TUC: A breath of fresh air: a CWU reps campaign against air pollution
“It certainly is for trade unions to really to start holding our employees to task on getting to zero-carbon.”
Mark Holt is a green/Health and Safety rep for the CWU covering 14 Royal Mail and BT offices across the Northwest. Holt has been working together with other reps to improve health and safety for workers and communities in the region.
As part of its decarbonisation efforts, Royal Mail has recently announced an investment in electrification of its vehicle fleets in a drive to reach zero carbon by 2030. The company is trialling the use of micro electric vehicles across the UK, as well as vehicle replacement for older heavy emitting diesel vehicles. The changes will bring down Royal Mail costs and Union reps are driving the decarbonisation plans forward across the regions.
CWU health and safety reps have taken a leading role in the consultations around the electric vehicle roll-out to ensure workers skills, knowledge, and concerns are taken to account and that there are no negative consequences for workers. The trial sites are mutually agreed upon at the national level between Royal Mail and CWU, and implemented together with union reps at the local level in joint working groups. Health and safety reps are also helping to decide where electrical charging points should be placed to reduce the risk of workplaces accidents.
Holt explains: “what we’ve found is that in a couple of sites the consultation hasn’t been great. We really do need a consultation at a local level…because the majority of our local reps have the most knowledge of their sites.”
Consultations have revealed local reps are concerned about the impact that the changes will have on the way their jobs are structured. There is a concern about how micro electric vehicles, which are smaller than the current vehicles, will fit parcels for delivery in the tight delivery timescales. Reps are using consultations to raise their concerns with the company.
Many Royal Mail delivery workers are also exposed to air pollution in their day-to-day jobs. Holt believes that this is a major occupational health and safety issue which the transition to electric vehicles could help to address. “There is a positive for using these vehicles and there’s a positivity in terms of health for our members.”
CWU health and safety reps across the Northwest are building a sectoral campaign to raise awareness around the need to address clean air as an occupational safety and health issue. Reps are working with the Greener Jobs Alliance and Trade Unions Clean Air Network to hold educational workshops around the fight for clean air. They are also planning to push greater protection for workers to reduce the impacts of air pollution, including the need for personal protective equipment, and flexible working patterns to allow workers to avoid rush hour. Holt explained his motivation: “it’s for the next generation, you know, I think that as a trade union we can’t pull the ladder up on the next generation, we’ve got to be pushing for this now.”