What the Party Manifestos say on health and safety.
We now have the manifestos of all the main parties, it is interesting to see what they say (or don’t say) about occupational health and safety issues.
Not that manifestos are necessarily an indication of what will happen in Government of course. In 2000, of the two parties that went on to form the Government, only the Conservatives mentioned health and safety, committing themselves to “amend the health and safety laws that stand in the way of common sense policing”. This was also in the coalition agreement. It is therefore interesting to note that one of the few attacks on health and safety they did not try was the one in the manifesto. They made no attempt to change the law on the police, but did of course reduce protection for the self-employed, weaken the reporting requirements, slash inspections and conduct three reviews of the HSE. None of these were alluded to in either the Lib Dems or Conservative election manifestos, but were all done under the guise of attempting to reduce regulation generally.
So what about 2015? Well, it is fair to say that health and safety is not exactly the number one issue in any of the manifestos. In fact it is pretty hard to find any direct reference to it, so you have to look at some of the more general stuff.
In the case of the Liberal Democrats, all we find is a mention on “removing unnecessary business regulations”. Given that they have voted for all the health and safety deregulation measures while in Government, we can only presume that they continue to see health and safety protection as “unnecessary”.
The Conservatives again have nothing at all. Perhaps they think they have gone as far as they can and still stay on (just) the right side of the minimum requirements under European law, however, more generally they do say that, as far as regulation is concerned, there will be more of the same. The manifesto states “We will cut a further £10 billion of red tape over the next Parliament through our Red Tape Challenge and our One-In Two-Out rule.” Later on in their manifesto they do however threaten to make virtually all strikes illegal through severe restrictions on union ballots. This will obviously hinder the ability of unions to organise on health and safety.
The Conservative manifesto also says “This Government was the first in post-war history to reduce the burden of regulation.” However a recent report claims that between May 2010 and May 2014 (the latest year for which information is available) Ministers created 1,073 offences. These are all new ones, and is about five every week or one every working day. The Government have not denied this. They simply state “696 crimes had been removed from the statute books over the four-year period – meaning the net number of new laws was 377.” Obviously they have a very strange definition of reducing regulation.
The Labour Party published a separate workplace manifesto earlier this month which said “Labour will also work to support health and safety, reducing the toll of workplace injuries, fatalities and occupational ill-health, including for the self-employed, and reviewing specific issues such as excessive workplace temperatures.” This will be news to the ears of many health and safety activists, who will also be delighted to hear that the Party is committed to tackling blacklisting.
Their shadow minister for employment has gone further and said that Labour does not regard protecting workers health and safety as a burden. If there is a Labour Government, he wants an “evidence based” approach to regulation and enforcement and there should be no “no go” areas for inspection. He has also said that a Labour Government will not implement the recent changes on self-employment and will assign additional priority to the promotion of occupational health. Although he does fall short of committing any extra resources to the HSE.
Elsewhere the Labour manifesto has said that they will abolish tribunal fees (which would help victimised health and safety representatives)
The Green Party do not mention health and safety as such but do commit to phasing in a 35 hour week. They will also reduce (but not abolish) tribunal fees, and will launch an investigation into blacklisting, with consideration of a new criminal offence. All very good but it is noticeable that they have a whole section on road safety but nothing on workplace safety which kills and injures well over ten times as many people.
UKIP are completely silent on the issue of health and safety beyond saying that, after leaving the EU, they would adopt EU employment rights into UK law although there is a caveat that “some EU directives such as the Working Time Directive need amending because they actively restrict the British work ethos”. Presumably they mean the ethos of forcing workers to work much longer hours that their European colleagues, often for no additional pay.
The only thing that I could find in the Plaid Cymru manifesto was a commitment to legislate against blacklisting, while the SNP have only issued their business and jobs manifestos, neither of which mention anything related to health and safety.
So that in a nutshell is where the main parties contesting the election sit in relation to the health of the 30 million workers in the country, and what they are doing to tackle the 20,000-plus work-related deaths and the 2 million people who are suffering ill-health because of their work.