|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 email@example.com.|
A new TUC analysis has revealed that 1 in 14 UK workers are not getting their legal holiday entitlement. The union body estimates that nearly two million employees (1.960 million) are not getting the minimum paid leave entitlement they are due. And over a million (1.145 million) are not getting any paid leave at all. Women workers (8.3 per cent) are worse affected than men (5.9 per cent). The number of people taking unpaid holiday claims to tribunals has more than doubled since tribunal fees were abolished in 2017, following a legal victory by UNISON. The majority of holiday pay ruling are in the claimant’s favour. The TUC says the main reasons people are missing out are unrealistic workloads that do not allow time to take leave, employers deliberately denying holiday requests and managing out people’s leave or employers not keeping up to date with the law. The TUC warned that people who work excessive hours are at risk of developing heart disease and stroke (Risks 903 and Risks 717), stress, mental illness and diabetes (Risks 857), with this also impacting on co-workers, friends, and relatives. It is also linked to work-related suicide (Risks 893). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “British workers put in billions of pounds worth of unpaid overtime as it is [Risks 888]. Employers have no excuse for robbing staff of their leave. The government must toughen up enforcement to stop bosses cheating working people out of their holidays. And ministers must not resurrect tribunal fees which stopped people enforcing their rights.”
Government plans to compensate zero-hours workers who lose out on work will do nothing to reform a jobs market that allows bosses to treat workers like disposable labour, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after the government announced plans to force bosses to compensate workers for cancelled shifts and penalise employers who don't give enough notice of shifts. TUC policy officer Tim Sharp said the move by the government was welcome, “but it won’t do anything to reform a jobs market that allows bosses to treat workers like disposable labour.” He said polling shows that over half (51 per cent) of zero-hours workers had shifts cancelled at less than a day’s notice – and nearly threequarters (73 per cent) had been offered work in the same time frame. He said the changes would help some workers, “but only if there are no loopholes, such as exemptions for some sectors or for workers with short service.” As well as leaving some zero-hours contract (ZHC) workers insecure and in poverty, “it also looks like they can contribute to death and injury at work” (Risks 886), the TUC policy officer said. “Following an investigation into the recent death of a railway worker hit by a train, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch found a link between ZHCs and tiredness at work [Risks 906]. Workers are tired because they are being forced to juggle several jobs at once just to make ends meet. But even though zero-hours workers are dying on the job, the government still refuses to act.” Sharp concluded: “The system has to change, but unless we speak up it never will. That’s why we’ve launched a petition calling for them to be banned once and for all. So far over 20,000 people have signed and the numbers keep on rising.” He said the new prime minister can start his time in office “by doing the right thing and heeding our call” for a ban on zero hours work.
Ÿ TUC news release. BEIS/Low Pay Commission news release.
The CWU’s high profile campaign against an Openreach management practice that is forcing the company’s field service engineers to give hours of their time for free every week has stepped up a gear. The union says there is “mounting anger” at discrepancies in contracts that see some employees compensated for their travelling time, but others required to work for up to 10 hours a week for nothing. CWU said frustration has been building since September 2012 when the business issued new recruits with contracts with no agreed commute time. But the union’s campaign has uncovered much wider dissatisfaction with what the union describes as “working hours robbery” by Openreach. CWU national officer for Openreach Davie Bowman said: “It’s already clear that the anger of those directly impacted by PTT [Personal Travel Time] is shared by their colleagues in desk roles, as well as those on pre-September 2012 contracts.” He added: “There has to be a danger that, with more and more people effectively having their working week extended by PTT, the company will be tempted to ‘normalise’ this unacceptable situation by trying to extend it to everybody.” Urging members to sign a petition condemning the exploitative working hours practices, he said it was ‘crucial’ all workers, including those so far unaffected, back the union campaign. “Ultimately this is about standing together for what is right – and that’s why everyone in Openreach should show solidarity with their PTT contract colleagues by supporting our campaign petition and signing the CWU’s Our Hours petition immediately.” In 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled a worker’s travel between their home and their first and last appointments in a working day is part of their working time (Risks 720).
There must be more prosecutions, tougher sentencing and a culture change to address the widespread attacks on emergency workers, the union GMB has said. The union call came as new figures obtained by the BBC showed between November 2018, when a new law came into effect, and May this year police across England and Wales made more than 6,600 arrests for attacks on emergency service workers. The union says its Protect the Protectors campaign helped ensure the passage of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which came into effect on 13 November 2018. The legal change made assaulting an emergency service worker a specific criminal offence in England. Attacking an emergency worker is also now an ‘aggravating factor’ for sentencing purposes. But the union said the law must result in more prosecutions and tougher sentences, “accompanied by culture change and support from government and employers.” GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “It’s welcome to see arrests taking place but we also want to see an increase in prosecutions and tougher sentences handed down for these unacceptable assaults. The new law is only going to work if it is applied fully - that will be the deterrent that is much needed to really protect our members.” She added: “We know that, by itself, a change of the law isn’t enough. These new provisions must be enforced, and the culture in NHS Trusts has to change. Facing violence at work should never be considered just part of the job.”
McDonald’s workers in the UK are being subjected to a “toxic culture” of sexual harassment which has seen at least 1,000 women abused and ‘predatory’ managers moved to different stores rather than sacked, a union has warned. The food union BFAWU says allegations range from managers making repeated sexual comments, brushing up against staff and discussing sexual desires, abusing workers’ contact details in order to send texts and explicit photos, and even offering better hours and promotion in return for sex. BFAWU has compiled a detailed catalogue of abuse and harassment, the union told the Independent. A union spokesperson said complaints were “swept under the carpet”, workers were “victimised” for complaining, and added that some had been paid compensation on the condition they sign non-disclosure agreements. “Sexual harassment is very prevalent. There is a toxic culture,” BFAWU’s spokesperson told the paper. “Predatory employees operate with impunity. I would not say sexual harassment and sexual assault is happening in every store, but where a predatory manager or culture arises then McDonald’s is doing far too little to address it.” The union spokesperson estimated over 1,000 female workers had experienced sexual harassment at McDonald’s in the UK, with this figure is based on conversations the union has had with workers across the country. Victims of sexual harassment might also be put off reporting abuse due to fear of retaliation or being bullied, worries about being isolated in the workplace and concerns around the perpetrator being a friend of the manager, BFAWU said. The union noted that only a very small proportion of McDonald’s workers have union protection, as the company does not recognise the union.
UK seafarers’ union Nautilus and the global transport union ITF have raised serious concerns over the seizure of the British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, and have called for a diplomatic resolution to the situation and de-escalation of tensions in the region (Risks 906). Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on 19 July, with 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality. “We call on the UK government to urgently engage in diplomatic efforts for the release of the vessel and crew,” said Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement that the Stena Impero was seized “at the request of the Ports and Maritime Organisation's office of Hormuzgan province for disregarding international maritime rules and regulations as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.” According to the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars, the vessel has been taken to Iran’s Bandar Abbas Port, where all 23 crew members are being held on board until legal proceedings are concluded. ITF seafarers’ section chair David Heindel said the incident was the “latest in a series of alarming episodes”, adding: “Seafarers are concerned about the risk to their safety, it’s essential that the maritime industry and governments work collectively to guarantee safe passage and defuse conflict in such a vital region.”
Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has called for government action in response to a 17 per cent increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting in England and Wales over the last decade. The Usdaw general secretary said the ‘shocking’ Office for National Statistics figures back up the findings of an Usdaw survey of 3,272 retail workers across England and Wales. Forming the basis of Usdaw’s response to last month’s Home Office ‘call for evidence’, the union survey revealed 62 per cent of shopworkers responding had been the victim of verbal or physical abuse. Almost one in six (15 per cent) described actual physical violence, varying from workers being pushed, spat upon, punched or kicked or attacked with weapons. Paddy Lillis said: “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. We have long been concerned that theft from shops is not taken seriously and sometimes regarded as a victimless crime with only large companies affected, but the reality for shopworkers is very different. Police resources are so stretched we’ve heard some chief constables reporting that their officers can no longer attend theft from shops incidents and they are asking shopworkers to detain shoplifters.” Saying life on the frontline can be “pretty tough” for many shopworkers, the union leader added: “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 final in a series of GMB-coordinated protests outside Amazon warehouses over “unsafe” and “appalling” working conditions concluded this week. According to the union, closely scrutinised and under pressure workers are forced to urinate in plastic bottles rather than go to the toilet. The protests followed international campaigns last week to coincide with the retail giant’s Prime Day promotion, with demonstrations being held outside seven British Amazon warehouses – what the company calls “fulfilment centres” – and in seven US cities (Risks 906). GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “The conditions our members work under at Amazon sites are appalling,” adding targets were so demanding that workers did feel able to take time to go to the toilet. A 2018 survey of Amazon warehouse workers in England by the workplace campaigning group Organise found that 74 per cent of people were afraid to go to the toilet for fear of missing productivity targets. The union said it had had more than one report of women who had had miscarriages at Amazon warehouses while at work. GMB also said its research revealed hundreds of ambulance call-outs to Amazon warehouses since 2015/16, and more than 600 reports from Amazon warehouses to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) about health and safety concerns. Demonstrations were held at the firm’s centres in Doncaster, Rugeley, Swansea, Peterborough, Warrington and Coventry. Speaking in support of the GMB’s campaign, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Amazon has run out of excuses. It needs to start looking after its workforce. It’s not right that workers are being set inhuman targets and having their every move watched by camera.” She added: “It’s prime time for Amazon bosses to recognise trade unions and improve conditions for staff.”
Teachers are under huge pressure to respond immediately to “incessant” emails from parents asking about their child's schooling, a report has found. The head of Ofsted has called for an end to what she described as an “instant response culture,” and urged both management and parents to support teachers in their efforts to do a good job in the classroom. The report suggests restricting access to staff email addresses and reminding parents of the most appropriate ways of raising concerns such as face-to-face meetings or phone calls. Ofsted also found that managing poor behaviour in the classroom is one of the main causes of low morale among teachers. Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said parents are entitled to have high expectations for their children, but warned that demanding immediate responses to queries is putting extra pressure on teachers. “Schools also have to play their part to improve their staff's wellbeing and manage the expectation of parents,” she said. “It's high time leaders took steps to end this 'instant response culture', that is putting huge pressure on teachers, and allow them to focus on the important work of teaching.” The research, based on the responses of more than 4,300 staff from schools and further education and skills (FES) providers, also found that while 98 per cent of those who took part said they enjoy teaching, just over a third (35 per cent) reported low levels of wellbeing. It found 61 per cent of senior leaders report high or very high wellbeing at work, compared with 35 per cent of teachers and 49 per cent of teaching assistants. Almost a third (31 per cent) reported that their job often or always negatively impacts their mental health. Ofsted itself was cited as a source of stress for school staff. The watchdog said it was evaluating its new education inspection framework to address how that may be leading to unnecessary extra workload for teachers.
Unite has accused the government of ‘playing with fire’ over the privatisation of the Defence Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) after it announced that Capita would take over the running of the armed forces’ firefighting service at bases across the UK and Cyprus. Responding to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announcement made in a written ministerial statement to parliament, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The government is playing with fire by handing over the armed forces’ fire and rescue service to the controversial outsourcer Capita. The Defence Fire and Rescue Service is a national security critical service which plays a vital role in supporting our armed forces and keeping Ministry of Defence bases safe.” She added: “Ultimately the losers will be our armed forces who will receive a poorer, more fragmented service and the dedicated fire and rescue professionals who now face the prospect of cuts as Capita looks to turn a quick profit from an essential service. Minsters have serious questions to answer over this whole process and whether taxpayers’ money was used in a deal to get Serco to drop one of its court actions which would have halted this privatisation. When will ministers learn the lessons of Carillion? The government needs to reverse this decision and drop its outsourcing obsession which is seeing services of national importance proffered up to the lowest bidder.”
A newspaper investigation has uncovered evidence that Britain is one of the world’s biggest traders in asbestos, a deadly material that kills more than 100,000 people worldwide every year. The Sunday Times investigation found that despite asbestos being banned in the UK for the past 20 years, British-registered companies are still responsible for shipping hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos to some of the world’s poorest countries including India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia where it is still used in construction. According to the Sunday Times an obscure law means companies registered as limited partnerships (LPs) can operate without paying taxes, publishing accounts or declaring publicly who owns them. In 2015, a single UK-registered company was responsible for shipping almost half the asbestos mined in Russia, which is the world’s biggest producer of asbestos. Trading in asbestos is not unlawful in the UK and there is no suggestion the LPs are engaged in illicit activity. However, Harminder Bains from the law firm Leigh Day said more needed to be done to curb laws which facilitated UK companies to be part of an industry which claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year. “The government in both Westminster and Holyrood must do everything it can to ensure there are no corporate structures that can shield companies from their responsibilities,” she said. According to the Sunday Times the biggest trader in Russian asbestos over the past 17 years is Minerals Global Trading LLP, a limited partnership company formerly based at an industrial estate unit in Wood Green, north London. According to the paper, in 2015, it arranged the export of 263,660 tons of asbestos, worth a total of $71.46m (£57m) for use in India, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, according to Russian customs and excise data.
Teaching union NEU has called for greater government transparency on asbestos in schools combined with the phased removal of the deadly fibre from school premises. The union welcomed the publication, “well over a year behind schedule”, of the Department for Education’s Asbestos Management Assurance Process (Risks 906). This found almost a fifth of schools are not managing asbestos in line with government guidance. Nearly 700 schools were referred to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as a result of their poor asbestos management (Risks 905). NEU said it welcomed the referrals, but questioned whether the HSE has the resources to investigate all these schools and help them to improve. In a statement, NEU joint general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted said: “We call upon the new government to prioritise phased removal of asbestos from all schools for the sake of the health of children and staff. The government must also release AMAP data showing which schools are deemed to be ‘assured’, which are not and which didn’t respond. Transparency is the only way in the short to medium term that we can seek to drive improvements in asbestos management.”
A Birmingham manufacturer of calcium carbonate products has been fined £200,000 after a worker suffered fatal injuries when struck by a forklift truck. Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 24 July 2017, Christine Workman, an employee of Minteq UK Ltd, trading as Specialty Minerals, was struck by a forklift truck whilst walking in the designated pedestrian area of the site’s roadway. The 59-year-old suffered severe crush injuries and died on 8 August 2017. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the measures in place to separate and segregate pedestrians from vehicles were inadequate, with the designated pedestrian walkway running, unprotected, down the centre of the roadway used by vehicles. Minteq UK Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £23,217.87. HSE inspector Kay Brookes commented: “Far too many people are killed and seriously injured by vehicles in the workplace every year. Provisional data for 2018-19 shows that of the 147 workers fatally injured, 30 of them were as a result of being struck by a moving vehicle. Many hundreds are left with life-changing injuries.” She added: “The requirement to ensure adequate separation and segregation between pedestrians and vehicles is paramount. This tragic and wholly avoidable incident highlights the need for companies to comply with their legal duty to identify what can kill and seriously hurt people in their workplace and take steps to stop that happening.”
A property investment company and its director have been fined after a worker fell from a tree, suffering fatal injuries. Nottingham Crown Court heard how on 27 September 2017 untrained workers were tasked with taking down a large, dead sycamore tree on a Nottingham road using a chain saw. Dennis Parker went up a ladder and used the saw to cut a branch, which when released swung back, knocking him out of the tree. As he was not using ropes to anchor himself into the tree he then fell to the ground. The 67-year-old was taken to hospital and died two weeks later. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the workers should have been trained in chainsaw use and in working with saws in trees. The work should also have been properly planned with competent workers using correct personal protective equipment (PPE) for operating the saws and climbing the tree. CDF Properties Investment Ltd director Claudio De Falco pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,350. The company pleaded guilty to the same criminal offence and was fined £80,000 and £12,700 costs. HSE inspector Martin Giles said: “Using chain saws on and in trees is a specialised task and should only be carried out by trained and competent people using the right protective equipment for using the saws and climbing trees.” He added: “Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in this country and the risks associated with working at height are well known.”
A Cardiff-based health board has been fined and the director of a maintenance company given a suspended jail sentence after a worker fell from height, suffering life-changing injuries. Cardiff Crown Court heard how, on 22 September 2016, Christopher Rees, employed by WD Rees Maintenance Ltd, was window cleaning at the Women’s Services Unit of the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. The 46-year-old was using suspended access equipment when he fell from the end of the beam supporting him as there was no end stop fitted, suffering significant and life-changing injuries including a broken back. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Wayne Daniel Rees, as the director of WD Rees Maintenance Ltd, had failed to plan effectively the work at height task. He did not undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment or ensure that a safe system of work was in place for cleaning the windows. He made no arrangements to ensure the task was effectively supervised and also failed to ensure there were suitable trained staff, safe equipment and a suitable rescue plan in place. The investigation also found Cardiff and Vale University Health Board failed to effectively manage its contractors. It did not undertake suitable checks to ensure WD Rees Maintenance Ltd was competent to carry out such work or ensure a suitable risk assessment or safe system of work were in place. The health board provided the beam, a piece of lifting equipment, which was used to support Christopher Rees but failed to ensure it had been examined to ensure it was safe for use. Cardiff and the Vale University Health Board of The University Hospital of Wales pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £15,845.90 costs. Wayne Daniel Rees pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and received a six months jail sentence suspended for 12 months. He was also disqualified from being a company director for five years.
As soaring temperatures have prompted the TUC to remind employers to protect their staff. The TUC warns that high temperatures can lead to potentially serious sickness, a lot of concentration, and slippery, sweaty palms – all of which can increase risks at work. And overheating workers, faced with a choice between heat stress and other hazards, may feel they have to ditch uncomfortable safety gear. The TUC has said both indoor and outdoor workers need protection, as well as access to cold drinks. Measures to protect outdoor workers can include scheduling work to avoid the hottest parts of the day, providing shelter and canopies to shade workers from the sun, providing sunscreen and suitable clothing and hats to protect the skin, and providing breaks and a ready supply of cold drinks.
The union UCFW Canada is backing calls from migrant workers’ groups for greater health and safety protection for migrant workers. As part of an official review of the workplace safety strategy in Ontario, the groups are exploring ways to make agricultural work safer and healthier for workers participating in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). “We appreciate that the Ontario Ministry of Labour was willing to meet with us and listen to our concerns in order to learn about workers’ experiences and find ways to improve health and safety protections for migrant workers,” said UFCW Canada national representative Santiago Escobar, who joined 40 migrant workers from Mexico and Jamaica at the session. Workers highlighted the need for mandatory health and safety training for all participants enrolled in the SAWP and TFWP, noting that agriculture is one of the most dangerous jobs in Canada and is responsible for nearly 80 workplace fatalities per year. UFCW Canada said it has led the fight for migrant workers’ rights in Canada for over three decades. “In collaboration with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada operates a national, on-the-ground network of Worker Support Centres with staff and volunteers helping thousands of migrant workers to navigate and enforce their current legal rights and entitlements, as well as providing health and safety and ‘know your rights” training,” the union said.
A landmark trial that has seen company executives in France facing charges related to a spate of suicides at their firm has concluded at the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance. The court action was triggered by a complaint filed with the Paris public prosecutor by the union SUD PTT in December 2009, accusing France Télécom and its senior executives of “moral harassment” and “endangering others” through psychological bullying (Risks 897). There were 60 employee suicides at France Télécom between 2006 and 2010 as the company pushed through staff reductions and a company reorganisation, according to the trade unions. Nineteen of these cases were brought before the criminal court, along with 12 attempted suicides and eight cases of employees with severe depression or other related illnesses. The company and seven defendants - ex-CEO Didier Lombard, his deputy Louis Pierre Wenes, the director of HR Olivier Barberot and four other executives in office at that time and charged with complicity – faced charges. The public prosecutor called for the three main defendants - Lombard, Wenes and Barberot - to receive the maximum penalties. In a July online commentary on ‘Corporate Murder’, Leeds University French professor Sarah Waters noted: “The suicides at France Télécom are linked to a shift to a finance-driven model that radically transformed the perceived status and value of the individual employee within the company. From being a productive asset, a skilled professional and a source of economic profit, the employee suddenly became a financial burden that needed to be removed from the company at all costs.” After 46 hearings, the judges retired on 11 July to consider their verdicts, expected to be handed down on 20 December 2019.
Ÿ ETUI news report. Sarah Waters, Suicide as Corporate Murder: France Télécom on trial, Truthout, July 2019.
Chemicals used to fade denim are making garment workers sick, a study has found. Clean Clothes Campaign Turkey investigated the denim industry's use of potassium permanganate. The campaign’s research found that workers in Turkey spraying the chemical are suffering skin and respiratory problems. Potassium permanganate is now used in 90 per cent of processes to create the bleached look in denim products. Its use became widespread after sandblasting – the technique previously used to fade denim – was shown to cause the deadly lung disease silicosis. Potassium permanganate is now applied to jeans and jackets by workers with spray guns in confined workshop spaces, often without appropriate protective equipment. The chemical is classified as ‘dangerous’ by the European Chemical Agency and is said to affect the lungs if inhaled repeatedly, resulting in symptoms similar to bronchitis and pneumonia. Despite this, workers were found to have been provided with ineffective dust masks that were rarely worn. The researchers also gathered photos of skin problems suffered by workers using the chemical. Abdulhalim Demir, a former Turkish denim worker who developed silicosis when working in the denim industry, is the author of the report. “We lost 122 people to silicosis as a result of work in the denim industry,” he said. “Neither we nor the sector can handle another tragedy. We have to make sure workers are safe.”
Ÿ Clean Clothes Campaign news release. Potassium permanganate spray report, CCC Turkey, July 2019.
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