Is The CWU About To Emulate British Business And Slash
There is no doubt that right now with the Tory Government's policies on Trade Unions and continued attacks on working people's lives and their support for Brexit in order to cut worker's rights and legislation along with Health and Safety at Work and both food and environmental standards; that Trade Unions are not finding life easy at the moment.
Whilst it can be argued that there is a need for greater resources to be ploughed into Trade Union Health Safety Departments, finances are critical for many of them.
Hence the current exercise called Re-Design which is currently centred on streamlining the Union's HQ staffing levels and Departmental structures, even before any proposed changes to the Union's national, regional and branch structures have been formally proposed and fully decided upon by the membership via CWU Branches across the UK.
But, with the cutting of the health and safety department's budget yet again, even though it is the smallest budget of all departments, the merger of the H&S department with the Legal Dept and the unprecedented 'X' marking of all H&S props bar three to this year's conference, and the exclusion of a Safety Reps category in the new CWU National Awards; is the CWU about to behave like British business and slash health and safety support and training in a cost cutting exercise?
Furthermore, the well-established Regional H&S Co-ords, Area Safety Reps and Branch USR Coordinators are also in the firing line as can be seen from page 8 pictured further down this page; of the Re-Design briefing document discussed at a senior reps meeting held in London last week.
Even more crucial of course is the issue of lost expertise and the affects on the current education programme which ensure the CWU has some of the highest educated and effective Union safety Reps within all of the TUC affiliated Trade Unions. After all, if regional health and safety structures are done away with along with the H&S Dept, the next argument will be: do we actually still need the level of health and safety education we currently enjoy?
The effectiveness of the CWU Health & Safety Dept and the benefit to all CWU members and indeed the general public, is exemplified by the highly successful Dangerous Dogs Campaign that has resulted in changes to laws to now ensure owners of dangerous dogs are prosecuted which did not exist before the Union's campaign led by the CWU's National Health and Safety Officer. Successful lobbying by the CWU of MPs, stake holders and animal welfare groups, would not have happened if we did not have the resources of a dedicated Health & Safety Dept to do so, all be it; limited as it has been for years.
Even so, and despite this great achievement, the latest cuts to the department's budget has already had a negative effect on the Dangerous Dogs campaign because the department can now not afford to send out to Branches the latest research documentation, or indeed resources to help Branch's further the work of the CWU on this and other key H&S issues.
Re-Design should be the creation of benefit and opportunities to become the most effective Trade Union on ALL fronts of Trade Union activity NECESSARY to benefit all of it's members.
So it is incumbent upon those proposing the merger of the Health & Safety dept with that of Legal and Medical, and the decision to slash an already small budget; to answer these questions:
1. Who is going to lead on health and safety with our employers, do the H&S specific research, co-ordinate and promote Health & Safety campaigns, represent the CWU on the TUC's Health and Safety Committee, interface with other Unions and organisations, after we have ditched the expertise and the dedicated department?
2. USRs and our members will want to know how merging the Health & Safety Dept and getting rid of regional health & safety structures will not damage the Union's ability to promote and lead on H&S issues, and to "Punch well above it's weight" ?
3. Will Branch's and national occupational officers keep up with current H&S legislation, and existing national health & Safety agreements with our employers and ensure it is part of local and national negotiations? History shows that will not happen?
4. How will new and advanced health & safety agreements be negotiated with CWU member's employers?
Or is the answer simply that the CWU can't afford as a Union to support and promote health and safety at work any longer?!
Why does this all matter you may ask?
The history of Trade Unions show clearly that they started not as a group of workers demanding higher pay, but with the issue of unsafe working practices, long working hours and endemic deaths and injuries amongst children and adult workers in British factories.
Today, the death toll at work is still a major issue for Trade Unions along with long-term injuries and life threatening illnesses such as mesothelioma, workplace stress and anxiety, Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), heart disease. Whilst suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 with many causes including work related stress!
Health and Safety is a Trade Union issue that requires a dedicated and educated resource of safety reps, that even Governments recognised by bringing in the Union Safety Reps and Safety Committees Regs as well as the Health and Safety At Work Act.
The TUC states that the 100,000 Trade Union Safety Reps in this country are the reason why Companies were they are active and TUs are involved, are 50% safer, with less ill-health, less accidents and greater productivity than those without!
You wouldn't ask a clerical person in hospital to perform an operation rather than use someone with years of training and experience, and whilst that analogy may be seen by most as an exaggeration; in reality getting rid of the Health and Safety structures within CWU HQ and above Branch level is, tantamount to the same thing. Experts and educated reps will find their work compromised and with even less priority than they already have when it comes to resources and facility time.
Despite the USR Regs making it clear that H&S reps facilities are separate from that of IR facilities, just how many non-USR Branch Officers know this and exclude H&S time from IR time in their negotiations with local management?
Why has the Government been allowed to get away with enacting a Trade Union Law that is in direct conflict with Health & Safety facilities as outlined in the USR Regs?
Branch's are under resourced and under pressure from the employer like never before and, as history has shown us, we can see by the lack of health and safety motions from branch's due to limitations of the number of motions that can be submitted to conference, that pure occupational issues take the priority over H&S every time.
That is one of the reasons why the Union brought in the ability of H&S Co-ords to submit motions themselves and in their names in addition to Branch's. The assertions made about them on page 8 of the Re-Design booklet are simply untrue!
Time and again we are told by national officers that the CWU 'punches well above it's weight' and that is certainly true when it comes to Health & Safety!
Health & Safety Campaigns, involvement with Government and HSE consultations, along with environmental and health issues are promoted by a Union which has a very small H&S Dept, but rich with expertise in Branches and Regions. The Union has a strong voice within the TUC and indeed the HSE. The department has won awards and the CWU praised for its promotion of health and safety by the HSE!
So how will those campaigns, education of our USRs on a weekly basis, promotion of H&S activity in the wider trade union movement and in the community, not to mention the EU and as a result of Brexit the greater need to use political arguments and the lobbying of MPs and business organisations - oh and the most successful campaign of all - Dangerous Dogs; continue after Re-design is used as an excuse to shred the Health & Safety Dept and by default, minimise even further, the priority of Health and Safety in the Union?
The argument for Re-Design and the need for political activity is a truly valid one, but why does that exclude political activity on Health and Safety issues?
Because what is being planned is turning Health and Safety into a compensation-led and reactionary issue via the Legal Dept of the Union rather than actively pursuing a pro-active prevention of deaths at work, deterioration of workplace environments, unhealthy terms and conditions and the curtailing of the current appalling levels of in-work sickness that has become endemic within the majority of workplaces in the UK!
On the wider issue of environmental and food safety issues, how will the CWU play its part in forging ahead of the pack, "punching above it's weight"; and being a committed Trade Union to the health, safety and welfare of working people and indeed generally lobbying to improve the health and environment of the country?
The clear answer to that is, it won't do!
If a Trade Union cannot look after the health, safety and welfare of it's members, then it's reason for existence is questionable as is it's effectiveness in protecting the interest of its members.
With successive Governments attacking H&S, the threat of Brexit which will facilitate Tory governments to be able to slash the Working Time Directive, the work environment and the environment in general, now is the time when only a Trade Union lacking in commitment to those issues would cut its Health and Safety organisation and budget!
The signal to our employers is clear - health and safety is not a priority for this Union.
We continually accuse employers of having no commitment to health and safety because of their cost cutting exercises when it comes to health and safety training, job creation and environmental cuts and short cutting of procedures in the workplace
Yet, here is the CWU which claims to be leading the way for other Trade Unions, adopting the same employer tactic!
Already, the environment in which discussions about Re-Design is taking place, is being soured with accusations against anyone suggesting that Re-Design should be questioned in terms of its implementation, despite little being publicly admitted to by CWU HQ as it cuts into the organisation at CWU HQ level, which in itself will present the Union's Branches with a fait accompli when it comes to re-organising HQ and the abolishment of departments.
One recent debate is an example of how disingenuous people are being when accusing those with genuine concerns about health & safety as 'thinking in silos' and 'protecting vested interests' and that 'health and safety is a specialist subject' issue or a 'niche subject' - a bit like train spotting!
The current thinking of those 'engineering' Re-Design appears to mirror the attitudes that for so many years health and safety reps have suffered at the Union's annual conferences - one of rejecting and dismissing health and safety as a key Trade Union issue as delegates in droves, emptied the conference floor and whilst the SOC slashed the timing and duration of H&S policy debates.
Whilst the environment at Conference has improved when it comes to health and safety debates and fewer delegates leaving the floor of conference during such debates, this year sees an unprecedented rejection via the 'X' Marking of Health and Safety motions by the Standing Orders Committee, at a time when it appears Re-Design is being used to slash the H&S Dept and above Branch level health and safety structures.
No fewer than 23 motions have been rejected, of which 13 are Health and Safety Motions out of a total of 16 submitted by Regional Co-ords and Branches, leaving only 3 motions on the Agenda in section 7 Health, Safety and Environment – wholly unprecedented in this Union!
Time for honesty in the debate is being called for, well let's be frank and brutally honest, health & safety has always been seen as a pain in the arse at best; and negated from occupational issues and agreements at worst.
Still today, health and safety reps in Branches, and at national level are too often seen as 'pedantic and jobs-worth types in the form of anorak wearing individuals', or 'Health and safety fascists' as their Branches buy into the right wing media attacks on health & safety legislation and concerns.
Whilst the SOC is an independent body from the NEC, it would be totally naïve not to accept that it too comes under pressure from the ruling body of the Union; and that given the acute reasons for Re-Design in the first place; any perceived threats to what is already planned for the rationing of departments, across all areas of Union activity including Annual Conference, would be neutralised.
Having a Conference agenda packed with health and safety motions, does not exactly accord with the current plans to subsume the Health and Safety Dept into the confines of the Legal Department.
Why you may ask?
One of the main arguments appears to be that H&S issues are not so plentiful these days and that occupational Officers both at national and branch level can adequately include health & safety in their negotiations with the employer at both levels.
Let's just look at one working environment - call centres - to see how the record stands with occupational officers dealing predominantly with terms and conditions, job design and environmental factors such as lighting, heating and design of desks, chairs and tech hardware. Indeed, health and safety reps and officers have, in the main, been kept well away from negotiations in this area of employer activity.
The UK has some of the worst records of stress at work in call centre environments and sick absence levels, than the rest of Europe. Stress at work, anxiety, depression and yes, even work-related suicide; are all serious manifestations of working in a call centre environment. But such issues pertain equally in most working environments in the UK currently.
Furthermore, the introduction of tracking of individual Postal personnel on deliveries and on their rounds using GSM technology, could if not influenced by the Union's Health and Safety Dept, result in further mental health issues in the not too distant future.
Indeed it can be argued that workplace bullying and stress (both health and safety issues) has been one of the key reasons for the need for a national campaign such as the Four Pillars to address the state of workplaces and management style our members have had to endure.
Indeed, in that campaign, USR's have been an excellent resource for Branch's in putting over the CWU arguments in favour of voting for industrial action.
In the case of the scheduling of work breaks for those working on display screens, call queues and dual working as in the call-centre environment, the Union's Occupational Officers were forced to acquiesce to the employer’s demands that scheduling of rest breaks is a necessity and thereby removing the right of the individual to take a break before the onset of fatigue.
Endemic work related stress, anxiety and other mental health problems as BT's system of working was replicated in other company call centres. Getting back from that position and improving matters has been most difficult and almost impossible to do.
USRs were left to pick up the pieces of badly negotiated agreements the health and safety dept were kept out of as health & safety concerns and remedies were not fully explored by occupational officers who do not have the knowledge that USRs and H&S experts within the Union have.
Both stress at work and musculoskeletal disorders remain the two major health issues which cause early retirement from work, or should we say it as it is, being sacked for lack of competency and in many cases causing long-term illness and poverty.
Again the whole issue of HR Departments riding roughshod over the health of employees, thereby creating an 'unhealthy' workforce and by the use of sick absence warnings forcing sick people into work under threat of dismissal; making people sicker than they otherwise world be. The UK has amongst the worst sickness levels in Europe and the lowest productivity. This needs to be tackled properly, and challenged!
Yet, any CWU health and safety rep can tell you the reasons for that, but no one appears to be listening!
With the introduction of work management tools such as laptops, PDAs and GSM tracking, stress levels at work will continue to rise as will MSDs and accident figures.
The frequency of which employers such as BT are finding themselves in court for breach of Health & Safety law, is a clear indication of the need for a robust TU organisation to tackle such employers head-on, and are reasons why health and Safety within Trade Unions in general and the CWU in particular needs to be prioritised, resourced appropriately and far from being slashed, be expanded. For instance, there is no national Health & Safety Advisory Committee, nor a Health & Safety Conference that the advisory committees currently have. It is time for both to be realised.
The fact is that, just as in the 1700s, at the birth of the TU movement, health and safety at work remains the one major issue that Trade Unions need to address, and none is more important an issue than that!
Furthermore, health and safety is a huge recruiting tool that many USR's use to recruit new members on their rounds and when involved in recruitment exercises. Indeed, one Branch officer in the North West found that whenever health and safety was introduced in recruitment classes, the success rate of recruiting Unions members went up quite markedly
Yet, nationally, health & Safety is not even mentioned in recruitment material, campaigns, or by recruiting officers.
It has been denied numerous times already that the concept of Re-design is about cost cutting, yet when it comes to the 're-design' of health and safety structures and priorities for the Union, cost cutting is indeed the only tenable argument for the abolition of the H&S Dept and of above Branch level structures in this Union.
Furthermore, and the most damning of all is the paragraph to the left taken from the Re-Design booklet circulated to Branches which shows the shocking level of ignorance of health and safety amongst those putting Re-Design together, and the disdain with which health and safety is clearly viewed at CWU HQ.
This paragraph is blatantly and factually incorrect - we have just, celebrated 40 YEARS of safety reps!! They had been around some 23 years at least prior to Regional structures of the CWU being developed. Indeed, the CWU is only 27 years old!!
This is clear proof that the CWU appears to have a totally dismissive approach to the main issue that affects our members now and in their future after Brexit - their health and safety protection and working rights. In reality, such wording as shown in the pic above, could be directly out of the mouth of an employer's HR manager!
It seems, the CWU is happy to join the ranks of bad employers who cut health and safety budgets in order to save on costs!
Not so sure that is a message the CWU should be sending to employers and indeed the TUC and other Trade Unions.
After all is said and done, if a Trade Union cannot adequately fight to protect the health, safety and welfare of it's members, the one issue on which the Trade Union movement was built; then it's reason for existence is questionable as is it's effectiveness in protecting the interests of its members.
Source: CWU / TUC / HSE