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News Archive

March 2022

COVID News: UK Government ‘sowing dangerous confusion’ at work

The TUC is warning that workers’ safety is being put at risk by ‘confused’ guidance announced by the prime minister on Covid-19 and workplace risk assessments.

The union body has written to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to raise concerns about the ‘Living with Covid’ plan, presented to parliament on 21 February, which states that from 1 April, employers will no longer have to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risk assessments. The TUC warns this change conflicts with the statutory duty employers have to “make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work,” under regulation 3.1 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. The TUC adds that the regulation requires any risk to health to be incorporated in a risk assessment, and this must therefore include the ongoing risks working people face from contracting Covid-19 and long Covid.

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Ukraine: US reporter shot and killed

An award-winning US journalist working in Ukraine, Brent Renaud, has been shot dead in Irpin, outside Kyiv.

Ukrainian police said the journalist was targeted on 13 March by Russian soldiers. Two other journalists were injured and taken to hospital. It is the first reported death of a foreign journalist covering the war in Ukraine, although several have been injured. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) condemned the killing and called for the killers to be brought to justice. The tragedy came less than two weeks after Ukrainian journalist Yevheniy Sakun, a camera operator for the Ukrainian television channel LIVE, was killed when a building near the TV transmission tower in Kyiv was hit by shelling.

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UK: Wilko sorry for saying staff could work with Covid

Retail chain Wilko has apologised for ‘some miscommunication’ in which it told staff they could continue to work if they tested positive for Covid.

In a memo, reported by The Mirror, the company said staff with the virus could continue to work in stores if they felt well enough. Wilko confirmed the memo was sent out and the firm has since made a U-turn. “When we get something wrong, we hold our hands up, admit it, and work to correct the situation,” Wilko chief executive Jerome Saint-Marc said in an online statement. In a post on the company’s Facebook page he said he wanted to “reassure all our customers and team members” that the company’s advice to staff with Covid symptoms or those who test positive was to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

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Union inspection notice leads to UK HMRC commitments

The head of the HRMC has made key safety commitments after civil service union PCS raised formal safety concerns over Covid, risk assessments and return to workplaces.

On 22 February 2022, PCS served a Union Inspection Notice (UIN) on HMRC chief executive Jim Harra “outlining our concerns with the consultation and engagement process around risk assessments, in relation to returns to the office.” The UIN – a tool used by unions to formally lodge concerns where there are believed to be failures in following health and safety legislation – quoted six areas where it believed HRMC was falling short of its legal safety duties and requiring the government agency to resolve the concerns.

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Europe: MEPS call for a law on psychosocial risks

The European Parliament has voted strongly in favour of a new law on psychosocial risks at work.

In a newly adopted parliamentary report, ‘A new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work post 2020’, the European Parliament has echoed union calls for a directive on work-related psychosocial risks. The report, drafted by Danish MEP Marianne Vind, gives a detailed overview to the European Commission on what must be included in a proposed framework to improve the conditions and organisation of workplaces throughout Europe. The broad-based report calls “on the Commission to propose, in consultation with the social partners, a directive on psychosocial risks and wellbeing at work aimed at the efficient prevention of psychosocial risks in the workplace, such as anxiety, depression, burnout and stress, including risks caused by structural problems such as work organisation (i.e. poor management, poor work design or not properly matching workers’ knowledge and abilities with the assigned tasks).”

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Global: Safety must be a fundamental right at work

Global unions are calling for an amendment to the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work that will lead to occupational health and safety (OHS) being recognised as a fundamental principle and right at work.

The call from the chemicals, mining and manufacturing global union IndustriALL came ahead a meeting of the International Labour Organisation’s governing body, which started on 14 March. The amendment would see OHS joining the four fundamental principles and rights at work that the 1998 Declaration currently recognises: freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively; the prohibition of forced labour; prohibition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in employment. Unions want the proposal to add occupational health and safety to be approved at the ILO’s International Labour Conference in June this year.

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Ireland: Migrant fisher injuries linked to permit scheme

Injuries sustained by migrant fishers have been linked to a culture of excessive hours and ‘cover-ups’ driven by Ireland’s controversial work permit scheme.

Campaign lead for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in Ireland, Michael O’Brien, told media that fishers were working longer hours than was safe or legal, but that the risk of fishers losing their visa status if they are fired or taken out of work due to injury meant many feel compelled to endure unsafe practices on board.

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Mental health concern for journalists covering conflict

Employers must offer ‘adequate support’ to all journalists covering the conflict in Ukraine from the frontline and in newsrooms handling often distressing copy and images of the war, the UK journalists’ union NUJ has said.

The call came in resolution from the union’s newspaper and agency industrial council (NAIC). The resolution noted: “The horrifying news coming out of Ukraine following the invasion initiated by Vladamir Putin will have affected journalists everywhere, whether or not they are covering the war directly.

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UK: Usdaw focused on young workers and mental health

Retail trade union Usdaw is reach out to young workers to highlight its campaigning work.

It says the union’s first Young Workers’ Week, running from 14-20 March 2022, will focus on mental health in the workplace. Events marking the week, in workplaces, colleges and street stalls, were intended to focus on recruiting young workers to Usdaw and encouraging them to play an active role in the union. In addition, Usdaw reps are being encouraged to talk to their young colleagues at work about the campaign, using the Usdaw Young Workers Mental Health Survey.

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Union backs film and TV healthy work campaign

Creative industries union Bectu has welcomed the latest phase of the Film and TV Charity’s 12-month campaign to redefine working culture in the film and TV industry.

‘The Whole Picture Toolkit: For Mentally Healthy Productions’ is a free to use website, created by the charity and a coalition of industry partners and bodies, freelancers, mental health experts and sector practitioners, including Bectu. Head of Bectu Philippa Childs participated in the Film and TV Charity’s working group to collate the resources, which aim to give anyone working in production – from those working on large scale productions to those operating on a shoestring – the tools they may need to improve working environments and the industry’s wider approach to mental health. The toolkit also incorporates Bectu’s recently launched welfare policy.

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Always-on culture is a significant problem

The right to disconnect is supported by a clear majority of workers, new data from Ipsos has revealed.

Despite 67 per cent of the UK workforce having work-related communications outside of their working day, more than half think it is unacceptable to do so, the world’s third largest market researcher found. Commenting on the findings, Andrew Pakes, research director at the union Prospect, said: “Digital technology has undoubtedly kept us safe, connected and working during the pandemic, but for many the lines between work and home have become blurred, making it harder to switch-off work and contributing to burnout and poor mental health. Prospect has been leading UK calls for a right to disconnect to help ensure flexible working is a success and that we put in place the safeguards to tackle the risks of surveillance technology and work pressures that mean some people simply cannot switch-off from work.”

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Carmont rail crash report shows systemic failures

Rail unions have called for wide-ranging safety improvements and an end to Network Rail jobs and maintenance cuts after a report blamed systematic safety failings for a fatal train derailment.

In the report into the 12 August 2020 Carmont tragedy, the RAIB exonerated the driver and blamed ScotRail and Network Rail for failures in the crash near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire. Three people died – train driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62.

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FBU highlights increased risk for firefighters

UK Firefighters’ union FBU is continuing its campaign to expose the link between the job and raised cancer risks and to press for prevention.

The union points to a survey of 10,000 firefighters by the University of Central Lancashire, which found rates of cancer were four times higher amongst firefighters than amongst the general public. The FBU said its DECON campaign, launched last year, is informing firefighters about how they reduce the risk from exposure to fire contaminants. It hopes its Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry will provide crucial information on the extend and causes of the problem.

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