2023-08-25 13:09

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General Conference 24th to 26th April - Bournemouth
Health, Safety and Environment

Report by Derek Maylor, NW BTU Health and Safety Co-ord member and H&S Officer CWU Greater Mersey Amal Branch

There are increasing numbers of mental health related issues within workplaces, and it is a growing concern for the CWU and the Trade Union movement generally. The CWU mental health strategy provides reps with training to support our members but this is not enough if mental health issues affect workers and subject them to formal disciplinary procedures.

Often adjustments requested under the Equality Act 2010 when conditions are long term or affect someone’s day to day activity very rarely equate to consideration being given or applied in outcomes of formal disciplinary cases. Jamie went to the rostrum to put Branch concerns to conference, the CWU should take the lead and not be following, conference agreed and instructed the NEC to campaign with the TUC and all associated bodies to include specific details on how workers with mental health issues should be protected in the world of work and seek inclusion in future changes to Equality legislation.

It was quite apparent that many of those dying in the COVID-19 pandemic have been people with disabilities leading to disproportionate and devastating effects on those with mental health issues during the pandemic. This was exacerbated by the chaotic, even contradictory Government guidelines for workers shielding because of health conditions and the lack of adequate statutory sick pay for those having to take time off whether for themselves or others in their household.

Branch friends from Greater London Combined moved a motion saying that the underlying problems that the pandemic exposed for workers with disabilities along with long-term inadequate funding for mental health support because of ‘austerity’ economics and the erosion of employees’ rights to sick pay across the economy because of attacks on union organisation and rights.

Conference agreed to support the TUC campaign for proper sick pay for all, to support increase in provision and funding for services for those with mental health issues at this difficult time and to ensure that the experience of workers with disabilities is included in trade union submission to any official public enquiries.

The climate emergency is not only the single greatest challenge facing our country, it is also our single greatest opportunity to build a more just and prosperous future and we need to act now to transition away from fossil fuels and clean up our environment. This can be done by ensuring that existing industries can transition to a clean future while creating new secure, unionised jobs of the future. If we take the initiative and help British businesses and workers prepare, we can secure new jobs in every part of the country. It was agreed that we should do all we can to back a flourishing, homegrown manufacturing sector, as well as a thriving energy industry with security of supply: led by renewables, nuclear and other low carbon energy sources.

Image: Conference floor

After more than a decade in power the Conservative Government have failed to build the efficient homes, strengthened flood defences, and resilient natural habitats necessary to tackle the climate crisis. Their lack of action and empty promises are putting people, nature, and our economy at risk.

We need to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution to take on the climate and ecological crisis, at every opportunity with all other relevant organisations who share this vision exposing the failings of the current Government to meet their own inadequate targets, to reach net zero. We will support a clear strategy to reduce the vast majority of UK emissions by 2030, acting to protect our planet and our children’s futures, while seizing the economic benefits that come with a fairer, greener economy, ensuring that that the economic benefits of decarbonisation are felt here at home – with good, unionised jobs spread fairly across the country. However, the motion on this was remitted due to the references to nuclear power (first paragraph), loosely, this mean that the Executive can take out and act on the good bits of the motion but dispense or ignore the bad bits.

Our Branch Retired Members Section have previously raised concern over the end of the PSTN telephone network in the UK which will close by the end of 2025. This closure of this network could lead to associated costs for all telephony users, costs which could particularly affect those on lower wages. The motion on this was accepted without even going to conference so it was agreed to mount a campaign that ensures that telecom providers immediately inform their customers of any likely impact this network closure will have.

Image: Health & Care Act 2022 - too late to oppose as was law a few days later!It was recognised that the proposed Health and Care Bill 2021 is not fit for purpose. The Bill, rather than solving the problems facing the NHS, will simply provide increased access for the private sector into the NHS. This will be detrimental to taxpayers who fund the NHS and to NHS workers whose terms and conditions of employment are likely to be further eroded while providing no realistic benefit to patients.

The Bill extends proposals contained within the 2012 bill including Ministerial Powers to intervene at local level and provision for the sharing of personal medical information, including to private health partners. The suitable provider clause allows private operators to provide services formerly provided by the NHS whilst Integrated Care Systems will have full financial autonomy and the power to decide which healthcare services they will provide. There are no proposals to address the current staff shortages within the NHS or the impact this will have on current or proposed services.

The CWU will use every means at their disposal to oppose this bill including the use of our internal resources in alerting membership to the dangers this bill represents and work with affiliated organisations including the TUC and the Labour Party to oppose this Bill.

(Ed note: The Bill was passed in Parliament 25th April, and became the Health & Care Act 2022 on 28th April)

The lifesaving work of the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) is inspirational. Their mission is to help people identify the early signs of domestic abuse, make decisions for a better life and to make domestic abuse socially unacceptable. Before the Centre was operational, the Police and victims faced two problems when using local firms of solicitors to obtain non-molestation orders.

Generally, solicitors were only willing to accept clients that were either eligible for public funding or clients who could afford to pay privately, thus leaving all those people ‘not eligible’ with no access to funds, unprotected.

Image CWU General Conference AgendaThe other main issue was that solicitors were taking between two days and two weeks to get the client into court and obtain the order. The NCDV were convinced that victims of domestic violence and abuse could be daunted by the vast amount of various legal agencies offering to assist. They saw the need for a one-stop-shop where the concerns of those in an abusive situation could be addressed in their language and on their terms. This streamlined service, could and should be free and accessible to everybody.

The NCDV is targeted at the rapid relief of domestic violence and abuse. The majority of cases referred to the NCDV will result in a speedy action to the civil courts. They also provide services providing alternative refuge accommodation, and legal protection for children caught up in abusive or failing relationships. The NVCDV is completely self-funding and the solicitors provide pro-bono case work for those suffering from domestic violence and abuse.

The problem of domestic violence is personal and largely invisible the NCDV provides a free and fast service to those suffering from domestic violence and abuse regardless of their financial status, race, gender or sexual orientation. The CWU will nationally affiliate to the NCDV in order to recognise and support the important work they do to support victim of domestic violence and abuse as will all regions and branches of the CWU in order to recognise and support the important work they do to help victims of domestic violence and abuse, highlighting the important work the NCDV provides assisting victims of domestic violence and abuse signposting victims to the services that NCDV provide via their website, the information and help they provide regarding domestic violence and abuse for both male and female victims, these affiliations to be completed by the end of 2022.

The last two years have been extremely difficult and challenging not only for our members but also our reps and there has been a toll on the mental health of the nation and reps. Currently employers are under no obligation to provide mental health first aiders and therefore we will work with the Labour Party and other unions to promoting mental health awareness and resources to help, push for better funding for mental health support and into updating legislation to ensure that there is a legal requirement for Mental Health First Aiders in each workplace.

There has been a lot of important work that has been undertaken by the CWU over a number of years in relation to mental health including the setting up of a national Mental Health Project Team which raised the profile and awareness of mental health and trained representatives in Mental Health First Aid and Awareness, Jamie from our Branch is one of the twelve Mental Health First Aid Tutors.

In order to continue to take this work forward we will assist the regions to develop their own mental health priorities to build and consolidate peer to peer support networks within regions and branches who can build links with local mental health charities and organisations. Chris’s excellent contribution from the rostrum helped to get this motion unanimously supported.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with around 52,300 new cases every year and one in Eight men will develop prostate cancer in their lives whilst black males will have a 1 in 4 chance of developing prostate cancer. Men with a family history of prostate cancer will also have a higher risk and the over 50s figure highly at risk as well. This not only has a devastating effect on the lives of those diagnosed, but also their families. If caught early enough the impact can often be far less severe, it is therefore imperative that a screening program is introduced in the UK.

A simple PSA blood test can detect the early signs of prostate cancer, and men aged 50 and over, have the right to request this test from their General Practitioner. This test is however, not a GP mandatory requirement and is not therefore offered universally, even for men aged fifty and above. Many men are unaware of the availability of the PSA test. The union will raise awareness amongst members by all means reasonable. Additionally, we will work with the wider trade union movement in campaigning to have prostate cancer screening introduced for all men over 50 and those who fall within higher risk categories in all parts of the UK developing CWU policy highlighting the importance of taking PSA tests.

Image: J GrangeIn an inspirational session a young rapper J.Grange spoke passionately about neurodiversity, its effect on his life and how he has taken its creative side and has now addressed all UK legislative bodies, spoken at the UN, is regularly in the media on the subject of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) this is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity which interferes with functioning or development.

During the COVID19 pandemic, the deaf community were excluded from the regular government public press briefings to update the nation in England.

At no time were there any BSL interpreters on stage or available remotely. Some branches supported the campaign “Where is the Interpreter” which is currently working with disability lawyers to hold the government to account Even at COP26, there were no BSL interpreters for such an important event. We will publicly support Where is the Interpreter campaign for all present and future campaigns.

Redesign brought Equality to the table making it mainstream can only benefit our members moving forward, and with the addition of the Equality Leads making decisions at the heart of our union and this is a positive step. However, there is concern that there could be issues around what is involved in the roles of Equality Officers, Disability Champions and other Equality Leads so there will be a study into the work the holders are expected to undertake to ensure these key roles are not lost and the members undertaking the roles feel valued and know where they sit in Redesign.

The HSE updates and advice for employers on suicides do not go anywhere far enough as they fail to include work-related suicides to be reported under the reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) resulting in work-related suicide and its risk factors will remain outside the HSE’s investigation, inspection and enforcement plans. The CWU will campaign with the TUC, other trade unions and likeminded bodies to make work-related suicide reportable under RIDDOR.

Image: Gen Sec Dave Ward at rostrumDave Ward went to the rostrum to deliver an update on the major TUC demonstration in London on June 18 “New Deal for Workers” and the CWU is aiming for 10,000 to 13,000 and the TUC are targeting 250,000 plus.

CWU expects all officers and staff, all regional officials and branch officials, retired members along with as many local reps and members as possible, bring families and friends. If any Branch is struggling financial appeal to Head Office. Bring a friend who’s not in the union.

There is a growing TUC strategy for this day and there will be a national briefing in May. There will be targeted merchandise from Head Office (could the Branch get a new light weight banner?). There is a lot going done with possible industrial action on top of this but much of that is the reason why we need a new deal.

One in four pregnancies in the UK will tragically result in miscarriage or stillbirth but if the miscarriage occurs before the twenty-fourth week, mothers and fathers are not entitled to statutory paid leave. Abi addressed conference with an emotional personal experience, welcoming the Bereavement Leave and Pay (stillborn and miscarriage) Bill, introduced to Parliament in October 2021. This would guarantee mothers and fathers a full week’s statutory paid leave following miscarriage and baby loss. Additionally, there may be scope for the CWU to negotiate with RM/BT Group to further enhance their special leave policies and grant paid leave to mothers and fathers faced with miscarriage and baby loss. We will lobby government to support the Bill and ensure that branches have access to the most up to date information on this issue.

image: CWU Lighthouse logoThe Branch has previously recognised that support was needed for reps when there is a suicide of a colleague where work was a causational factor and Jamie spoke to conference on this topic.

The union will design and introduce a robust suicide response checklist for potential use and guidance in all our workplaces, this is to provide the right type of guidance for members, reps and Mental Health First Aiders colleagues who have been affected by a workplace bereavement or work colleague bereavement linked to suicide.

Mark went to the rostrum to second the Branch motion in an emotive debate, conference noted that it is now over four years since Liverpool Bishop, James Jones, published his review of the brutal experiences of the Hillsborough families at the hands of the system.

The Government is still to provide a formal response. Bishop James’ powerful report ‘The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power’ contains 25 recommendations which together would form the basis of a comprehensive reform of the system.

The most significant of these are:

  • A charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy which should be binding on all public bodies.

  • A statutory duty of candour on all police officers – and other identified public servants – which applies during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.

  • Proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly funded legal representation and an end to limitless legal spending by public bodies. There is a case for parity of legal funding to create a level playing field in courtrooms.

A Public Advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.

Since that report was written, there have been further issues identified, including the collapse of Hillsborough trials meaning that today, despite a Coroner’s verdict ruling that the 97 victims of the 1989 disaster were unlawfully killed, nobody has been held to account for their deaths. The Hillsborough Law Now Campaign are calling for the following changes to be enshrined in law:

  • A requirement that the evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trials.
  • Clarification in law that major inquiries commissioned by government or other official bodies constitute ‘courses of public justice’.
  • A requirement that any criminal trials following a major inquest take place in a court with relevant expertise and status, rather than a crown court.

The CWU will give as much support as possible, to the Hillsborough Law Now Campaign, together with all other relevant people, bodies and organisations, including the Labour Party and other Trade Unions, to ensure that all the aims of the campaign are met and introduced into the Justice System, as a matter of urgency.

Although employers collect information of employees that have been exposed to asbestos and add this information to their company’s asbestos exposure registers and the employees’ personal record there have been occasions when these records have been accessed to assist employees diagnosed with Asbestosis, and the information held on record has been found to be inaccurate or not up to date, which causes unnecessary stress for the member, particularly if they have left or retired from the company.

We will work with the Labour Party, TUC, and other national and regional asbestosis exposure support organisations to lobby the government to ensure that all employers records of employees exposed to asbestos are regularly updated, checked for accuracy, and are recorded on a national government database, which can be easy to access by all the employees who are on the database.

Source: Derek Maylor / unionsafety: additional images

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