day to day basis was a useful step that amplifies the importance of positive action to tackle the mismatch between great policies and how they are sometimes applied.”
Fire service employers are falling short on their responsibility to protect firefighters from exposure to carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxins (CMRs), the firefighters’ union FBU has warned. The union says there are stark differences in the range of cancers recognised as occupational diseases in different countries, with the UK trailing many other nations. It says it is crucial governments and fire service employers invest sufficient human and financial resources into the fire service so that occupational health and safety problems in general and work-related cancers in particular can be addressed, including after the worker has left the industry. FBU notes that “raising awareness, collecting and exchanging comparable data and good practices can ensure that lessons learned are shared. Clear procedures must be established before during and after interventions, for example on properly cleaning clothing and equipment used in interventions. Training programmes and exercises are needed to underpin and implement in practice each stage of the procedures.” The firefighters’ union adds: “Information and consultation rights, social dialogue and collective bargaining can all be used to improve decision-making on the choice, design and introduction of new technologies, equipment and/or work organisation and work processes.”
Another of the UK’s major city councils has pledged to work with Unite to stand up for the construction workers and outlaw poor practices on building projects under its control. Manchester city council is the latest local authority to sign up to Unite’s construction charter. The union says the charter leads the way in best practice by ensuring building contractors and sub-contractors under the control of the local authority provide good jobs, good apprentice training, excellent health and safety and that they ensure workers are paid the going rate. Unite’s regional coordinating officer for construction Andy Fisher said: “It’s fantastic news that one of the UK’s major cities has pledged to lead the way and demand the highest standards in construction. It means that projects across the city including the ongoing work at Manchester Airport will need to meet the highest employment standards. Unite representatives at Manchester city council deserve a special thanks for the work they did to help get the charter up and running.” Councillor Carl Ollerhead said: “The council has a number of important development projects in progress including the renovation of Manchester Town Hall and the Factory project. The charter means that workers and residents can be confident that these projects will move forward with ethical construction practices.”
Transport union Unite has ‘named and shamed’ online retailer Buy it Direct for denying drivers ‘toilet dignity’ and for flouting welfare regulations. Unite members undertaking deliveries to Buy it Direct’s warehouse in Elland, Leeds, report being denied the use of the warehouse’s standard toilets and instead having to use a portaloo, with no washing facilities. A manager for Buy it Direct told one Unite member the portaloo was suitable as “it was emptied every three days”. But Unite says Buy it Direct is acting ‘in direct contravention’ of welfare regulations introduced in November 2017 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), following lobbying from Unite, which require employers to allow people who are not their employees - such as delivery drivers - to use their premises to access toilets and washing facilities (). As part of Unite’s ‘toilet dignity’ campaign, the union has said it will name and shame those companies falling short. Unite has also reported Buy it Direct to the HSE and will be pressing the safety regulator to take enforcement action, it said. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “There is no excuse for Buy it Direct to be denying drivers proper access to toilet facilities. The company has welfare facilities but a manager is wrongly making arbitrary decisions about who can and cannot use them. Buy it Direct needs to take immediate action to comply with the law.” The Unite official added: “If drivers and other workers are denied toilet dignity it is important to complain and report the issue. Unite is committed to ensure that the regulations are fully complied with.”
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The government must act to protect shopworkers in the face of a sharp increase in thefts from supermarkets, retail union Usdaw has said. The union was speaking out after Press Association statistics obtained from police forces in England and Wales revealed a 7 per cent increase in thefts from supermarkets over the last four years. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “The idea that shoplifting is a victimless crime is wrong. Theft from shops is often a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. The rising trend in shoplifting is extremely worrying for our members. The evidence from retailers, police and our own survey of shopworkers all show a disturbing increase in retail crime. This cannot be allowed to continue, action must be taken.” He added: “Police resources are so stretched we now have some chief constables reporting that their officers can no longer attend incidents of theft from shops and they are asking shopworkers to detain shoplifters.” Calling for new protections to be added to the Offensive Weapons Bill currently before parliament, he said: “We want to see retailers, police and the courts working in partnership to ensure better protection for shopworkers. Retail staff are an important part of our communities; their role must be valued, respected and protected.” The Usdaw-backed changes to the Offensive Weapons Bill received cross-party support at the committee stage last week.
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Self-employed couriers working for Hermes can now opt to have key employment rights including paid holidays and union representation following a ‘groundbreaking’ deal between the company and the union GMB. The union says the collective bargaining agreement is the ‘first ever’ recognition deal of its type and is designed to support the rights of self-employed people providing courier services to Hermes. Hermes couriers can now choose to become ‘self-employed plus’, which provides a number of benefits such as holiday pay. In addition, those self-employed plus couriers that join the GMB will benefit from full GMB representation. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “As a result of our groundbreaking agreement, couriers will have a real voice in their workplace as well as the right to holiday pay and guaranteed pay, something GMB Union has long been campaigning for on behalf of our members.” He added: “Full credit to Hermes. They’re showing that the gig economy doesn’t have to be an exploitative economy and we look forward to working with them through this groundbreaking agreement. Other employers should take notice, this is how it’s done.”
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A Sports Direct worker gave birth in a warehouse toilet ‘because she was afraid of missing her shift’, a witness has claimed. The account confirms earlier union reports. The unnamed woman gave birth in a cubicle at the company's Shirebrook warehouse complex in Derbyshire on New Year's Day 2014. A former security worker who was at the scene said the mother cut the umbilical cord herself with a box cutter. The worker, said to be from Eastern Europe, told her colleagues that “she had to go back to work” within minutes of delivering her baby. The woman was covered in blood by the time the alarm was raised and emergency services were called, the Daily Mail reports. Former security team leader Marguerite Severn was one of the first at the scene and said she found the woman on her “evening shift, at around 8pm or 8.30pm.” She said: “The girl was in a cubicle. She had her jeans on but there was blood all over the floor. We thought she was haemorrhaging. Someone noticed there was blood in the next door cubicle, and when we went in there was a baby there, too, in a sanitary bucket. We picked it up and one of the workers gave it mouth-to-mouth. But all the girl kept saying was 'I've got to go back to work, I've got to go back to work'. She had had the baby and cut the cord with a box cutter.” An ambulance was called to the scene and the baby recovered in hospital. The story first came to light in 2016 in union reports to MPs that claimed Sports Direct employees worked in ‘gulag’ conditions in the company's warehouses ().
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Back-to-back rotations for seafarers where they return to the same ship will help to improve safety and efficiency and the well-being of crews, seafarers’ union Nautilus has said. Speaking at an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) conference to discuss the results of a major research project investigating the effectiveness of stable crewing policies for senior officers, Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton welcomed the results of the study. Solent University researchers conducted in-depth analysis of the benefits of having a system where seafarers return to the same ship on a regular basis, with input from shipping companies, managers and seafarers. The study authors concluded such policies can improve retention rates, enhance morale and motivation, increase accountability, and raise standards of record-keeping and planned maintenance. David Appleton of Nautilus commented: “We must not forget that seafarers are human beings and humans beings don't like constant change. It takes a lot of mental energy to adjust to constantly changing teams, which can add to fatigue and the stress of the job. If you work in a stable team, you have a sense to belonging and pride in your work as well as the benefit of knowing when you will be going home.”
Witnesses have been urged to come forward after a Tube driver was assaulted on London’s Jubilee line. The British Transport Police BTP) has released pictures and CCTV footage of the 29 January incident, where the Tube driver was attacked with a bottle on board on a train at Kilburn station. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers' union ASLEF, said: “This was a vicious attack on one of our members who was doing his job as a train operator on London Underground, providing a public service and helping passengers get around the capital. This man needs to be brought to justice and I would ask anyone with any information to contact the police as soon as possible.” The BTP said: “The incident happened at 10:40pm on Tuesday 29 January. A man is reported to have threatened to shoot the driver after he was told to leave the train. No firearm was seen. The man then forcibly entered the driver’s cab and hit the victim on the head with a bottle. The suspect left the station, boarded another Jubilee train at a different location and travelled southbound. The victim suffered a cut to the rear of his head.” In January, the BTP reported a 43 per cent increase in violent crime on the Tube network over the past three years, a trend Tube unions linked directly to staff cuts ().
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The prison union Community is calling on the government to end ‘the cycle of violence’ in prisons. The comments from the union, which represents workers in the privatised justice and custodial sector, came in the wake of the latest Ministry of Justice ‘Safety in Custody’ report. This revealed there were 10,085 assaults on prison staff in the twelve months to September 2018, a 29 per cent increase on the previous twelve months. Ten per cent were serious assaults, a 27 per cent increase. The report highlights that 2,820 assaults on staff were committed in the last quarter, making it the most violent quarter since records began. Adrian Axtell, Community’s national officer for the sector, said: “These figures echo the experiences of our members, some of whom go to work fearing for their safety. Community recognising this position is working closely with private sector employers to address issues such as pay and reward along with highlighting our members concerns on health and safety.” He added: “High levels of violence result in high levels of attrition, with prison staff leaving the profession for safer jobs. Despite the government’s effort to recruit more prison officers the loss of experienced staff creates greater pressure on remaining officers. The Ministry of Justice need to get a handle on this cycle of violence, and work with us to create a safer justice sector.”
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Construction union Unite is strongly backing a proposal that would make the term ‘electrician’ a protected title in Scotland. It says if the Scottish government grants protected title status it would be an offence for anyone who was not qualified to claim to be an electrician. Unite says this would dramatically reduce incidents where unqualified workers installed electrical equipment and would in turn boost public confidence and safety. Unite has been working with SELECT (Electrical Contractors Association of Scotland), Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB) and the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) to get the Scottish government to introduce protected title status for electricians. In response to lobbying led by Unite and employers, the Scottish government has issued a call for evidence concerning the level of substandard electrical installations and the risk this poses to the general public. Unite regional officer Scott Foley said: “Introducing protected status for electricians would improve consumer protection overnight as the public would know that anyone who described themselves as an electrician was properly trained and qualified. It will help drive the cowboys out of the industry.” He added: “Electricians are highly skilled and undertake a four year apprenticeship to develop and enhance their skills. It is long overdue that their skills and abilities are properly recognised and cannot be undermined.” Welcoming the ‘excellent initiative’, Unite national officer for construction Bernard McAulay said if the Scottish measure is passed, the union would press for comparable action across the UK.
Ÿ . Scottish government , closes on 15 February.
A construction company has been fined £600,000 after admitting its role in the horrific death of a father-of-four on an Edinburgh building site. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard Vince Ramsay, an agency labourer on the student flats project, suffered massive injuries when he was crushed by a dumper truck in December 2016. The 55-year-old was crouching down re-spraying pile markings when he was hit by the huge truck, laden with excavated earth. The day-to-day running of the project was overseen by contractor Allenbuild Limited, which had a turnover of £131m last year. The company was fined £600,000 by Sheriff Norman McFadyen after pleading guilty to criminal safety breaches at the site. Sheriff McFadyen said: “Vincent Ramsay was employed on the site as a labourer via an agency and he had worked there since construction began in August 2016. He was highly thought of by colleagues and regarded as hardworking and conscientious.” Sentencing the firm, the sheriff said: “A significant purpose of a fine in a case of this nature is to bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation. It is not to put a value on a human life and that is not what the court is doing. It is punishing the company.” Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Rob Hirst commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident that arose due to the company’s failure to ensure that pedestrians were not carrying out work on or near traffic routes whilst vehicles were in operation.”
The global union confederation ITUC has confirmed the 2019 theme for International Workers’ Memorial Day, held on 28 April each year, will be: “Dangerous substances – get them out of the workplace”. The focus will be mainly on carcinogens but unions can adapt the theme to whatever is most relevant in a particular workplace or area, as many substances can also cause illnesses such as asthma or dermatitis. When it comes to cancer risks caused by substances at work, asbestos and diesel exhaust are high profile issues for many workers at the moment – and the TUC has prepared detailed guides to help reps negotiate improvements. The TUC has created a dedicated 2019 Workers’ Memorial Day webpage, which will list all events being held on the day.
Ÿ TUC 2019 Workers’ Memorial Day events page and asbestos, diesel exhaust, and workplace cancers guides. ITUC/Hazards 28 April 2019 events and resources webpage and cancerhazards blog.
Australia’s mining industry, which is enmeshed in scandals about work-related suicides and the reemergence of deadly black lung disease, has expressed alarm at the prospect of a new workplace manslaughter law under discussion in the state of Victoria. The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has told the Victorian government that new workplace safety laws should not leave top managers facing the threat of jail. The proposal has strong backing from unions and workplace safety advocates. The MCA backlash came after the state government said that it had started work on workplace manslaughter regulations and the creation of an implementation taskforce, following 23 workplace fatalities in 2018. As part of the implementation taskforce, the government is establishing a Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group to ensure that the families of those who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents can contribute to the reforms. “While individuals have a role to play in keeping themselves and others safe at work, occupational health and safety laws are very clear that the safety of staff is the responsibility of every Victorian employer,” minister for workplace safety Jill Hennessy said. “We’re working with unions, business and the community to implement critical reforms as soon as possible, to save lives and keep Victorian workers safe.” But MCA chief executive Tania Constable responded that the manslaughter law proposed by the state government, which could see negligent employers facing jail time of up to 20 years after a workplace death, would not lead to improvements. “This must be the priority, not imposing oppressive and unnecessary criminal liability on selected individuals,” she said. But Victoria premier Daniel Andrews, commenting last year when the new law was proposed, said: “Families who have lost a loved one at work deserve justice – and that means jail, not a slap on the wrist.”
A young researcher has died of leukaemia only three years after he began work at Samsung SDI Co Ltd, the conglomerate’s electronic materials unit. The otherwise healthy 31-year-old researcher, identified only by his surname Hwang, died on 29 January, about 13 months after his diagnosis. In May 2014, after earning a graduate degree in chemistry, Hwang took a job at Samsung SDI, assisting in developing etch materials for semiconductor processing. In December 2017, he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia, at which time he petitioned for workers’ compensation and requested epidemiologic investigations of his labs. Thirteen months later, he died while awaiting a first reply from the government compensation agency KCOMWEL. Campaign and advocacy group SHARPS said Hwang was provided with little protective equipment and was exposed to a cocktail of hazardous cleanroom chemicals. Samsung SDI is not part of the compensation programme agreed to by SHARPS and Samsung in November 2018, which focuses mainly on production plants. SHARPS commented: “Samsung SDI is infamous for union busting. And its successful frustration of unionisation drives means that likely victims of the cluster have no place to turn within their company.”
A few days before his death, Kim Yong-kyun joined a “selfie campaign,” posting on social media a photo of himself holding a sign reading: “Mr President, please meet with temporary workers to repeal unfair labour laws, to punish illegal outsourcers, and to replace temporary jobs with regular ones.” At the time of his death, Kim’s backpack contained a broken flashlight and three cups of instant noodles, the only meals he could afford. The 24-year-old temporary worker was killed on 11 December 2018 at a thermal power plant in Taean, South Korea, after being sucked into a coal conveyor belt that decapitated him. Only four months into his temporary job, he was placed in mortal danger so that the belt could run uninterrupted at a speed of 16 feet per second. Kim’s death galvanised a national union campaign with wide community support, which included hunger strikes and which saw thousands join a series of protests on the streets. On 5 February, the Seoul government introduced measures to address some of the concerns raised, including ensuring principal contractors bear responsibility for safety and improving the protection of ‘irregular’ workers. However, a statement from the public service union KPTU said the measures, which came in the first amendment to the country’s Occupational Safety and Health Act in three decades, did not go far enough. The statement said it was clear “that we cannot simply rely on the government and ruling party to stop the killing of precarious workers caused by the outsourcing of death instead we recognise that it is our task to achieve this goal ourselves by uniting through our democratic and continuing struggle.”
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