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Driving instructors warn of COVID-19 risks in absence of sector-specific safety protocols

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of red

Potential 20,000 daily personal interactions in sector

July 12th: Unite, which represents driving instructors throughout Ireland, today (Sunday) warned that both instructors and learners could be at risk unless rigorous safety protocols are developed which take account of conditions specific to the sector.  The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted prior to being included in Phase 3 of the re-opening ‘roadmap’, and asking the Minister to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in order to develop sector-specific safety protocols.

Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Jean O’Dowd said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have focused attention on the challenges faced by different sectors in keeping those providing and using services safe.

“Driving instructors face particular issues given that their work is carried out within the small enclosed space of a car, and involves close interaction with learners.  Our members estimate that there could be up to 20,000 personal interactions in the sector every day.  Both the confined space and the close interaction pose an obvious risk for both instructors and users.

“Unite has written to Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting these issues and asking him to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in the sector to develop safety protocols which will keep everyone safe and ensure that the sector does not contribute to spreading the virus.

“We are now at a critical juncture in our management of this emergency, and workers must be fully involved in developing safe working practices to protect all of us”, Ms O’Dowd concluded.

‘New normal’ excludes workers

By unitetheunion

Unite Community flag cropped

Members of Unite give coalition a ‘slow clap’; say workers were “applauded then abandoned” by those who promised a “lasting appreciation” 

  • Programme for government fails to address need for renewed workers’ rights legislation.
  • Status of workers in the “new normal” needs clarification following High Court ruling on SEOs.
  • Unions say COVID-19 worker representative function not effective on a wide enough level. 

July 2nd: Members of Unite Trade Union held a short rally outside Dáil Éireann today (Thursday), highlighting how workers have been forgotten about in the so-called ‘new normal’. This was followed by a sarcastic ‘slow clap’ for the new coalition Government which remarkably, managed to leave a workers’ rights agenda out of its Programme for Government almost entirely.

There have been lessons for workers in the last few weeks, starting with the treatment of the Debenhams workers who could only be exploited because successive Governments failed to close a legal loophole which had already caused untold misery for workers in Clery’s, GAME, La Senza and Vita Cortex (to name a few). Speaking this morning Jane Crowe Shop Steward at Debenhams Henry St said:

“We are striking now for around 6 weeks now, our future and our families futures are on the line, we still have a lot of fight left in us and we will keep going until the bitter end’

Further to this, last week’s landmark High Court ruling on the constitutionality of Sectoral Employment Orders could have very serious implications for tens of thousands of construction workers.

Speaking ahead of today’s event, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said:

“The government must immediately seek a stay on the orders contained in the Court decision  and then appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.”

Health & Safety is now a major concern for workers and Unite’s Hospitality and Tourism spokesperson Julia Marciniak pointed out, “While there has been no shortage of industry voices seeking to trivialise important public health advice by forcing debates on the merits of social distancing, many workers are being forced back into working arrangements in which they are afraid, at-risk and have been denied consultation.”

Unite Community is demanding that the new government take into account the urgent need for a new Charter for Workers, one that places the health and safety of workers, and their right to be represented by a trade union, at the heart of any roadmap for recovery.

Hairdressing: Agreed safety protocol needed before June 29th re-opening

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redProvision must be made for those who cannot return to work due to health or childcare concerns

Responding to this evening’s announcement that the hairdressing sector is to re-open from June 29th, three weeks earlier than initially planned, trade union Unite – which represents hairdressers throughout Ireland – said that employers need to engage collectively with workers to develop an agreed Covid-19 safety protocol before salons re-open.  The union also called on employers to facilitate those employees who are unable to return to work at the end of the month due to underlying health conditions or lack of childcare provision.  Commenting, Regional Officer Brendan Byrne said:

“While our members are keen to return to work, they need to be assured that both they and their clients will be safe in circumstances where close contact is unavoidable.  Unite is also aware of workers who have underlying health conditions, or family members with such conditions, and therefore do not feel safe returning to work.  There are also many workers in the sector who will be unable to make childcare arrangements between now and June 29th.

“Employers have not been in contact with Unite regarding re-opening, and the only safety information we have is a document published by the Irish Hairdressing Federation earlier this month.  Before salons re-open, a sector-specific safety protocol will have to be agreed between employers, workers and the relevant government agencies.  In this regard, Unite would welcome contact from employers’ representatives.

“In addition, hairdressing workers who cannot return due to underlying health conditions affecting themselves or their families, or who are unable to make childcare arrangements, must be maintained on current income supports.

“The best way to ensure that the hairdressing sector recovers quickly is for employers to engage collectively with their workers on all aspects of the re-opening”, Brendan Byrne concluded.

Covid-19 and your Rights as a Worker – UPDATED 5 June

By unitetheunion

Respect workersFrequently Asked Questions – UPDATED 05 June 2020

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation continues to evolve and Unite will continue updating our advice as dictated by circumstances. 

The measures announced by the Government in March resulted in widespread business closures, layoffs and job losses affecting many Unite members.  The measures also meant that more people have working from home in challenging circumstances. 

On Monday June 8th, the second phase of the Government’s ‘Roadmap’ (accelerations announced on June 5th) will see additional workplaces, re-open  while remote working will continue to be encouraged where possible.  This follows the first phase of re-opening on May 18th, which saw many construction workers – including many Unite members – return to work.  The information below has been updated to reflect ongoing developments.

Unite is endeavouring to maintain our service to members during this unprecedented health emergency. In order to facilitate social distancing in line with public health guidelines, our offices remain closed to public visitors until further notice.

If you require assistance, please email adminroi@unitetheunion.org.

Below, please find information on some questions you may have as a worker affected by the COVID-19 emergency.  We will continue updating this FAQ on a rolling basis as the situation develops. The current version incorporates announcements made on June 5th. As well as the general information below, please scroll down for specific Health & Safety information.

As we prepare for workplaces to re-open (see current schedule below), Unite, together with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is continuing to engage with Government and employers in different sectors to ensure the safety of our members, and to protect their terms and conditions going forward.  The Return to Work Safely Protocol is available for download here.  Unite will continue advocating for increased enforcement resources and powers to ensure that the the Protocol is fully implemented by all employers.

On a broader level, Unite and the wider trade union movement are determined to ensure that working people, their families and communities do not pay the price for any economic recession when we emerge from this emergency.  In this regard, click here to download our policy document Hope or Austerity: A Road Map for a Better Fairer Ireland after the PandemicThe policies in that document fed into ICTU’s recent report, No Going Back: A New Deal towards a Safe and Secure Future for All, which is available here.

A PDF of this document is available here.

Please note that this information only applies to the Republic of Ireland.

 What if I fall sick and/or need to self-isolate?

If you feel you may have COVID-19, or may need to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19, the first thing you should do is phone your GP and self-isolate in line with HSE advice.  Your GP will assess you and decide if a test for COVID-19 is necessary.

*  DO NOT GO TO YOUR GP IN PERSON  *

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or a GP has certified that you need to self-isolate, you need to inform your employer and adhere to any employment sick pay policy in place.  You then need to apply for Illness Benefit. An enhanced Illness Benefit of €350 per week has been agreed for COVID-19 related cases. To be eligible for this payment you must be confined to your home or a medical facility.  This payment, which is also available to members of a household who have to self-isolate in connection with COVID-19, is available from the first day of illness.   The enhanced Illness Benefit arrangements will now continue in force until 19 June.

What if I am working from home?

On Friday 27 March the Government issued an instruction to people to stay at home and to only travel to and from work if providing an essential service as specified here. Despite the phased return to work, this inevitably means that many Unite members are either working from home, have been placed on layoff or rendered unemployed (further information on your rights in the event of layoff/job loss is below).

If you are working from home at your employer’s instruction, your employer must pay you your usual wage.  Confirm with your employer that this is the case before agreeing to work from home.

Revenue has made provisions for these people to be reimbursed for work-related expenses, such as heating, electricity and possibly broadband expenses.

An employer can pay €3.20 tax-free (without PAYE, PRSI or USC being deducted) a day to their employee to cover additional costs involved in working from home.   It is important to note that there is no legal obligation on your employer to make such a payment.

Even if your employer does not make this payment, you will still be eligible for tax relief on such expenses.  Such claims would need to be supported by evidence in the form of receipts, and you may be required to produce a letter from your employer confirming that you have been working from home.

Further information on e-working and tax is available on the Revenue website here.  Health and safety information relating to working from home during the COVID-19 emergency is available here.

What if I want to continue working from home during this period?

While the widespread closures referenced above mean that many people still have to work from home, there will be other workers who can return to their workplaces under the ‘Roadmap, but who wish to work from home during this period in order to mind children during the period of school closure or for other health, personal or family reasons. You should approach the company and request to be facilitated in that regard.  It is at your employer’s discretion whether or not to grant that request but they should be cognisant of public health as well as Government advice and instructions.

It may be that your presence is necessary for only some of the normal working week when particular tasks need to be performed. If so, it may be worthwhile highlighting this fact to your employer. Given the ‘stay-at-home’ order announced on 27 March, with the exception of workplaces specified in the different phases of the ‘Roadmap’, attendance may otherwise expose you and your employer to criminal sanction.

When will workplaces be re-opening?

On 1 May, the Government published its ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ which included a schedule for the reopening of workplaces in different sectors. This started on May 18th, and on June 5th it was announced that the Roadmap would be accelerated as indicated below, with further adjustments possible.

  • 8 June: On June 5th, an acceleration of the Roadmap was announced which will see all retail outlets with street entrances re-opening, with staggered hours. Shopping centres (only retail outlets) will re-open on June 15th, ensuring physical distancing. Solitary workers and those who who can maintain physical distance can return to their workplaces, but working from home is encouraged where possible.
  • 29 June: Re-opening of the hospitality and tourism sector, including bars which also serve food; limited to table service. All domestic travel restrictions will be lifted.
  • 20 July: Remaining restrictions will start to be lifted.

What if my employer asks me to attend work, but I don’t feel safe doing so?

Your employer must abide by the Return to Work Safety Protocol, which is available here. Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme?

Government-ordered closures of businesses, as well as reduced demand in some sectors due to the pandemic, have resulted in a significant number of lay-offs.

The Government has asked those employers who have ceased trading to continue to pay workers during this period; this measure is intended to retain the link between workers and their employers.

A wage subsidy scheme was established providing that the Government would pay relevant employers 70 per cent of a workers’ salary (after tax) – up to maximum of €410 per week – in respect of workers who would otherwise have been laid off. This Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, which employers may top up, is intended to ensure that workers retain their link with employers and they do not have to submit a jobseeker claim. This scheme replaced the COVID-19 Refund Scheme announced on 15 March, and is now scheduled to last until the end of August.

On 15 April, changes to the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme were announced which primarily addressed anomalies which had become apparent at the higher and lower ends of the earnings spectrum.  The Scheme has now moved from the ‘transitional’ to the ‘operational’ phase.

Operation of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme:

  • Initially, and until 4 May 2020, the subsidy scheme refunded employers €410 for each qualifying employee.
  • From 4 May 2020, the subsidy payment moved to a system based on the previous net weekly pay for each employee. See further information below.
  • Employers should pay the relevant subsidy to each employee and may make an additional payment so that the total pay does not exceed the average net weekly pay of the employee.
  • The subsidy scheme applies both to employers who make additional payments to their employees and those that are not in a position to do so.
  • Employers make this subsidy payment to their employees through their normal payroll process.
  • Employers will then be reimbursed for amounts paid to eligible employees and notified to Revenue via the payroll process.
  • The reimbursement will, in general, be made within two working days after receipt of the payroll submission.
  • Income tax and USC will not be applied to the subsidy payment made through the payroll.
  • Employee PRSI will not apply to the subsidy or any additional payment by the employer.
  • Employer’s PRSI will not apply to the subsidy and will be reduced from 11.05% to 0.5% on the additional ‘top-up’ payment from the employer.

Subsidy rates from 4 May

The following new rates will apply to payroll submitted from 4 May with a pay date on or after that date until the end of the scheme. (No backdating of the revised rates prior to 4 May will apply.)

Employees previously earning up to €586 net per week

  • An 85% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay does not exceed €412.
  • A flat rate subsidy of up to €350 shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €412 but not more than €500.
  • A 70% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €500 but not more than €586, with the maximum cap of €410 applying.

Employees previously earning over €586 net per week

  • For employees whose average net weekly pay is greater than €586 per week but not more than €960 per week, the temporary wage subsidy shall not exceed €350 per week, and shall be calculated with reference to the gross salary paid by the employer and its effect on net average wages as follows:
    • A subsidy of €350 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount up to 60% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
    • A subsidy of €205 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 60% but not more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
    • No subsidy shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings.

A comprehensive FAQ on the Wage Subsidy Scheme is available here.

What if my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, but is refusing to pay the top up in respect of public holidays?

Payment for public holidays is generally subject to the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act, and Unite would argue that if an employer is topping up the Temporary Wage Subsidy they should also do so in respect of public holidays.  However, given that the Act did not envisage the current circumstances, an employer may argue that they are not obliged to pay the top up – which is at the employer’s discretion – in respect of public holidays. Any disputes in this regard would need to be raised by way of a formal grievance in the first instance and thereafter to the Adjudication Services of the Workplace Relations Commission.

What if I am returning from Maternity Leave?

At the end of May, following pressure from unions and civil society organisations, the Government rectified an anomaly whereby women returning from unpaid maternity leave – as well as people previously on paternity leave, adoptive leave illness benefit or off-pay leave – were ineligible for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme since they had not been paid in January or February, the calculation basis for the Scheme.   These categories of people will now be eligible for the Scheme.  The revised arrangements will be in place from June 12th, and payments may be backdated to March 26th.

What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is NOT operating the Wage Subsidy Scheme?

If a worker is laid off without pay, there is no need to claim in person at an Intreo centre.  Instead, a new support payment has been introduced which applies to those workers whose employers lay them off.  This Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is paid at a flat rate of €350 per week.

The payment is available to all employees and the self-employed who have lost their job due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, and is scheduled to last until at least August 10th.

On June 5th, a change to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was announced whereby, from June 29th, part-time workers who were earning up to €200 per week will receive a PUP of €203, while those earning over that amount will continue receiving the payment of €350.

The Covid-19 unemployment payment can be applied for through the Department of Social Welfare’s online portal www.MyWelfare.ie.

All that is required is for the applicant to have an email address, a bank account and a Personal Public Service Number.  You will find your PPS number on a range of documents, including previous payslips. Simply go onto the Covid-19 Services section of the website and apply for the payment. You will have to set up an account but it is a simple and straight forward process.

To avoid any delay in payment, it is very important that you check carefully to ensure you have supplied the correct bank account and PPS numbers. 

What about other social welfare payments?

If you were working and were also in receipt of any social welfare payment such as a Carers Payment, Working Family Payment (WFP) or One-Parent Family Payment, you can, provided you have lost your job due to COVID-19, also claim the COVID-19 emergency payment, in addition to retaining your existing welfare payment. The COVID-19 Payment Unemployment Payment will replace your employment income and will be regarded by the Department as equivalent to employment income.

If you have one adult and one or more dependent children you should claim a Jobseeker’s Payment instead of the COVID-19 Pandemic Payment.

This is because you can claim an additional allowance for your adult dependant and child dependants, which will bring your weekly payment to in excess of the €350 weekly payment due under the emergency COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.  Further information on Covid-19 and social welfare payments is available here.

What if I have been placed on short-time working?

If your employer reduces your hours to 3 days or less per week from your normal full-time hours, you can apply for a payment called Short Time Work Support.

Your employer can also put you on short-time working which is a more formal procedure and applies in the following situation:

  • Due to a reduction in the amount of work to be done, your weekly pay is less than half your normal weekly pay, or
  • Your hours worked are reduced to less than half your normal weekly working hours

What if my employer instructed me to go home?

You are entitled to clarity regarding your work situation, and in particular regarding whether you are to be paid, or are being laid off, made redundant or expected to work from home. If unclear on any of these or related questions, contact your employer in writing (e.g. by email) and ask them to confirm your employment and payment status in writing.  In the event that your employer says that you will not be paid the Department of Social Protection will require written confirmation of your status if you are applying for a Social Protection payment.

A simple email detailing when, where and by who you were told to go home and asking that your status be confirmed to you in writing without delay will assist you to explain your circumstances to the Department of Social Protection.

If I have been placed on layoff or short time working as a result of COVID-19, can I claim for a redundancy payment?

The provisions of Section 12 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 have been suspended where an employee has been temporarily laid off or put on short-term work arising from the COVID-19 emergency measures.  These provisions will remain suspended for as long as the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment remain in place.

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Workplace health and safety

Please click here to download the Return to Work Safely Protocol, and here to download the ICTU’s User Guide to the Protocol.  Unite is continuing to advocate for improved resources to ensure enforcement of the Protocol.

Members working in the construction sector should note that Unite has set up a hotline for you to report any safety concerns relating to Covid-19.  The number is 089-2031044.  We also have a dedicated email address for construction members to contact: constructionROI@unitetheunion.org. 

You should have a Health and Safety Representative – and you should know who s/he is

Under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, all employees are entitled to elect a Health and Safety representative.  You may also have a union safety rep.  It is important that you know who they are, that they are fully updated on any health and safety risks and relevant measures.

The Return to Work Safety Protocol states that your employer MUST:

  • Appoint at least one lead worker representative to make sure safety measures are in place and being followed.
  • Update business and safety plans, including the business COVID-19 Response Plan, the occupational health and safety risk assessment and the safety statement. Include how to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the safety plans and appoint a dedicated manager in charge of dealing with suspected cases.
  • Develop, consult on, communicate and implement workplace changes or policies.
  • Send out a pre-return to work form to employees at least 3 days before their return to work. The form will ask employees to confirm they have not had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been diagnosed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been in close contact with someone confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days and are not self-isolating or cocooning. You can get a return to work form templatefrom the HSA website. Note: Employers should not directly receive any test results from the HSE. Rather, the results should be provided to the person tested, who should then pass on the outcome to his or her employer.
  • Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff.
  • Put in place temperature testing in line with public health advice.
  • Have appropriate hygiene facilities in place, display posters of good hand washing practices and have proper ventilation. Give tissues as well as bins or bags for employee’s disposal. Empty bins regularly and provide advice on good respiratory practice.
  • Provide for physical distancing across all work activities of at least 2 metres as much as possible. (Staggering breaks, put in place arrangements for meetings and canteen facilities, put in place a no handshaking policy, no sharing of cups or pens, adapt sign in or sign out systems). Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers were 2 metre distancing is not possible.
  • Keep a log of any group work to help with contact tracing.
  • Have regular cleaning of the workplace and provide hand sanitisers.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing where there is an identified COVID-19 exposure risk and in line with public health advice. You can get more information on PPE from the HSA.
  • Make sure employees look after their mental health and well-being and are aware of any employee assistance programmes.

If an employee has symptoms of the virus during work hours, your employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and must follow a specific procedure:

  • The designated manager must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route
  • Maintain a 2 metre distance
  • Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.
  • Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken

You are legally entitled and obliged to protect your health and the health of others

Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.

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Hospitality and Hairdressing: Employers must engage with workers before re-opening

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of red“If workers are not safe, customers are not safe”

May 20th: Trade union Unite, which represents workers in the hospitality and hairdressing sectors, has urged employers to engage with workers during the next number of weeks to ensure that workplaces offer a safe environment for workers and customers alike.  Speaking today (Wednesday), Unite Regional Officer Brendan Byrne said that hospitality and hairdressing workers deserved praise for the way they had handled the closure of their workplaces – which in many cases entailed the loss of employment – as part of the response to a public health emergency affecting us all:

“Hospitality and hairdressing workers are amongst the lowest-paid workers in the economy, and even before the pandemic hit many were on precarious contracts.  As the public health emergency developed, they worked hard to keep their workplaces safe both for themselves and for customers.

“Following the closure of their workplaces, many employers were either unwilling or unable to move their workers to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, and a large number of hospitality and hairdressing workers have been living on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment with no certainty regarding how long the payment will last, or if and when their workplaces will re-open.

“As workplaces prepare to re-open later in the summer, employers must use the intervening period to engage with their workers, not only to ensure that workplaces meet all public health guidelines but also to improve overall conditions in these sectors.

The Covid-19 emergency has taught us that if workers are not safe, customers are not safe”, Mr Byrne concluded.

Covid-safety: Public Representatives back Unite call for safety protocols to have teeth

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redMay 17th: We the undersigned call on the Government of Ireland to update its document Return to Work Safety Protocol: Covid-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers to include an adequate structure that will guarantee independent inspections and minimum mandatory compliance with new Covid-19 specific regulations. It must also include the participation of trade union representatives who already have Health and Safety training. 

The situation and risk to public health calls for a response that goes beyond ideology, self-regulation and unenforced guidelines. The architecture for a robust and independent system of inspections of all workplaces needs to be established as soon as possible.  This system has to include the expertise of the Irish trade unions who already have trained Health and Safety Representatives within their organisations.  This expertise should be utilized in the public interest to ensure public safety and the required confidence of workers and customers in the inspection regime as businesses attempt to reopen.

The Health and Safety Authority is neither equipped nor robust enough to carry out the scale of inspections necessary, including targeted unannounced inspections.   Furthermore what inspectors do exist do not have the power to issue the necessary on the spot fines to act as a deterrent and to ensure immediate compliance with the new protocols. 

Section 35 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 2005 provides the scope to increase inspection powers and fines and without this the protocols, while comprehensive, are likely to be toothless. 

We feel that while guidelines can be helpful and useful there is no guarantee that all employers or employees will comply or respect those guidelines, and it is certain that some will not.  Therefore it is imperative that the protocol contain minimum mandatory regulations, more effective sanctions for noncompliance and a guarantee that workers themselves are not penalized or victimized for raising health and safety concerns, or for highlighting when and if the protocol is not being adhered to. 

Finally, we believe that standards need to be raised across the board for the sake of the health of us all and the emergency workers risking their lives to keep us safe. This absolute necessity can be achieved with powers to enforce regulations, to sanction those who ignore the protocols and the establishment of a truly effective trustworthy method of workplace inspections. 

Signed: 

Brendan Ogle, Senior Officer – Unite the Union (Republic of Ireland)

The Social Democrats

Senator Alice Mary Higgins

Senator Lynn Ruane

Joan Collins TD

Thomas Pringle TD

Paul Murphy TD

Brid Smith TD

Richard Boyd-Barrett TD

Gino Kenny TD

Cllr John Lyons

Cllr Cieran Perry

Cllr Pat Dunne

Cllr Dean Mulligan

Public Representatives join Unite to say ‘Effective Safety Protocols need Teeth’

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redWe the undersigned call on the Government of Ireland to update its document Return to Work Safety Protocol: Covid-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers to include an adequate structure that will guarantee independent inspections and minimum mandatory compliance with new Covid-19 specific regulations. It must also include the participation of trade union representatives who already have Health and Safety training. 

The situation and risk to public health calls for a response that goes beyond ideology, self-regulation and unenforced guidelines. The architecture for a robust and independent system of inspections of all workplaces needs to be established as soon as possible.  This system has to include the expertise of the Irish trade unions who already have trained Health and Safety Representatives within their organisations.  This expertise should be utilized in the public interest to ensure public safety and the required confidence of workers and customers in the inspection regime as businesses attempt to reopen. 

The Health and Safety Authority is neither equipped nor robust enough to carry out the scale of inspections necessary, including targeted unannounced inspections.   Furthermore what inspectors do exist do not have the power to issue the necessary on the spot fines to act as a deterrent and to ensure immediate compliance with the new protocols. 

Section 35 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 2005 provides the scope to increase inspection powers and fines and without this the protocols, while comprehensive, are likely to be toothless. 

We feel that while guidelines can be helpful and useful there is no guarantee that all employers or employees will comply or respect those guidelines, and it is certain that some will not.  Therefore it is imperative that the protocol contain minimum mandatory regulations, more effective sanctions for noncompliance and a guarantee that workers themselves are not penalized or victimized for raising health and safety concerns, or for highlighting when and if the protocol is not being adhered to. 

Finally, we believe that standards need to be raised across the board for the sake of the health of us all and the emergency workers risking their lives to keep us safe. This absolute necessity can be achieved with powers to enforce regulations, to sanction those who ignore the protocols and the establishment of a truly effective trustworthy method of workplace inspections. 

Signed: 

Brendan Ogle, Senior Officer – Unite the Union (Republic of Ireland)

The Social Democrats

Senator Alice Mary Higgins

Senator Lynn Ruane

Joan Collins TD

Thomas Pringle TD

Paul Murphy TD

Brid Smith TD

Richard Boyd-Barrett TD

Gino Kenny TD

Foyle Omagh must confirm the number of cases of Covid-19 and take immediate action to ensure the safety of employees

By Unite the union NI

img_5560-1Company admits number of confirmed cases but so far fails to disclose numbers.

The Health and Safety Executive conducted an inspection of the site last week and set recommendations to company requiring an Action Plan by Thursday [May 14th]

Gareth Scott, Senior Officer for his union’s membership in in Foyle Omagh (formerly Omagh Meats) called on management at the company to confirm the number of cases of Covid-19 in their workforce and to take immediate action to ensure the safety of employees.

“Unite has been actively seeking to secure effective infection control in Foyle Foods’ Omagh site for some time. As a result of concerns raised directly by the workforce, the Health and Safety Executive NI conducted an inspection of the Omagh site and made a series of recommendations which the company has until this Thursday [May 14th] to address through an action plan.

“At the very least, if the Company does not implement proper measures to ensure worker safety then the Health and Safety Executive NI (HSE) must urgently use its powers to make mandatory proposals through an Improvement Notice or a Prohibition Notice. The failure of the HSE to enforce such proposals and instead to make only non-binding recommendations is evidence of their wider failure to address fully the severity of the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to meat sector workers.

“Over past days, reports have emerged of growing numbers of suspected and now confirmed cases in the meatpacking factory. There are huge concerns among the local community and the workforce. Some workers have indicated that the only thing keeping them at work is the fear of losing wages and the economic difficulties this would bring. No worker should have to choose between livelihood and safety.

“The union welcomes the announcement that Foyle Omagh will conduct testing for all staff over next two weeks but this does not go far enough, as testing should be ongoing. Lack of testing capacity is also a major failing of the UK Government and the NI Executive, testing for everybody is the only way out of the current lockdown and the experience in Care Homes and now Food Processing plants is a clear demonstration of the need for adequate testing.

“The Northern Ireland Executive must act immediately to enforce a tailored sectoral response to the crisis in poultry and meatpacking. Unite is calling for any site, including Foyle Omagh, that has an outbreak of COVID-19 cases to be temporarily closed for intensive testing of workers and family members allowing it to reopen safely when results are known – with all workers retained on full pay in the meantime – as essential workers they deserve nothing less”, Mr Scott said. 

English Language Schools must engage with workers before re-opening

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redSafe teaching and learning environment will be central to future success of sector

May 11th: Unite, which represents English Language Teachers throughout Ireland, today (Monday) said that schools must start engaging now with teachers to ensure that the industry can bounce back once the Covid-19 emergency is over.  Speaking following publication of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, Unite Regional Officer Brendan Byrne said that the re-opening of schools later in the year offered an opportunity now to re-imagine the industry in the best interest of all employees in this sector.

“The profitability of the ELT sector was built on teachers’ commitment and experience, and teachers will be central to building the sector back up once the pandemic is over.

“The Irish ELT sector is already known for providing a high-quality learning experience.  Now, the Government’s ‘Roadmap’ for ending the lockdown, together with the safety protocol published over the weekend, offers them an opportunity to ensure a safe teaching and learning environment.

“Given that it is so dependent on foreign travel, re-building the sector will pose significant challenges.  Health and safety will be high on the agenda for teachers, and schools must start engaging collectively with teachers now, to ensure full implementation of the safety protocol.

“Post-Covid, there will be an opportunity to re-imagine the Irish ELT sector so that it becomes known for high-quality jobs and high levels of health and safety”, Mr Byrne concluded.

Covid-19 clusters in Northern Ireland meatpacking sector point to urgent need for sector-specific infection controls to protect workers

By Unite the union NI

DKImmediate programme of testing with quick turnaround needed for all meatpacking workers and their families along with wider package of measures including, where necessary, temporary closures for deep-cleanses without loss of pay

Fears that meatpacking sites here could experience outbreaks similar to those in USA and Brazil where tens of thousands of workers have caught Covid-19 and scores have died

Davy Kettyles, Lead Regional Organiser for Unite, is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward, as a matter of urgency, a suite of measures to tackle the growing number of clusters of Covid-19 cases across the meatpacking industry. The call came as workers at Linden Foods’ site at Granville in Dungannon, where Unite’s Organising Department is actively working to secure workplace protections, reported a growing number of confirmed cases including among the union’s membership.

“Unite has been working to collectively organise workers in meatpacking sites in Northern Ireland and is aware of a growing number of clusters of Covid-19 infections in the sector. In the case of Linden Foods in Granville, Dungannon, we have repeatedly sought effective infection control measures to secure the health and safety of our members and called on the HSE on many occasions to conduct a physical inspection. As yet they have totally failed to conduct any such inspection. 

“Now we understand from workers that at least seven Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at the Linden Foods site. The workers are hugely concerned for their safety. We are also hearing of similar reports at a number of other sites. 

“This is hugely concerning. The absence of speedy action has led to a Covid-19 crisis in our care homes – now we are facing a similar outcome in the meatpacking sector. In the USA, more than ten thousand meat workers have tested positive for Covid-19 with at least 45 fatalities – the situation in Brazil is reportedly even worse but due to the absence of testing is unquantified. In the Republic, we have seen outbreak control teams sent to deal with clusters but the Northern Ireland Executive has done nothing.

“Linden Foods management tell us that they are complying with the PHA guidelines but the current guidelines are clearly not adequate to protect workers. We urgently need to see the Northern Ireland Executive establish a taskforce to tackle clusters and the enforcement of adequate infection control procedures for the entire food processing sector, in particular the meat sector. 

“This must include, at a minimum, measures such as the immediate roll-out of testing for all workers in this sector, and their families, with a swift turnaround on results, and immediate measures to stop the spread up to and including the temporary closure of plants while testing is conducted with workers receiving full pay for the duration”, Mr Kettyles said.

Construction: Two weeks to build Covid-safe sites

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redUnite warns employers cannot be left to regulate themselves

Unions must be central to new safety regime

With just two weeks to go before construction sites open on May 18th, trade union Unite today (Monday) warned that construction companies cannot be left to regulate themselves in respect of measures to halt the spread of Covid-19.  Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said that unions must be central to a new statutory safety regime designed to protect the health of workers, their families and communities.

“The Standard Operating Procedures published by the CIF last month only constitute guidelines.  Without strict compliance monitoring, our members fear that the employers will treat these procedures as an optional extra, putting profit above the health of workers.  It is clear that employers cannot be left to regulate themselves.

 “With just two weeks to build ‘Covid-safe’ sites, a number of steps need to be taken to ensure that construction workers feel confident returning to work.

“These include enforced social distancing, all necessary PPE available on an ongoing basis and all necessary sanitary facilities provided.  Workers’ temperatures must be monitored on arrival at sites, and provision made for testing of all workers in the construction sector.

“The CIF’s proposed Compliance Officers must be elected by workers, and unions must have a central role in ensuring that their members’ concerns are acted on. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) needs to be given the powers and resources to access all construction sites without notice to ensure that health and safety standards are being adhered to, and must also be authorised to close sites with immediate effect.  At the same time, unions must have a right of access to conduct workplace safety checks.

 “As Unite pointed out in our recent policy document Hope or Austerity: a Road Map for a Better Fairer Ireland after the Pandemic, guideline or ‘best practice’ procedures will not be enough. These protections must be put on a legal footing, and there must also be severe penalties for any employer found to be breaching the regulations.

“Regardless of site safety measures, construction workers with compromised immune systems, vulnerable family members or without access to childcare must be able to maintain access to state supports, such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme (with existing top ups) and the Covid 19 Pandemic Payment.

“The Covid-19 emergency is not just a health crisis:  it is also a confidence crisis.  Regulation, transparency and worker involvement are required to build confidence among those returning to work”, Mr Fitzgerald concluded.

Construction: Self-regulation won’t cut it during pandemic

By unitetheunion

Unite logo white out of redCompliance monitoring and testing programme must be in place before sites re-open

Unions must be central to new safety regime

April 28th: Unite, which represents construction workers throughout Ireland, today (Tuesday) warned that construction companies cannot be left to regulate themselves in respect of measures to halt the spread of Covid-19. Commenting on the clamour of calls for construction sites to re-open after the May Bank Holiday, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said that a new safety regime is vital to protect the health of workers, their families and communities.

“The C-19 Standard Operating Procedures published by the CIF earlier this month only constitute guidelines.  Without strict compliance, monitoring and enforcement, our members rightly fear that employers will treat these procedures as an optional extra, putting profit above the health of workers.

“Given the experience before sites closed – when hygiene and social distancing measures were virtually non- existent – many members and their families are concerned about sites re-opening and are asking what has changed?

“A number of measures need to be put in place before workers return: there needs to be enforced social distancing, all necessary PPE available on an ongoing basis and all necessary sanitary facilities provided.

“There also crucially needs to be testing for all workers in the construction sector.

“Construction workers with compromised immune systems, vulnerable family members or without access to childcare must be able to maintain access to state supports, such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme (with existing top ups) and the Covid 19 Pandemic Payment.

“The CIF’s proposed Compliance Officers must be elected by workers, and unions must have a central role in ensuring that their members’ concerns are acted on. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) needs to be empowered and resourced to be able to access all construction sites without notice to ensure that health and safety standards are been adhered to, and must have the power to close sites with immediate effect.

“All these measures should be put on a statutory footing, and there must be severe penalties for any employer found to be in breach.

“The threat posed by Covid-19 to our society and economy is much too serious to allow companies to regulate themselves”, Mr Fitzgerald concluded.

Lifeline: Gavin Coyle, Safety Freelancer

By Near FM – Listen Again
Gavin Coyle CEO and founder of Safety Freelancer talks to Shane Burke about how he set up the company and what it does. Broadcast: 24/01/2020

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Show Caution Around Water this Christmas Season

By Near FM – Listen Again
John Leech, CEO of Water Safety Ireland, talks to Noel McGuinness about water safety over the Christmas and New Year period. In addition to this advice, John gives tips for people taking part in festive Charity Swims. For further information see http://www.iws.ie/ Broadcast: 20/12/2019

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Northside Today 25 – 10 – 2019 – John Leech, C.E.O. Water Safety Ireland

By Near FM – Listen Again
Water Safety at the Halloween Bank Holiday John Leech, C.E.O. of Water Safety Ireland talks to Noel McGuinness about their water safety bank holiday alert. John says that the risk of drownings is higher over the coming bank holiday due to cooler waters, wind chill and particularly high tides due to a new moon. Stranding […]

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Advice from Irish Water Safety

By Near FM – Listen Again
John Leech, Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety, talks to Noel McGuinness about water safety in general and in particular he gives advice on water safety for the August Bank Holiday weekend. For further advice see  http://www.iws.ie/ Broadcast: 02/08/2019

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Lifeline; Interview by Karl Fenlon.

By Near FM – Listen Again
Interview by Karl Fenlon with tattoo apprentice Thomas Carton on the health and safety involved with tattoos. How he got into tattooing, the cleaning procedures that take place before, during and after a tattoo session. Restrictions on being tattooed such as age of client and being under the influence.  

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Community Radio News Desk – Interview on Farm Safety with James Healy, National President of Macra na feirme

By Near FM – Listen Again
As each year passes the number of farm accidents remains stubbornly high, James Healy the National President of Macra na feirme joins Donie Tarrant to discuss the issue of farm safety and the basic measures people should take in order to reduce the incidents of farm accidents which in some cases can have fatal consequences. […]

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Northside Today: Urban Schrott ESET Ireland

By Near FM – Listen Again
Northside Today: Urban Schrott ESET Ireland; “Online Safety; Sharpen up on your passwords for 2019” Broadcast Wednesday 9th January 2019 Presenter: John Healy

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Lifeline:Macra Na Feirme

By Near FM – Listen Again
Donie Tarrant speaks to James Healy who is the national president of Macra Na Feirme in relation to farm safety.

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