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Usdaw accuses the Coalition of attacking the right to be safe at work

Date: 27 September 2010 The shopworkers Union Usdaw has accused the coalition Government of attacking the most fundamental of workers rights - the right to be safe at work.

Moving the Rights at Work motion at the Labour Party Annual Conference in Manchester, Usdaw General Secretary John Hannett said:

"People occasionally get killed at work. It's unfortunate but it's part of life. These are not my words, but the words of Lord Young.

He was Margaret Thatcher's hatchet man, a man whose views were shaped by a bygone age, an age when working people were deemed to be expendable. But this is the man now resurrected by David Cameron as the Government's Chief Advisor on health and safety.

Lord Young needs to know this is not an occasional problem. Over 20,000 people die each year because of their work. That is not unfortunate. It is tragic.

I represent people who work on the frontline of retail. Every day they are there to help the shopping public and give a good service. Most of the time, that is a pleasant experience for both parties. But sometimes shopworkers face verbal abuse, threats and even violence.

The Tories claim that shops and offices are safe workplaces, that they don't need health and safety inspections. It's true that they don't have the obvious hazards of a chemical factory, or an oil rig, but there are hidden dangers. Like so many other public facing workers, those dangers tend to come from other people.

That is why I launched Usdaw's Freedom from Fear campaign and that is why we are backing the Bill that Hugh Henry is taking through the Scottish Parliament to extend Labour's protection for emergency service workers to all public facing workers. Violence against staff is never acceptable in any workplace.

As soon as the Tories and Lib Dems got into power, they attacked the most fundamental workplace right - the right to be safe. The Tories, because they are ideologically committed to putting profit before people and the Lib Dems, because they are ideologically committed to clinging to their ministerial limos.

They justify their attacks by peddling myths and misinformation. But the truth is that one in ten shopworkers are assaulted every year. Every minute of every day a shopworker is verbally abused. And 1.2 million workers suffer from a work related illness.

We must keep independent workplace inspections, we must resource rigorous enforcement of the law and we must protect all public facing workers. Protect them from the dangers of the workplace and from the dangers of the coalition Government."

Notes for Editors:

1. Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest trade union, with over 390,000 members. Usdaw is the country's fastest growing trade union; membership has increased by 20,000 in the past year, by more than 15% in the last three years and by 100,000 in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

2. Usdaw's Freedom from Fear Campaign seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. It has four main aims:

  • to negotiate with employers for safety and security improvements in stores.
  • to campaign with Government for policies to help tackle retail crime and anti-social behaviour in shopping areas.
  • to raise awareness with the shopping public that violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers is unacceptable behaviour.
  • to give shopworkers the confidence to speak out and not accept abuse as just a part of the job.

3. Since the Freedom from Fear campaign was launched in 2002, Usdaw have held annual Respect for Shopworkers events to promote the campaign. This years Respect for Shopworkers Week will be held on 8 -12 November 2010. For more details visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/freedomfromfear

4. The Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Hugh Henry MSP on 1 June 2010. The Bill would create a new offence of assaulting a worker whose employment involves dealing with members of the public.

5. The Rights at Work motion moved by Usdaw at the Labour Party Annual Conference calls for:

  • A vigorous campaign against the Coalition's downgrading of health and safety protection for workers and decreasing inspections.
  • Increased resources to be made available for inspection of workplaces so there is a rigorous and independent enforcement of health and safety law.
  • The extension of the protections of the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006 to all public facing employees.

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The official website of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers