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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

Risks: Union health and safety news - number 953 - 26 June 2020

In this issue: 
UNION COVID-19 ACTION AND RESOURCES ACTION RESOURCES INTERNATIONAL NEWS  

UNION COVID-19 ACTION AND RESOURCES

Wide concern as lockdown relaxed and 2m rule eased

Unions have warned that workers could be put at risk as a result of a government decision this week to weaken lockdown rules in England. In changes announced on 23 June, prime minister Boris Johnson said people should remain 2 metres apart where possible but a “one metre plus” rule will be introduced from 4 July. TUC general secretary said any relaxation of the rules must be accompanied by greater enforcement of health and safety protections for workers and said there were too few inspections and an under-resourced inspectorate. Several unions, including Usdaw, UNISON, GMB, Unite, RMT, TSSA and ASLEF, and a succession of experts including members of the government’s SAGE advisory group, have said the changes could increase the Covid-19 risks to workers. The prime minister told the Commons that all steps were “reversible.” He said people will be encouraged to use “mitigation” - such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face - when within 2m of each other and “where it is possible to keep 2m apart, people should.” When serving indoors, pubs and restaurants will only be allowed to offer table service, and venues will be asked to collect contact details of customers for the NHS Test and Trace system. Cinemas, art galleries and museums are allowed to reopen as are theatres and music halls, although they are not allowed to host live performances. The number of infections in the UK is still significantly higher than other countries. France and Germany are seeing less than half the number of infections - and Germany has a larger population - while Italy has less than a quarter. Germany this week was forced to reintroduce a lockdown in the vicinity of a meatpacking plant where over 1,500 workers have tested positive. It has a 1.5m physical distancing rule. The UK government did not publish the findings of the review it ordered to advise on the changes.
Prime minister’s statement and Prime minister’s office news release. Unite news release. ASLEF news release. RMT news release. TSSA news release. Usdaw news release. GMB news release. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.
 

Rules easing could boost virus, say UK scientists

The easing of multiple lockdown measures in England at once risks Covid-19 gaining a fresh foothold, scientists advising the government have warned. They raised concerns over the halving of the 2-metre physical distancing rule at the same time as reopening venues, saying the country was currently experiencing up to 4,300 Covid-19 infections a day and had no effective digital track-and-trace system, while highlighting research that showed transmission of the virus was more likely to happen indoors. Prof John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advising the government, said: “Relaxing the 2-metre rule at the same time as opening bars and restaurants does run the risk of allowing the epidemic to start to regain a foothold. These changes will have to be very carefully monitored and the NHS track-and-trace system will have to be working properly to help keep us safe.” Prof Susan Michie, a psychologist on a subgroup of Sage, cited research suggesting 97 per cent of super-spreading events, with five or more transmissions, have taken place indoors. She said that while the government was entitled to make a political decision – as Downing Street has indicated it has – it was important to be fully transparent, so the public could fully understand the risks and see whose advice it was relying on. “The key thing is that we don’t have a [digital] test, trace, isolate system in place,” said Michie, who is also a member of Independent Sage, adding “other countries have 1 metre because they have other precautions and other systems in place that we don’t have.” She pointed to the current high transmission rate and added: “Hospitalisations are not coming down dramatically and the fact that we’ve just had opening of non-essential shops and a range of other things, I think, not the best time to reduce it [the 2-metre rule].”
The Guardian.
 

Two-metre downgrade risks ‘more outbreaks’ for meat industry

Downgrading the two-metre social distancing rule risks causing ‘more outbreaks’ of coronavirus within the meat processing sector, Unite has said. Unite called for ‘significant intervention’ by both the government and employers to prevent Covid-19 spreading at meat processing factories to accompany any downgrading of the social distancing measures, including better health and safety regimes and improvements to testing and tracing. The union said the prevalence of coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories also makes it incumbent on ministers and employers to ensure that workers, who need to self-isolate, can be either paid under the job retention scheme (JRS) or have their rates of company sick pay increased. The union said it was ‘inevitable’ that some low paid meat factory workers on ‘exploitative contracts’, who should be self-isolating, will continue working because they are only entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 a week. Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Many employers are barely taking notice of the two-metre social distancing rule as it is. Any downgrade for the meat industry in the current environment will simply give irresponsible bosses the excuse they need to do away with social distancing entirely. Put simply, it will risk more outbreaks at factories across the country.” She added: “Before any new measures are enacted, ministers and employers need to get to grips with the spate of outbreaks that have occurred under the present two metre rule. As well as more stringent health and safety regimes in factories, systems for testing and contact tracing within the industry need to be improved.” She added “ministers and employers must step up to the plate” so sick or self-isolating workers are provide “either sick pay that people can survive on or allow these workers to be furloughed.”
Unite news release.
 

Mounting concern as coronavirus food plants close

Three large food factories have closed in England and Wales after hundreds of workers tested positive for coronavirus, as the Unite union said it was aware of suspected outbreaks at five other sites across the UK. Last week a meat processing site owned by Asda in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, became the third food plant in 48 hours to confirm an outbreak after about 150 workers fell ill with the virus. The Kober plant, which supplies bacon to Asda supermarkets and employs more than 500 people, closed and a test-and-trace programme is underway. The UK’s main supplier of supermarket chicken, 2 Sisters Food Group, which closed its Anglesey plant for 14 days last week, now has over 150 confirmed cases. Concerns about physical distancing were raised at both plants. In Wrexham, 38 staff tested positive at Rowan Foods, which makes food for supermarkets across the UK, with the company saying the cases reflected an increase in the local area rather than a spread within the site. The cluster of new cases in food processing plants will raise concerns about a potential outbreak similar to those seen in France and the US. In the latter, as many as 25,000 meat and poultry workers are reported to have contracted Covid-19 with at least 91 deaths. In the UK, four food factories are reported to have been affected to date, including three deaths of workers from a Cranswick meat processing plant in Barnsley. However, Unite said it was aware of five other “suspected Covid-19 outbreaks” at other sites across the UK. Bev Clarkson, a national officer at Unite, said there were “major issues” with the health and safety of workers in the meat processing industry and urged employers to implement proper physical distancing and provide adequate protective equipment “to stop further spikes within the sector”. She added: “Unite has warned time and again that coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories throughout the UK were likely. The union has been in touch with the management of all three closed factories to insist that staff only return to work when it is safe to do so and when further outbreaks can be prevented.”
The Guardian. BBC News Online. The Grocer. US Food and Environment Reporting Network.
 

Action needed to stem Welsh meat plant outbreaks

Employers and the Welsh government must take urgent action before workplace Covid-19 outbreaks spread elsewhere within Wales, the union Unite has said. The union was commenting on 19 June following confirmation of significant outbreaks of Covid-19 at two food production facilities in Wales. It described the outbreaks at both 2 Sisters in Llangefni and Rowan Foods in Wrexham as a ‘worrying development’ on the day Wales announced further measures to ease the lockdown. Peter Hughes, Unite Wales regional secretary commented: “These significant coronavirus outbreaks are extremely concerning for our members at both 2 Sisters and Rowan Foods, and indeed for any worker employed in the food production sector in Wales. Clearly food production is especially susceptible to Covid-19 outbreaks, as these cases and those across the UK and the wider world reflect.” He added: “We are calling upon Welsh government to convene a crisis meeting of Wales key food sector employers and trade unions to ensure everything is being put in place to protect staff and prevent the spread on the virus to the wider community. A rigorous and speedy assessment of the adequacy of the sector’s Covid-19 preventative measures is urgently needed. Unite will always hold employers to account where they fall short in protecting staff. At this time of national crisis ensuing that accountability is upheld has never been more important.”
Unite news release. Welsh government news release.
 

Local lockdown 'possibility' for chicken factory outbreak

A local lockdown could be enforced to bring under control a Covid-19 outbreak at a food factory, Public Health Wales has said. PHW’s Giri Shankar said “aggressive control measures” were being used on Anglesey to stop the outbreak which by 22 June had seen 158 workers at a 2 Sisters chicken processing plant in Llangefni test positive for Covid-19. All staff are self-isolating and the factory has closed as workers continue to be tested. Dr Shankar told BBC Radio Wales local lockdowns could be something “we need to consider.” He said: “At the moment the outbreak is localised to members of staff working in that particular factory. We need to see how the outbreak progresses.” He said all the workers at the factory have been offered testing. “Of the remaining tests that are still out in the lab we still expect to see a further increase but all the control measures are in place, the staff are self-isolating and the factory is temporarily closed,” Dr Shankar said. “As we begin to ease lockdown in society, such clusters of outbreaks will occur and we do expect these. And these will uncover a pocket of asymptomatic infection that existed. So we shouldn't be surprised, but we should be concerned and take swift action.” Unite, which represents workers at the plant, welcomed the company’s announcement that workers will be paid in full for the two week self-isolation period imposed following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Unite news release. BBC News Online.
 

Experts warn keep your distance at work

Safety experts have said a reduction in the 2-metre physical distancing rule cannot be justified. The Stirling University commentary on the evidence for and against lowering the separation limit notes: “The arguments for a blanket reduction of 2m in the UK economy do not stack up.” It added: “A limited but growing body of scientific evidence, based on a better understanding of particle physics and aerosols and supplemented by case studies of very recent clusters, continues to support a precautionary approach to 2m and its continuation in many settings where public and worker safety is at risk and there are no effective alternatives and no vaccines. The science for lowering the 2m distance, however, appears to be limited if not absent at this stage.” The commentary observes: “The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK government argue if there is no conclusive evidence or consensus, then we can opt for a less safe standard. This is simply not good epidemic prevention practice. Had we not taken WHO’s incautious lead – an assumption that a new virus would behave like MERS and SARS – and instead set policy based on caution, the outbreak would have been more effectively tackled, particularly in workplace settings.” It adds: “There must be continued employment, wage protection and suspension of punitive sickness absence and performance management system, to encourage safe practices including self-isolation. Workers and the public need to be confident that fully staffed and resourced regulatory bodies – the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority health and safety inspectors – and local public health bodies are inspecting and capable of identifying cases and clusters if any changes at all are made in social distancing. This has not happened to date.” The report warns: “The science to justify dropping 2m is not evident.”
Keep your distance: Is two metres too far or not far enough to protect from COVID-19 and who benefits and who loses if it is reduced?, Stirling University commentary, 22 June 2020. Environmental Health News. Morning Star.
 

Coronavirus spreads more easily than other viruses

Measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus should have been more stringent because modelling was based on earlier, less transmissible viruses, a new study has indicated. New research, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, indicates the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 seems to spread far more easily than either severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and can be transmitted by people with no symptoms, with “substantial infectivity” during the incubation period. The analysis, based on contact tracing data from 349 people with Covid-19 and 1,964 of their close contacts in Guangzhou, found people with Covid-19 were at least as infectious before they developed symptoms as during their actual illness. “Our analyses suggest that the infectiousness of individuals with Covid-19 before they have symptoms is high and could substantially increase the difficulty of curbing the ongoing pandemic”, said Dr Yang Yang from the University of Florida in the USA who co-led the research. Co-author Dr Natalie Dean, also from the University of Florida, said the transmission risk “is around twice what has been estimated for SARS (4.6–8 per cent) and three times higher than for MERS (4–5 per cent), although these data are only based on a small number of studies.” In a linked comment, Dr Virginia Pitzer from Yale School of Public Health noted the “findings confirm the relative importance of pre-symptomatic transmission.” The World Health Organisation (WHO) relied heavily on evidence from the less prolific SARS and MERS outbreaks when devising its guidance on physical distancing and other preventive measures. Critics say this led to an underestimation of the protections required, including PPE and physical distancing rules.
Qin-Long Jing, Ming-Jin Liu, Zhou-Bin Zhang, Li-Qun Fang, Jun Yuan, An-Ran Zhang and others. Household secondary attack rate of Covid-19 and associated determinants in Guangzhou, China: a retrospective cohort study, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, online first, 17 June 2020. Migrant Clinicians Network blog.
 

HSE hasn’t earned public confidence during pandemic, say MPs

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has not been visible enough during the pandemic and has not got the confidence of the public, a group of cross-party MPs has said. The Work and Pensions Committee report issued on 22 June, and which is highly critical of the safety regulator, noted that during the pandemic, the HSE has so far required just one business to close and had not inspected a single care home since 20 March. The report notes: “Many people are very worried about how safe they are at work during the pandemic. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has received thousands of concerns from workers.” But the report continues: “HSE has required just one employer to close as a result of coronavirus. It keeps no records on how many workplaces voluntarily close after an intervention by HSE, making it impossible to measure the impact it has had. It should work to improve the transparency of its reporting, to send a clear message about the impact it has had.” The Committee report notes: “The prime minister has made clear that HSE will be expected to undertake spot checks of employers to ensure that they are ‘Covid secure’ as people return to work. But it is not yet clear how these employers will be selected, or how many checks will be performed. HSE should urgently clarify what its role will be as the pandemic unfolds, the government should then ensure that it receives whatever level of funding is needed to implement this new and future inspection regimes. Following years of cuts, this is likely significantly to exceed the £14m funding increase announced in May.” The Committee adds that it is ‘concerned’ at inadequacies in HSE’s reporting regime for work-related cases, recommending HSE “quickly adopts a more proactive response to ensuring that the risks and deaths linked to workplace coronavirus exposure are properly recorded by care homes, NHS bodies, and other workplaces where there is a high risk of exposure to the virus.” It said it was also concerned that cases in the local authority enforced sectors, where “the pandemic clearly means that risks in some of these businesses have been heightened” do not appear in HSE’s figures, a shortcoming that should be addressed.
House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee news release and report, DWP's response to the coronavirus outbreak, 22 June 2020. The Independent.
 

Government urged to deploy safety rep ‘army’

Ahead of the UK government announcement on social distancing in England, Unite repeated its offer to deploy its ‘army' of health and safety reps to help keep the country's workplaces safe. The union has also written to the government to raise concerns that trade unions were not asked to contribute to the government's review of the social distancing advice. Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said he was ‘baffled’ by the Westminster government's reluctance to put the tens of thousands of highly skilled union experts to best use in re-opening the economy safely, especially as the devolved governments have been working with trades unions for some weeks now to ensure that workplaces there do everything possible to eliminate coronavirus risk. “Being serious about re-opening the economy safely means, as the government has repeatedly pledged, doing whatever it takes to build public and workforce confidence,” he said: “Any suggested reduction to the two metre rule which has prevailed throughout the lockdown could backfire if the prime minister and the government cannot give an absolute assurance that public health will not be compromised. So I urge the prime minister to take Unite up on its repeated offer to deploy our army of tens of thousands of health and safety reps to assist in re-opening workplaces and community spaces safely.” Noting both the Welsh and Scottish governments were working with union and their safety reps, he said: “Prime minister, Unite's offer still stands. Put our expertise to best use, assisting in workplaces with no dedicated health and safety expertise. We could save small businesses a small fortune as our expertise comes with no cost. This is literally a win: win for the government - safer workplaces and a more confident public.”
Unite news release.
 

Transport unions warn reduced distancing increases risk

Transport unions have warned of the 'increased risks' of reducing social distancing on public transport. In a joint statement ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan, RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch and TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “The government’s own advisers have said that reducing social distancing to one metre will significantly increase the chance of infection by up to 30 times whilst the chances of Covid-19 spreading are increased in confined spaces such as train carriages and stations.” The statement adds: “'It is also the case that the threat of infection from the virus has not changed significantly whilst at the same time we are already seeing increases in rail and Tube use which may further rise after 4 July. Policing 2 metre social distancing on public transport is already challenging and reducing it to 1 metre will make it almost impossible. In these circumstances diluting social distancing on public transport could increase risks so we cannot support a change to the social distancing measurement at the current time. We wish to see a safe and sustainable increase in public transport as soon as possible but not at the expense of worker and passenger safety.” On 4 June SAGE advised the government: “Physical distancing is an important mitigation measure (high confidence). Where a situation means that 2m face-to-face distancing cannot be achieved it is strongly recommended that additional mitigation measures including (but not limited to) face coverings and minimising duration of exposure are adopted (medium confidence).”
ASLEF news release. RMT news release. TSSA news release. SAGE advisory on mitigating measures, 4 June 2020.
 

Usdaw urges retailers to maintain 2m rule

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is urging retailers to maintain the already agreed joint safety guidance on social distancing in shops at two metres. The union call came after the prime minister announces a ‘one metre plus’ rule for situations where two metre distancing cannot be observed. Boris Johnson confirmed to the House of Commons on 23 June that “where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should”. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Usdaw worked with the British Retail Consortium on joint safety guidance for shops based on the two-metre rule and in our experience retailers have taken that seriously and are complying.” He added: “Non-essential retailers have also redesigned their stores on the basis of two-metre social distancing for their reopening. So we urge retailers to maintain their existing safety measures. Retail is working well under the two-metre rule, it is not necessary to reduce to one metre, which could compromise the safety of staff and customers and create confusion.” In separate comments ahead of the prime minister’s announcement, Lillis said: “There is plenty of evidence to show that 2-metre separation is at least twice as safe as 1-metre. Independent SAGE warns that the risk of transmission is still too high to reduce social distancing rules indoors. Apart from the increased risk of infection, there is also likely to be a rise in violence and abuse because of the confusion it will cause. One of the triggers for abuse of staff at present is conflict between customers when someone is perceived to be getting too close and not following the rules. This is likely to get worse once a change is announced.”
Usdaw news release. Review of scientific evidence on 2-metre versus 1-metre social distancing, Independent SAGE press statement, 18 June 2020.
 

Lidl store closure threat over staff distancing concerns

Bosses at a Lidl supermarket in Scotland caught repeatedly flouting coronavirus safety rules have been told by council enforcement officers the store could be closed if the dangerous practices continued. The Greenock store has been the focus of a series of secret unannounced visits by council health and safety officers after serious concerns were expressed by staff. A planned visit in response to a tip-off about 'lax' procedures – about which managers were given advance warning - found nothing amiss. However, covert return inspections of the store resulted in a 'formal warning' being issued to Lidl to fix issues identified by Inverclyde Council officers. However Lidl management continued to breach correct social distancing guidance after being issued with 'advice' by the local authority. “When officers returned, it was clear that social distancing was still not being adequately adhered to and a prohibition notice was issued.” Lidl staff told local paper the Telegraph that they are 'stressed out of their boxes' with working conditions in the store. The council confirmed that that the prohibition notice issued to Lidl is a “formal warning of a breach of the government's Covid-19 safety guidelines.” Campaign group Scottish Hazards said “supermarkets could close for two hours in the early afternoon to replenish stock. The tills would stop ringing obviously but a major contact risk would be removed.” In a statement, it said Lidl has refused repeatedly to engage with shopworkers’ union Lidl, resulting in poor management engagement with staff. “Workers in Lidl need a voice they need to be in a trade union that will challenge irresponsible health and safety practices at every level of the employer’s organisation, Lidl workers need to organise to ensure they are involved in any decisions that impact on their health, safety and wellbeing,” the Scottish Hazards statement added.
Scottish Hazards statement. Greenock Telegraph.
 

For safety’s sake, schools need more teachers and space

While it is in favour of all children being back in school, teaching union NEU has warned that even with a one-metre rule, schools will need more teachers and more space. Commenting on the prime minister’s decision to reduce social distancing to a 1 metre minimum and for the full reopening of schools to all pupils in September, Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said: “It is not clear whether in less than three months the science will permit classes of 30. If social distancing of one metre remains in place, that will still be difficult for schools. Class sizes are already at record highs in secondary schools, but the current situation calls for groups around half that size.” She added: “Mathematics dictate that for this we need extra class spaces and extra teachers for the vast majority of schools. Government must support local authorities in making available public buildings, and encourage teachers who have left the profession, often due to excessive workload, to return.” The NEU leader concluded: “It is now more vital than ever that Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson listen to the profession so that parents, teachers and pupils can be reassured that a return to school is as safe and as well planned out as possible for  the whole school community and wider society.”
NEU news release and NEU's 10 point National Education Recovery Plan.
 

Lockdown easing ‘must not let bad bosses put workers at risk’

Employer guidelines can’t just be theory, they need to be practical and enforceable to avoid a second Covid-19 wave in the autumn, unions have said. Responding to the easing of lockdown measures announced by the government, GMB acting general secretary John Phillips said: “Everyone wants to get back to normal as much as humanly possible but it has to be safe - we need quick and urgent progress on supplying everyone who needs it with PPE, testing and tracing if we’re going to avoid a second peak. Employers need clear guidelines about what is acceptable and safe - that can’t just be in theory, it needs to be practical and enforceable.” He added: “We know many employers have modified ways of working and made every effort to keep workers safe and well, but that can’t be said for everyone. No working person should be put at risk by unscrupulous bosses cutting corners to save a few pounds. The entire plan needs to be joined up across every workplace, public transport, public services, our shops and open spaces.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said “the slow return to normal must happen safely. Squandering the lockdown sacrifices and progress made in the past three months would be foolish. All workplaces opening up must make proper risk assessments of the virus threat. Avoiding a second wave in the autumn and preventing the NHS, social care and other public services from being overwhelmed is vital.”
GMB news release. UNISON news release.
 

Address inequality to protect Black workers

The government must act immediately to protect Black workers from Covid-19 by closing gaps that create health inequalities and poverty and ensuring workplaces are safe, UNISON has said. The union has written to the prime minister urging him to implement all Public Health England’s (PHE) recommendations such as developing comprehensive risk assessments for Black staff to reduce their chance of coronavirus exposure and infection. The union’s comments follows the publication last week of a PHE report which concluded that the risk of dying is higher among BAME people than in white ethnic groups – a finding that UNISON said needs urgent answers. The letter from general secretary Dave Prentis notes: “Coronavirus is inextricably linked to inequality. Urgent action is needed to close the gaps in health inequalities and poverty that accelerate susceptibility to coronavirus and life expectancy.” It adds: “Poverty is a political choice. Ending deprivation and rising inequality must be a government priority as the UK deals with the economic, health and social challenges of the pandemic. Black workers and communities deserve to have the PHE report acted upon and their lives valued and protected as all others.”
UNISON news release. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups, PHE, 16 June 2020.
 

Migrant workers forced to risk their lives and work

The government must suspend an immigration rule that forces migrant workers to choose between “financial ruin” or risking their lives to work during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of cross-party MPs has said. A report from the Work and Pensions Committee concluded the Home Office's no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy – which prevents tens of thousands of migrants who live and work in the UK legally from claiming benefits and accessing financial support – was forcing people to make "invidious” choices, and leaving many at risk of destitution and homelessness. The committee’s report argues that during a pandemic it cannot be in the public interest to expect people – some of whom are key workers and frontline medical staff – to comply fully with restrictive public health guidance while simultaneously denying them full access to the welfare safety net. Labour MP Stephen Timms, the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “People whose immigration status leaves them with no recourse to public funds have been left with no support from the benefits system at all – and at risk of destitution and homelessness.” He added: “Some have had to face the invidious choice between staying at home and facing financial ruin, for themselves and their children, or going to work and risking spreading the disease. The government must suspend these rules for the duration of the pandemic.” The committee chair said that while the impact of the pandemic could have been “much worse” without the hard work of the DWP’s frontline staff, the pandemic had highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which he said was at times “too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis” – and urged ministers to “get on top of this now”.
House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee news release and report, DWP's response to the coronavirus outbreak, 22 June 2020. The Independent.
 

School cleaning firm says PPE or union – you choose

A cleaning contractor at a London academy school has been accused of ‘union busting’, after cleaners were allegedly told to ‘drop the union’ after they staged an unofficial walkout. Ridge Crest – a Hertfordshire-based cleaning company provide cleaning for Ark Globe Academy in Southwark, as well other schools – was hit by a walkout of cleaners on 4-5 June over weeks of unpaid wages. In recordings heard by Left Foot Forward (LLF), a woman appearing to represent the company after the walkout is heard appearing to offer PPE and address wage concerns if workers ‘drop the union’. The woman, claiming to represent Ridge Crest, says Ark Globe Academy were going to “hate us even more than they do” and “get their backs up” if the union didn’t go away. The woman added: “If everyone goes back and it gets rid of the union… then OK I can get some [protective face] masks for you.” Ark Globe Academy is part of the multi-academy trust Ark Schools which is run by Absolute Return for Kids (Ark), an international children’s education charity. Ark Globe Academy say they are supportive of trade union recognition for the outsourced cleaners and they have made it clear to Ridge Crest that it is their hope that the ‘issues are all resolved fairly and in a timely manner’. Ridge Crest’s managing director told LFF they have not heard the recording but that the alleged anti-union comments are not reflective of the firm. An Ark Globe spokesperson told LLF: “Ark Schools has extensive, proactive and positive working relationships and recognition agreements in place with the NAHT, ASCL, Unite, GMB, UNISON, NEU and NASUWT,” adding: “The Ridge Crest employees raised some significant concerns, and the school has made it clear to Ridge Crest that it is their hope that the issues are all resolved fairly and in a timely manner.”
Left Foot Forward. Morning Star.
 

TSSA welcomes staff visors move at Govia Thameslink

The decision by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to provide visors in addition to facemasks for all non-safety critical staff has been hailed by rail union TSSA as ‘great news’. The union has been calling for visors at GTR and across Britain’s railways in the wake of the death from Covid-19 of Belly Mujinga, a GTR ticket office clerk and TSSA member who was redeployed to the concourse at London’s Victoria Station despite having an existing respiratory condition. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “It's great news that our union and GTR have agreed that our members will be provided with visors as well as masks in the course of their important work. Our union has been steadfast in our campaign for frontline staff to be issued visors as the virus not only gets into you through your mouth and nose but also through your eyes.” He added: “Frontline workers across our railways have done an amazing job keeping the network running for key workers and vital supplies as our country continues to fight coronavirus. The least they can expect during this health emergency is to be able to carry out their duties safely. We very much welcome GTR now singing from our hymn sheet.”
TSSA news release.
 

Call for universal access to occupational health

Swift action is needed in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis to ensure the UK population has access to occupational health (OH) advice and assessment, the Society of Occupational Medicine has said. The organisation for occupational health professionals said at the moment only half the UK population has access to occupational health support. SOM noted occupational health services “are key in supporting employees back to work and keeping them in work safely during these challenging times.” It added: “Early research shows that many returning to work during the Covid-19 crisis will return with depleted mental health,” adding occupational health services “have been proven to enable those on sick leave due to mental health problems to return to work successfully. Preventative measures in place through the application of occupational hygiene is also critical.” SOM noted its campaign has the support from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, RCN, BMA, Unite and TUC.
SOM news release.
 

ACTION

Help build a database of coronavirus risk assessments

The TUC is collating the risk assessments published by employers as they start to open again after lockdown. The TUC said its aim is to support a safe return by increasing transparency about how safety is being addressed in each sector and to pressure non-compliant employers to conduct the proper risk assessments and publish them online. “You can help by checking out your own employer or others in your sector, and entering them into the database at https://covidsecurecheck.uk”, the TUC said.
COVID Secure Check portal.
 

RESOURCES

Get your essential TUC guide to Hazards at Work

The mammoth 6th edition of TUC’s best-selling Hazards at Work guide is the best single source on health and safety, union style. The revised new edition is packed with advice on health and safety laws and good practice at work. It covers all the 'classic' hazards and has new Covid-19 related advice and reworked chapters on mental health, bullying, harassment, and all other modern workplace causes of illness and injury. It also has extensive checklists, case studies and links to online resources.
Reps, unions, employers can order online from the TUC shop. Single copies, £22. For large orders, email the TUC.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Germany: Workplaces implicated in second wave fears

A sharp rise in Germany’s reproduction rate of Covid-19 has prompted concerns over a second wave of the virus. The country has also seen a new lockdown across a district with a meatpacking plant hit by a large outbreak. Workplaces including meatpacking plants and logistics centres have been implicated in a spike in the R number, up from 1.06 to 2.88 in the span of two days following a string of localised outbreaks. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said the R number jumped to 1.79 on 20 June and 2.88 on 21 June, far higher than is needed to contain the outbreak over a longer period of time. The institute attributed the rise to a number of local outbreaks that have been traced back to places with large numbers of people, such as meatpacking plants and logistics centres, as well as refugee shelters. Outbreaks have also been linked to church services and family parties. “Since case numbers in Germany are generally low, these outbreaks have a relatively strong influence on the value of the reproduction number,” said the institute. More than 1,500 workers at the Tönnies Group plant meat processing plant in northwestern Germany have so far tested positive for coronavirus. German authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia announced on 23 June they were bringing back local lockdown measures in response. State premier Armin Laschet said the “preventative measures” in Gütersloh district, home to about 360,000 people, would last until 30 June. It is the first such move since Germany began lifting its lockdown restrictions in May. Peter Schmidt, the head of international affairs at the German food workers’ union NGG, commented: “The entire sector is in a disastrous race to the bottom, driven by the market and by consumer demand for cheap meat.” Pointing out migrant workers housed in dormitories were being dangerously exploited in the plants, he added: “The working conditions in these plants are the absolute worst; cold, close together, working at high speed. And the housing, it is like in slavery times. When we were looking at it, we found that people were having to share beds. You do a 12-hour shift and then you change over.”
The Independent. The Guardian.
 

South Korea: Workplace focus for second wave of infections

Health officials in South Korea believe the country is going through a second wave of coronavirus based around workplace clusters, despite recording relatively low numbers overall. The country had been viewed as a success story in dealing with Covid-19, but now expects the pandemic to continue for months. Head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control (KCDC), Jeong Eun-kyeong, said the first wave lasted up until April. Yet since May, clusters of new cases have grown, including outbreaks at nightclubs in the capital, Seoul. Between those periods, daily confirmed cases had fallen from nearly a thousand to zero infections recorded for three days in a row. However, on 22 June authorities said that over the preceding 24 hours, 17 new infections had been recorded, from different clusters in large offices and warehouses. Dr Jeong said the recent resurgence had led her to conclude that the country was in the grip of a second wave of the virus, and that she expected it to continue. South Korea has avoided locking down the country and has instead relied on voluntary social distancing measures alongside an aggressive track, trace and test strategy to combat the virus. A total of 280 people have died since the country reported its first case on 20 January. Overall, more than 12,000 infections have been recorded.
BBC News Online.
 

USA: Why is the safety regulator OSHA AWOL?

As US states and municipalities relax lockdown orders, the nation seems to be racing to get the economy back to something resembling the pre-pandemic era. But an opinion piece by the New York Times editorial board notes restaurants, malls, cinemas, day care centres and retail stores “are reopening sooner than most medical professionals think is wise.” It says the experience of meatpacking plants should have set off alarm bells -  one estimate noting more than 27,000 workers in meatpacking have tested positive for the coronavirus, up sharply from 17,000 just last month. “Yet the federal agency meant to protect America’s workers continues to sit on the sidelines. Even as state after state reopens, and the number of infections continues to climb, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has so far refused to give employers clear rules to follow, allowing those that neglect worker safety to operate without fear of government penalty,” the NYT editorial board notes. “The courts have offered workers no relief - the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia this month dismissed a lawsuit by the AFL-CIO that would have compelled OSHA to issue emergency rules for worker protection, saying the agency can determine its own standards. The result has been millions of essential employees forced to work under hazardous conditions. Now that threat is spreading to nonessential workers, too.” The NYT editorial board conclude: “The coronavirus crisis has put more than 30 million Americans out of work. The lucky ones who are still on the job or who can hope to return to one soon deserve to know that the federal government wants to protect their health as much as their bosses’ economic well-being. OSHA can help.”
New York Times.
 

USA: Naming and shaming of safety criminals works

A single official press release naming a company that has violated workplace health and safety regulations can result in a 73 per cent improvement in compliance by other facilities, new research has found. The study in the American Economic Review reported that beginning in 2009, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) sent press releases to the local newspaper near a facility, detailing serious health and safety violations found during an inspection. The study found this led to compliance by other nearby facilities improving more than if OSHA had inspected each of those facilities directly. Matthew Johnson, an assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, found revealing poor performance, or “shaming” a company, creates pressure for the company to improve its behaviour. “We have lots of evidence that these ratings and scores motivate companies to do better,” Johnson said. “But this is one of the first papers to show that these kinds of disclosures have a ripple effect on the behaviour of other companies and to provide new insight into what drives companies to comply with regulations.” Johnson found a press release leads to 73 per cent fewer OSHA violations at peer facilities within a three mile radius (5 km) of the publicised facility. A press release has a smaller effect on compliance of facilities located further away, but effects persist for facilities up to 31 miles (50 km) away. Press releases also led to fewer workers getting injured and killed on the job. Publicising severe violations is a powerful tool for regulatory agencies that can increase the impact of inspections, Johnson said. “Given the enormous social costs of workplace injuries, these estimates reveal that press releases created a large social benefit for a small cost,” he said.
Duke University news release. Matthew S Johnson. Regulation by Shaming: Deterrence Effects of Publicizing Violations of Workplace Safety and Health Laws, American Economic Review, 110, number 6, June 2020. DOI: 10.1257/aer.20180501. Business Insurance.


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