Council cuts to public conveniences are adversely affecting many workers, including paramedics, transport workers, police community support officers, postal workers and bin men who spend their working day out on the road, says UNISON the UK’s largest union. The union is calling for free, convenient, and safe access to toilets for both those inside a workplace and for those who are mobile.
Easy, convenient access to toilets at work is something workers expect employers to provide. However, the union is highlighting a problem for many UNISON members with no fixed base – workers who are out on the road and who do not have that convenience. The situation is made worse by Government cuts to council funding says the union, which is leading to many local authorities reducing the number of toilets available in town centres, seaside areas and in the countryside.
Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:
“There are significant differences between the number of toilets in each local authority. Government cuts to council budgets have led to many closing facilities leaving many areas without public toilets. For mobile workers, finding a toilet while on the move is a daily problem.
“The idea that you can just go into a shop or restaurant and ask to use the toilets is just not on. Some are helpful – particularly to those in uniform – but many times people are met with a sign saying ‘customers only’. It is embarrassing.”
Michelle, an escort worker for disabled children illustrated the problem saying:
“I start work at 6:45am and have a 40 mile return journey, arriving at the school two hours later. We were instructed not to leave the children alone with the driver. For many years this was not a problem as we could use the school toilets, but then a new security “closed door” policy was adopted. We were no longer allowed into the school; despite being CRB checked, having ID badges, and previously delivering children to the classroom if they were late.
“The journey home makes the problem worse because six or more escorts are usually dropped off from one vehicle, so it could be another hour before I finally arrive back home. If it wasn’t for the kindness of some of the children’s parents, the situation could be a nightmare.”
UNISON has also reported difficulties for members being allowed to visit the toilet as necessary – particularly in call centres. In a recent UNISON survey of call centre workers around 28% reported that access to a toilet was a problem.
For the sake of health, safety and welfare, as well as dignity, free and safe access to toilets as needed must be addressed, both for those in a workplace and those who are mobile. Having a sufficient number of toilets is of little use if workers are prevented or limited in using them, and the focus on fixed premises does not recognise the fact that many more workers are now mobile and work away from their employer’s base.
The call for better access for workers to toilet facilities is made in the union’s response to consultation on the Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace Health, Safety, and Welfare Regulations.