WORKERS DON’T NEED HEALTH & SAFETY – VINCE CABLE
The media in the UK this week have been trumpeting the fact that Vince Cable, the government’s Business Secretary, is supposedly at war with his Conservative colleagues over disagreements about employment legislation and so-called ‘red tape’.
‘Red tape’ is government speak for rules that protect ordinary people from being dismissed for no reason or for health and safety regulations that protect employees in shops, offices and factories across the nation.
A prime example of red tape that was cut by Conservative governments was the regulation that stopped the feeding of mixed up animals to other animals. This led to mad cow disease.
If one is to believe the gutter press, the workers of this country are the most cosseted in the world and cannot be sacked even if they guillotine the managing director. Of course this is nonsense. The health and safety executive whose job it is to monitor these issues never have enough staff to inspect all the businesses, and so are always under pressure.
The Labour Party has been cozying up to Cable showing they couldn’t care less about workers’ rights as well.
There has been a campaign for many decades to paint health and safety legislation as unneeded, intrusive and expensive for our poor beleaguered businesses. As you would expect, the opposite is true. Students of history will know that working conditions were universally awful in the past. The Factory System started in Britain during the time of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century. Workers were forced to work up to 16 hours a day for a pittance. Women and children worked in mines and health and safety was nonexistent. This is what William Blake was describing when he wrote about the “dark satanic mills” in his poem Jerusalem.
Individual workers and trade unions battled throughout the 19th century and early 20th century to create a reasonably safe workplace. Sadly, employers care little about their workers and see staff as just another cost of production. What is even more disappointing is that the length and level of propaganda against health and safety is such that many workers echo these calls for fewer regulations as if that would help them in some way.
I’ve worked in a wide variety of workplaces and very few of them take health and safety seriously. Over the last decade I was employed by Jaguar Land Rover at the Solihull plant and can tell those who have never worked in the factory that it was and is a particularly dangerous place.
We take it for granted that everyone strives for safer road safety for instance, so why should factories, offices and shops be any different? Of course it is nonsense, but this message has been hammered home again and again because it saves money for big business. The papers always talk about ‘small companies not being able to cope with all the regulations’ but that is just a smokescreen. As usual it is the bigger businesses that drive the propaganda through the media.
I’ve been injured at work through industrial accidents and can tell you it is not easy to get compensation from an employer. Even when it is obvious that the company was to blame, there are many difficulties for an ordinary person to receive proper compensation. For a start, there has to be witnesses. The company always has lawyers who will lie, cheat and do anything they can go to deny the reality of the situation and reduce the amount of compensation payable.
On top of that there are the trade unions: most ordinary trade union officials are brilliant people who work very hard for their members. However the paid officials are another matter. Often they are in league with the company and work against the interests of the ordinary worker. For a trade union to support one of its members in a claim for an industrial accident the worker has to use the unions preferred solicitors. I have experience of this situation and it was a pretty depressing time. Not only do you have the injuries from the accident but all the odds are stacked against you. You need to be confident, patient, resourceful and thick skinned.
Now we read the Vincent Cable, a former oil company executive, and no friend of the working class. will this week promise to abolish health and safety inspections unless firms are operating in higher risk areas such as construction or energy, or if they have a record of poor performance. The right to compensation is also to be cut back.
Rubbish tabloid newspapers have screamed for years that Britain has a ‘compensation culture’. This, for those who haven’t heard the phrase before, is meant to imply that workers are suing their employers for massive sums every day of the week. As we’ve mentioned before, the truth is obviously nothing like this at all.
I was also a health and safety representative for my area. It was hard enough to get the company to do anything about dangerous situations before, but now the government are planning to cut back on the inspections by the health and safety executive. This is a carte blanche for bad employers to ignore the health of their workers and turn a blind eye to health and safety.
The Conservative Liberal coalition government is planning to turn the clock back to the last century when workers could be hired and fired at the drop of a cloth cap and injuries at work cost the company nothing but the workers their health and prosperity.
Many workers have lost their lives, limbs vision, hearing and livelihoods through accidents at work – but no manager or employer has ever been convicted of manslaughter for these crimes.
Is this the kind of country we want to live in?