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Casual and part-time workers: Most vulnerable to job loss

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A NEW series of reports that focus on the effects of Coronavirus on employment in Wales was published on Thursday, May 27, by Public Health Wales.

Young people, and those in precarious work have been identified as being especially vulnerable to employment changes caused by the pandemic, with mental wellbeing and struggles to find or keep work cited as major concerns.

Many young people are unaware of the support that is already available and how to access it, suggesting a greater need for organisations to engage with young people on a deeper level, to find solutions to the barriers they face for gaining good, fair employment –critical for people’s good health and wellbeing.

FURLOUGH HAD UNEQUAL IMPACT

Dr Benjamin Gray, Public Health Researcher at Public Health Wales, said: “18-29-year-olds are the age group with the highest proportion placed on furlough (41%) and 2.5 times more likely to have been placed on furlough than the 40-49 years age group and as such risk an uncertain future. Furlough could potentially mask a longer-term impact of Covid-19 on unemployment, and this is a concern, especially amongst this age group.”

Dr Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant in Public Health with the Wider Determinants of Health Unit at Public Health Wales, said: “Young people have told us they have been hit by a multitude of factors that will potentially have long-lasting effects on their employment prospects.

“It’s not just about being in work, though. It is the nature, quality, and long-term prospects of that work – good, fair work, that’s so important for people’s health. We saw this impact play out in the study.

“Some working young people we heard from struggled with the impacts of work changes outside their control on their mental wellbeing, whereas most of those in stable employment generally felt well, supported by their employer, and confident about the future.

“We know that at UK, Wales and local levels there have been important actions taken to mitigate the impact of these employment changes. However, some of these are expected to come to an end.

“A clear message from our work is that it will take a range of approaches to support young people responding to the employment challenges of the pandemic, to improve health.

“Action can be taken at national, regional and local level. Employers, too, have an important role in helping young people into good quality work, and that includes public sector organisations.

“If we are to safeguard future health we will need to work collaboratively and effectively, involving young people.”

The reports are the first in a series of planned employment analysis by the Public Health Wales Population Health programme exploring the impact of Coronavirus on the Welsh labour market and will help inform policy and decision-makers.

Further phases of the research will look at how challenges could be addressed as the economy reopens and recovers, so that those most at risk of longer-term harm from the crisis can secure decent quality future employment, training, and education.

Key findings across the reports were:

•             Around a quarter of a million workers were employed in shutdown sectors in Wales (18 per cent of all workers) at the outset of the pandemic with young workers (aged 16-24) much more likely to be employed in shutdown sectors (36 per cent compared to 11 per cent of those aged 35-64).

•             Young people faced varied and complex challenges due to the pandemic. In addition to the challenge in gaining, retaining, and partaking in good, fair work, issues raised included the effects of the temporary lockdown, such as disruption of vocational learning and home-schooling, or exacerbation of pre-existing issues such as the nature of employment for young people, Brexit and reported lower uptake of universal credit.

•             Those who work in low-paid, insecure work have less protection and rights due to the ‘flexible’ nature of their jobs. Young people are chief among these due to the specific sectoral trends in employment contract types. These employment changes have also translated into significantly different impacts for distinct groups, with those living in deprived areas of Wales appearing to have fared worst.

•             There is substantial uncertainty about the future, especially when government schemes such as furlough come to an end as these cushioned the economic pain caused by the pandemic.

•             Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are likely to feel the effects for some time with concerns over scarring effects on job prospects and the potential for higher tax in the future to pay for the financial support schemes introduced by the Government during the pandemic.

•             While interventions are perceived by decision-makers and influencers to be available, apart from the furlough scheme, young people in this study did not, on the whole, appear familiar with them or accessing the support.

•             It will be critical to ensure young people are involved in the development of future support.

•             Evidence suggests that labour market policies can substantially impact the health of both the employed and unemployed populations in a positive way.

•             A range of policies are linked with improved mental and physical health outcomes, as well as reduced health inequalities; however, some, such as benefit sanctions, have been linked to either no health benefit or even harm.

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Welsh Waters in call for improvement following increase in pollution incidents

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NATURAL RESOURCES WALES (NRW) is calling for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to “step up and take action” after its annual environmental performance reports for water companies highlighted an increase in pollution incidents.

NRW also found a decrease in compliance with environmental permits for sewage discharges.

The deterioration in performance by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water has led to the company being downgraded from four-star – industry leading – company status last year to three-star (good company) under 2021 Environmental Performance Assessment metrics (EPA).

The report reveals that 83 sewage-related pollution incidents were caused by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water assets last year, compared to 77 the previous year.

Two of these pollution incidents were categorised as having a serious (High) environmental impact.

There was also one serious (High) incident from a water supply asset.

It also shows that numeric compliance against permitted discharges dropped from 99.7% to 98.3% and self-reporting of incidents dropped from 80% to 76%.

Expectations for improvements are outlined in the reports, including targets to reduce the number of pollution incidents year on year, aiming towards zero.

The report said the although the total sewage pollution incidents metric remained green, in 2021 “there has been an increase of six incidents -from 77 in 2020 to 83 in 2021. ”

“It is disappointing Dŵr Cymru have not sustained their improvement in this metric from last year”

The NRW performance report states: “The overall performance for water supply incidents is unacceptable.”

“We are calling for urgent action from Dŵr Cymru after 2021 saw the sixth consecutive year where the number of incidents from water supply assets increased.”

“We welcome the inclusion of serious incidents from water supply assets in the serious pollution incidents EPA metric from 2021 to bring more focus on this area of performance.”

Ceri Davies, NRW’s Executive Director for Evidence, Policy and Permitting said:

“Water companies have a responsibility to the environment, as well as their customers, and they must take these incidents – and the impact they have on our water quality – seriously.”

“Over many years water companies in Wales have invested significantly and improved their environmental performance so we are challenging their recent performance and asking them to set the standard for the water sector by attaining industry leading status, whilst also showing leadership in responding to the biodiversity and climate crises.”

“The decline in environmental performance is disappointing and we expect them to respond positively with renewed effort, and to drive forward improvements.”

“Earlier this week, we published our storm overflow roadmap, in collaboration with the water sector and Welsh Government, which outlines an action plan of commitments from all those involved to reduce the impact of storm overflows on our rivers in Wales.”

“This sits amongst a number of initiatives across other sectors including rural land use and industry, to tackle the numerous threats facing our rivers.”

“Improving water quality for the long term requires a collective effort from all involved, working together to identify catchment-scale solutions to contribute to healthy rivers.”

Welsh Water has not commented as yet on the report.

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M&S opticians opens its doors in Llanelli Parc Trostre

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MARKS & SPENCER has opened the newest branch of its M&S Opticians service, located in the retailer’s popular Llanelli store.

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre will offer customers an expert opticians service, which includes a full eye health examination (OCT scan) for every eye test booked at no additional fee.

Free eye tests are available as an opening offer, as well as 15% off glasses and sunglasses for Sparks customers. There’s a wide range of designer brands to choose from including Mulberry, Prada, Joules, Kate Spade, Oakley, Police, Maui Jim along with leading lens manufacturers – Zeiss and Nikon.

Expert advice on contact lens fitting and wearing is also on hand, alongside a contact lens home delivery option. The store will also be home to a hearing aid audiologist who will be offering free hearing health checks along with latest hearing aid technology, including rechargeable models and mobile connectivity.

In addition to the physical experience in-store, customers can book appointments online here, as well as view, purchase and try on glasses via the innovative ‘virtual try on’ tool here

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre is the second optician service to open in Wales following a successful trial across ten UK cities, during which the service received a customer satisfaction rate of 96% and a customer recommendation rate of 96%.

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre Store Manager, Aled Bonnell, said: “We’re always looking for ways to make shopping at M&S even more rewarding and feedback from our trial showed that customers loved the convenience of having an Opticians service in our store. We’re really excited to be opening our M&S Opticians in Llanelli and hearing what our customers think. The choice of different brands we’re offering is second to none and we have brilliant opening offers to suit all budgets.”

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Public advised to avoid rail travel as biggest strike in 30 years about to start

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THE BIGGEST rail strikes in three decades are due to start on Monday night (Jun 20), bar an unlikely late breakthrough in talks, with trains cancelled across Great Britain for much of the week.

Talks between senior rail industry figures and union leaders were taking place through the day to try to avoid industrial action, although with little optimism from either side or government that any agreement could be reached.

The first of three 24-hour walkouts by 40,000 RMT members, including signallers, maintenance and train staff, will start just after midnight on Tuesday morning, with only one in five trains running on strike days and halting services altogether in much of northern and south-west England, Wales and Scotland.

Only four rail routes will be operating in Wales on the three strike days and at a reduced service. Services will start at 7am and stop at 6pm.

These include:
• An hourly service between Radyr and Treherbert
• An hourly service between Radyr and Aberdare
• An hourly service between Radyr and Merthyr Tydfil (apart from on Saturday, June 25, when it’s between Radyr and Pontypridd)
• Reduced services on the mainline between Cardiff and London from 7am to 6pm. The last train from London is at 4.27pm.

Major train stations including Swansea, Bridgend, Carmarthen, Llanelli, Aberystwyth, Holyhead and Llandudno will have no services. There will only be limited services from Cardiff, Newport, Pontypridd and stations on the Valley lines to Merthyr, Aberdare and Treherbert.

Full details of the timetable for the days of the strike have been published.

Customers can find these on the TfW, Traveline and National Rail websites using the journey planners.

Customers with existing non-season tickets valid for travel from Tuesday 21 June to Saturday 25 June can use those tickets anytime between Monday 20 June and Monday 27 June. Alternatively, customers can claim a full refund, with no admin fee charged. Season ticket holders can apply for compensation via Delay Repay.

In the meantime, TfW has suspended sales of Advance tickets for the first three strike dates in order to minimise the number of people disrupted. Customers are advised to continue to check the TfW or Traveline websites, and those of other operators, for updates.
Transport for Wales says passengers should not travel by train during the three strike days on June 21, 23 and 25. There are no strikes on June 20, 22, 24 and 26 but Transport for Wales said people should only travel if essential as services would still be affected.

Staff working for Transport for Wales are not affected by the strike. But RMT staff working for Network Rail which manages the infrastructure across the UK are going on strike meaning that services across the UK are all affected.

Only services in Transport for Wales routes in one part of the Valleys and services on the mainline into Wales from London going as far as Cardiff will be operating. There will be no services west of Cardiff.

The strikes, over pay and attempts to reform the rail industry with post-Covid work patterns hitting commuter revenues, will cause six days of disruption, with trains limited to one an hour between 7.30am and 6.30pm on major intercity and urban routes. Services will start later and be reduced on subsequent days.

Trains will be at a standstill (Image Herald)

The action is being taken by Network Rail employees and onboard and station staff working for 13 train operators in England. The RMT said thousands of jobs were at risk in maintenance roles and that ticket office closures were planned, on top of pay freezes during a time of high inflation.

The walkout by signallers will have most impact, particularly in rural areas, leading to line closures in places such as Wales, where there is no direct dispute with the train operator. Most operators have told passengers to travel only if necessary on strike days. Northern Rail has advised passengers not to travel for the whole week.

While Conservatives have attempted to associate the union-backed Labour party with the strikes, Labour has pointed out that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and other ministers have refused to take part in talks.

Unions asked to meet ministers, saying the Treasury and Department for Transport control contracts and funding. Shapps said it was up to employers to negotiate, although train operating companies have been told they cannot offer pay rises, according to industry insiders and unions.

The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, speaking on the BBC Today programme on Monday, said it was imperative that the government stepped in. She said: “Not only are they boycotting the talks, they are actually hobbling them .”

However, Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told the BBC: “There’s no point giving false hope, if you like, that these strikes can be avoided. At this stage it is likely that they will proceed.”

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is set to table legislation to allow agency workers to step in during strikes, which could be enacted by late July to apply to future industrial action. The RMT said it would be impossible to draft in people to replace skilled rail workers and a spokesperson said it was “playing to the gallery”.

Shapps said on Sunday it was “crazy” to suggest that the Tories wanted rail unions to go on strike, after Labour accused the government of encouraging the walkouts to go ahead in order to stoke division. He said the strikes were “unnecessary” and a result of trade union leaders “gunning for” a fight, accusing the RMT of planning to “punish millions of innocent people”.

Last week, Shapps told rail staff they risked “striking yourself out of a job”. Network Rail bosses estimate the stoppages will cost the industry about £150m in lost revenue.

Talks have been ongoing between Network Rail and the RMT but bosses admitted there was little hope of a breakthrough.

The walkouts are on 21, 23 and 25 June and a special timetable will be in operation from Monday, with some evening services curbed, until Sunday. About 20% of trains will run on mainlines and urban areas.

Adding to the commuter misery, a separate London Underground strike will also bring much of the capital’s transport to a halt on Tuesday. About 10,000 members of the RMT will walk out for 24 hours, closing most tube lines. Transport for London has advised people to avoid travelling on all of its services if possible, with buses likely to be crowded and slow on jammed roads.

The London overground and Elizabeth lines will also continue to be affected by the national rail strike throughout the week.

Other unions may join the rail strike later in the summer, in a move that could halt services altogether. The TSSA union, which represents control room staff and managers who step in to run contingency signalling, is balloting members at Network Rail and announced strike votes at more train operators last week.

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