Are you willing to die for your boss?
Are you willing to die for your boss?
By Kerry Fleck
The vague, confusing and frankly shambolic announcement last night by Boris Johnson on the easing of restrictions in England, provides clarity in one area only. The interests of business and corporations are, predictably, higher up the agenda than the safety of ordinary people.
The vague announcement that some can go back to work if they cannot work from home and some can use public transport, if needs be, does not take into account the safety of workers and puts all workers in a very serious position. While we wait to see what approach Stormont will announce tomorrow, many people will now be asking themselves will I be safe at work?
Already during this pandemic thousands of workers have been put at risk by employers who ignored social distancing, didn’t provide hand washing facilities and ignored ‘pinch’ points where workers are thrust together on entering or leaving the workplace. As the return to work begins this is likely to be the experience of thousands more, putting those thousands and their families at risk of infection, serious illness and even death. This is not hyperbole; such fears have already been borne out. Sadly, it took the deaths of 10 London bus drivers before consideration was given to how to protect transport workers, 20 have died now in total.
Immediately after last night’s announcement social media was awash with calls for people to join a union and to utilize health and safety legislation to protect themselves. These calls are to be welcomed. All workers must now prepare themselves for the ‘new normal’ by taking actions to protect their immediate safety.
Some workers in Northern Ireland have already taken action in their own defence. Scores of Linden Meats refused to start work complaining there was no social distancing, today their Union, Unite, is again sounding the alarm after 7 employees have been found to have tested positive for Covid-19. Over 150 workers in ABP in Lurgan walked off their factory floor as they believed they were facing unacceptable risks.
Many are pointing to health and safety legislation which permits workers to walk off the job if they feel they are in imminent danger. The evidence is that successful walkouts need to be organised and supported by as many employees as possible. Workers are not on an equal footing with employers, they can after all threaten jobs and livelihoods. Workers should not be put off but ensure they seek co-operation across the workforce and get a common opinion on the unsafe conditions that need addressed. You will be protected from potential victimization by your employer only by working together. Your strength lies in your numbers.
Despite having no formal union recognition the Linden Meats walk out was successful because they had an active union and workers councils onsite to help organise people. As today’s news shows Unite is continuing to stand behind them, getting their concerns raised in both the media and through the appropriate statutory bodies.
Unfortunately, many workers in NI are not in unionised workplaces leaving them extremely vulnerable to unsafe practices and with no voice to raise concerns or sound the alarm. Their safety isn’t only of concern to them, it affects all of us, large groups of workers in unsafe environments can quickly become a vector for infection that will eventually affect the wider community. Leaving it to government to issue ‘guidance’ to employers is not enough, as many employers will seek to evade their responsibilities. It’s time for workers to act. The union movement is the vehicle to do this, to support you, to keep you safe.
All workers regardless of whether their employer recognises a union are entitled to join a union and be represented by one. An employer who tells you you are not allowed to join a union is breaking the law.
All workplaces regardless of union recognition are entitled to elect worker health and safety committees and reps, these reps are legally protected from victimization by an employer.
The new normal should mean unions in every workplace
The new normal should mean health and safety reps and committees in every workplace
The new normal should mean workplace democracy with workers being meaningfully consulted and having a say in the safe running of their workplaces
The new normal should not mean workers risking their health and their lives for the company
No matter if you have continued to work through this pandemic, if you are going to be working from home for the foreseeable or if a return to the workplace is looming, now is the time to join a union. It is the only hope you have of protecting yourself both in the immediate future and in the ‘new normal’ that is on the horizon.
Don’t die for the bosses, organise!
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