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In a decision that has been welcomed by unions worldwide, a London employment tribunal has ruled that two drivers for cab-hailing firm Uber are entitled to holiday pay, paid rest breaks and at least the National Minimum Wage. The union GMB, which supported the claimants and which has been at the forefront of the campaign to expose employment conditions at Uber, described the 28 October tribunal ruling as a ‘monumental victory’. The decision has received coverage internationally and has been welcomed by global unions. Uber says it will appeal. The ruling in favour of the Uber drivers who brought the case paves the way for 40,000 drivers around the UK to be classed as workers – who have basic statutory rights at work – rather than self-employed people. GMB legal director Maria Ludkin described the ruling as “a monumental victory that will have a hugely positive impact on over 30,000 drivers in London and across England and Wales and for thousands more in other industries where bogus self-employment is rife.” She added: “GMB puts employers on notice that we are reviewing similar contracts masquerading as bogus self-employment, particularly prevalent in the so called ‘gig economy’. This is old fashioned exploitation under new-fangled jargon, but the law will force you to pay GMB members what they are rightfully due.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “For many workers the gig economy is a rigged economy, where bosses can get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks. What is happening at Uber is just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of people are now trapped in insecure jobs, with low pay and no voice at work.”
Ÿ GMB news release Leigh Day news release. ITF/ITUC news release. TUC news release. IUF news release. TUC Stronger Unions blog. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Personnel Today.
Unite is to create a special ‘bogus self-employment’ unit to pursue employers who are ‘shamelessly dodging’ their responsibilities by classifying workers as self-employed. The announcement came after the union GMB won a landmark employment tribunal which ruled Uber drivers were workers rather than self-employed. The decision means the drivers are entitled to holiday pay, paid rest breaks, and the national minimum wage. Unite said it believes the ruling paves the way for similar cases and added it will be setting up a legal unit to support its members in all sectors from construction to the ‘gig’ economy. Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “Congratulations to the GMB. This is another landmark ruling for the trade union movement which will send shock waves through the ‘gig’ economy and opens up the way for legal action against bogus self-employment across all sectors.” He added: “Following this judgment Unite will be setting up a specialised unit to pursue those employers who shamelessly dodge their responsibilities by classifying workers as self-employed.” Demanding government action, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “For many of these workers eking out a living in the gig economy, it’s a world of insecure work and casualised labour. But instead of a tap on the shoulder or the brass tally of the docks from decades ago, workers are left waiting for a text or the beep of an app to know if they have work.” He said: “We cannot turn the clock back to the Victorian era, the government needs to put a floor underneath all workers’ rights. Otherwise living standards will fall and peoples’ working lives become increasingly insecure.”
Justice secretary Liz Truss has announced a major increase in prison staffing after urgent talks the prison union POA this week over deteriorating safety standards in jails. The union had planned meetings outside each jail on 1 November, to highlight the link between understaffing and increasing violence and suicides in English and Welsh prisons. POA deputy general secretary Steve Gillan said staff shortages had left prisons in England and Wales facing a ‘bloodbath’. The action by the union, which is banned by law from staging strikes, was called off after branch meetings inside prisons to talk about matters were authorised. The POA had also said that officers would impose their own working practices, allowing only small numbers of prisoners out of cells at a time. However, Michael Spurr, head of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), promised in discussions with POA there would be “urgent” talks about health and safety and recruitment problems. He confirmed the justice secretary would meet with the union ahead of this week’s announcement about her plans for prison reform. Liz Truss told the Commons this week there was a “serious issue with violence and levels of suicide” and stressed that addressing the situation was her top priority. In the year to June, assaults on staff jumped by 43 per cent to 5,954, with 697 of these recorded as serious. POA said it had suspended the planned meetings outside prisons when it was agreed union meetings could take place in prisons and the confirmation “that negotiations on safety issues will now take place at a national level immediately, with a view to reaching agreement by the 11 November 2016.” A White Paper released by the justice secretary on 3 November indicated 2,100 extra prison guards were to be deployed. Since 2010, prison officer numbers have fallen from about 25,000 to 18,000.
The number of UK workers who regularly work through the night has risen dramatically, according to a new analysis by the TUC. The union body, which is calling for better protection for this group of workers, found that the number of people who work night shifts increased by 275,000 (9 per cent) between 2011 and 2016 to 3,135,000. Britain’s large army of night workers now accounts for one in eight (12 per cent) employees. TUC said that while most night workers used to be men working in manufacturing plants, this had ‘changed drastically’. In 2016 one in seven male employees (14 per cent) were night workers and one in 11 (9 per cent) female employees. However, women account for more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of the growth in night working over the past five years. Between 2011 and 2016 the number of women regularly doing night work increased by 190,000, while for men it increased by 86,000. The two most common professions for female night workers are care working and nursing. Male night workers are most likely to work in protective service occupations (military, security, policing) and road transport. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “Whether its nurses looking after patients, or police officers keeping our streets safe, we all depend on Britain’s army of night workers.” She said these essential workers must be properly protected. “Employers must play fair and play safe, or public safety will be put at risk and the families of night workers will suffer.” The negative health impacts of night work (Risks 759) include heightened risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes (Risks 686) and depression. A number of studies have linked night work in certain professions, notably nursing, to a higher risk of breast cancer (Risks 612). Night work has also been linked to an increased injury risk (Risks 482). The journey home from a night shift has also been linked to an increased risk of a road traffic accident (Risks 735).
A dramatic decline in the amount of fire prevention work that fire and rescue services perform is putting lives at risk, firefighters’ union FBU) has said. The union warning came as new government figures revealed that 10,000 firefighter jobs have been axed in England over the last seven years. The latest ‘Fire Operational Statistics Bulletin’, also exposed a sharp drop in home fire checks, with fire and rescue services also spending less time on public safety campaigns and initiatives. The Home Office figures reveal 10 per cent (4,300) of staff have left the fire and rescue service in the past year. The average age of a firefighter has increased to 41 as the number of young firefighters has been slashed by 40 per cent. The FBU said the new figures show fire prevention exercises such as home safety checks, which have long been credited for reducing fire deaths and casualties, have been reduced by a quarter over the past five years. Fire and rescue services are also spending 13 per cent less time on public safety campaigns and initiatives. The union said the figures are worrying because the number of fire deaths has ‘rocketed’ by 15 per cent in the past year – the single biggest percentage increase in 20 years. Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “The government have prioritised balancing the books over all else, including public safety. These figures paint a damning picture of today’s fire and rescue service, which is simply not safe in the hands of this government. Resources continue to be slashed, it’s taking longer to get to fires and more people are dying as a result.” The union says in addition to the rising number of fire deaths announced in August, it was revealed late last year that response times to fires are now at their slowest in 20 years.
A sub-standard ship detained by UK port authorities has had its detention extended after officials discovered it was mistreating its Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian crew, withholding pay and requiring workers to buy their own protective equipment. The Malta-registered Svetlana was inspected by Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) surveyors in Cardiff, who issued the new detainable deficiency notice after it was discovered the crew had not been paid for many months. “The state of the vessel is bad enough from a maintenance point of view,” said Tommy Molloy, an inspector with the global seafarers’ union ITF. “It is self-evident that no money is being spent on the basics and, as is usual with such shipowners, the crew are also not being paid.” The ship, operated by Victoria Maritime Trading Ltd of Bulgaria, has been in Cardiff since 8 October. ITF became involved in the case at the request of the MCA. ITF inspector Tommy Molloy discovered wages, which were below the International Labour Office (ILO) minimum, had gone unpaid for months. The crew had also been forced to purchase their own personal protective equipment, including safety footwear and overalls, which ITF said was “totally unacceptable.” When ITF invited the company to discuss these issues, ITF said the owners instead accused its inspector of “acting illegally” and “blackmail.” ITF’s Tommy Molloy said: “We have had similar dealings with this operator before. They have been described as being at the very low end of the industry, and the MLC [the ILO Maritime Labour Convention] was designed to give seafarers protection against exactly this kind of sub-standard outfit.”
Union officials are concerned that workplace safety is being compromised on two of Scotland’s most high-profile construction projects. UCATT says employers on the two major sites have downgraded their commitment to healthy industrial relations and workplace safety by refusing to reappoint union convenors. Both the new Forth Bridge/Queensferry Crossing (Risks 749) and the Aberdeen West Peripheral Route (Risks 768) have suffered serious accidents, including a fatality. Each project had UCATT convenors trained in health and safety on site but when these left the job, management on both projects rejected the idea of replacement convenors. UCATT Scotland regional secretary Steve Dillon, said: “These are both huge, high profile, public-funded projects where we and the general public would expect to find the highest, most stringent levels of health and safety provision – and, of course, continual scrutiny. Our convenors are trained in health and safety. One of their roles is to pre-empt problems and be another set of trained eyes on such vast projects.” UCATT said unions are concerned the decision not to appoint new convenors “shows that major companies have not learned past lessons and are failing to engage with the union movement, potentially creating longer term problems.” Steve Dillon said: “The decision by these two consortia is both worrying and perplexing. What lies behind these decisions and why are safety concerns being swept aside when everyone knows there have been real safety issues on these sites? UCATT, the Scottish government and the Scottish public need to know.”
The union Unite has secured two six figure settlements after members developed the aggressive asbestos cancer mesothelioma. In the first case, an unidentified member from Middlesbrough was awarded £180,000. The 73-year-old was employed by a chemical manufacturer between 1957 and 1972, first as a messenger boy, before starting an apprenticeship which led to him becoming a maintenance worker. He was never provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) or warned about the dangers of working with asbestos. An x-ray and a CT scan found that a build-up of fluid was causing pressure on his lungs, and further tests confirmed that he had developed the asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma. The Unite member commented: “Unfortunately, a scan in June revealed progression of the tumour for which further NHS treatment will have little benefit. As a result, the only option I have to ease the pain is to try new and expensive drugs, only available privately.” In a second case, Unite secured £147,000 for the family of a member who died aged 72 of the same cancer. He had worked as a forklift driver at a refinery in London from 1957 to 1963, where he was exposed to asbestos when colleagues stripped lagging off pipework. He also worked for a car manufacturer in the 1960s and 1970s and was again exposed to asbestos when maintenance work was carried out on the site.
The system of sick pay and GP “fit notes” is to be reviewed by the government. A draft consultation document published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week will also examine changes to the controversial work capability assessments (WCA). The government said the Green Paper’s scope will include measures “encouraging employers to work with their employees with long-term health conditions to stop them from falling out of work.” It said consideration is also being given to “extending fit notes from doctors to other healthcare professionals to help ensure people receive more tailored support.” Work and pensions secretary Damian Green said: “When things need improving, like the Work Capability Assessment and fit notes, we mustn’t shy away from big decisions.” He added: “This Green Paper marks the start of our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings that, after many years, have become ingrained within the welfare state, within the minds of employers and across wider society.” Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The additional cost to the NHS of treating long term health conditions that keep people out of work is estimated to be in the region of £7 billion per year. This means it is vital the health service is part of this new conversation on health and work. This Green Paper launches a wide–ranging debate about recognising the value of work as a health outcome.” He added: “With all the evidence showing that work is a major driver of health, this is a big opportunity – to make sure that people get the support they need, improve their health and benefit the NHS all at the same time.” Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said Labour would scrap both sanctions and the assessments. She added: “For Damian Green to claim that this Tory government is confronting the negative ‘attitudes and prejudices’ that it has spent six years encouraging is ridiculous.” She added: “I have announced that Labour will scrap the work capability assessment and the Tories’ punitive sanctions; anything less is tinkering at the edges.” Some of the original proposals of concern to unions, including a review of the industrial injuries benefit scheme, have been dropped from the Green Paper.
Hydraulic fracturing could result in exposures to a wide range of cancer causing substances and many more that have been inadequately tested, a new analysis by Yale School of Public Health has found. The research team, publishing their findings in the journal Science of the Total Environment, said the potentially carcinogenic chemical cocktail used in ‘fracking’ has the potential to contaminate air and water in nearby communities. They highlighted the increased cancer risk to children in neighbourhoods adjacent to fracking sites, noting in the US “millions of people living within one mile of a fracking site.” Lead author Nicole Deziel said: “To our knowledge, our analysis represents the most expansive review of carcinogenicity of hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals in the published literature.” The team warn childhood leukaemia is a particular concern because of the severity and short latency period of the disease. They examined an extensive list of more than 1,000 chemicals that may be released into air or water as a result of fracking. Deziel's team found the majority of chemicals – over 80 per cent - lacked sufficient data on cancer-causing potential. Of the 119 compounds with sufficient data, 44 per cent of the water pollutants and 60 per cent of air pollutants were either confirmed or possible carcinogens. Furthermore, 20 chemicals had evidence of increased risk for leukaemia or lymphoma specifically. Among these is benzene, which has been linked to adverse health effects in fracking workers. The authors note that while fracking has increased the production of domestic oil and natural gas in the US and decreased prices, it is controversial because of the significant amounts of water that must be used as well as transported to fracking sites, as well as for the release of carcinogens.
Site union GMB has welcomed the use of new technology by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) following a number of high profile cases of qualification card fraud (Risks 736). Improvements in the microchip technology used in the cards means supervisors can now use app-enabled smartphones to check on employees’ training and qualifications. Welcoming the hi-tech solution to a site safety headache, GMB national officer Phil Whitehurst said: “Smart cards are a serious way to tackle the black market of these cards but the will to embrace this new technology must come from every part of the construction industry supply chain, from the top to the bottom.” He added: It is simply not good enough for sites to visually check their workforce's competency and safety training anymore. Every employer must make it mandatory for their supervisors to check employees’ CSCS cards using the simple smart phone or tablet apps which are available free of charge. The cost savings and effectiveness of ensuring our sites are safely manned with skilled operatives is a no-brainer, so why aren't the employers enforcing it?” A series of prosecutions have seen criminals dealing in fake or illegally obtained skills and safety cards receive substantial jail terms (Risks 727). This week, a man who paid someone to sit the health and safety tests required to obtain the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card and Construction Plant Certification Scheme (CPCS) card was jailed for 18 months. A Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) investigation found Manjit Multani, 34, was using the cards to work on building sites across London and Milton Keynes. Multani, an Indian national, also used a number of fake names in order to work illegally in the UK and was recommended for deportation.
The number of company directors prosecuted for health and safety offences has more than trebled in a year. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show that 46 company directors and senior managers were prosecuted by HSE in the year to 31 March 2016, compared to 15 in the previous year. Law firm Clyde & Co, which obtained the statistics from HSE, points out that the number of employees prosecuted has fallen, with just one individual employee prosecuted by the HSE in 2015/16, compared to 10 in the previous year. Chris Morrison, a partner specialising in health and safety at the law firm, said: “By making senior management responsible for the health and safety failings of their business and their staff, the increased enforcement is a serious boardroom issue.” The latest figures show 12 directors in the year to March 2016 received prison sentences for their criminal safety offences. The longest prison sentence imposed was two years. Fines had also risen sharply since the introduction of new sentencing guidelines (Risks 759), the law firm noted. “Whilst health and safety has for many years featured prominently on many board meeting agendas, time spent on the point has not necessarily been significant,” Morrison said. “However, with the risk of turnover related health and safety fines now being so large, they are now material from an accounting and governance perspective which demands that all directors, executive and non-executive alike, sit up and take note. The new sentencing guideline means the commission and conviction of a health and safety offence has now become a potentially business critical issue, which senior management can no longer disregard as immaterial.”
Two linked firms have been fined after it was discovered workers slept overnight at their premises without the necessary fire safety protection. Avon Fire and Rescue Authorities (AF&RA) took the prosecution against Litt Holdings Limited along with its tenant, UKS Group Limited. Bristol Crown Court heard the two concerns were actually one and the same, run by brothers Amarjitt and Sam Litt. UKS admitted breaching two fire safety orders and failing to comply with a prohibition notice. Litt Holdings admitted breaching three fire safety orders and failing to comply with a prohibition notice. Judge Peter Blair QC fined UKS £56,000 plus £11,649.90 costs and Litt Holdings £21,000 plus £5,000 costs. Sam Jones, prosecuting, said in 2010 the businesses were alerted to the importance of fire safety and were issued with a prohibition notice requiring a different building to accommodate workers. However an inspection in 2014 found the premises still contained sleeping areas which had unsatisfactory escape routes and insufficient fire detection equipment. A further investigation in May 2016 found the both firms “were in breach of a prohibition notice served on the premises following the uncovering of the original offences,” said Jones. Steve Quinton, technical fire safety manager at AF&RS, said: “The substantial fine handed out by the judge should serve as a warning to any business of how seriously breaches of fire safety law are taken.” The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales. A responsible person must carry out a fire risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan.
All 33 miners trapped in a coal mine in China by an explosion on 31 October have been found dead, state media has reported. Rescuers worked round the clock for more than two days to reach the miners in the Jinshangou mine in the south-west Chongqing region. Two miners escaped the blast. Local authorities ordered an investigation into the incident and instructed smaller coal mines in the region to close temporarily. The State Administration of Work Safety added that “those responsible must be strictly punished.” China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal. The Jinshangou mine is licensed to produce 60,000 tonnes of coal a year, local media said.
The European Commission is facing a new legal challenge on its decision to authorise the use in paint of a chemicals that are neurotoxic and carcinogenic. ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), The International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec) and International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), are questioning the legality of a Commission decision that permits Dominion Colour Corporation to supply red and yellow lead chromate pigments in the EU. The use of these toxic paint components has been abandoned for decades in many EU countries. The legal challenge points out that many paint companies have been using safer alternatives for years. CEPE, the trade body representing the European paints industry, had opposed the authorisation of the pigments. ClientEarth lawyer Alice Bernard said: “Dominion Colour Corporation, which is a Canadian company, has failed to show that the toxic pigments in their paint could not be replaced with safer ones – a key legal test. The Commission has admitted this but granted the authorisation anyway. Why is it looking the other way, allowing the rules to be broken and people’s health to be put at risk?” The complaint argues that businesses investing in safer alternatives should not be undermined by companies that do not. ChemSec policy adviser Frida Hök said: “Authorisations like this disfavour producers and users of alternatives to these dangerous chemicals and moves REACH in the wrong direction.” The European Commission has 12 weeks to reply to the legal challenge, issued on 26 October. The groups say if its response is unsatisfactory, the case will be taken to the European Court of Justice.
At least 16 workers have been killed and more than 50 injured after a huge blast on 1 November ripped through an oil tanker being broken for scrap in a Gadani shipbreaking yard, trapping many workers inside the vessel. “We have recovered at least 16 bodies so far and shifted 55 injured to Karachi,” Zulfiqar Ali Shah, the deputy commissioner of the area, said. “All the injured had severe burns,” he added. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority and the National Disaster Management Authority along with rescue teams from the navy, fire brigade and other welfare organisations participated in the rescue operation. Nasir Mansoor, the deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan (NTUF), said the explosion in the yard 45km northwest of Karachi sent pieces of metal flying up to two kilometres. The union said it feared the death toll will increase as many workers are grievously injured and around 170 workers were trapped in the burning ship. The NTUF announced three days of mourning and a strike at all yards after an emergency meeting at the Gadani yard. Two days before the tragedy, Gadani shipbreaking workers had held a demonstration in front of the Karachi Press Club, demanding the government of Pakistan enact a new law in line with the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. The NTUF organised the protest demonstration to highlight poor working conditions, particularly the lack of health and safety measures. Kan Matsuzaki, director for shipbuilding and shipbreaking at the global union federation IndustriALL, said: “We deplore this terrible industrial homicide, and mourn the victims together with their families and friends.” He added: “We will strengthen our campaign and action to combat the unacceptable health and safety conditions in Gadani. The government must immediately take practical measures to protect human lives at the yards, as well as fundamental workers’ rights.”
With major producers seeing rising wage costs in China, Vietnam has become the new destination for many brands seeking cheap labour to produce their apparel, electronics and other consumer goods. Garrett Brown, a former inspector with the official safety regulator in California, has just completed a factory inspection in Vietnam for the Washington DC-based Workers Rights Consortium. He found “lots of problems with the working conditions and a non-existent occupational health and safety programme.” But he believes global brands are excited by the demographics of the country. Vietnam’s median age is only 30.7 years, compared to China’s 36 years. Brown says there is a ready supply of labour, and points to a ‘breathless’ August 2016 feature in The Economist that noted: “Seven in ten Vietnamese live in the countryside, about the same as India – and compared to only 44 per cent in China. The reservoir of rural workers should help dampen wage pressures.” The article lauded Vietnam as ‘Asia’s next tiger’. Brown’s inspection took him to a Korean-owned garment factory complex in Vietnam, employing 10,000 workers and producing university logo apparel for Nike and clothes for a dozen brand-name companies including Pink and Ralph Lauren’s Polo. The plant had two wildcat strikes last year over near impossible production quotas and abusive treatment by Korean managers. This resulted in a further clampdown by the ‘brutal’ managers, said Brown. He said that in 2015 this plant was audited 26 separate times by the brands themselves or by their ‘corporate social responsibility’ consultants. “But it is clear that a work life so intolerable that workers put their jobs and their liberty on the line to illegally strike did not change a bit despite audit after audit after audit,” said Brown.
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Issued: 4 November, 2016