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Hundreds of safety whistleblowers sacked every year - 22-02-2005
Hundreds of workers are being sacked every year for refusing to work in unsafe offices and factories because the law that is meant to protect them is failing to stop their negligent bosses from showing them the door, according to a joint TUC/Hazards investigation.

‘In the firing line’, the lead story in the Spring issue of the TUC-backed health and safety magazine Hazards, says that in the five years since 1999, 1,500 workers have found themselves out of a job for raising safety concerns with their employers.

The TUC says that under the 1996 Employment Rights Act workers have a right to refuse to do dangerous work, but because an employer found guilty of unfairly dismissing someone on safety grounds may be looking at a penalty of as little as £3,800, many unsafe bosses find it cheaper to sack than make improvements.

Although workplaces with unions are likely to be safer places than those with no union presence, a union safety rep trying to improve the safety of working practices can find their attempts thwarted by employers with scant regard for the health and safety of their employees. Safety reps can raise safety concerns with their bosses, but employers can simply choose to ignore their approach, for there is no legal duty on them to respond says the TUC.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'It shouldn’t be a firing offence to object to unsafe work. Workers should not be placed in the situation where they are forced to choose between risking their job or risking their personal health and safety. We need a legal system that protects safety whistleblowers, not rewards them with their cards.

'The problem is far worse than official statistics show. Unionised workers get advice and representation so are far more likely to get their job back where employers do the wrong thing. Workers who aren’t in a union, and casual and migrant workers stand little chance of redress.'

Hazards Editor Rory O’ Neill said: 'Giving union safety reps more rights in more workplaces is the ultimate win-win. It provides skilled, trained on-the-ground union safety advisers at absolutely no cost to the Government, complementing the work of the Health and Safety Executive and saving lives in the process.

'Death and injuries at work increased last year, for the second time since the turn of the century. It would be a fatal mistake not to take full advantage of the union safety effect.'

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