Wednesday, November 03, 2010

For Trade Unions, Safety is the New 'Black'

Have you noticed something? Trade Unions very rarely call their members out on strike over pay any longer. Nowadays it is on 'safety' issues. Usually spurious ones. This now seems de rigeur for the RMT whose strike today is ostensibly on the safety consequences, and the Fire Brigades Union also cites safety as one of the reasons for their strike. This is an interesting development because the issues are almost unresolvable. The unions in these sectors can cite any changes in working patterns as damaging to safety and the employers deny it. The trouble is, neither can prove it one way or the other.

Of course the unions never mention that company directors can be criminally liable if they introduce measures which compromise safety. That's a pretty powerful disincentive to do so.


Anonymous said...

Same crap, different excuse. Ah well... plus ca change etc., I guess.

Barnacle Bill said...

Whilst "safety" is one of those grey areas we can argue till the cows come home with-out agreement.
In the area where public safety is concerned, the railways and fire service, it must always take priority over profit / savings.
No company nor it's directors will knowingly allow changes that can be directly attributed to them if things go breasts up.
However a little shaving here, cut backs there, can all lead to long term safety being compromised.
A classic example of this is the coalition's decision to end the contract of the emergency tugs the MCA has been chartering.
It's only because they have been in place minor mishaps have not become Torrey Canyon events.
Now instead they are going to rely upon the ship's owners/insurers sorting it out.
It's going to end in tears, yet we are assured by government spokespersons it's not compromising safety.
So whilst we have a government that seems intent on cuts for the sake of cuts, some protesting is quite justified.

JMB said...

It has been happening for some years though the "safety" considerations seem to disappear if more money is offered.

I thought the funniest was the London firemen's claim that they will see less of their families if their shift system is changed.

MikeyP said...

But since when has any union pronouncement had anything to do with logic?

P. Stable said...

It WOULD be a pretty big disicentive if any company director ever faced criminal charges for health and safety breaches. But as the current number of such prosecutions lies between zero and, er, zero, I don't see how this is a factor.

Anonymous said...

In the 70s it used to be about lack of enough paper towels and bogroll in the lavatories.

A reasonable but angry man said...

Let's be clear. Shroud-waving only happens successfully in the public sector, where dissolute and ineffective 'leaders' and managers can kow tow to this nonsense with no effect on their careers or their reward. It will take some time to recover from the effects of a dozen years of a government shamelessly buying the votes of its public sector clients, especially in the non-productive fringes of the nation. But recover we will. Overpaid and lazy firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses, tube drivers and all the faceless rest will eventually start to realise that the private sector taxpayer has had enough of the nonsense and of paying for their bloated salaries, their job security, their complete lack of performance management, their holidays, their pensions, their extravagant Ts&Cs and so on. Individually its not the fault of these nice people, they were brought up and encouraged to feel productive and entitled. But just visit the car park of your local industrial estate. Then go to the staff car park of your local hospital.

Anonymous said...

Hi Iain,

Civil servants went on strike this spring over cuts to their redundancy pay. If you read Tribune Magazine this week you'll find news, unnoticed by the media so far, of a major strike looming over a pay issue.

On the subject of safety, you seem to be saying that employers will never compromise on safety for fear of being sued or prosecuted for corporate manslaughter. But as a commenter points out, no-one has ever been successfully prosecuted for corporate manslaughter. Fear of liability didn't seem to prevent Railtrack from a "cavalier" attitude to health and safety, leading to four people dead at Hatfield. And this year a whistleblower accused Network Rail of falsifying level crossing inspection reports.

After BP was fined £5.35 million for the Buncefield oil depot blaze, which left 43 injured, Conservative MP Mike Penning said: "Even if it was £15m ‑ the highest fine on companies before this ‑ it would have been insulting to local residents."

I'm not saying bosses always play fast and loose with H&S, but there is plenty of evidence if you want to look for it that fear of liability after an accident is not deterrent enough.

Daedalus said...

Having worked as a senior engineer within the marine and manufacturing industries for 30 odd years; I can confirm that H&S has always been used as an excuse for not doing something. Or in some cases doing something that you don't want doing.
Everyone will have come across some perfectly normal job you want doing and some objections to how it is done, in some cases the arguing takes longer than getting the job done. You need to make sure that you have all the ducks in a row before you even start with some things. And then you need to have a very large shotgun just to finish them off, just make sure it's loaded with 000 buckshot to make sure they stay down. Metaphorically of course!

John Spence said...


You wrote, "Nowadays it is on 'safety' issues. Usually spurious ones."


"This is an interesting development because the issues are almost unresolvable. The unions in these sectors can cite any changes in working patterns as damaging to safety and the employers deny it. The trouble is, neither can prove it one way or the other.

You pronounce that the 'safety issues' motivation is 'usually spurious', but few lines later suggest that neither unions or bosses can either prove or disprove working changes affect safety?

How then can you say complaints over safety issues are 'usually spurious'?

What knowledge do you possess about these safety issues that unions and bosses don't?

If you do possess some sort of crystal ball, get thee to ACAS, and start arbitrating!

If not, then try not to make generalisations based on personal ideology?

The King of Wrong said...

It's even better than that - in phrasing that Sir Humphrey would be proud of, the issues are all Safety Related. Most things can be attacked as not being safety critical, since they're not, but virtually anything can be defended as safety related.

Cleaning staff? Well, someone could slip on a discarded copy of Metro. Safety related.

Ticket staff sat around reading the latest novel? Well, if there were to be another terrorist attack, they'd be able to see it on CCTV and raise the alarm. Safety related.

BT? Well, in the event of an accident, it would be necessary to call an ambulance. Safety related.

Bob Crow? Well, there's obviously less danger for tube workers to be on strike than to be underground. Safety related.

Passengers? Well, um, actually it'd probably be safer without those...