Justice for Emanuel: worked until death at the MiNISTRY oF JUSTICE

Emanuel Gomes died of suspected COVID-19 whilst cleaning the Ministry of Justice HQ in London

Emanuel was a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice who tragically passed away from suspected COVID-19 on April 23, at around 10.30pm. In the 5 days leading up to his death his he had an incredibly high fever, was delirious, and had not eaten. He should have taken time off work to rest and seek medical treatment but both his direct employer OCS and the Ministry of Justice refused to pay his wages if he missed a days work due to illness – even due to COVID-19. They also refused to pay him a living wage and only paid him £9.08 an hour. 

For fear he would be unable to pay his rent, buy food or support his family if he lost his wages, Emanuel felt left with no choice but to continue working without even being provided with a face mask at the MoJ and having to take cramped public transport. He worked until the day before he died. His death was reported in the Guardian here.

Emanuel’s death is a tragedy and a scandal and was entirely avoidable. Had he received a wage that allowed him to save a little and a sick pay scheme that allowed him to actually take sick leave he may still be with us today.

Now we are mourning his death and his family need support.

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Belly Mujinga – TSSA demands for staff safety

Following the death of railway worker Belly Mujinga who was employed by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) the TSSA union has spoken to members and reps at Victoria Station and across the company. Many are fearful for their safety.

TSSA is speaking to the company this morning (Thursday). In mourning the loss of Belly Mujinga and other frontline workers, TSSA makes the following demands to ensure greater protection of our members:

1. Feedback and concerns from staff must be taken seriously and risk assessments must not be signed off until health and safety reps, having had sufficient time to share with colleagues, are satisfied measures have been put in place to mitigate against the risks as much as is reasonable.
2. To keep staff working in the ticket office with social distancing measures and not expose members to further risk by insisting they work on the concourse.
3. Staff must at all times be kept at least two metres apart from each other and/or passengers. If this is not possible, for example when working in a crowded concourse, appropriate protection such as visors must be provided.
4. Staff must not be asked to clean Ticket Machines without protective equipment and certified cleaning products.
5. All those with underlying medical conditions to be stood down immediately.
6. Health surveillance procedures to be put in place to identify sick, asymptomatic and vulnerable workers previously unknown.
7. An investigation in to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BME frontline workers/workers of colour.
8. A full investigation into any assault of the staff, co-operating with any criminal investigation and a full internal investigation into the way this was handled by management.

Unions set out needs for safe reopening of schools in letter to Education Secretary

The TUC is today (Friday) publishing a joint statement that was sent yesterday evening to the Secretary of State for Education, on behalf of unions with members in the education sector, outlining the measures needed for the safe reopening of schools.

The statement from GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite sets out key principles and tests for the reopening of schools in England to ensure the safety of children, parents, staff and the communities they serve.

The principles and tests include (see notes for the full statement):

  • Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
  • No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
  • A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new covid-19 cases

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return.

“The government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out. Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers.

“The best way to do this is through a national taskforce for safe schools, with government, unions and education stakeholders. Schools must also get extra funds from government to pay for essential safety measures like PPE and additional cleaning.” Editors note

Full statement to the Secretary of State for Education:

Joint Statement on the Future Wider Reopening of Schools

GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON, Unite

Introduction

This joint statement sets out a number of key principles and tests that the school workforce unions believe are essential to have in place before any plans are taken forward to reopen schools in England more widely in the coming period.

The statement is on behalf of the education unions GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite. The unions believe that the government should commit to work with the unions and others to agree a set of principles and tests to ensure that systems are in place in schools for the safety of children, parents/carers, staff and the wider communities they serve, in advance of any planned reopening.

The wider reopening of our schools will depend greatly on ensuring that families and carers are fully confident that allowing their children to return to school is safe. We do not believe that sufficient levels of confidence exist at this time. However, we believe that meeting the following principles and tests will help to achieve this.

Key principles

·       The wider reopening of our schools will underpin efforts to restart the UK economy, but it is vital that the paramount consideration on this issue is the safety and welfare of students, their families, staff and the wider public. Schools are already playing a key role in supporting the continuing education of all children within their school, children of key workers, vulnerable children, and the maintenance of essential public services and industries. This will continue to be a priority under any planned wider reopening. However, an unsafe return will only serve to break the bond of trust between school and home and will hinder a successful long-term economic recovery. Schools are rooted in their communities and are subject to the same pressures as everyone else.

·       Public health considerations and the serious risks of increasing transmission rates of Covid-19 must be the primary criteria governing the strategy for wider reopening of our schools. There are a number of key tests that will need to be met prior to any final decision on increasing pupil numbers to combat the risk of an increase in transmission rates resulting from a premature wider reopening.

·       The wider reopening of schools will require agreement by employers and trade unions on a range of procedures to make sure schools are safe environments for children, their families and carers, and staff. These will include robust risk assessments in advance of schools reopening and the conduct of these assessments will be supported through the provision of clear national advice and guidance.

·       A strategic approach will require government to immediately establish a national Covid-19 education taskforce comprising government, the education trade unions and other key stakeholders. The taskforce should develop statutory guidance and a strategic approach to reopening schools at the local level.

·       Wider reopening will need careful consideration to achieving equitable outcomes, including the impact on the mental health and living standards of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and their families, and BAME groups. Communities facing the greatest challenges before the pandemic are being hit hardest by Covid-19 and our schools must be fully supported by government including with additional financial support as required to help them.

Key tests

·       There must be clear scientific published evidence that trends in transmission of Covid-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase and that schools are also safe to reopen. Government should also be in a position to assess that pupils, parents/carers and staff are confident that this is the case.

·       There should no increase in pupil numbers until the full rollout of the government’s “test, trace and isolate policy” with testing targets consistently met over a number of weeks and case numbers falling consistently. A wider reopening before such a regime is in place would be completely unviable and would risk increased transmission levels, and ultimately deaths. 

·       A phased approach should be kept under constant review with no expectation that more pupils will return before the science shows that this is safe.

·       There must be agreement between government, employers and unions that operational practices and procedures in schools meet minimum quantifiable standards, in particular regarding social distancing, hygiene and cleansing practices, a secure supply of appropriate PPE to all school settings to be available where required, including clear guidance on situations were physical contact with pupils cannot be avoided, and regular robust risk assessments.

·      Enhanced school cleaning with additional resources subject to risk assessment and all necessary PPE to keep them safe.

·       A phased return of pupils will be necessary and this will need to meet tests that the most vulnerable pupils are being prioritised and that the phased approach supports maintaining a safe environment and reduced transmission levels.

·       Governing Bodies and School leadership teams should continue to make decisions to close schools in cases of local outbreaks/upsurge in Covid-19 cases. Schools will need local data as part of the government’s testing and tracing strategy. Consultation with the unions is an important step in this process as is ensuring that decisions are taken in a way that complies with all relevant national guidance and advice on these matters.

·       Clear strategies for safeguarding the most vulnerable pupils and staff, including those who have an underlying condition, are pregnant, over 70 or in the shielded group, and those who live with (or care for) anyone in these categories. These pupils and staff should be allowed to self-isolate or work from home.

·       An assessment of the impact of wider school reopening on other key public services, in particular public transport and the risks for increased transmission rates in that context.

·       A clear commitment to collective negotiations with school unions on reopening and instances of local Covid-19 outbreaks or increased transmission levels.

TUC proposals on ensuring a safe return to work

In developing these proposals we note that a safe and effective return to work for all will first depend on the government acting to: 

  • Agree plans with unions for safe operation of public transport including comprehensive guidance to the public on safe public transport use.
  • Put in place national guidelines on the health and safety of those who have been advised to shield, are in a vulnerable group (including pregnant women) or who lives with and/or cares for someone who has been advised to shield or is in a vulnerable group. This should include continued protection from the Job Retention Scheme for those in this position.
  • Put in place a clear plan, agreed with unions, to safely re-open childminders, nurseries and schools on a phased basis. This should be accompanied by continued protection from the Job Retention Scheme for parents for whom continued school and childcare closures mean they cannot work. 

With work re-starting on a phased basis, and a new period of contract tracing and Covid-19 testing underway, further reform to the operation of the JRS to allow short-time working, alongside moves to increase the level and reach of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will also be necessary.

These points are discussed in full in the TUC’s wider earlier submission to BEIS.

Our proposals are also predicated upon government publishing consistent and high-quality sector specific workplace health and safety guidance, developed in consultation with unions and business, to support employers to undertake comprehensive health and safety risk assessments in advance of operations resuming. The TUC has been concerned to see the suggestion in some recent correspondence that the aim of sector specific guidance could be to ensure staff can be ‘made to feel sufficiently reassured on safe working practices without the provision of PPE‘ rather than focusing on which practices need to be put in place to secure safe working. 

Production of risk assessments

As the lockdown eases and staff return to work, the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 will require all employers with five or more employees to undertake a specific Covid-19 risk assessment. The TUC is concerned to ensure that this happens in every workplace across the country, and that all workers [1] are aware of their right to expect such an assessment to take place. Workers’ confidence in workplace safety will depend on comprehensive risk assessments being completed and complied with across every UK workplace and safe working systems being introduced as a result of those assessments. 

Employers are already legally required to consult with union health and safety representatives where a union is recognised. Health and safety reps are well-trained experts playing an important role in preventing illness, injury and death at work. Their role is recognised and protected under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and they have special legal rights to investigate workplace hazards, represent their colleagues and be consulted on changes to working practices.

All risk assessments in unionised workplaces should be produced in consultation with union representatives and actions to guarantee safe working should be agreed with unions.

In non-unionised workplaces wider workforce involvement should be sought in conducting risk assessments and putting safe working arrangements in place.

Black and ethnic minority workers have suffered disproportionate harm from the impact of Covid-19 and the NHS now advises that risk assessments must give specific consideration to BME workers. This approach must also be followed across the economy

Publication of risk assessments

The government should require not only the production of risk assessments (as per existing legislation) but also their publication. Again, this requirement should apply to all employers of more than five employees. Assessments should be made available on employers’ own websites and submitted to a government portal. They should be proactively shared with the workforce and made available to all employees. Risk assessments should be completed and submitted to the government portal before staff are expected to return to work.

Enforcement of publication should be the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), regardless of the sector of the employer and the workplace safety enforcement agency that usually applies.

This proposed process is comparable with that recently put in place for gender pay gap reporting, which is run by a relatively small team within the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) already publishes guidance and risk assessment templates on its website for all sizes of employers. These could easily and quickly be updated and promoted to ensure they are specific to the health and safety risks of the Covid-19 pandemic and the sector specific guidance referenced above. 

Enforcement

Proactive enforcement of these requirements must be a priority.

Regulatory responsibility for enforcing health and safety at work is split mainly between the HSE and local authorities. Local authorities have primary responsibility for most retail outlets and warehousing and distribution, with the HSE covering most other workplaces covered by the current BEIS safe working sectoral groups.

Our regulatory bodies face significant resource pressures. The HSE budget has been cut by a third over the last decade and local authorities’ capacity is under severe strain. Enabling these bodies to fulfil their enforcement role effectively will require an immediate and meaningful increase in resources for the Health and Safety Executive and local authority inspection capacity. This relatively small investment is vital to secure safe working, build confidence and restore growth.

All workplaces should be subject to spot checks from the HSE or local authorities. Regulatory bodies should establish a risk-based hierarchy of priority employers for physical inspection visits rather than relying solely upon telephone advice.

Employers who do not comply should face strict sanctions, including fines and ultimately government action to prevent their businesses operating until appropriate health and safety measures are in place. Persistent offenders should be prosecuted.

National enforcement forum

A national enforcement forum should be established to oversee the operation of safe working practices nationally. The forum would maintain an overview of operations across the economy, advise on national challenges and review enforcement of the approach. It should include representatives of government, the Health and Safety Executive, local authorities, Public Health England, unions and business.

The forum should follow the approach in Northern Ireland where such a forum advises and supports government in protecting the safety of workers. In Northern Ireland the forum is attended by representatives from unions, business, local councils, government, the Public Health Agency and the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland.

The operation of the national forum should be practically supported by regional approaches involving government, unions and business along with regional Health and Safety Executive officers.

Informing the public

These measures must be supported by a fully-funded, high profile national information campaign that seeks to set out the public’s health and safety rights including the requirement that every employer produces and publishes a Covid-19 risk assessment in line with sector specific public health guidance. This must be supported by a single reporting route (online and a phone line), operated by the HSE. The HSE should triage all reports, including anonymous reports, and allocate them for investigation to the appropriate body. It must collate all reports and the action taken by all enforcement agencies into one report, available monthly, to inform the national enforcement forum’s work.

Workers and employers must also be reminded of the existing right of workers to refuse to work in situations that present serious and imminent danger to them, their colleagues or members of the public, and not to suffer detriment if they do so.

BA mass sackings of its UK workforce is immoral and possibly illegal its time to act

British Airways (BA) announced that it is to make 12,000 UK workers at the airline redundant. This is without any consultation with the UK’s aviation unions. This is within the backdrop of BA parent owner IAG having secured over a billion euros in funding to save its sister airlines Aer Lingus, Iberia, Level, Vueling, and IAGcargo. None of which so far has seen anywhere near the number of redundancies announced by Alex Cruz CEO of BA. What is also interesting is that Wille Walsh, Chief Executive of IAG, has not stopped the billion euro purchase or Air Europa.   

BA through its action so far has shown that it had no intentions whatsoever to stick to the principles laid out by Rishi Sunak when the chancellor launched the UK job retention scheme in April. A scheme that BA has taken full advantage of, and let’s not forget, is funded exclusively by the UK taxpayer.

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The US-UK trade deal is happening. Take action to stop it!

It is happening. The UK is starting formal US trade deal negotiations today. The deal will be built on an agenda of deregulation, privatisation and ‘corporate courts’, all with the same aim – big business profits, whatever the cost to people and planet.

Under the ‘pro-corporate power’ agendas of both US President Trump and UK Prime Minister Johnson, this deal will pull the UK into the regulatory orbit of the US, lowering our social, health and environmental standards – unless we stop it.

Will you take action to stop it, by writing to your MP today?