Waltham Forest faces another Health and Safety Executive investigation following the news of asbestos contaminated files in the Town Hall basement. This is not the first time that the Council has faced investigations over its failure to adhere properly to Health and Safety legislation. The attached local Guardian report shows that the HSE previously visited Waltham Forest regarding asbestos in schools as recently as 2010 and we know that there were concerns over asbestos management in Council buildings in 2004 when the Council set up a joint trade unions and management asbestos monitoring group. For a couple of years it seemed that the Council did take asbestos seriously. Now, however, we appear to have slipped back into minimising the issue and saying that the levels of asbestos dust are within safety guidelines.
UNISON in Waltham Forest believes that this is irresponsible of the Council and believes that the Council should re-establish the asbestos monitoring group, issue letters to all Town Hall staff giving them a clear idea of exactly what has happened here and provide them with letters saying that there is a possibility that staff at the Town Hall may have come into contact with asbestos dust. These letters could be taken by staff to their GP’s for inclusion on their medical records so that there will not be any arguments about it in the future.
UNISON is concerned at suggestions in the press that the Council is using the asbestos removal works as a screen to prevent community activists being able to see files that they should be able to see. A proper investigation is required in order to establish the truth of the situation. It is disappointing that UNISON in Waltham Forest has such concerns and is unable to trust the Council as our employer, but the independent enquiry into the award of contracts a couple of years ago, the Eduaction and Oregen scandals, the pay rises for high paid managers and pay cuts for lower paid staff and the endless hiring of highly paid consultants all suggest that things are not as they should be at Waltham Forest Council.
UNISON in Waltham Forest would like to be able to discuss all of this openly with councillors but the Council has effectively closed down all communication with the trade unions and there is currently no forum for trade unions to raise matters of concern with the elected members. We also cannot get a response from any members of the Labour Group on the Council at the moment.