week’s letters

What’s to stop our staff from taking us all
to the cleaners?

workers ever realise en masse how easy it is to make a successful claim against
their employers’ liability insurance, we can all get the redundancy deals out
now! It is impossible to successfully defend a claim – only gross ineptitude
could lead to failure.

insurers, loss adjusters et
al will happily inform you that they expect 95 per cent of claims to be settled
with a payment to the claimant. They are often the result of unwitnessed accidents (after all,
no-one would make a malicious claim, would they?).
With personal injury claims, you have two options: fight it and pay, or don’t
fight it and pay.

my staff complete foundation
level health and safety (H&S) training and manual handling training. We
have risk assessments, and work instructions and standard operating procedures
are written and displayed. Ditto for safe
working procedures.
We have ‘lock-off’ arrangements, signs,
health and safety newsletters, mandatory eye, ear, hand and foot protection,
high visibility jackets, safety data sheets,  firstaiders, fire wardens, an environmental H&S

live and breathe health and safety. Yet, we currently have 25 active claims
among our 250 staff, and our insurers expect to pay out on every one. Guess
which way our liability premium is going.

ongoing claim has proved to be the most incredulous of all. A fully-trained
mechanic failed to wear the safety glasses he had been issued with when hitting
a punch with a hammer. He was wounded when a shard of metal entered his eye.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that he knew he should
have worn the glasses, and admitted he couldn’t be bothered to get them from
his toolbox. He’d received H&S training, and was trained for the task. The
HSE exonerated us of blame and took no action.

The claimant’s representatives have accused us of 13 areas of negligence, and
asked for 24 items of documentation.

have provided all the evidence, including accident reports, first-aid log,
witness statements, accident investigation report, evidence of training, evidence of issuing safety
glasses, the new risk assessment, and work instruction. But our insurers do not
expect to defeat the claim, and want to settle out of court to avoid excessive
legal costs.

providers are complacent. They appoint their loss adjusters, who write their
reports. Both sides of the legal coin hand over standard replies. They finally
agree to settle out of court to avoid further legal costs. Everyone makes
money, but someone must pay – the employers.

Details supplied

In our last issue, we asked readers if union
learning reps should be government funded. Here is a selection of your replies…

Yes: the service is open to everyone

have just voted ‘yes’ in answer to your news barometer question: ‘Should union
learning representatives (ULRs)
be Government funded?‘. Yes,
because the work we undertake and the service we offer is not just for union
members – it is open to all employees for assistance and advice.

work undertaken can be intense, confidential, and vast, and so is the training.

employers are using the ULRs
for work (skills analysis and such like) that they themselves should have
already done or should be doing. This is abuse of our role. We are supposed to
work as a complementary service to encourage colleagues to improve their
skills, not to manage jobs for them.

ULRs were Government
funded, then more employers might just ‘get on board’. ULRs have joined and championed the cause of the
government-funded Essential Skills and Life Long Learning programmes. If the
agenda is to be achieved, then perhaps an increased status for learning
representatives would be beneficial for all concerned.

Lynne Gooch

Union learning representative, Public and Commercial Services Union

Employers should fork out the money

will be interesting to see what conclusion may be drawn from the result of your
news barometer poll (News, 24 August).

have voted ‘no’, but this should not be interpreted as rejecting the need to
fund the training of union representatives.

involvement of union representatives in the workplace consultation and
decision-making process is valuable and essential in a modern economy and
society. It is in the interests of employers that this participation is
undertaken with great competence and confidence,
enabling workforces to feel truly involved and adequately represented.

should pay for this? Well, trade unions already contribute considerable
resources to the training, support and encouragement of workplace
representatives. I am not convinced that further costs should fall on unions.
Nor that the Government should feel it must subsidise the cost, as it may feel
tempted to assist in a nominal, symbolic way, rather than an adequate one.
Surely it is the employers – who benefit from having well-trained union
representatives with which to confer and negotiate – who should find the
resources needed for this function, rather than the public purse?

I voted ‘no’ in your poll, because I believe the employer should pay for the
training of union representatives. This may be the reason why others also voted
‘no’ (at the time of voting, 94 per cent of voters appeared to agree with me).

may wish to conduct a future poll on this question: ‘If successful
employer-employee relations are partly dependent on well-trained union
representatives, should emp-loyers
pay some of the cost of their training?’

Trevor Phillips

NATFHE (Union for further and higher education)

Change in attitude needed for success

am a trade union representative. Ben Willmott,
employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development (CIPD), said that the move was welcome, as long as it was used to
give union representatives a better understanding of business, and not about
who has the edge in negotiations.

about attitude," he said. "They need to think in terms of positive
outcomes, rather than maintaining adversarial relations."

this kind of attitude needs to be swiftly consigned to the dustbin of history,
despite coming from the employee relations adviser at the CIPD. There is a long
way to go before unions and management can negotiate with anything approaching

article went on to say: "…the Confederation of British Industry has
questioned whether employers would have to pay for the time spent out of the
workplace, and asked how employers would be expected to accommodate trade union
representatives undergoing training."

comment from the CBI encapsulates the insularity and short-term thinking so
inherent of that organisation.

Irene Danks

Details supplied

‘Tory’ policies cost support of unions

has been obvious over the past few years that the present Government holds onto
Conservative policies, despite the fact it is supposed to be a Labour party run
for the workers.

no wonder the present Government is losing the support of the trade unions and
their donations.

Labour Party, run similarly to way the Tory party was run by Margaret Thatcher,
is looking after the super rich, the chief executives, and the company
directors’ fat-cat bonuses. So I say ‘no’ to Government funding for trade union
representative training (News, 24 August).

Ian Whiteway

Details supplied

Pay for training with union subscriptions

new Government initiative to fund the training of trade union representatives
(News, 24 August) is ridiculous – what are trade union subscriptions for?

taxpayer should not be expected to subsidise something that the trade unions
should be doing themselves. If they think there is merit in this, then they
should be paying for it.

Graham Murray

HR manager, Roslin Institute, Edinburgh

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