News bulletin for immediate release
GOVERNMENT – GUILTY! HSE – GUILTY! EMPLOYERS – GUILTY!
The jury at the on-line Workers’ Court, 11 March 2021, found the government, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and employers guilty of all charges that were brought over the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of workers and members of the public.
In his summing up of the Workers’ Court proceedings Professor Steve Tombs, the chair of the court said:
‘The jury has unanimously found the employers, enforcement authorities and the UK Governments, guilty of all the charges laid against them. Their collective criminal negligence will not be forgotten. You are the living record, yours is one of the many collective records of the lives of over 130,000 people callously ended, needlessly ended, up to this point in the pandemic. Not to mention millions more who have been emotionally, physically and financially scarred in many cases for the rest of their lives. As bearers of this record, those for whom you have spoken and about whom you have spoken, we are not going away. On behalf the Workers’ Court: we demand a public inquiry, we demand legal proceedings for corporate bodies and senior individuals within them; we demand truth, justice and accountability. We shall remember the dead but we will also fight for the living.’
The court was organised by the UK Hazards Campaign on 11 March 2021, one year after the declaration of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). One year on, 130,000 UK citizens have died, including many thousands of workers.
Evidence was taken from a broad base of witnesses, including trade union reps, specialist academics and campaigners covering different industrial sectors including: the NHS, public sector, construction, education, manufacturing, telecommunications and transport. As well as an ex HSE inspector an activist from the Black Workers network, retired GP, national and regional trade union officers.
In introducing the witnesses Janet Newsham of the UK Hazards Campaign said:
‘The witnesses provided a picture where workers are bullied and victimised, where trade union representatives are sacked and blacklisted, where employers deliberately fail to control the risks leaving workers exposed, infected, disabled and dead. These are serious allegations which need bringing to justice. We need employers to understand it is their legal duty to ensure the mental and physical health of their workers, that the enforcement authorities need to stand up and start protecting workers and Government inaction must be challenged to stop the continued deaths of their citizens.’
– how government refused to accept clear and obvious risks to workers throughout the pandemic, especially denying the airborne risk until too many people had died, and failed to act sufficiently to halt the progress of infections, illness and deaths;
– how the HSE abdicated their role as health based standard setter and enforcement agency, failed to recognise the clear and obvious serious nature of the disease and the risk of transmission at the UK’s workplaces, failed to enforce Health and Safety laws and protect workers health and safety in the workplace;
– how employers have failed to meet the legal standards enshrined in our criminal health and safety laws, failed to make “suitable and sufficient” risk assessments and put in place “safe systems of work”, failed to consult with union reps as required by the law, demanded workers who could have worked from home actually go in to the workplace etc.
A full list of the charges is in additional information, at the end of the document.
The Jury that heard the evidence were:
- Joan McNulty – Unison NW Health and Safety Committee Chair
- Helen McFarlane – Health Worker, Trade Union Rep, Unite NEC
- Janet Farrar – UCU President elect, Manchester College Trade Union Education
- Prof. Dave Whyte – Professor of Socio-legal Studies Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, Uni of Liverpool
- Prof. Andrew Watterson – Professor Andrew Watterson, Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport at the University of Stirling
- Phil Liptrott – Personal Injury specialist and solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors
- Ian Tasker – Senior Advice Worker at Scottish Hazards
- Andrea Oates – Labour Research Department, NUJ
Verdict and statement of the jury, which was read out by Helen McFarlane, following their consideration of the evidence:
“First and foremost, we find the Government guilty on all charges:
We believe the Government sets the scene for the remaining charges
So, deregulation, privatisation, slow reaction to lock down, herd immunity
Regarding our black and ethnic minority brothers and sisters, the Govt has failed to acknowledge root causes, NOT in genetics but in structural institutional racism in the workplace
and the dangerous cocktail of race and class came to the fore
“That the Government had a wilful downgrading of the serious nature of this pandemic”
“We find the also found the Employers guilty on all charges:
We believe that is was wilful, for example we were struck by the evidence, there was never an accidentally going over the top with PPE, within any risk assessment.
Not utilising RIDDOR
Exploitation of women workers, BAME workers
Failed by the employers to improve on the guidance. So even if they were hiding behind the Government saying that it was just guidance, our employers have failed to improve on that guidance and have ignored TU reps, to put in place better arrangements.
And there has been victimisation of workers, sacking of reps and workers for raising safety issues and particular horror to hear of the UNITE London Bus driver Moe Mahsin Manir and his sacking.”
“The HSE we also find guilty on all charges:
Not the HSE workers but the HSE leadership
Our reps rely on advice and back up from HSE and we recognise that so do good employers who are trying to do right thing.
But the lack of intervention, not intervening on even the RIDDOR allegations.
Not setting standards that could be measured.
Signing off on undermining health and safety guidance led by big business, especially the Construction Leadership Council.
Allowing themselves to hide behind Public Health.
And where there have been fines of 40,000+ individuals ONLY 78 Improvement Notices and no prosecutions.”
“We agree with the witnesses that said they blame employers, but we blame all three for deaths as they put profit before people’ s lives”
“Our judgment is we have witnessed:
Social murder. Social injury. Social illness, both physical and mental.
We further find exonerated the brave workplace reps and we demand their reinstatement.
And we also exonerate all those who protest and call out the guilt of all parties.
And in particular we exonerate Mental Health Nurse, Unison activist Karen Reissmann for the brave move that she has taken.”
For more information contact:
Janet Newsham, Hazards Campaign
Tel: 07734 317158
Hazards Campaign Workers Court 11th March 2021
I. To highlight, challenge, and change the negligent response of employers, enforcers and UK Governments to the Covid-19 pandemic at work.
II. To give grass root organisations, workers, trade union reps, trade union health and safety officers and other occupational health and safety activists the opportunity to register their concerns about the direct and indirect effects of COVID occupational health and safety failures on workers including economic and social impact.
III. To provide a living record of the issues workers have faced due to the UKs response to Covid-19.
Employers: During the pandemic many employers have:
- Compelled employees to return to work during the pandemic when it was unsafe to do
- Failed to provide ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments, as required by law, that use a control hierarchy approach to controlling the risks of transmission via: direct, indirect, large droplets and aerosols and then monitor, review and implement effective Covid risk removal and risk reduction measures. (such as ventilation in indoor settings)
- Failed to work with Safety Reps and Trade Unions to protect workers
- Failed to provide sufficient pay for workers to allow them to stay off work when sick or having to isolate
- Failed to provide adequate PPE at a precautionary level, when and where it was needed
- Failed to record or RIDDOR report near-miss, infections and deaths from Covid-19
Failed to plan effectively for pandemics and act on international evidence of risks at an early stage.
During the pandemic the HSE:
- Leadership has failed to enforce health and safety law compliance on employers who are not controlling the risks of transmission.
- Leadership did not present the case to take the lead on workplace Covid outbreaks instead of public health agencies
- Failed to carry out proactive inspections until transmission rates in communities are too high.
- Failed to release information and detailed reports about infection outbreaks, workplace transmissions, failed to explain where/how transmissions have happened, failed to provide information about how these risks can be controlled and failed to inform how many workers have been infected, developed serious illness or who have died as a result of Covid-19.
- Failed to prosecute employers for negligence and issued very few Improvement or Prohibition enforcement notices.
- UK Governments failed to plan and prepare for the occupational health and safety risks of pandemics over several years when international agencies such as the ILO and WHO provided the necessary information
- UK Governments failed to provide precautionary PPE, and
- UK Government downgraded PPE standards (based on availability not health risk)
- UK Government downgraded Covid-19 as ‘significant’ not ‘serious’ workplace infection
- That the UK Governments failed to ensure that only workplaces that are controlling all the risks from Covid-19 transmission are permitted to open
- UK Governments allowed non-essential workplaces to continue to operate during the lock-downs which has increased transmission rates in communities.
- UK Governments have failed to provide transparent data on workplace outbreaks
- UK Governments have failed to provide mitigation of the transmission risks in Government buildings, schools and other education facilities and health and social care settings.
- UK Governments have provided guidance which does not meet the duties of employers under existing Health and Safety Law.
- Contrary both historic and current evidence, UK Governments failed to acknowledge the true airborne transmission risk by continuing to only focus on hands, face, and space.
Further useful information on the issues raised at the event:
Hazards magazine – www.hazards.org
Institute of Employment Rights report – HSE and Covid at work: a case of regulatory failure – https://www.ier.org.uk/product/hse-and-covid-at-work-a-case-of-regulatory-failure/
Hazards Campaign details
If you need more information please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or call Janet 07734 317 158
The Hazards Campaign is a UK-wide network of resource centres and campaigners. The Hazards Campaign supports those organising and campaigning for justice and safety at work.