Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Night shifts bad for workers' health - Supercentre runs 24 hours

It was reported in today's news that 37 women in Denmark have won the right to compensation after it was proven that working night shifts long-term was linked to them developing breast cancer.

This link was suspected as long ago as 2001. Read more in a report on the research done into it here.

Cancer is not the only health concern around night working. Humans are not nocturnal (we are diurnal, the opposite of nocturnal). Night shift work is believed to cause disturbed sleep, fatigue and digestive problems. There are possible increased risks of diabetes. Scientific studies have shown that sleep disruption can cause the body to produce less melatonin, an important sleep regulating hormone. And accident rates are significantly higher on the night shift than during the day.

This leaflet informs employers that workers are at more risk of accidents when working at night than during the day.

Knowing this, it is a shameful and dangerous step backwards for National Blood Service bosses to decide to centralise blood processing and reduce the number of regional labs. At these regional labs where local blood collections were received, the processing work could be completed in a day, and the workers stop at 11pm. At the Filton supercentre which replaces them, where all blood for the whole of the Midlands and South-West has to be processed, the work rolls non-stop 24 hours round the clock. Now, as a result of this restructuring, unhealthy night shift working is being inflicted onto more workers. It doesn't seem too much to ask when you work in the NHS, helping to save lives, that your employers won't make choices that could shorten your own!

Do you have to work night shifts? Does a friend or family member? Take care - here are some health tips for shift or night time workers and advice from the Health & Safety Executive.

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Friday, 13 March 2009

IWW Blood Service Valentine's Day of Action

On Saturday 14th February 2009 West Midlands IWW held a cavalcade to raise awareness of cuts taking place at the Birmingham blood centre this March.

The IWW is a union with members working in the National Blood Service. They will be affected when the local blood processing lab shuts and transfers its work to a new centralised ‘super-centre’ in Bristol. Staff believe this is a risky plan which could delay urgent specialist blood products from reaching patients in West Midlands hospitals. Around 70 jobs will go with the closure.

The mobile demonstration, including a van with banners, cyclists and cars, set off from close by the soon-to-be-slashed blood centre and passed the Queen Elizabeth hospital and medical school, before making stops at Selly Oak, City and the Children’s hospitals. Road users were made aware of the cuts as the cavalcade travelled around Birmingham’s main arteries. Around 30 protestors wound up the day leafleting the public in New Street outside the donor centre. The blood service depends on the generous donations of the public - many more will need to receive a blood transfusion at some point in their life.

Click on pictures to see bigger version

The campaign has not managed to save Birmingham’s blood processing lab, but on the positive side, opposition to the plans from workers and their supporters has meant that Birmingham will keep its vital red cell crossmatching lab, and in the North and South-East, blood processing centralisation plans were halted completely.

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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Greetings on International Women's Day

To celebrate International Women's Day today this blog is posting a story that began in September 2006. 84 workers, 82 of them women, making medical equipment in Turkey went on strike for over a year, fighting against gross abuses by their employer Novamed.

Following is a list of some of the abuses as alleged by the woman workers of the union:

* Married woman workers are not allowed to become pregnant without FMC Novamed's approval. Each worker is given a schedule, which specifies during which months they are allowed to become pregnant. If a woman worker becomes pregnant in "breach" of this given schedule, she is terminated without compensation.
* Woman workers are required to get permission from the employer before getting married.
* To "save energy" for their work at the factory, workers are being advised:
- not to accept guests in their own homes when they are off the clock,
- not to communicate or even have sex with their spouses when they are off the clock,
- not to see each other when they are off the clock,
- only to eat and sleep when they are off the clock.
* Workers are treated inhumanely, and continuously humiliated regardless of whether they make a mistake or not.
* Managers and supervisors call their workers to their office and accuse and humiliate them in such a way that there are few workers who come out of these accusation-performances without crying.
* Workers are not allowed to talk to each other during work hours, as well as in the shuttle during their trips from and to work.
* Workers are allowed inside the factory premises after being "sniffed" by their supervisors, because smoking during work hours is forbidden.
* During work hours, there is only a 15-minute break and a 25-minute lunch break. During lunch, instead of food, the factory is serving tea and cookies.
* An average shuttle trip from home to work may take as long as 2 hours because there are not enough shuttles allocated by the factory for the workers.

Read more here.

Picket sign states: "We decide when we give birth"

Novamed women's union poster

At the outset of the battle there was no union at their factory but they got organised with the help of the union Petrol-Is. After 447 hard days striking, up against anti-union tactics by management, but with wide international solidarity, the workers won.

From December 18th 2007:
A three-year initial labour agreement was signed today in Istanbul between Petrol-Is and Novamed that ends a historic strike by 84 of the workers in Mersin, Antalya. The strike, which will stand as a test of courage for fairness and dignity on the job, began on 26 September 2006.

The settlement will bring the 84 strikers, 82 of whom are women, back to the job, and will grant all workers a wage increase of 5% for the first year, and of 4% for the second and third year of the agreement. It also brings a social package that includes a payment for each of two religious holidays in Turkey, as well as productivity and attendance bonuses for workers. All the striking workers will return to work on the 2nd of January 2008.

The agreement was historic as it marked the first trade union inside Antalya, Turkey's 'Free Trade Zone' (an area where sweatshops can operate).

Read about their victory in full.

Novamed is owned by Fresenius Medical Care of Germany. This firm manufactures one of the types of blood bags used by the National Blood Service in this country. Workers in the NBS have a direct connection to these brave and inspiring people.

Fresenius has also been investigated over bribery allegations.

"According to a 2005 UN report, Fresenius Medical Care was one of more than 2,000 firms around the world alleged to have made illicit payments to Saddam Hussein's government to profit from the aid programme."

Read more here.

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