Under UK (and EU) law, employers have legal obligations towards their employees, and employees have certain rights whilst at work.

Those rights are and obligations are clearly understood, and are adhered to and followed by most employers. However, there are some companies, and some poor senior management teams, who are not so strict in adhering to the rules, laws and obligations imposed upon them, or who otherwise accidentally or intentionally infringe or limit employee rights. Although those companies are very much in the minority – their actions or omissions can make things very unpleasant or even dangerous for the employees affected.

June 2017 saw the Law Society (the regulating and governing body for the legal sector) step in regarding the workplace and employee rights. The Law Society recommended that the government form an independent inspectorate, backed by government and with full authority and legal powers, to enforce employee rights in the workplace. Such an independent agency would effectively stop and curb poor employers from breaking em0ployerment laws, and exploiting staff.

The recommendations of The Law Society to Matthew Taylor’s government – commissioned review into employment practices would see accredited government inspectors having the ability and power to enter a workplace and determine whether the staff are defined as employees, workers, or independent contractors. Further, those accredited inspectors would be able to review working practices, workplace conditions, and other aspects of employment legislation and working rights.

According to Law Society President Robert Bourns “rights at work are not optional – they are the minimum standard to which we are entitled … When there is a dispute our law relies on individuals taking their employer to court to get their rights recognised – a task that is simply beyond most people. Bad employers know this, and take advantage of it to cut corners and underpay people, knowing they’ll probably get away with it … An independent government inspector who can go into a business to ensure staff are being given their proper workplace rights will help put a stop to this exploitation, and put everyone on a fair and even playing field.”

Mr Bourns went further, stating that “new ways of working are bringing opportunities, but employment law must keep up with these changes if rights provided by parliament are not to be ignored and overridden … Our recommendations are carefully designed to create better employment laws that support improved working practices, enabling employers to create the thriving economy that we all want to see, without ignoring the rights of some of the most vulnerable in society.”

The workplace inspector recommendation is one of three key suggestions made by the Law Society, all of which are designed to ensure that employment laws are clear and transparent, and also work well amidst rapidly changing employment practices – and an increasing tendency of companies to treat people as independent contractors. With that in mind, the Law Society has also on several occasions called for employment statuses and related rights to be clearly defined in one single piece of legislation. Amidst such a rapidly changing employment landscape, and a bewildering change in working practices and techniques, Mr Bourns also stated that “Matthew Taylor’s review is a timely point to update our employment laws, and ensure they serve everyone well.”

Employers & Duty of Care

Posted by Oliver on January 24,2017

Employers have many legal obligations and duties towards their emloyees.

These duties are set out in various statutes and regulations. Of those many duties of employers, the four key established ones are:

1. The legal duty to provide a safe system of work, and safe working practices

2. The legal duty to provide a safe place of work, and to ensure that health and safety legislation is complied with

3. The legal  duty to provide competent employees in the workplace  

4. The legal duty to provide adequate safety systems and PPE, as required 

These four duties are quite arguably the cornerstone of law in England & Wales regarding health and safety at work. With the idea of preventing devasting accidents at work, of those the first one is particularly significant. The concept of providing a safe system of work was defined in Speed v Thomas Swift & Co [1943] KB 557. Quoting from the verdict:

“…the physical lay-out of the job – the setting of the stage, so to speak – the sequence in which the work is to be carried out, the provision in proper cases of warnings and notices and the issue special instructions. A system may be adequate for the whole course of the job or it may have to be modified or improved to meet the circumstances which arise”

That duty of care does not just include devising a safe system of work, but also enforcing it. Employers are required to enforce safe working practices; if there is an accident at work, and it is to me that the cause was employees not following correct and safe procedures, then the employer is still liable. However, there is here a delicate balancing act between the employer’s duty to ensure that a safe system of work is actually being implemented, and the concept of vicarious liability of the employer for the negligent actions of another employee. Both are slightly different under law – but still create duties and labilities. In McDermid v Nash Dredging and Reclamation Co. Ltd [1987] AC 906, a sailor was injured when the Captain himself failed to follow a safe system of working practice. Throughout the litigation, questions of such vicarious liability for the Captain’s actions were considered, but ultimately the House of Lords found that the duty to provide a safe system of work is non-delegable.

What that means is that in addition to devising a safe system of work, the employer is also liable if those safe working practices are not adhered to. As such, overall responsibities for health and safety can never be fully delegated to employees. Simply leaving employees to enforce safe working practices may, if there is an accident at work, not only result in claims of liability against the employee in question vicariously, but also will be legally consodered as the employer being negligent in their own duties regarding health and safety.

Employment law, and personal injury law, is full of cases essentially proving the same point, or variations on the same theme: employers will almost always have overall liability and responsibility for all aspects of health and safety of employees. That rule may vary slightly, but it is a general liability of employers towards employees that can usually never be fully delegated. As such, that duty of care is particularly – and deliberately – wide.

If you have been injured in an accident at work that was not your fault, although it may have been caused by another employee, when considering any legal claim after the accident, in many cases the employer will also automatically bear a degree of responsibility. If you have been injured in an accident at work within the last three years and want to find out more, contact the personal injury specialists at CompensationClaims.co today.

Victory As Companies Settle With Blacklisted Workers

Posted by Oliver on June 16,2016

Under law and democratic principle, it is the absolute right of any worker to join their respective trade union, and to play an active part in union politics and activism. Indeed, Trade Unions have launched many a (Labour) political career, including Lord John Prescott and former Labour Speaker of the House of Commons Michael ‘Gorbals Mike’ Martin.  It is not for any employer or industry to sideline union activists, or to treat them differently due to such activities; to do so is morally and legally questionable.

 

A long running legal dispute in this regard before the High Court was finally settled in early May. With legal action ongoing, it was announced that hundreds of construction workers (of all trades) who had been blacklisted by major construction companies for being active union members had reached an out of court settlement with the companies concerned. The blacklisted workers will now receive an undisclosed sum, estimated to be in the region of £50m. Some blacklisted workers have been awarded damages in between £25,000 and £200,000. The construction companies will also pay the legal fees incurred after four years of court hearings and legal actions.

 

The agreement was reached between leading construction companies and nearly 420 trade unionists. A further 90 activists have yet to teach such an agreement, and will have their case decided in court. With a further 150 workers having already arrived at out of court settlements,  this settlement brings to over 600 the number of trade union activists who have been compensated following an illegal blacklisting scheme run by major construction firms.

 

Construction companies would illegally run the names of prospective workers (of all trades) through extensive files held to see if the employee was a ‘troublemaker’ – a trade union activist, someone who raised concerns over safety on building sites, and similar. The files and blacklist were run from an office in Droitwich, Worcestershire, and contained details and confidential files on 3,200 construction workers, with extensive information on their working lives and union activities. It was not uncommon for many construction workers to end up on that blacklist – and to be effectively denied employment by companies and agencies.

 

Many workers spent often lengthy times without work. It was only in 2006 that construction industry manager Alan Wainwright blew the whistle. Hecexposed the existance of the blacklist, publicised how it operated, and revealed the names of the blacklisted workers on a website. That led to an investigation and article by the Guardian newspaper in 2008, and an investigation in by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

 

The ICO – a national information watchdog and regulatory body- raided the offices of the Consulting Association, where the blacklist was maintained. Ian Kerr, the (now deceased) manager of the operation was fined £5,000 for data protection offences. Mr Wainwright himself subsequently brought legal action against 35 major construction companies, claiming that he was being denied work and being victimised for his own part in revealing the blacklist.

 

Another construction worker, Steve Acheson, started as an electrical apprentice in 1969. His work history includes the Channel Tunnel and large scale projects in the Middle East. However, recent years have seen him struggle to find work. It later transpired that he was on the blacklist himself, considered a ‘troublemaker’ due to his trade union activism. Since the investigations, he has been most active in seeking justice, and has led many campaigns and legla actions against the companies invoked. Currently the Chair of the Blacklist Support Group – who represented the workers in court hearings –  Mr Acheson said of the recent settlement that “what has already been achieved is a massive victory for the trade union movement, but the fight is not over yet… Until such time that the the full conspiracy is exposed and those responsible for the human rights abuse are called to account in a court of law, we will never stop fighting.”

 

Indeed, for the last 30 years it has been illegal to dismiss a worker for their trade union activities; it is regularly considered that any form of blacklisting is also illegal. Blacklisting was included in the Employment Relations Act (1999); however, discreetly the Labour government of the time never formally brought in the required regulations to bring it into law. As such, blacklisting remains legal very much on a technicality.

 

The legal challenge raised by the construction workers has been ongoing, considering this very point, for the last four years. 30 companies (and four senior executives) have been accused of complicity with the blacklisting operation, including such major firms as Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McApline, Skanska UK and Vinci. Last October the companies named admitted at preliminary hearings that the blacklist was unlawful, and apologised to those affected.

 

After the compensation settlement was announced, the workers released a short statement. Represented throughout proceedings by the GMB and Ucatt trade unions and lawyers Guney, Clark & Ryan, the workers in their statement said that the construction companies had offered financial settlements, including legal costs, which the construction workers had “accepted as fair and reasonable”. Evidence and further details of the inner workings of the blacklist will be disclosed if the remaining group of workers who have yet to settle have their case heard before the High Court. Negotiations and the remaining case itself is still ongoing.

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