Wednesday 1 December 2010

The selective use of health and safety legislation

I have been a trade unionist a long time, and for all that time the idea that workers have a right to work in safety has been absolutely central.  Accordingly I am always supportive of measures taken by management to protect workers - in fact unions usually positively demand such measures.

So I thought that, however supportive I might be of the campaign against fees, I still thought it right that I should support evacuations of staff from main council buildings if there was any chance that the safety of my members might be compromised by demonstrations, even if that was not the intention of the demonstrators.

But events this week have made me a bit more cynical.

On Monday morning this week, the heating failed in Priory House next to Brighton Town Hall and the temperature plunged to 12C.  In strange contrast to the employer's reaction to the demonstrations last week and yesterday, there was no move to evacuate Priory House, despite the fact that the temperature was 4C below the (chilly) legal minimum for an office of 16C.  It took most of the day for the heating to get to a decent level.  Some staff who complained were treated dismissively, as though they were moaning about nothing.  We did get some emergency heating in and I advised staff whose medical conditions might have been aggravated by the cold to leave the workplace.

I then got to thinking that the panic around the prospect of some teenagers making a noise outside council buildings was a useful way of demonising the protestors, and that the evacuations were less about the welfare of staff and more about the convenient use of the anxieties of staff to advance a political agenda.

I am sure that I am being way too cynical, but next time it happens I might just ask a few more questions.........

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