There has been a lot said since yesterday about health and safety at work, and workers' S.44 right to refuse unsafe work. The right to refuse dangerous work is vital and the fact that more people are being made aware of this right is great to see.
However, the law only goes so far. Bosses regularly break all kinds of laws. The only legal way to enforce these rules in the workplace is through an employment tribunal which is an expensive, complicated and time-consuming process.
Simply refusing to do dangerous work, turning to your boss and saying "I'm not doing that", takes a degree of confidence and can leave workers exposed to threats, victimisation, unfair disciplinary actions or dismissal, and although the law may be on our side, we are likely to find that it is powerless to actually help us. Being in a union will mitigate some of these risks but it isn't a panacea, and the quality of support that workers can expect from their unions really varies depending on the nature of the workplace and the skill and commitment of their local rep and branch.
Ultimately, we believe that we workers have no rights except for those that we can enforce through our own strength and power. The only way to ensure that our bosses respect our safety and dignity is to group up and get organised. That way, when we say "no" to our bosses, we're not doing it alone.
If you want advice on your rights, on getting organised, and realistic advice about what you can expect from a trade union, then contact us. We can help.