Cuts to free English classes 'will increase injuries and could threaten lives'

23 February 2007

Government plans to restrict access to free English language classes needed by migrant workers would lead to increased risk of accidents at work - and risks to the general public, UCU warned today.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at UCU, urged ministers to bear in mind the health and safety impact of cuts to ESOL provision for migrant workers, taking account of recent tragedies.

Roger Kline said: 'Research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) amongst migrant workers shows that they already experience a higher number of workplace accidents than others because they are concentrated in more hazardous jobs without adequate training and work longer hours and shifts.

'Compounding the dangers already facing migrant workers by restricting access to English language courses seems perverse. Ministers are well aware of the tragic circumstances in which the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers died, unable to make 999 mobile phone calls due to lack of English. And in Manchester recently, a bus company had its operating licence withdrawn after the investigation into an accident related death revealed that many of the company's migrant drivers had little or no English and had not been trained to understand road signs and basic instructions.

'National guidance to employers on health and safety says they should "take account of workers' capabilities and their level of training, knowledge and experience" and this is particularly important for migrant workers. The government says it will cut free English courses because employers should be providing training - but it knows that most employers don't provide English training, yet it is doing nothing about that.

'There is widespread opposition to the restriction of access to ESOL lessons for many reasons. Clearly the safety of workers and of the public is another reason . Restricting access to ESOL could increase injuries and threaten lives.'

The guidance paragraph 64 to regulation 10 of the The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 says: 'some migrant workers may not be able to read English well. In these circumstances, special arrangements will need to be made by the employer, such as translation of information into migrant workers' first language.'

The Approved Code of Practice, Paragraph 80, to Regulation 13 of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires 'Employers should take account of workers' capabilities and their level of training, knowledge and experience'. The ACoP also requires employers to review the capabilities of their employees to carry out their work, and provide any additional training that may be necessary.

See also: Bus drivers lacked language training - Manchester Evening News

Last updated: 14 December 2015