It’s election time soon and we all have the chance to place an X against a name and party to select our political servants, Thursday 6 May 2021.
Many MPs and councillors appear to have forgotten that they are here to serve the public. They are supposed to be Public Servants - it’s in the name - but not always in the practice.
A stark example of this has been the way the Westminster government have mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic. Their advice and guidelines started off well when they described outbreaks or transmission of Coronavirus as a serious threat to the public. However it has gone down hill rapidly since then with contradictory statements that sowed confusion and/or allowed some employers to interpret the rules to suit themselves.
There have been some glaring mistakes or conscious decisions which are so unacceptable, including the fiasco over PPE and the subsequent privatisation of providing personal safety equipment and gear. A National scandal of corruption, that we can’t let them brush under their carpets.
The risks of Covid to the public since the first lockdown also has been played down as the bosses and political rich kids tipped the balance away from safety and protection in our communities towards protecting their profits and the economy. The issue of financial cost versus cost of our loved ones dying or being hospitalised through Covid has been badly handled.
One of the reasons the government has failed is their undermining of the HSE. Despite stating that money would be provided to the Health & Safety Executive to enforce “spot checks” the government have led a light touch operation against employers breaching Covid safety rules.
The HSE has been underfunded and undermined and unable to carry out its duties on the scale required.
Instead we have seen enforcement action taken against tens of thousands of ordinary people, with holidaymakers or families out for a walk in the open air being fined or threatened with jail sentences. At the same time employers who are avoiding their legal duties of care and putting workers at risk are getting off Scot free.
We need a lot of action and will need to campaign and demand extensive changes.
*We need a different attitude towards health and safety, including massive investment and restructuring of the HSE.
*This should include a return to the original idea of the employers and trade unions playing an equal role in decision making as the Health and Safety Commission did in the 1970s.
We need a constitution for the HSE which ensures its political independence, not dependent on political interference through budgetary restrictions.
The executive should also be independent not appointed by biased ministers with their cost agenda.
We need a review of the statutory framework around enforcement of the law including safety reps rights, improvement notices and prosecutions.
Much of this demand for change will grow with the publication and distribution of research from the Institute for Employment Rights and Hazards Campaign and the GMB union should be to the fire of that campaign
These changes are a matter of lives and death but won’t come under this government. And that is why we need to fight rogue employers and also elect individuals to power who will take a principled stand for the protection of our people and communities.
It is International Workers Memorial Day on April 28. We need changes to the way our society is run if we want to reduce deaths and injuries at work and we need to start now.
GMB trade union
Health & Safety Officer
North West & Irish Region