Just this week staff at the University of Bradford have shown the power of workers. Support workers were returned to face-to-face work with screens installed at their desks. However, these were too small and inadequate given the high level of face-to-face contact staff were expected to undertake.
Despite repeatedly raising their concerns with managers no real action was taken so workers demanded that new, larger screens be installed by 14th September, for the return of international students. Despite three external contractors measuring up the screens this deadline was missed, as was a second deadline of 21st September. Instead, the only reassurances they were given was that screens would be installed, with no firm date given.
Given that the university had not provided a safe working environment, these workers felt they had no option but to remove themselves from the dangerous situation. The staff had their union (UNISON) formally write to the university, requesting an instant resolution to the matter. Then on Monday 21st September a joint health and safety inspection was carried out by UNISON and the universities own health and safety team. They were in agreement that the screens were unsafe. Following the inspection, workers withdrew their labour under Section 44.1 of the Employment Act 1996. As a result of this display of workers power, the university moved some members of staff to safe working locations and have committed to screens being installed by 27th September, instead of a predicated date of 5th October.
While the law is complex, and workers need to be careful about how and when they invoke Section 44.1 of the Employment Act 1996 this action does show how workers banding together can achieve wins.