Tag Archives: health and safety

Osborne’s bid to end democracy by the back door

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The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.

Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!

You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.

Profit will rule.

Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.

Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.

“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.

“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.

“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.

“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.

“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”

Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.

You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.

So let’s give you some of the facts:

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The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.

It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.

‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.

All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.

‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.

TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.

In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.

In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.

TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.

As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.

Trade agreements are effectively permanent.

Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.

As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.

‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.

The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).

TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!

The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.

Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.

In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.

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You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:

EU Commission’s (leaked) mandate from EU Council to negotiate TTIP
http://www.s2bnetwork.org/fileadmin/dateien/downloads/EU-TTIP-Mandate-from-bfmtv-June17-2013.pdf

EU Commission’s (leaked) PR strategy “Communicating on TTIP” http://corporateeurope.org/trade/2013/11/leaked-european-commission-pr-strategy-communicating-ttip

EU Commission’s (leaked) concept paper on regulatory coherence
http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/ttip-regulatory-coherence-2-12-2013.pdf

Corporate Europe Observatory’s analysis of the regulatory coherence document http://corporateeurope.org/publications/regulation-none-our-business 

George Monbiot’s articles on TTIP:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

Big business control of UK policy-making,including the UK government White Paper on Trade:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

These blog articles on TTIP:
http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/seeing-red.html

http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/seeing-red.html

http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/the-coming-corporatocracy-and-the-death-of-democracy/

This Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/waatt.org

Action against TTIP is already taking place. Petitions are available to be signed:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_the_EUUS_free_trade_agreement/?aTAVNbb

http://www.avaaz.org/en/no_champagne_for_monsanto_loc/?bJcgccb&v=32207

http://action.sumofus.org/a/tpp-lawsuits/?akid=3025.1529716.rGZEQN&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=1

But more must be done.

You – that’s right, YOU – need to contact your MP and your MEP and make sure they oppose this evil plan to stamp on your rights.

Then you – that’s right, STILL YOU – need to get involved in setting up and building local and national groups to fight it, while you still can.

DON’T expect someone else to do it for you or you’ll end up a corporate slave.

… which is exactly what George Osborne wants.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Former Tory’s full-page rebuke ad fails to hit the mark

Not worried: This comedy double-act won't be worried about 'Martin' and his full-page advert attacking them in The Times - his criticisms are so wide of the mark that they make his look more stupid than they do.

Not worried: This comedy double-act won’t be worried about ‘Martin’ and his full-page advert attacking them in The Times – his criticism is so wide of the mark that it makes him look more stupid than them!

We need to have a few words about Martin.

It probably did us all a lot of good to learn that a disillusioned Conservative voter calling himself by that name has coughed up around £16,000 to publicise his opinion about David Cameron and George Osborne’s leadership of the UK.

He made his points in a full-page advert in The Times newspaper yesterday, taking the form of a letter to the comedy Tory double-act. It’s just a shame that most of it is an unrelenting flow of bilge.

But then, he is a Tory.

Most of his bile is reserved for the web of regulations which he seems to believe is stifling the economy, and the civil servants who run it. Health and Safety regulations, in particular, come in for a battering.

Martin wants the Coalition to eliminate “whole departments of government whose sole function seems to be to ensure that our children never learn that fires burn you and who, never having climbed a ladder for a living themselves, instruct everyone else on how to both place a ladder, operate a hand tool and wear a harness when cleaning windows. They do all this at great cost to the economy and for no real benefit.”

It’s very easy to mock Health and Safety regulations when it comes to the small stuff, but the simple fact is that ‘light touch’ enforcement of these rules has inflated the numbers of people on sickness, incapacity and disability benefits. Does Martin want his money to pay for his silly one-page ad campaign, or to pay for more of these people to sit at home, doing nothing, when they could be at work, helping to restore the economy?

His comments are so naive, one has to wonder if he has any experience in this field at all. I do – as has been chronicled many times in the past. Mrs Mike – my partner – used to work at a factory where Health and Safety monitoring was so lax as to be nonexistent – in fact, supervisors actively bullied workers into cutting corners. This regime was supported by Gordon Brown’s ‘light touch’ enforcement of regulations which meant the firm was always given prior notice of ‘surprise’ inspections, allowing time to put safety equipment in place before inspectors arrived.

Eventually – we believe – the repetitive nature of the work, in poor conditions that forced her to adopt an unhealthy posture, damaged my partner’s body. At first she tried to soldier through, but ended up taking so much time off work (in agony, I must add) that the company decided to sack her. She tried to get help from her union, but the shop steward seemed to be in cahoots with company bosses and failed to represent her in a reasonable way.

Now, thanks to the policies of the Coalition government for which Martin presumably voted, she is facing the possibility of having her Employment and Support Allowance cut off by officials who seem to think that her progressively-worsening condition is going to be cured by August, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to support the assumption.

Is this what Martin wants? The relaxation of what little Health and Safety regulation there is, creating a legion of people who are unable to work due to injury, and who are forced into poverty because government policy is determined to say that the damage is all in their mind, rather than admit the facts?

But then, he is a Tory.

Moving on, it becomes clear that Martin would fit in very well as part of Michael Gove’s Education Department, because what he really wants to do is destroy the Civil Service – the professional organisation that actually ensures government runs smoothly and prevents politicians from making fools of themselves on a daily basis. For every briefcase full of secrets that is left in a taxi, there are dozens of other cock-ups that are prevented by a paid officer’s quick thinking, I assure you!

He wants to “get rid of at least one in four of all the senior civil servants who earn more than two-to-three times the national average wage. The remainder can work harder for their lavish salaries and index-linked pensions or go also. And yes, by Civil Servants I mean everyone paid more than 50 per cent of their compensation – directly or indirectly – from the public purse.”

What a disaster that would be for the United Kingdom. Martin is calling for the elimination of the vast majority of the expertise that has been learned over years of service to the national interest (note that I say ‘national’ interest, rather than the interest of any particular political organisation). In one stroke, he would knock one of the most professional and experienced administrative systems in the world back to amateur status – much as Mr Gove is attempting in his own department, to the great despair of most of those working in it.

But then, he is a Tory.

His parting shot, at Cameron and Osborne’s counterparts in the Labour Party, is also wide of the mark. While his opinion that the two Eds could not do a better job is his own, his assertion that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown “got us into this mess by exploding government spending for little positive benefit” is utterly incorrect. For the vast majority of Labour’s 13 years, government spending was less, per year, than during the previous 17 years of Conservative rule. It was only after the banking crisis that government spending increased – due to necessity – and we’ve already discussed whether Martin would have been able to take out his expensive advert if he didn’t have a bank account. Conservatives have been trying to sneak falsehoods like this under our Radar for more than three years, now, and it is up to all of us to be vigilant against it and remind everyone of the facts.

But then, Martin is a Tory.

Some of his comments are right on the money, though. He starts: “I realise… you really cannot afford the time to actually think about us mere taxpayers and citizens.” Absolutely correct – they’re too busy thinking about important people like the bosses of the big firms they are helping to avoid paying UK tax.

On cutting the civil service, he writes, “that DOES NOT MEAN reclassify them as consultants at greater cost – it means TOTALLY eliminating their costs, direct or indirect, from the public purse”. It is true that – for the most part – employing consultants is a huge waste of time and money.

He wants the banking system sorted out (don’t we all?); he wants money spent on capital projects that benefit British firms, rather than “bolting together foreign-bought trains in a new UK factory”; and he rightly says, “let’s cut out this soundbite about the one million new jobs you have created. It is offensive to those desperately looking for employment. Unemployment is appalling, youth unemployment is worse, and your policies encouraging unpaid work experience smack of a clever form of slavery”.

Liam Byrne, please take note of the last comment, remember that it comes from a Conservative, clear your desk and quit as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

Health and safety deregulation: The thin end of a crippling wedge

I know what you think about this: “It’s only low-risk places like shops – what harm can it do?”

A lot, in fact.

The government is planning to introduce new rules from April next year, scrapping health and safety checks on thousands of businesses it considers low-risk. Shops are among them, along with offices, pubs and clubs.

Apparently this will save millions of pounds. I wonder how many lives it will ruin.

I have a friend who works in a supermarket, which counts as a shop. While he was working, a cleaner on some kind of motorised transport shot through a pair of doors which hit him on the arm, injuring it. This was months ago; the arm isn’t better. Because the supermarket chain had sub-contracted the cleaning work to another company, he is still awaiting compensation for the injury and loss of earnings; both firms deny responsibility.

This is a health and safety issue. Why does the government have nothing to say about it? And how many more people will suffer similar injury – or worse – in an unregulated future?

According to business minister Michael Fallon, firms will only face health and safety inspections if they are operating in areas deemed to be higher-risk, such as construction and food production, or if they have had an accident or a track record of poor performance – but for how long? If the policy saves companies money – never mind the human cost for a moment – won’t they expand it, to improve profitability for proprietors?

Ministers also said legislation would be introduced next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently.

Mrs Mike (my girlfriend) has had firsthand experience of how this works. She’s a former employee of a manufacturing company. This firm had multiple health and safety regulations to enforce, along with the equipment to do so – but she tells me that, strangely, all this equipment was hidden away during the normal working day and only came out when the factory’s owners were notified that a surprise inspection would take place. Think about that.

She doesn’t work there any more. Conditions were such that she had to perform repetitive physical work while standing at an uncomfortable angle, because the work surfaces were too low, for many hours every day, and this caused her physical damage.

But can she prove that it was her job that did the harm?

No.

I admit that this was one factory, run by a firm that no longer exists (it went into receivership and the premises are now run by someone else, who may have instigated a better health and safety regime; we don’t know, Mrs Mike isn’t there anymore). But consider the opportunities for abuse that will be available to other firms, if regulations are relaxed.

You might ask why I don’t think firms will carry on in a responsible manner after deregulation, and it might be a good question if we didn’t have the example of recent history available to us.

What I mean is: Just look at what happened with the banks.

Finally, what do you think will happen if you do suffer an injury at work? Mrs Mike was quietly sacked and has ended up on the infamous Employment and Support Allowance – Work-Related Activity Group. That’s right – you’ll get a year’s worth of invalidity pay before being required to go out and look for work, no matter what your physical condition might be. We already know that this experience can be terminal.

If you still doubt me about ESA, the latest YouTube video on the subject is on the Vox Political Facebook page. It tells the story of a claimant undergoing the hated Work Capability Assessment, in which the assessor actually asked, “So how long exactly have you had Down’s Syndrome?”

Welfare reform: will the Lords hold their nerve?

Today (February 14), the House of Lords will be debating the Welfare Reform Bill from 2.30pm. This is the Bill they sent back to the Commons with seven amendments, which MPs reversed out of hand. The government went on to state it would us ‘financial privilege’ rules to push the legislation through Parliament in its original form – an entirely undemocratic move that has led many to question the legality of the government’s tactics, and some to call for the Queen to deny Royal Assent to the Bill, on the grounds that it will not have been passed “in good faith”.

I think we all know by now that the aim of this Bill is to harm disabled people. The government has tried to create a myth about them being “benefit scroungers”, sponging off the State, but that has not succeeded with anyone other than readers of the Daily Mail. Ministers just want to take money away from those who are least able to defend themselves. Shame on them.

The question now is whether the Lords are prepared to stand up to the Coalition. Will they oppose the derisory attitude of their counterparts in the Commons, or will they just roll over and let democracy die out? How do they feel about the fact that their amendments were overturned? What do they think about the ‘financial privilege’ furore?

I suppose we’ll find out this afternoon, starting at 2.30pm.

For those of you with a deeper interest in the issues, I urge you to read Sue Marsh’s Diary of a Benefits Scrounger, but I will leave you with a quotation from today’s column: “At some point we must say “enough”. At some point, we have to accept that we have a broken system, broken procedures and that “majority rule” is not enough. If we have no checks and balances, no way to influence outcomes or mitigate harm, then the Commons is effectively a dictatorship – once elected free to wreak havoc wherever they see fit. Nothing in a manifesto, no hint of things to come, just a majority, cobbled together to deny process.”

I warned last week that we are seeing the signs of a dictatorship here. Do you really want to live under tyranny?

Welfare Reform Bill: a request for information

In April last year I wrote to my MP, Roger Williams (Liberal Democrat) regarding the Welfare Reform Bill and changes to Disability Living Allowance. He had sent me a letter from Maria Miller (a DWP minister, I believe), claiming that it should reassure me. It didn’t.

Now, as the government is ramrodding this vile Bill through Parliament using a procedure that is not valid (as far as any of us can tell), I’d like to resurrect some of the issues I raised with him then, and ask whether any of them have changed in the 10 months since.

If any readers have answers for me, or stories about their own experiences, please send them to me via the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of the page.

‘According to the letter,’ I wrote, ‘there will be an “objective assessment of an individual’s need”, developed alongside “a group of independent specialists in disability, social care and health, which includes disabled people”. Who are these independent specialists? To which organisations do they belong? Are any of them members of groups which have previously criticised the assessment of Incapacity Benefit claimants, on which the DLA assessment will be based? This letter does not provide that information.’

Does anyone know, today, who these people might be?

‘The letter states: “I can assure you that it (the allegedly-objective assessment of an individual’s need) will not only take into account physical impairments, but also mental, intellectual, sensory and cognitive ones. We also recognise the importance of ensuring that it effectively takes account of variable and fluctuating impairments.”

‘Before continuing, I would like to point out that taking information into account is not the same as making a decision based on it, and this comment cannot, therefore, be taken as an assurance of fairness.

‘As I understand it, the assessment will be carried out with the help of a computer, as has been the case with Incapacity Benefit since the new assessment for that benefit was introduced. Is this really the best way of analysing a person’s fitness for work? I don’t think so, and neither do charities working with the disabled, who have described it as a “blunt and unsophisticated tool”.

‘Let’s stay with the Incapacity assessment for a while. I think it is useful to use it as a way of gauging how the new DLA assessment will work because the latter will be based on the former. Since its preliminary rollout in 2008, we have all heard how people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work. In addition, people with mental health problems have complained their condition has not been taken seriously, and people with complex illnesses report that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems. “Ensuring that it effectively takes account of variable and fluctuating impairments”? It doesn’t seem likely, in my opinion. Certainly not “effectively”.

‘A revised, even more stringent version of the assessment means blind claimants who can get around safely with a guide dog will be forced onto jobseekers allowance, as will deaf claimants who can read and write. Taking into account sensory impairments? Do you think this claim is justified?’

Is this still true?

‘To continue receiving benefit, a person must score 15 points. However:

‘*Claimants who can’t walk but who can use a manual wheelchair will no longer score points;’

Still accurate?

‘*References to hands have been removed from the picking up activity specifically in order to make it harder for amputees to score points;’

Is this still the case?

‘and *Some activities have simply been cut from the test altogether. For example, the activity of ‘Bending and kneeling’, for which 30 points are currently available, is to be completely removed for ‘health and safety reasons’ as people should not ‘bend forward when lifting’.’

Is this still the case? It seems strange to cut something from a test for health and safety reasons when at-work threats to a person’s health and safety are precisely the reason they are taking the test!

‘Half of all the scoring descriptors for mental health and learning difficulties have also been axed, making it much harder to get benefit for people with conditions such as depression or anxiety.’

Still true?

‘At the end of each session, the computer program generates a 25-page report summarising the person’s general state of health, and fitness for work. People with severe health problems who have been given zero points say that they have told their assessors what was wrong with them, and been met with a “computer-says-no” response.’

Still true?

‘Receipt of DLA means many claimants can also get free improvements to their homes from Social Services,’ I wrote. ‘How are disabled people supposed to get these improvements if they are downgraded to Jobseeker’s Allowance, which provides a lower amount that will be entirely spent on subsistence?’

I added that there is a level of vindictiveness in the assessment system, also.

‘The Guardian has reported on one man who was given only nine points in his first WCA, but went to tribunal, where the judge found him eligible for the higher level of benefit. Shortly after the tribunal he was called for another assessment, and this time was awarded zero points. At the time the article was printed, he was waiting to appeal a second time.

‘Part of the assessment has assessors extracting information sideways from claimants. People are asked: ‘Do you watch EastEnders or Coronation Street?’ If they say yes, then that’s interpreted as meaning they can sit in a chair for 30 minutes, and that they can concentrate for 30 minutes, and the assessor can then put this on their profile as indicating they are able to work. Ability to watch a TV show does not equal ability to work.

‘Assessors observe the claimants’ demeanour during the test. One report, explaining why a woman with mental health problems had been found ineligible for the benefit, states as justification that she “did not appear to be trembling . . . sweating . . . or make rocking movements”. The DWP manual states “rocking may indicate anxiety”. It may indeed, but this is not – and should not be interpreted as – the only possible indication of anxiety.

‘Let’s get back to the letter,’ I wrote. ‘It states: “Currently there are 11 possible different rates at which DLA can be paid, which makes it complex to administer. We are proposing two rates of benefit payable for each component. This will simplify the overall structure and make it easier to understand.” Hold on a moment! So what this means is the current system involves a bit of thought on the part of administrators that, reading between the lines, the current government is not prepared to support. Simplifying the structure would mean fewer different rates of payment – so there’s a saving to be made there – and also there will be a need for fewer people to administrate the system – so there’s another saving to be made.

‘This is all about money, isn’t it? Mr Grayling can carry on that there are no targets until he’s blue in the face, but the facts are telling a different story.’

I’m willing to bet that none of the above has changed, but I’d like to read comments from people who are more familiar with the system than I am.

I’d like to leave you with this thought: In 1930s Germany, the Nazis had the Jews. In today’s UK, the Coalition has the disabled. How long will it be before someone dies?

Or has that happened already?