Workplace injuries cost billions and ruin lives, but this government is determined to rollback vital health and safety laws

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The ground-breaking Health and Safety at Work Act is 40 years old and there has been a lot of progress over the years which should be celebrated. Britain is one of the safest countries in the world for workers and HSE statistics show that fatalities at work are on the decline.

 

But there is no cause to rest on our laurels. The most recent statistics show that for those 133 workers who were killed last year and anyone who took any of the 28.2 million working days lost to work-related ill health or injury, injury, ill-health and death at work are not a thing of the past.

 

As those concerned with improving the statistics further reflect on the successful impact of the Act over the years, this government is moving health and safety backwards. It’s now de rigueur for Tory MPs and ministers (ably assisted by their Lib Dem stooges and their mates in the media) to lampoon health and safety and dismiss anything associated with it as “red tape”.

 

Any death and any injury at work is a tragedy. At Thompsons we know how unnecessary and how avoidable they almost always are. Avoidance isn’t rocket science, it’s often blindingly basic.

 

No government should rest on its laurels. Certainly, no government should take action that could risk a deterioration in health and safety and yet that’s exactly what we are witnessing. It’s a dismissive arrogance of the worst kind.

 

It appears that laws introduced and respected by the courts since the times of the Victorian factory can be thrown aside. Strict Liability can be junked and self-employed workers removed from health and safety laws. Written agreements with insurers to stitch up mesothelioma sufferers and their families (over 2,500 people died of the fatal cancer mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos last year) are pushed through parliament. Misstating the words of the Professor you appoint to review health and safety is fine if you can get away with it (which thankfully due to some good old fashioned leaking they haven’t).

 

The insurers are happy (a billion £’s in dividends from two car insurers when there’s meant to be a so-called whiplash fraud ‘crisis’). Lawyers being slapped down and straight jacketed into deals that limit their ability to get the maximum amount of compensation is dressed up for the media as a great advance. The judicial establishment get their wish for injured people to ‘have some skin in the game’ – i.e. face deductions from compensation to pay their lawyers – and all the while backbenchers can belittle and scoff and make health and safety a joke. You can even feed them red meat by seeking to blame it all on those pesky Europeans.

 

At a time when the battle for proper health and safety is gradually being won the last thing we need is a government more concerned with winning favourable headlines in tabloids and currying favour with powerful corporate interest groups than taking proactive steps to ensure that workplace injury and ill-health really become things of the past. But that’s what we’ve got and the battle goes on.

 

Winchester Needs a Pay Rise

I was looking forwards to making an occasion of the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise march and rally in October until we had to back out when my son caught a tummy bug. I had experienced TUC marches before, and found them suitable for sharing with friends and family and we consoled ourselves with knowing that our little one had enjoyed his first march at Tolpuddle earlier this year.

 

This experience was probably what provided me with the final push I needed to motivate me to join together with local friends, trade union representatives and campaigners in Hampshire to raise the profile of low pay rises and the living wage. This being one of the broad, mainstream, trade union issues featured in the TUC’s Campaign Plan in the run-up to the general election.

 

We know that the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage is rising as the cost of living continues to outstrip pay. Real wages of full-time workers in the South East fell by £2500 between 2010 and 2013. This is causing families to have to cut back and make difficult decisions on spending, we are seeing a rise in the use of food banks and payday loans and, as the mystery Prospect member puts into words much better than can I, this is effecting the squeezed middle.

 

The TUC believes that many employers can afford to pay more without putting jobs at risk, and this is especially the case for the lowest paid. They want us to urge more local employers to make sure their staff and those in their supply chains get at least the living wage.

 

All of us felt that these were real issues that we had experienced in our families, workplaces and communities and could directly relate to, however we wanted to involve the broader local community in our campaign.

 

We decided to set up the Winchester & District Trades Council (W&DTC) to help us to pursue this aim and, in doing so, to promote a positive message of trade unions to a public who may be less familiar with the benefits we offer to society. Read More…

What did the EU ever do for working people?

Joe Dromey photo

Joe Dromey is Head of Policy and Research at the IPA

The UK’s often turbulent relationship with the European Union seems to be getting stormier by the day. With UKIP support rising to record levels, the Conservatives have been pushed into an increasingly Eurosceptic position, promising reforms that look impossible to deliver. Our future within the EU looks more uncertain than ever before.

 

Leaving the EU would be disastrous for working people. The argument over the importance of the EU for jobs and investment in the UK is well-known; millions would have their livelihoods threatened if we did pull out. Less understood though is the importance of the EU for rights at work in the UK.

 

Recent research by the IPA has aimed to address this gap. As it has shown, the EU has played a central role in strengthening and expanding workplace rights in the UK. Take for example the right to paid breaks, paid holiday and a maximum working week, or the right to equal treatment for ‘atypical’ workers – the part-time, agency and fixed-term staff who are in fact increasingly typical in today’s labour market. Take the Information and Consultation of Employees regulations that guarantee workers a voice at work, or the TUPE legislation that protects employees whose employer’s business is being sold. These rights have made a real difference to working people.

 

In fact, this is one of the reasons that the EU is so unpopular with those on the right. Along with the free movement of labour, it is the protection that the EU offers working people that so irritates Eurosceptics. Having these rights enshrined at a European level means they can act as a bulwark against competition driving down employment standards in a ‘race to the bottom’. While the Coalition have pursued a deregulatory agenda and slashed employment rights, it is only the rights protected by EU legislation that have escaped unscathed.

 

But are we over-regulated and over-burdened by ‘EU red tape’? In explaining why Britain might be better off out, Boris Johnson recently decried the ‘back breaking’ weight of EU employment regulation that is helping to fur the arteries to the point of sclerosis.’ Of course, this is complete nonsense. The UK still has one of the least regulated labour markets in the developed world and employees in this country are far less protected than those in most of Europe. And although employers may grumble about employment regulation, the vast majority see it as a price worth paying for access to the single market.

 

The union movement has often had an uneasy relationship with the EU. Initially suspicious of the European project, unions were won over by Jacques Delors’ inspiring vision of a ‘Social Europe’ that protects and enhances workers’ rights and prosperity. However, this enthusiasm seems to have cooled recently. With the lack of any significant new social legislation, as well as the role of the EU in supporting austerity and perceived threats to collective bargaining from the Viking and Laval judgements, unions have becoming increasingly equivocal about our membership of the EU. Some, notably the RMT, are actively campaigning for the UK to leave. It’s a strange situation when a supposedly progressive trade union finds itself on the same side of the argument as Farage and co.

 

It is more important than ever for trade unions to engage with this debate. Unions have a vital role to play in countering reactionary Eurosceptics who would renegotiate or withdraw from the European Union in order to slash employment rights. The union movement needs to speak up for the EU, and highlight the immeasurable benefits that membership of the EU has brought working people. From protection against discrimination and rights for working parents; to paid holiday and voice at work, the EU has made the workplace fairer and better. It has delivered real, tangible benefits for working people. The EU is not perfect, but trade unions need to continue to fight for the vision of a Social Europe.

 

Joe Dromey is Head of Policy and Research at the IPA. He writes in a personal capacity. The findings of the research will be discussed at an event on 27th November, hosted by Lord John Monks, former General Secretary of the TUC and ETUC. For more details and to reserve a place, see here.

WHY THIS NHS PAY DISPUTE MATTERS TO US ALL

Paul Moloney is a member of the Unions21 Steering Committee and Industrial Relations Manager for the Society of Radiographers

The forthcoming NHS pay dispute is likely to involve up to 10 TUC and non-TUC affiliated unions taking some form of strike action, with all unions with members in the NHS involved in the wider campaign. At the time of writing, Unison, Unite, GMB and, significantly the Royal College of Midwives have already announced overwhelming majorities of members have voted for industrial action to take place on 13th October.

 

Other unions, including my own the Society of Radiographers, have also announced yes votes and will be joining the action at a later date.

 
The dispute will therefore involve a widespread coalition of NHS workers from porters to consultants including of course the radiographers, sonographers, mammographers and many others working in diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy represented by my own union. Although not unique it is unusual to find such a widespread coalition of workers, covering such a range of expertise, taking action over pay.

 
Union members working in the NHS, at all levels, fully understand what has happened to their pay in recent years. Our own calculations show that members pay rates have lost nearly 15% of their purchasing power over the last 5 years. A period during which members have suffered 4 pay freezes and one solitary pay increase of just 1%. It is no wonder they are angry but it is a tribute to their professionalism and sense of commitment to the community that they have put up with things for so long. In fact, if the Government had honoured the recommendation of the Independent Pay Review Body (IPRB) and granted the 1% increase they recommended this year then we probably wouldn’t be entering into a dispute now with member’s patience enduring for another year….just!

 
But the Government crossed a line by ignoring that recommendation and then informing the IPRB that it was not seeking a recommendation from them for next year, thus condemning NHS workers to yet another pay freeze.

 
What makes this dispute so important, however, is that this decision was not a tactical error on the part of a Government that had miscalculated the feeling among our members and those of other unions. Instead the decision is deeply ideologically and shows exactly what it is this government now wants to achieve on behalf of the people it represents.

 
Throughout UK post war history there has been a consensus around the idea that working people have a share in economic growth. There may be deep differences over how much of a share but no one has argued that the general population should not see improved standards of living as society creates wealth. When union negotiators over the years have achieved increases in pay that exceed the increase in prices they have been ensuring that generally working people can see their standard of living improve. And, as a result, throughout the post war period average earnings have increased more quickly than the Retail Prices Index.

 
This came to an abrupt halt with the banking crises and the subsequent austerity measures. By continuing to hold back NHS employees pay for at least the next two years it is clear that this government wants to break this link for good even as the economy improves. They are using the NHS to influence the economy as a whole, it is of course the biggest employer in the UK, by sending a message to all employers in both the public and private sectors to follow their lead and end the consensus that working people should share in the wealth created by seeing the purchasing power of their income improve over time. Instead, they are creating the environment where the owners of capital see a further disproportionate increase in their share of wealth created entirely at the expense of working people.

 
So this is a dispute that we have to win. Not just for our members, although we must not lose sight of the fact that this is their dispute, but for trade unionists across the country in all sectors, public and private. In fact, for everyone who believes an increasing unequal distribution of wealth is not only unfair but also bad economics, including the Governor of the Bank of England, who also seems to recognise that running an economy purely for the benefit of some and not for all, is inefficient. For our members and those on the left generally it is of course not only inefficient but deeply unfair and potentially harmful.

 
NHS employees will decide what sort of action this attack on them deserves and it will certainly include widespread strike action. In doing this they will exercise the same level of professional judgement they use every day of their working lives and will make decisions that will put the interests of patient first, contrary no doubt to the portrayal of their actions in some sections of the media. It is essential however that all in the labour movement recognise what is at stake.

 
Of course Britain needs a pay rise, but if Labour politicians seriously believe this, then they need to clearly demonstrate support for NHS workers in this dispute and make absolutely sure they are prepared to also show leadership on behalf of all working people by encouraging wages across the whole economy to grow faster than prices when elected returning to a consensus that has only recently been attacked and that even Margaret Thatcher couldn’t pull apart. Success in the forthcoming election depends on it.

 

Paul Moloney
Trade Union and Industrial Relations Manager
Society of Radiographers
September 2014

In the grip of a low pay epidemic

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Work Foundation recently published its final report on the prospects for workers earning less than £15,000 a year.

 

Readers of the study can only be appalled that low pay now affects a staggering 5.1 million employees (21 per cent of the UK workforce) and that over a quarter of these workers will remain stuck in low pay for over a decade.

 

When the National Minimum Wage (NMW) was brought-in in 1999, it was one of the most significant planks of Labour policy. But the current Tory-led regime has failed to give it the status it deserves. Serial offenders have been left to get away with NMW non-compliance and the government has chosen to severely under resource the teams who enforce it.

 

The scale of the UK’s low wage epidemic is a deliberate product of this government’s anti-worker agenda. The mantra that employment prospects are looking up appears shaky when you consider the detail. The reduction in unemployment has been fuelled by a rapid increase in the number of people identifying as “self-employed”, while many others have been forced into part-time and zero hours work where they had previously worked full-time.

 

Serious wage deflation means that increasing numbers are being pushed to take low-paid work that is near-impossible to survive on, with many workers having to begrudgingly seek the help of the state benefits system – not to mention food banks – to keep their families fed, clothed and housed.

 

The Work Foundation’s report makes worthwhile recommendations for how the UK can pursue a fairer wage distribution and begin the fight back against Conservative Party policy and the parochial interests of the big business lobby who control it.

 

One obvious step, the report suggests, would be for the government itself to set best practice by having its departments and local authorities aiming to become Living Wage employers. Unless the government gets its own house in order there is little hope of encouraging the private sector to do so.

 

Another simple move would be for the Low Pay Commission to increase the NMW at a faster rate than average earnings over the next few years. If the economy is really recovering then it is crucial that those at the bottom of the pay scale should be able to feel the effects not just those at the top.

 

Unions are leading the way to fight the low pay epidemic in the national interest. We must all continue to do so.

 

The full Work Foundation report can be read at http://www.theworkfoundation.com/DownloadPublication/Report/365_BottomTenMillionFinalPaper.pdf

 

The Union Website League Table – How Did You Do?

I’ve recently published the trade union website league table for 2014. The table isn’t an attempt to judge the content, design or functionality of the sites, rather it reflects how important each website is seen to be in the eyes of search engines, based on a number of standard website metrics.

 

I’ve been regularly working for and with unions for years, but since founding Infobo I’ve been working in the private sector as well. I’ve noticed one big difference between the two sectors when it comes to requests for services. In the private sector, the demand for website search engine optimisation (SEO), the art of making a website appear as high as possible in search engine results, is huge. However, unions I’ve worked with had little awareness of the area or the implications of getting it right.

 

For private sector companies, getting their products or services to appear near the top of relevant search engine results leads directly to more sales and clients, but for unions the benefit is less tangible. However, one of the key areas for unions is campaigning and influencing.

 

One way of doing this is by delivering a message through the union’s website. The more people who come across this message and visit the union’s website, the greater the influence that union has online. As most visitors to websites arrive through search engines, then search engine optimisation (SEO) provides a great opportunity for unions to increase visitors and therefore influence.

 

There are two key aspects to search engine optimisation (SEO):

  • Configuring a website to work well and send the right signals to search engines – this is known as ‘on-site optimisation’.
  • Getting links to your website from other websites – known as ‘off-site optimisation’.

The trade union website league table focuses on the second of these. It takes an average score from key metrics like Domain Authority and Google PageRank to reflect the quality and quantity of links to a website. Basically, it reflects how often a union is being mentioned and linked to on the web. The higher the score, the more likely the website is to appear high up in search engine results.

 

The most recent union website league table can be seen at http://www.infobo.com/trade-union-website-league-table-2014, while below is a summary of developments in the league table:

  • Unite are the highest ranked union, knocking UNISON into second place for the first time.
  • Unions that are also professional associations, such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the British Dietetic Association, perform very well.
  • Prospect sees the biggest improvement in the table, moving up six places.
  • The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, NUT and the British and Irish Orthoptic Society all also improve significantly on 2013.
  • PCS has the largest fall, moving down seven places.

This is the third year I’ve carried out this research. You can also view the results for 2012  and 2013   to see how the results has changed over the last few years.

Handing over the Reigns

Chris BallFar be it from me to get involved in constitutional issues, but I couldn’t help wondering if Spain’s King Juan Carlos’s announcement of his abdication might not be a lesson to all of us to recognise when enough is enough. Retirement decisions are often hard, though let’s face it, most 76 year olds are not hanging around any longer than they need to.

 

In King Juan Carlos’s case it seems, the issue is clouded by adverse opinion polls and the plummeting public image of the monarchy in Spain, arising from various scandals. His decision appears to have been in part to save the reputation of the monarchy – plus a little bit of intergenerational solidarity, perhaps!

 

However, one wonders whether the “job for life” notion, which only applies to a tiny number of individuals in the very top jobs (generally as heads of state or church), isn’t really a bit passé .

 

You could go further and describe it as a grotesquely inhumane idea, based on all sorts of peculiar fables about God given rights and so on. Who in their right mind would want to carry on until they literally drop?

 

The royals, by and large, don’t get a choice. (And who is to say that they want it?) But would it do any harm for them to fall in line with the rest of us at some point?

 

There have of course been suggestions that the Queen, now 88, should step down in favour of Prince Charles (currently 65) who could well be 70 plus by the time he becomes King. I can’t pretend to worry about such things, but come to think of it, it will be a hell of a statement about employability in later life if this does happen.

 

And (assuming the Prince has no objections to being described in such a way) he could use his famous willingness to express his thoughts to good effect and raise the profile of the “older worker” to excellent effect. As patron of PRIME[i]  he may choose to comment – but there again, maybe he will not.

 

Organisations of all kinds do need succession plans. The thought that they should be based on mere human mortality would be anathema to most sensible people. They should in theory provide ways for good people to step aside at a time when they have given a lot and before they start to decline.

 

Done properly, managed succession can mean the cultural values, human capital and reputation of the organisation are all enhanced by handing over the reins to a newcomer.

 

People who carry on for a long time can be doing a great job – let’s say that very clearly. But there are cases where they do untold harm.

 

Leaving aside royalty, one can think of a few heads of state that most people would have been glad to see the back of, doing nobody a service, unwilling to retire at any price! Perhaps this is a problem in family businesses too. I wouldn’t know, but I assume it is.

 

In organisations, as in states, the ability to say “enough is enough” is a touchstone of maturity. Decisions about the right time to go should consider the needs of the organisation as well as those of the individual.

 

Tradition can get in the way, but sometimes it can be shoved aside, as we saw in the Catholic Church last year. Pope Benedict became the first Pontiff to resign in 600 years when he stood down in February 2013.

 

Can anyone say it was a bad decision? His successor Pope Francis, is the kind of Pope to whom even non-believers (like me) can warm.

 

Not that Benedict’s idea of retirement was exactly the intention of invigorating the Church. He had waning personal health and mental powers, and a lot of nasty stuff in the background about priests’ sex scandals and murky financial dealings.

 

The desire to get away from it all and start afresh on a new page, can stimulate the retirement juices wonderfully! In Benedict’s case, it was enough to make a deeply conservative Pope, steeped in the tradition that “Popes work till they drop”, hang up his tiara.

 

How far is all this relevant to secular and non-royal organisations which it is the lot of most of us to inhabit?  Well, no normal organisation could put up with the “waiting for dead men’s shoes” approach to succession.

 

The departure of an ancient (and safe) pair of hands at the top might be thought to cause unwanted ripples, but there surely comes a time for everyone to step down. A sense of timing is called for.

 

Some business leaders do seem to carry on for ever, though less so in Europe than in the USA and Japan. (In a list of the 16 oldest company CEOs I have seen, not a single British name appears. (There is one each from Belgium and Italy). How odd and what is the explanation? Less comfortable board rooms in Europe, perhaps?

 

As the Guardian reminds us today, in the last eighteen months ageing monarchs in both the Netherlands and Belgium have stood down in favour of younger heirs. Despite the speculation, our own Queen seems unlikely to follow suit.

 

Quite apart from a total absence of scandal or controversy surrounding her personal conduct, she seems well able to delegate all the gadding around her empire to younger members of the family.

 

It would be nice to think however, that the traditions of “dying on one’s job” could be tempered with an over-riding sanity that older workers everywhere deserve the right to retire. At the same time younger people at some point, might get the right to take up the reins.

 

One condition however, would be to have a worthy successor in place. A case for an election perhaps?

 

Chris Ball

Chief Executive

TAEN – The Age and Employment Network



[i] the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise

Promises Promises

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations

June 5th last week we saw unions, coordinated by the TUC, show solidarity against the coalition intention to slash pay rates and depress staff morale. [When I say ‘slash pay rates’ this will be for public servants but not MP’s who will retain their gravy train!]

 

In London and Liverpool unions demonstrated and with a mock cheque as a prop illustrated to the public the amount in cash of goodwill hard working NHS staff give to ensure that the patient is cared for, diagnosed and treated.

 

In Liverpool Andy Burnham [Labour Shadow minister for Health] met with representatives from the unions to give thanks for their efforts and to extol the virtues of a new age under Labour if elected next year.

 

To the massed gathering he promised to repeal the Health and Social Care act; he promised to work to remove the market ethos from health; he promised to keep the NHS high on the list of key topics during the election and he promised not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Read More…

Learning our lines

Trade unions are an integral part of the UK workforce, with the TUC representing 6.2 million trade union members in 2013 across 54 affiliated unions. With such a large number of trade unions in the UK, it can be difficult to learn about each trade union and how they came to be.

 

Union Insurance, who have been working with trade unions and their members for over 12 years, wanted to help educate the UK public about these trade unions and their history. This led to the creation of the ‘Interactive Timeline of Trade Unions in the UK’.

 

The timeline displays trade unions in an easy to read format, allowing people to navigate through the years to see when each trade union was formed. Information on each trade union, such as current memberships, affiliations, facts, and mergers can be viewed when a card is clicked. For example the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMB) began as the Gas Workers and General Union in 1889 and have since experienced over 25 mergers and amalgamations.

 

By utilising design and interactivity, the timeline aims to make information about trade unions in the UK more accessible.

 

The timeline can be found at: http://www.uniontimeline.com

Few Dads take Paternity Leave

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

A new report has found that just ten per cent of new fathers currently take more than two weeks of paternity leave, just months before Shared Parental Leave comes into effect from next year.

 

The shared parental leave scheme will, for the first time, allow eligible mothers and their partners to take up to 52 weeks of leave in total, to be shared between them either in alternating blocks or taken together.

 

However, “Shared opportunity: Parental leave in UK business” found a number of cultural and financial differences explaining the low level of take up from Dads, and makes for sorry reading for anybody who believes in gender equality.

 

The report found that a father taking paternity leave was culturally less acceptable in many organisations. 63 per cent of employers were supportive of mothers taking up to a year’s maternity leave but even two weeks paternity leave was only supported by 58 per cent of employers.

 

Almost half of the employees surveyed and 58 per cent of managers said that parental leave was disruptive for their organisations. Three quarters of managers felt parental leave affected the efficiency and productivity of their teams and at managerial level just two per cent opted to take the leave they are currently entitled to.

 

The findings may be hardly surprising when it appears that fathers are paid significantly less on average by their employers when on leave. While 70 per cent of new mothers received full pay for between one and 38 weeks of maternity leave, just nine per cent of new fathers received full pay for longer than two weeks when on paternity leave.

 

This “paternity pay gap” not only creates practical financial barriers to the concept of shared parental leave, it also projects a negative cultural expectation (that women are the ones likely to take extended periods away from the workplace) and that has the potential to impact detrimentally on their career progression.

 

We are on the verge of welcome changes in legislation, but rights are only of use if there is an understanding that they are there to be used and using them has no negative implications for the user. Sadly it appears there remains an ingrained view in many organisations that childcare is for mothers and that reflects badly on ‘modern Britain’.

 

To access the Institute of Leadership and Management, please visit: https://www.i-l-m.com/~/media/ILM%20Website/Documents/research-reports/shared-leave/ilm-shared-parental-leave-report%20pdf.ashx

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