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Prime minister Theresa May should welcome a European Parliament call for any post-Brexit deal to protect current and future workplace rights of UK workers, the TUC has said. In a 5 April vote, MEPs backed a motion setting out the European Parliament’s position for the Brexit negotiations by 516 to 133. Although MEPs will not participate directly in the exit talks, they will have to vote in favour of the final deal for it to go ahead. At a press conference following the vote, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator, said the vote meant that “the UK on the one hand and the [European] Commission on the other hand now know the position of the Parliament, what the red lines are.” The majority of the UK’s workplace health and safety laws originated in Europe. The TUC has challenged Theresa May to stick to her pledge that “not only will the government protect the rights of workers set out in European legislation, we will build on them” (Risks 784). Commenting after the European Parliament vote, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Workers’ rights must be at the heart of Britain’s deal with the EU. It must protect current rights, like paid holidays, equal pay, and fairness for agency workers. And it must guarantee a level playing field into the future, so working people in Britain don’t fall behind our European neighbours.” She added: “The prime minister should welcome the European Parliament’s commitment to workers’ rights in the UK. It gives her a great opportunity to put into action her promise to protect and enhance working people’s rights. A strong agreement on rights at work must be the starting point for negotiating a good deal that works for business and working people.”
Safety and employment protections must not be a casualty of the government’s Great Repeal Bill, which seeks to bring EU-derived workers’ rights into UK law, unions have said. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the measures ‘fall short’ of the prime minister’s promise to fully protect and maintain all workers’ rights that came from the EU. “The government proposes handing the power to change important rights and protections at work that British workers already have to judges. This means that important rules to protect workers could be overturned, without the UK parliament having any say,” she said. “The government is also taking wide-ranging powers that will allow ministers to scrap or water down rights like protections from excessive working hours, equal treatment for agency workers, and redundancy protections.” She said the prime minister “needs to think again. She should carve out a specific exemption in the Great Repeal Bill to stop holes being punched in the rights that working people in Britain currently have.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Until now many of the laws that protect employees from unfair or unsafe treatment at the hands of their employers started out in Europe.” He added: “When the government can pick and choose which rights stay and which go, long-held laws guaranteeing annual leave, keeping employees safe at work, and stopping them from being forced to do excessively long shifts without breaks could disappear in a flash. As the government takes full control of these laws, ministers need to remember no-one voted last year for employment rights to be watered down or removed altogether.”
Workers need protection from the upsurge in racist assaults and abuse at work since the Brexit vote last year, the TUC has said. The union body points to a major new poll of over 1,000 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) working adults conducted by the TUC and ICM. The ‘shocking results’ revealed over a third of the BAME people asked had witnessed or experienced racial abuse in the seven months following the referendum vote. Almost one in five (19 per cent) had suffered or witnessed a racial assault. The poll is part of a major TUC project to combat racism in the workplace. It is calling for the government to develop a full race equality strategy, including tough action on harassment and discrimination at work. The TUC says the government needs to bring in rules about ‘third-party’ harassment, protecting workers who deal with the public as part of their jobs. It argues employers also need to have a responsibility to call out racist harassment rather than just having tick-box policies which no one seriously implements. Commenting last month on the poll findings, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The scale of abuse is shocking. We have to come together and draw a line in the sand about what is acceptable in modern Britain in 2017 – and the government has to take a lead.” She added: “It’s unacceptable that shop workers, bus drivers and street cleaners face abuse from members of the public – and their employers don’t have to do anything to protect them.”
There must be urgent action to improve workers’ welfare and safety on windfarms after two workers died in a fortnight, construction union Unite has said. On 15 March, 37-year-old Portuguese worker Antonio Linares was killed in a fall at Scottish Power’s Kilgallioch Windfarm in South Ayrshire. Mr Linares was working for contractor Gamesa. On 29 March a Spanish worker, believed to be in his twenties, fell from a turbine at Scottish Power’s Whitelee Windfarm in East Renfrewshire. The turbine is maintained by GE. Unite regional co-ordinating officer, Steve Dillon, said: “These two deaths are terrible tragedies and our thoughts go to the families of the two victims.” He added: “In recent years there have been far too many deaths and injuries involving windfarms. These installations are usually in remote locations and there is a concern that these tragedies have not received the same focus if they had occurred in more populous areas. Swift action needs to be taken to improve workers’ safety and well-being and to understand how these incidents occurred. The Health and Safety Executive needs to bring together all concerned to learn the lessons and improve safety and welfare in this sector.”
Health and safety is a ‘vital’ issue for unions, UNISON general secretary David Prentis has said. Speaking as hundreds of UNISON reps met at the union’s health and safety conference in Edinburgh, he said “as a union we’ve always been passionate about keeping people well, and fighting for healthier, safer workplaces. Thanks to the work of UNISON’s health and safety reps, public sector employees are less likely to suffer injury in the workplace. Tens of thousands of UK workers die every year because of their work and many more are injured.” The union’s 6,000 plus safety reps and branch officers have “an impact that should never be understated,” Prentis added. He said UNISON is increasing its support and advice for members, with stress a key focus. “This work matters because it has a direct and significant impact on our public employees and the services they provide,” he said. “UNISON is at its strongest when we work together for the benefit of everyone – and our health and safety work is a perfect example of that.”
A top stress expert has told a union conference that workplace stress is a ‘critical business issue’ that must be addressed. Professor Cary Cooper, in a presentation to more than 100 Prospect health and safety representatives, said a study a decade ago found that absenteeism cost employers £8.4bn and presenteeism – working while sick – cost almost twice as much. “This was before the recession,” Cooper noted. “New studies are being done now, but imagine if they find that presenteeism is costing quadruple what absenteeism is. It’s the biggest threat to the economy. And a lot of it is down to poor management. Socially unskilled managers have been shown to be a key issue affecting well-being at work.” Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy told delegates: “We cannot divorce safety, well-being and health from organisational culture. Performance management reviews and how people feel about their pay can all have an effect on this.” He added: “Prospect’s voice on safety is listened to. It’s based on fact. But we need to use that wisely. We want to be constructive and collaborative but we expect reciprocation.”
Swingeing cuts announced by Network Rail will have a ‘terrifying’ impact on services and safety, rail unions have warned. RMT said that Britain’s railways risk sinking into further chaos as Network Rail – at the behest of official regulator the Office of Road and Rail – threatened to axe 1,000 safety-critical track renewal jobs. The union has written to the company demanding that the cuts be halted. General secretary Mick Cash noted “the deferral or cancellation of critical renewals work will have an adverse impact on safety, the quality of services, employment levels, staff morale and the rail skills base. Astonishingly, the union understands that the renewals work will not be delivered due to the fact that the devolved routes are claiming insufficient funds have been made available to deliver this essential safety work.” He warned: “These planned cuts are a scandal and would impact on services and safety at a time when our railways are already running right at the limit of safety tolerances.” Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the union TSSA, said it was ‘terrifying’ that safety was being sacrificed to meet government-driven budget cuts. “These cuts must be resisted. We are one of the richest countries on the planet. There is simply no need to play austerity politics with rail safety - it will endanger passengers’ lives. If they go through, it is hard to conceive how another rail disaster cannot happen.”
The number of people reported as potential victims of slavery and human trafficking in the UK has more than doubled in the past three years, with ‘labour exploitation’ now the largest single reason for reported abuse. Statistics released by the National Crime Agency (NCA) on 29 March show there were 3,805 people referred for help in 2016 - up from 1,745 people in 2013. NCA notes: “The most common exploitation type recorded for potential victims exploited as an adult was labour exploitation, which also includes criminal exploitation.” It adds that this was also the case for those first exploited as a minor, with this labour exploitation category including “criminal exploitation, such as cannabis cultivation.” Albanian, UK and Vietnamese nationals were the most commonly reported potential victims of modern slavery. Recent Home Office estimates suggest there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. Sarah Newton, minister for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism, said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime which destroys the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. This government has taken world-leading action to tackle it, giving law enforcement agencies the tools they need, toughening up sentences, increasing support for victims and encouraging more to come forward.” But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, commenting on the 5 April publication of a report by the joint parliamentary committee on human rights, which proposes improvements to legislation and enforcement to strengthen protection against abuses of workers’ human rights, said: “Slavery and abuse of working people’s rights should not be tolerated, whether it’s in Britain or abroad. We need stronger laws and better enforcement to crack down on it.”
Exposure to heat and physical exertion greatly increase the risk of firefighters’ suffering a heart attack, researchers have said. The study may explain why heart disease is the leading cause of death among on-duty firefighters, the researchers from the University of Edinburgh said. The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), is published in the journal Circulation. Nineteen non-smoking, healthy firefighters were randomly selected from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to take part in the study. They took part in exercises, including an attempted mock rescue from a two-storey structure, which exposed them to extremely high temperatures, while wearing heart monitors. The study found their core body temperatures remained high for three to four hours following exposure to the fire. It also found their blood became stickier and was about 66 per cent more likely to form potentially harmful clots. The firefighters’ blood vessels also failed to relax in response to medication. The research team believe that the increase in clotting was caused by a combination of fluid loss due to sweating and an inflammatory response to the fire heat, which resulted in the blood becoming more concentrated and so more likely to clot. The researchers also found that the exposure to fire caused minor injury to the heart muscles. Prof Nick Mills, the senior clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh who led the research, said: “Studies from the USA have shown that nearly half of all firefighters who die on duty are killed by heart disease. Our study has shown a direct link between the heat and physical activity levels encountered by firefighters during the course of their duties and their risk of suffering a heart attack. However, we've also found that there are simple measures, such as staying well hydrated, that firefighters can take to reduce this risk.” Dave Green, a national officer with the firefighters’ union FBU, said: "Although we have known about the increased risks of firefighters having heart attacks on duty or while training for some time, clearly fire service employers now need to urgently start to deal with this issue by ensuring firefighters don't suffer from dehydration or increased core body temperature from working in extreme temperatures for extended periods of time.” He warned: “Unfortunately however, cuts to the fire and rescue service mean that finding fresh crews to relieve firefighters who have already worked too long in heat isn't always possible.”
Ÿ Amanda L Hunter and others. Fire simulation and cardiovascular health in firefighters, Circulation, volume 135, pages 1284-1295, April 2017.
More than 100 workers have been injured on the £745m Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) project since construction started on the site in early 2015. Figures obtained by The Press and Journal show a total of 115 injuries have been recorded on the massive civil engineering job. The new figures have added to union consternation about standards on the project. Unite regional officer John Clark said: “The figures are unacceptable.” He added: “I believe these figures are on the conservative side because I know of more incidents where people have been injured and it has not been recorded and workers have continued going into work because they fear losing their job.” The project is run by Aberdeen Roads Limited, a consortium of Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try and Carillion. The last major incident on the site was in March, when a worker suffered a broken leg and crushed ribs after being crushed under a half-tonne section of pipe (Risks 791). Commenting after that incident, Unite’s John Clark said: “We have had ongoing concerns over health and safety on the AWPR project but too often, bosses aren’t listening. We need proper dialogue between the contractors and their workers and union reps, and when things go wrong we need openness and transparency so that we can put them right as soon as possible. Safety should be a top priority on every construction project – and especially on a flagship public project like this one.”
An oil company has been fined £1.65m following an explosion at its Stanlow refinery in Ellesmere Port. Liverpool Crown Court heard that while there were no injuries, the blast in the early hours of 14 November 2013 at the Essar Oil UK Ltd facility caused internal structures to collapse, leading to damage totalling more than £20m. The problem arose when extremely flammable hydrocarbons were allowed to enter an unignited furnace during the start-up of the refinery’s main distillation unit. The heat from another furnace nearby triggered the explosion, which destroyed the furnace and caused a series of blazes. The incident was reported to the EU as a major accident, a move required by the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Essar Oil UK Ltd failed to take all measures necessary to prevent or mitigate a major accident. A safety critical valve was ordered and installed incorrectly, inspectors found, and a new safety critical ‘trip’ had a by-pass line that defeated the trip’s operation. And while Essar isolated main fuel lines to the furnace, a secondary fuel line had not been isolated during shut down, and allowed the explosive chemical into the furnace. Essar Oil (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Major Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) and was fined £1,650,000 with costs of £57,644.80.
Electricity North West Ltd has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after an employee died in a six metre fall during routine maintenance of power lines. On 22 November 2013, experience lineman John Flowers, 63, climbed a ladder resting against a wood pole in order to trim ivy away from power lines. It is believed he somehow cut through his work positioning strap and fell to his death. Preston Crown Court heard that the job had not been identified as short duration work and was not suitable to be undertaken working from a ladder. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the work had not been properly planned. The ivy growing onto the electricity conductors was first identified some five years before the tragedy and then again in June 2013. A survey of the vegetation clearance work required was undertaken six weeks prior to the incident. However, none of this information was given to any of the linesman. Electricity North West Limited was convicted of a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £900,000. Costs are to be agreed at a later date. HSE inspector Rose Leese-Weller said: “Electricity North West failed to ensure that working at height was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that was safe. Had these steps been taken we may not have had this tragic outcome.”
Two companies have been fined after unsafe asbestos work on a property in Leatherhead. Staines Magistrates’ Court heard how licensed asbestos removal contractor Kingsley Asbestos Services Limited (KAS) was subcontracted by Bourne Valley Construction Services Limited (BVCS) to carry out the work. KAS removed some asbestos containing materials and agreed to carry out repair work on water damaged materials. During work to cut away damaged wall coverings in the kitchen, one of the workers cut into a pale coloured board. Subsequent testing revealed it to be Asbestos Insulation Board. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found BVCS failed to plan the work and pass on information to KAS. It was the responsibility of both BVCS and KAS to arrange for a refurbishment and demolition survey. As a consequence, work was carried out without establishing the location, presence and extent of asbestos containing materials on site. Bourne Valley Construction Services pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £8,000 plus costs. Kingsley Asbestos Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, and was fined £6,000 plus costs.
Whether it is a gaping gulf in pay, job insecurity or job discrimination based on your class, gender or race, a divided workplace is bad for your health, a top union official has warned. In a commentary ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union body ITUC, said who lives and who dies at work is not an accident of chance. “At the top of the workplace pecking order, those making the decisions don’t just receive multipliers more in income and perks, they get to live many years longer to enjoy them,” she notes. “A political climate hostile to protective workplace regulations and embracing increasingly precarious forms of employment in convoluted supply chains, has been a development as deliberate as it is deadly. Where workers do not have a collective voice and where jobs are by design segregated by gender, race or class those divisions can perpetuate disadvantage and leave the most exploited workers powerless while undercutting the conditions of the rest.” The global union leader adds: “It is a perversity of work that the language of ‘risks and rewards’ is used to justify soaring boardroom pay packets. But the workers most frequently compelled to take genuine risks – to life, to limb, to health – are those who receive the lowest financial rewards.” Pointing to the ‘proven’ trade union safety effect, Burrow concludes: “It is an indictment of the economic and political process that globalisation has seen a fragmentation of work and a decimation of work rights. But it does put in sharp relief the undeniable benefits of trade unions. It’s not just about wages, or equality or safety. It is about dignity and respect at work. The shame is that without unions this basic decency is in increasingly short supply.”
Ÿ Face it. We are all sickened by inequality at work, editorial by ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow, Hazards online, April 2017.
Effective worker representation is a crucial factor in securing improved safety standards at work, according to a new report. The European workplace safety agency EU-OSHA warned however that its study on worker participation and consultation in occupational safety and health (OSH) found worker representation is declining across Europe, while management-led arrangements are on the increase. EU-OSHA’s director, Dr Christa Sedlatschek, said that “despite contextual differences between Member States, one thing is clear: a strong employer commitment to participatory approaches to OSH, supportive worker organisations within or outside establishments, and well-trained, well-informed worker representatives are key to effective worker representation.” The study identified, however, a trend towards systems were a manager or specialist is responsible for safety and health management. “While some examples of good practice were found, there were many examples of worker representation becoming less effective in these situations, as worker representatives found they were less able to be autonomous, acting instead as the ‘eyes and ears’ of safety managers,” EU-OSHA said.
Ÿ EU-OSHA news release and report, Worker participation in the management of occupational safety and health: qualitative evidence from the second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2).
Samsung’s new Galaxy 8 smart phone is produced by an exploited and harassed workforce, according to an investigation into the company’s aggressive anti-union employment practices. Global union confederation ITUC found a company-wide policy “uses a combination of bribes, threats, bullying, dismissal and even kidnapping to keep its employees, and people working for its suppliers, under total control.” According to ITUC, 200 Samsung workers have fallen ill with leukaemia, lymphoma and other occupational diseases, yet Samsung refused to give details of the chemicals used in production until a district court ruled against the company’s secrecy policy earlier this year. So far 76 of the workers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, have died. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Samsung’s Galaxy 8 is a global poster boy for corporate greed. While the world’s media has focused on the dangerously defective Galaxy 7 and the corruption scandal engulfing company headquarters, thousands of Samsung workers have been toiling in dangerous and oppressive conditions to deliver the new model. People who are thinking of buying a Galaxy 8 should know that it is a product of exploitation.” A 115-page union busting manual exposed in 2013 details how Samsung senior management are trained in techniques to stop workers joining trade unions at all costs. According to ITUC, the Galaxy 8 is being produced under the same conditions.
A top level government panel has set out a plan to reduce long working hours and ensure equal treatment for regular and nonregular employees in Japan, as part of broader labour reforms. The panel, headed by prime minister Shinzo Abe, is calling for a cap on overtime hours and penalties on violators in an action plan based on an agreement between Japan’s most powerful business lobby Keidanren and the union federation Rengo (Risks 792). The maximum overtime work hours a month should not exceed 100 hours, even during busy seasons, according to the plan. If a busy period lasts for more than a month, average monthly overtime hours must not exceed 80 hours, a level said to cause serious health consequences. “The government has a critical role to play,” Abe told a meeting of the panel on work-style reform. The action plan will be meaningless unless it is put into legislation and enacted, the prime minister said, calling 2017 as a “starting point” for the country’s labour reforms. The plan states that overtime hours should be limited, in principle, to 45 hours a month, and should not exceed 360 hours annually. Monthly overtime hours can exceed the limit six times a year, but must be below 100 hours. Keidanren, or the Japan Business Federation, had argued for a 100-hour ceiling but Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, had demanded a 45-hour limit. Abe urged them to settle for “less than” 100 hours. Rengo has said it saw the deal as only a first step.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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Issued: 7 April, 2017