Number 659 - 21 June 2014
- Tribunal fees ‘price workers out of justice’
- High Court throws out blacklisters’ cheap name grab
- New demo at blacklisting agency’s HQ
- Reigniting fire exposes ‘shambolic’ strike cover
- Regulators urged to act on air safety recommendations
- Don’t deny rights to injury victims, says STUC
- Attack ends career of nursing assistant
- Injured bus cleaner wins justice
- Record low sickness absence destroys ‘sickies’ myth
- Government and insurers made secret asbestos deal
- Cancer chemicals still in hairdressing products
- Chemical firm was a potential bomb
- Booker gets six figure fine over warehouse death
- Small fine after worker is paralysed in fall
- Worker’s floor slip led to loss of fingertips
- Global: Unions welcome Thai fisher slavery exposé
- Saudi Arabia: New law to protect outdoor workers from sun
- USA: Official scrutiny stepped up at Amazon centres
- USA: Huhtamaki workers stand up for safety
Employers who victimise, bully, harass or cheat their workers are increasingly likely to escape punishment as people wronged at work are prevented from seeking justice by the high cost of taking an employment tribunal case, unions have said. The fees introduced on 29 July 2013 mean workers can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities. In response to a UNISON legal challenge to the fees, the High Court in February refused to allow a Judicial Review, saying it was too early to judge the full impact of the changes. But citing figures published by the Ministry of Justice on 12 June, the TUC said that the 59 per cent drop in the number of single claims being taken to employment tribunals – from 13,739 between January and March 2013 to 5,619 in the first three months of 2014 – showed that fees were deterring many workers from taking their employers to court. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The huge drop in cases taken certainly doesn’t mean that Britain’s bosses have got a whole lot nicer in the past year. It’s simply because pursuing a complaint against a bad employer has become too expensive for many workers, and that is just plain wrong.” Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, said: “As it stands employers are being given a green light to adopt unfair and discriminatory practices in the certain knowledge that workers do not have the necessary means to make a claim against them. He added: “The government’s motive in imposing these hefty fees was to make it as difficult as possible for workers to seek justice and fuel a hire and fire culture for unscrupulous employers. UNISON is not going to let them get away with it and will continue our fight for justice for all.” UNISON is taking its call for a Judicial Review to the Court of Appeal.
Construction bosses were sent packing at the High Court when a judge threw out their bid to bypass negotiations with unions and pay blacklisted workers a pittance in compensation for years without employment (Risks 657). The firms proposing The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme wanted the Information Commissioner to hand over the current home addresses of trade unionists and political activists those same firms had systematically kept off building sites. But Judge Master Leslie threw out their attempt to grab the private data. He said company lawyers’ efforts to contact directly legally represented workers risked a breach of the Law Society code of conduct. GMB legal officer Maria Ludkin said: “GMB is delighted that the High Court judge seems to have had enough of lawyers for the employers continuing secret and unorthodox applications to the Court. In particular the judge commented that the efforts of the employers’ lawyers to contact legally represented blacklisted workers probably amounted to a breach of the Law Society Professional Code of Conduct.” She added: “The lawyers for the employers have used every trick in the book to trample on the legal rights of our members. We are delighted that their latest efforts to sell their cheap low cost PR scheme as a genuine attempt to compensate blacklisted workers has been squashed in the courts.” Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “The blacklisters have no right to this information. It is the equivalent of a witness in a murder trial having their new identity given to the murderer. If the blacklisting companies get the new addresses there is nothing stopping them starting a new fully updated blacklist.” He added: “The victims of blacklisting deserve justice rather than being given a few crumbs of compensation from a counterfeit scheme.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A second demonstration has been held at the Northampton HQ of a Danish-owned agency labour provider linked to blacklisting. Construction union UCATT held the Friday 13 June protest outside the offices of employment agency Atlanco Rimec, accused on Danish TV last month of operating a secret blacklist denying work to trade union members. The firm had been the target of an earlier union-supported demonstration by the Blacklist Support Group (Risks 656).Following the revelations on Danish TV, Ian Davidson MP, the chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that is holding a long running inquiry into blacklisting, said he was minded to hold “further hearings” into the matter. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “UCATT members are angry that a company that operates in the UK is allegedly involved in blacklisting and mistreating construction workers. It is clear that blacklisting is continuing to occur in construction and it must be stamped out once and for all.” UCATT regional secretary Cheryl Pidgeon said: “Atlanco Rimec employs thousands of construction workers. Workers who have sought employment with them have the right to know whether they have been secretly blacklisted.”
London firefighters attended the scene of a serious fire in Hackney on 13 June, after strikebreaking private crews failed to properly extinguish the blaze the previous night. The private strikebreaking force employed by the London Fire Brigade was sent to the scene on the evening of 12 June, with the brigade confirming shortly afterwards that the fire had been extinguished. However, professional firefighters returning from a 12 June 24-hour strike visited the scene at around 11.30am the following day, to discover the roof and other parts of the building had reignited. It took them 90 minutes to bring the situation under control. FBU members are striking in protest at government attacks to their pensions which will see them pay more, get less and face losing their jobs as a result of an upward shift of the retirement age from 55 to 60. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “The fire minister, Brandon Lewis, has claimed that ‘robust contingency arrangements’ mean it is ‘business as usual’ during FBU strikes. But the reignition of this serious fire demonstrates that claim to be ludicrous.” He added: “The strikebreaking crews are woefully undertrained and ill-prepared. They failed to properly extinguish this fire, leaving our members to go back there today to do the job properly.” The union leader said firefighters were being forced to take industrial action by the government’s imposition of “an unrealistic and unworkable pension scheme which takes no account of the work firefighters actually do.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It is regrettable that the government is still not listening to its own advice or the concerns of firefighters, and is set on imposing these ill-thought out pension changes.” She added: “Firefighters do incredibly dangerous and demanding jobs. The public – which has nothing but the utmost respect for our emergency services – will be at a loss to understand why ministers think that at 60 firefighters will still have the necessary strength and stamina to rescue people from burning buildings.”
The union representing helicopter pilots operating around Britain's shores is urging both the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to push ahead with vital flight safety improvements recommended in the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) report into two recent Super Puma helicopter crashes. The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) says the agencies must act on the findings of the AAIB report published this week, which examined two incidents where helicopters were forced to ditch in the North Sea after experiencing a loss of main rotor gearbox oil pressure. In both instances a back-up safety system activated by the crew failed to work. Among its recommendations, AAIB called on EASA to commission research into metal fatigue in components manufactured from high-strength/low-alloy steel. BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan, said: “This rigorous report into North Sea helicopter safety serves as a warning to the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority that there should be no delays to implementing these and previously recommended improvements to helicopter safety.” The AAIB report found that the loss of oil pressure on both helicopters was caused by a fatigue failure of the bevel gear vertical shaft in the main rotor gearbox, which drives the oil pumps.
Scotland’s top union body has called on a Scottish parliament committee to uphold access to justice for the victims of workplace injuries. STUC is urging the justice committee to support amendments submitted by John Finnie MSP to the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, to protect rights including legal representation. Unions are concerned proposed reforms could mean workers lose the automatic right to counsel (Risks 642). STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Whilst we support the principles of the Bill and many of its provisions, Scottish trade unions have been concerned during the course of the consideration of this legislation to ensure that the rights of personal injury victims, and the victims of workplace accident and illness in particular, are strongly upheld as reform is taken forward.” He added: “It is paramount that victims are able to maintain equality of arms in the face of a determined and well-resourced insurance industry which seeks at every turn to fight legitimate claims and minimise the payment of compensation. This is matter of fairness for individuals but also a vital tool in creating the kind of health and safety culture which promotes safer workplaces.” He said the STUC’s priority “is to ensure that victims of workplace accidents cannot be outgunned by the insurance industry and that there is a strong presumption of access to counsel in the very many cases which will require it.”
A former nursing assistant was forced to retire on health grounds after an assault by a patient. Andrew Eurich tore the cartilage in his lower back while restraining the patient and will be on painkillers for the rest of his life. The UNISON member was working for the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust at the Ash Villa Care Home, a child and adolescent mental health service unit. He and a colleague were escorting a patient who suddenly barged into Mr Eurich with such force, that he fell into a fire door and suffered a severe injury to his lower back. Treatments did not control his pain and he now requires injections every six months. The 52-year-old was forced to retire on health grounds because the injury stopped him doing any manual handling. Mr Eurich said: “I had worked at the care home for seven years and thoroughly enjoyed my job, but I became physically incapable of carrying out the tasks that were required of me. I will need to be on painkillers for the rest of my life, and cannot carry out heavy duty or even light duty lifting.” UNISON regional secretary, Helen Black, said: “Andrew and his colleagues working at Ash Villa Care home were trained to carry out restraining techniques, and it is expected that they would need to use this training as part of their work at the home. However, it would not, or should not be expected that employees at Ash Villa be presented with real acts of violence as our member, Andrew, was.” A union-backed claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) secured a £13,000 award.
A Unite member has secured a £3,500 payout after being injured in a heavy fall over an exposed drain cover at the bus depot where he worked. The man, whose name has not been released, was walking towards a double decker bus at the Gloucestershire depot in order to clean it when he tripped on a drain cover protruding an inch above the floor, falling heavily onto his left hand side and fracturing ribs. The injury kept the 55-year-old from working for four weeks. At a welfare meeting on his return to work he was told by managers that it was known that the drain cover was an issue prior to the accident but that they “just hadn’t got round to fixing” it. Lawyers brought in by Unite found that the drain cover was not fit for purpose as it was unsuited to heavy vehicles driving over it. This type of cover was subsequently replaced throughout the depot. The Unite member said: “It was not about the value of the compensation, it was the principle. My daughter ended up having to look after me, assisting with my errands. Even now I still feel the odd twinge in my ribs.” Unite regional officer Trevor Hall said: “The fact that our member’s employers knew about this problem before his accident makes their inaction all the more inexcusable.”
The TUC has said latest figures from a business group showing workplace sickness absence is at a record low disproves the myth that Britain has a ‘sickie culture’. A survey of 330 firms by the manufacturers’ group EEF showed overall levels of absence reached a record low of 2.1 per cent, equal to 4.9 days per worker per year. The report adds there has been a marked increase in mental health problems affecting the workforce. And, noting that long-term sickness absence has increased, it says the government's ‘fit note’ programme is failing to do what it is designed to do - to get people back to work. Commenting on the EEF survey findings, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “Once again sickness absence is a record low having fallen consistently over the past 15 years. This shows that the idea that Britain has a ‘sickie-culture’ is a complete myth and that, instead many workers continue to go to work even when ill. In fact there is growing concern over the level of presenteeism, which is where workers go into work when they are unwell, either because of commitment to their job or under pressure by management.” He added: “The increase in stress-related ill-heath shown in the report may be a result of this, but it does show the need for much more to be done to reduce levels of stress in the workplace and also to support those with stress-related conditions.”
The government and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) struck a secret deal that introduced legal reforms favouring insurers and harming asbestos disease claimants, according to claims based on official documents.”. Under the deal, the government acquiesced to an insurance industry demand and imposed legal costs on mesothelioma sufferers. The Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) introduced on 1 April 2013 originally exempted mesothelioma claims from a requirement that claimants pay legal costs. But in December 2013, The Ministry of Justice announced its decision to remove the LASPO exemption from mesothelioma claims, and in March 2014 published a report containing a cost benefit analysis seeking to justify that decision. In response, the Justice Select Committee set up an inquiry. Ian McFall, head of asbestos litigation at Thompsons Solicitors told the committee last month the proposals were presented as a measure to speed up claims, but were really about delivering “significant financial savings to the insurance industry through reducing the transaction costs of mesothelioma claims.” After details of the secret deal came to light at the Justice Committee this month, Ian McFall said: “This confirms in writing what we suspected; the ABI and government colluded on reforms to benefit the insurance industry and to the detriment of mesothelioma claimants.” Doug Jewell, vice-chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum, commented: “We all knew that a deal had been done and now, thanks to the work of the Justice Committee, that has come to light. While mesothelioma sufferers live behind a curtain of pain and suffering, powerful insurers, who donate huge sums to the Conservatives, conduct secret deals behind closed doors to limit their costs at the expense of dying asbestos victims.” The Forum said it has instigated a Judicial Review challenging the government’s decision to end the mesothelioma exemption.
Chemicals in products used to colour or wave hair could be the cause of higher levels of bladder cancer observed in hairdressers, researchers have concluded. A study published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine on 9 June linked frequency of dye and perm use to raised levels of carcinogens found in hairdressers' blood. Previous studies have linked dye chemicals to increased risks of bladder cancer in exposed workers. In the new study, Swedish researchers set out to measure long-term exposure to known and suspected carcinogenic aromatic amines among hairdressers. The team assessed blood samples from 295 female hairdressers, 32 regular users of hair dyes and 60 people who had not used hair dyes in the past year. Overall, levels of aromatic amines did not differ significantly between the three groups. However, in the hairdressers, their weekly levels of aromatic amines called o-toluidines and m-toluidines were shown to correspond with the number of permanent light hair colour treatments they applied to clients. Higher concentrations of o-toluidines were also associated with use of a hair-waving product. Toluidines have been shown to cause bladder cancer in chemical workers. The researchers say products should be evaluated to determine if they still contain aromatic amines. They also recommend that hairdressers should minimise exposures by wearing gloves and by doing any tasks that cannot be performed wearing gloves - such as cutting hair - before any dyes or perms are applied.
Ÿ Gabriella M Johansson and others.
Ÿ Exposure of hairdressers to ortho- and meta-toluidine in hair dyes, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online first 9 June 2014. doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101960.
The costs dangerous firms can pass on to the public purse have been illustrated by a case in Flintshire. Chemicals removed from the former Euticals factory had the power equivalent to more than 100 tonnes of explosives, Flintshire council has estimated. It cost the council more than £100,000 to clean-up at the site in Sandycroft, the council’s environment overview and scrutiny committee has been told. Chief executive Colin Everett said the council hoped to recoup costs from the sale of the land. The pharmaceuticals firm went into administration in July last year. In a 2012 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, the firm was criticised by a judge for its 'abysmal' management and 'incompetence' (Risks 567). Archimica Ltd, which took over Euticals in May 2012, makes chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry and kept 41 'dangerous' substances on the Sandycroft site, close to a residential area. The chemicals had the potential to give rise to the release of toxic, highly flammable or explosive substances, the court was told. On 27 July 2012, Judge Philip Hughes fined Euticals Limited £100,000 plus £8,344 prosecution costs. He said: “An aggravating feature is the defendant company’s reckless regard for adhering to the law and somewhat dismissive attitude to those in the HSE trying to guide them and neglecting to take preventative measures to reduce the risks.”
Booker Limited has been fined £175,000 after an employee was crushed to death by a forklift truck at its Avonmouth warehouse. Annie Brennan, who was in her 40s, died at Frenchay Hospital after the incident at Booker Wholesale cash and carry. In addition to the fine the firm, which admitted a criminal breach of safety law, was ordered to pay £18,455 court costs. The branch assistant became trapped under the forklift in the goods-in area. On arrival paramedics found her heart had stopped and she was not breathing, Bristol Crown Court heard. Bristol City Council, which brought the prosecution, found that Miss Brennan walked through the area to dispose of a leaking bottle while a forklift truck driver was loading a lorry. The driver did not see her and reversed over her as she walked behind his vehicle. An investigation found Booker did not have precautions in place to protect pedestrians from moving vehicles, such as separate pedestrian routes or any restriction on pedestrians walking through the goods-in area while forklift trucks were working. Staff were not required to wear high-visibility clothing, and CCTV showed frequent instances of forklifts working close to pedestrians in this area over the month before the tragedy. After the case, senior environmental health officer Heather Clarke said: “The tragic death of Ann Brennan has deprived her family of a loved and supportive member and was completely avoidable. It shows the need for companies to ensure that pedestrians are kept separate from moving vehicles, to train staff properly and to carry out adequate risk assessments.”
A Glasgow-based company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker was left paralysed from the neck down when he fell around three metres from the top of a gritter. Colin Shields, 34, was standing on top of a gritter at Inex Works Ltd’s premises in a bid to help his colleagues dislodge compacted grit salt from inside the machine. Airdrie Sheriff Court heard that Mr Shields, a father of two and company secretary at the firm at the date of the incident on 28 December 2010, suffered irreversible damage to his spine as a result of the fall. The married man with two young daughters, one of whom was born four weeks after the incident, is now paralysed from the neck down and requires assistance with his day to day care. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the method used to dislodge the grit salt was unsafe as the gritter was not designed with a working platform, walkway or hand rails and Mr Shields was not wearing a harness or restraint to prevent him from falling. Inex Works Ltd was fined £13,500 after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Following the case, HSE inspector Hazel Dobb said: “Mr Shields could have easily been killed. As it is, he has been left with irreversible injuries and he and his family have obviously been devastated.” She added: “This incident could have easily been avoided as there were several other ways this work could have been carried out, such as using alternative means of access or use of a harness. Tragically, that is a lesson for the company learned too late for Mr Shields.”
A Leeds-based company has been sentenced for a criminal safety offence after a worker suffered serious injuries to his hand when it came into contact with the drive chain of a conveyor at a Newcastle factory. The 26-year-old from Longbenton, Newcastle, was clearing up after completing a job on a freezer at Country Style Foods Ltd when he slipped on the icy floor. He instinctively put out his right hand to steady himself but as he did so it struck the drive chain of a moving conveyor, taking the tips off two of his fingers down to the first joint, and injuring a third. The employee was working as a contract electrician for the Country Style baguette factory when the incident happened on 30 August 2013. Newcastle Magistrates’ Court was told that an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the safety guard had been removed from the machine some time previously, which meant workers were not protected from dangerous moving parts. The court heard that there had been an accumulation of ice on the floor due to a problem with the freezer doors. The ice had not been cleared so the floor was very slippery. Country Style Foods Ltd was fined £8,500 and ordered to pay £794 in costs.
Two international union federations working together to fight appalling exploitation of fishery workers have welcomed last week’s Guardian newspaper exposé of the use of slave labour in the Thai prawn industry. The paper’s six-month investigation established that large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of the prawns, commonly called shrimp in the US. The prawns are sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers - Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco. Transport union’s federation ITF and the food and farming federation IUF are working on the ground in Thailand to fight slavery in the industry. Liz Blackshaw, programme leader for the joint ITF/IUF ‘From catcher to counter’ initiative, commented: “This publicity is hugely helpful. It will be welcomed by everyone fighting this disgusting human trade. It also shows the need for retailers to audit the entire supply chain to ensure that all products are sourced ethically and responsibly. Consumers deserve and demand transparency and rigorous checking.” The Guardian investigation found that the world's largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys the fishmeal it feeds to its farmed prawns from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves. Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies described horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.
Ÿ The Guardian.
New health and safety regulations to protect outdoor workers from the sun have come into effect in Saudi Arabia. From now until mid-September, labourers are banned from working outside between noon and 3.00pm. The Saudi government says the regulations show its concern for workers’ well-being and safety. Oil, gas and emergency maintenance workers are exempt from the new rule, provided that measures are taken to help protect them from the sun. Companies that flout the ban face heavy fines or even closure. In a statement, the Saudi ministry of labour said: “The ministry is working hard in providing a secure work environment that is safe from all occupational hazards.” However, some workers quoted by Saudi media cast doubt on whether the rule would be enforced. Others feared their wages would be cut if their hours were reduced. Neighbouring Qatar has faced severe criticism for forcing Asian migrant labourers building the 2022 football World Cup venues to work outdoors all day.
Internet sales giant Amazon is facing new scrutiny of its safety performance after two deaths in the US. The US government’s safety watchdog OSHA said it is investigating the fatalities at warehouses run by the world’s largest online retailer. One man was crushed to death in December 2013 after getting caught in a conveyor system while sorting packages at a facility in Avenel, New Jersey, and another fatality occurred on 1 June this year at an Amazon fulfilment centre in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. OSHA has cited five companies for violations related to the death of temporary worker Ronald Smith at the Amazon facility in Avenel, the contractor responsible for the sorting operation and four staffing agencies that hired temporary employees to work at the warehouse. Amazon wasn’t cited. “Temporary staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for the safety and health of temporary employees. These employers must assess the work site to ensure that workers are adequately protected from potential hazards,” said Patricia Jones, director of OSHA's Avenel Area Office. “It is essential that employers protect all workers from job hazards - both temporary and permanent workers.” An Amazon statement said: “Any accident that occurs in a facility is one too many and we take these matters seriously.” In the 1 June incident, Jody Rhoads, 52, died of multiple traumatic injuries. She had been driving a pallet truck at the Amazon Fulfilment Centre in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when she crashed into some shelves. In April 2013, OSHA announced an initiative to improve workplace safety and health for temporary workers.
Finnish packaging and paper products corporation Huhtamaki is facing criticism in the US for using lower safety and employment standards at its non-unionised plants in the country. Huhtamaki’s 21 plants in the United States employ more than 3,500 people, but only six of the plants have the protection of union organisation. Huhtamaki’s Commerce, California, plant is not one of the six. Workers there have asked management to “engage in a good faith dialogue” about working conditions in the plant where temperatures can reach 100 degrees or more and where workers are subject to a disciplinary system they say management uses “only as a tool to punish workers.” The workers are being supported by their colleagues in Huhtamaki’s unionised plants. The USW Huhtamaki Council also sent a letter supporting the workers. A new report from the USW and the national union federation AFL-CIO reveals how the company’s expansion strategy in the US is creating low-wage, precarious employment while threatening the job security and living standards of unionised employees. The report outlines cutbacks in occupational safety and health spending that are have a detrimental impact on workers in the plants, Huhtamaki’s use of a union-busting law firm to combat workers’ initiatives to organise and the relocation of product lines to its non-union plants.
COURSES FOR 2014
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Issued: 18 June, 2014