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BBC reps stand up for the right to sit down

21 July 2010

Two trade unionists at the BBC may have won rights for thousands of retail and catering workers after a health and safety investigation at Television Centre.

Employers across Britain who refuse to provide chairs for their staff who work on sales tills may soon have to do so, following the action taken by the activsts at the BBC's main broadcast studios in White City, London.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have concluded an eight-month investigation into contract catering company, Aramark, who run the BBC teabar. In 2008, the company ordered the removal of chairs from some of their catering outlets, obliging staff using the tills to stand for hours without a break.

Following the refusal of BBC management to intervene, David Campanale, NUJ rep, and Brian Dale, BECTU activist, reported the matter to the HSE.

Andrew Verrall-Withers, the HSE inspector leading the inquiry, said chairs will not only have to be restored to catering staff in the BBC, but in all retail and catering outlets across Britain, saying "the same principle applies to other workplaces."

Together with Ed Milne, the HSE Special Inspector for Ergonomics, Andrew Verrall-Withers established that caterers Aramark could not evade their legal duty to provide chairs for their staff, because of workplace regulations from 1992, which state:

"If work can or must be done sitting, seats which are suitable for the people using them and for the work they do should be provided."

Commenting on the outcome of the case, Brian Dale of the BBC BECTU branch said:

"We wanted to speak up for those who were being exploited. As Christian trade unionists, we were angry at the injustice, especially as some till-staff were standing for eight hour double-shifts. It took two years but the result now has national ramifications for similar workers exploited in the same way by their employers."

Andrew Verrall-Withers congratulated David Campanale, Father of the NUJ Chapel in BBC World News, and said:

"This was a very strange, frustrating but useful experience around the simple issue of whether Aramark would provide chairs for their staff. In the end, I had to take action against Aramark and to his credit, Chief Executive Andew May resolved this the moment it reached his level.
"I took the line that to get a result – when push came to shove – I was prepared to take this to court even if it risked £50,000 in court costs. I was prepared to prosecute over a chair.
"There was no chance I was going to walk away from doing this. I congratulate you for your effort. Would this outcome have happened without you? No. You have been the first cog turning in the machine."

Stephen Gregory, BBC Head Of Production Safety, had told the NUJ last year he would not take action over enforcing the legislation as "Aramark are a sub-contractor and that BBC have no direct operational or management control."

After a joint BECTU and NUJ petition, organised by Brian Dale and David Campanale, signed by newsroom staff, presenters and technicians, was ignored, the pair called in the HSE on behalf of their unions.

According to Andrew Smith-Withers, the investigation has wide ramifications across a range of industries. An unwritten 'rule' had been sneaked in by companies such as Sainsburys, M&S and others that till-workers will not be provided with chairs if they 'only' stood for up to four hours. He said this has now been scrapped as a result of the HSE's enquiry into practise at the BBC and that his conclusions about the law on provision of chairs will have to be observed nationally.

Companies, Andrew Smith-Withers said:

"cannot now choose not to provide chairs for their workers. This enquiry does establish a precedent across industry."

Tags: , broadcasting, health and safety, bbc, Aramark, bectu, hse