Unpublished Landworker article - June 2021
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), which is responsible for crime prosecution in Scotland, has ruled that ‘it would not be in the public interest to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry in relation to the death’ of Lesley Whitfield, aged 42, who died on 28 November 2018, in an incident involving a quad bike in a forest near Castle Douglas.
The decision followed an HSE investigation into Whitfield’s death, who was one of 32 workers killed in 2018-19 across the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector, around 22 per cent of the UK total of 147 deaths.
A year previous to the tragedy, Unite had warned through its Forestry Commission lead rep Neil Grieve that in Scotland: “Private companies are doing some of the harvesting, road repairs and replanting. This could reduce the direct workplace and we are aware that, just like in Wales, the employees are not enjoying decent terms and conditions.
“They are being exploited by being employed on zero-hours contracts. For the first time in my 30-year career I have seen planting contractors who are living in tents in the forests.” Unsurprisingly, very few workers across the private companies are trade union members.
In response to the COPFS decision a spokesperson for Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) said “We are not in a position to comment on the individual circumstances in this case. However, the health and safety of our contractors continues to be the top priority for the agency– from the tendering and procurement phase right through to contract delivery.
“Every year we are independently audited to ensure we are meeting the standards laid out in the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS). Amongst other requirements, the standard sets out employee and contractor’s rights to trade union membership, pay exceeding the statutory national living wage, access to a grievance procedure and relevant measures relating to compliance and conformance (including anti-corruption) and workers’ rights (measuring compliance with workers’ rights legislation).”
Nevertheless, planting contractors on FLS land in the winter months are still living in makeshift camp sites.
It is clear, and is confirmed by the article elsewhere in this magazine on the seasonal workers project, that land-based workers in Scotland are being expected to endure living conditions that should not be acceptable in the 21st century.