Health & safety

Civil service ballots close 5 and 11 March

Our industrial action ballots at DLVA Swansea, and in 12 courts across the UK, are continuing. Our members there are balloting over workplace safety concerns. Those ballots close on 11 March and 5 March respectively. Our aim is to speak to every member who’s being balloted. Where reps can safely have those conversations in person, in the workplace, they will. But we’re also mounting a phone-banking operation to ensure every member is spoken to, to remind them about the ballot and the importance of voting. That effort will be run by activist volunteers, with support from union officials and...

Social care: only a fully public system will do

Recent Covid data has underlined the alarming state of social care in the UK. Yet the biggest union of social care workers, Unison, has responded by allying with the very people overseeing this dire situation. Not that far off a quarter of the UK’s virus-connected deaths so far, over 26,000, have been in care homes. That includes over 7,000 this year. Meanwhile between March and December there were 79 deaths per 100,000 social care workers, as opposed to 31.4 among workers in general (among women, 35.9 vs 16.8). Among frontline care home and home care workers, the figures were 109.9 for men...

Defend NEU activists, stop the victimisations!

When trying to keep your workplace safe during the pandemic, when what you do could save lives, how would you expect your boss to respond? Maybe with some appreciation or a grudging “thank you”? The reality in many cases is that union reps are facing bullying and harassment for trade union activity during the pandemic. Louise Lewis of Kirklees National Education Union, John Boken of Shropshire NEU, Tracy McGuire of Darlington NEU, and Kirstie Paton of Greenwich NEU are just four of the activists who are currently facing victimisation for supporting staff and for raising safety issues during...

Making buildings safe in future

Jon Wharnsby, North East London area secretary for the Fire Brigades Union, spoke to Solidarity. Under the cover of resolving the issue of dangerous cladding, the Tories are hitting working-class people twice over. On one hand, there’s an arbitrary limit of 18m on the height of buildings for which grants will be available. Home-owners in buildings below that will have to take out thousands in government loans. On the other hand they’re paying out £3.5bn to companies to do the work on taller buildings, so we’re all paying as tax-payers too. There will be a levy on developers but it will only...

Workers' control, not reliance on HSE

The official Health and Safety Executive has had 179,873 Covid-related cases since the start of the pandemic, but has brought not a single prosecution against an employer. It has issued only 218 “enforcement notices” (“please fix this within 21 days” type things). HSE inspectors are pretty much unable to halt work activities because the HSE classifies the virus only as a “significant” risk, not a “serious” one. Back in the spring 2020 lockdown, the HSE stopped workplace inspections altogether (until 20 May 2020), with the mind-spinning rationale that the workplaces it might inspect were too...

School cleaners docked pay

The United Voices of the World union is asking supporters to email the headteacher of La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School in south west London, and the boss of the company to which it outsources cleaning, to protest at the withdrawal of pay from 13 cleaners at the school. The cleaners exercised their rights under Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act to refuse unsafe work. UVW says that after weeks of pressure, cleaners resumed work on 8 February. Ecocleen, the outsourced cleaning contractor, had agreed to implement “improved supply of PPE and hand gel, staggered start and finish...

DVLA ballot starts 18 February (John Moloney's column)

On 18 February, PCS will begin balloting our members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea for strikes over health and safety concerns. Bosses there have forced workers to work in unsafe conditions, with more than 2,000 workers coming into work. There have been over 500 positive Covid cases at the site since September 2020. The ballot will close on 11 March. In the meantime, we have written to every member to remind them of their Section 44 rights to refuse unsafe work. We’re continuing to press the Department for Transport, the UK government, the Welsh...

Diary of a paramedic: Filing yet another report

I returned to the road last week after a couple of months off recovering from Covid, most probably caught at work from a patient. More than half the patients we were seeing before Christmas had symptoms. The numbers are noticeably lower on my return, and workload has reduced generally, though not compared to the first lockdown, when the streets were very quiet and everybody wanted to stay away from hospitals. There seemed to be an increase in calls to community cardiac arrests back then, as people got really sick at home but were scared to contact health services. I catch up on who is off work...

Ballot coming in DVLA

We are moving towards a ballot of our members working at the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] complex in Swansea. Safety measures there have been totally inadequate and thousands of people still being compelled to come into the workplace. This is unacceptable, a view shared by members who in a meeting on 2 February voted 80% for industrial action. Barring a complete climbdown by the employer, we’ll proceed with a ballot as quickly as possible given the legal restrictions and requirements around notice periods and so on. This is yet another example of how the anti-strike laws function...

Demands for DVLA (John Moloney's column)

PCS held an emergency meeting with senior managers from the Department for Transport on Friday 29 January, to discuss the situation at the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] complex in Swansea. Thousands of workers are still being compelled to come into the workplace even though the safety measures are totally inadequate. We’ve demanded a massive reduction in the number of staff working in the offices; we want that brought down to the bare minimum. The union will meet the department again on 2 February and we’ll put their response to a virtual members’ meeting the following day. If...

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