Workers rights including H&S face 'ideological attack' from government
23 May 2012
>In hard-hitting debates on employment rights and the government's attack on health and safety, delegates to Prospect's national conference in Bournemouth yesterday rejected what the NEC's Graeme Henderson called "a systematic and ideological attack on workers' rights."
Speakers condemned the continuing assaults by ministers on workplace health and safety rights and funding cuts to the Health and Safety Executive of more than a third.
Moving the motion, Simon Chilcott (HSE) pointed to the reduction in proactive inspections and their abolition across a wide range of industries. Even though countless government reviews – most recently that of Professor Ragnar Lofstedt - had praised the work of the HSE, the government had pressed ahead with axing its advice helpline and plans to introduce charging for visits where inspectors found something wrong.
"You'd think that was enough, but no – the Prime Minister said in January this year that is he is going to kill off the health and safety monster," said Chilcott.
Conference instructed the NEC vigorously to defend the HSE and the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and to seek a meeting with health and safety minister Chris Grayling.
Another motion called on the union to work closely with other organisations to dispel the myths perpetrated by the government in opposition to its own advisers.
Mover Vince Butler (NEC) condemned the 'philistine approach' of a government which thought nothing of keeping cans of petrol in the garage. Lofstedt himself had pointed out that effective enforcement by the HSE created a return on investment of £2.35 for every £1 spent.
Union activity is the foundation of the fight for social justice in the workplace, deputy general secretary Dai Hudd told delegates.
Ministers Eric Pickles and Francis Maude – along with the Tory-aligned Taxpayers' Alliance – had mounted a "mischievous attack" on the valuable work of union reps.
Every pound spent on union facilities in the public sector generated between £3-£12 in savings.
Chris Walsh (Department for Transport) said that the coalition believed that taxpayers were subsidising trade union activity. But, on the contrary, the work of union reps produced productivity gains of between £4-£12bn, savings of £19m as a result of fewer dismissals and savings of between £18-£143m in recruitment costs and avoiding early dismissals.
But "evidence will not deter the coalition," he said.
Don Campbell (Ordnance Survey) stressed the added value of full-time union reps. The Taxpayers' Alliance saw only the costs, not the benefits, he said.