Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Simon Jones - one among many

SIMON JONES campaigners joined trades unionists on Workers Memorial Day, 2000

A YOUNG man killed in his first morning at work will be the subject of a play being performed in Liverpool tonight.

Simon Jones was a student at Sussex University, reading Social Anthropology, who decided to take a year out. No harm in a social science student observing life off campus. For Simon Jones it ended up costing his own life. Not exploring some remote mountains or jungle, nor moving among some criminal gang, but accepting a job where he was sent by the dole people, just down the road from his uni.

Simon had heard something about docks work, and the evils of casualisation. He had helped organise a meeting in a Brighton pub for striking Liverpool dockers to speak. So there was some irony in finding himself pressured by the benefits office to go to Personnel Selection, a recruitment agency, who sent him to a job at Shoreham docks, working for Euromin, a Dutch-based firm.

With no previous experience or training, just five minutes "instruction" from a foreman, Simon was set to work in the hold of the Cambrook, a Polish cargo ship that had docked that morning carrying a load of cobblestones.. The firm was using a mechanical grab crane to which chains had been attached. He had to attach bags of stones to the chains hanging from the inside of the open grab.
It was the morning of April 24, 1998. Two hours after he started work, Simon Jones was dead.

Sean Curry was working near Simon. Turning to say something to the young man he saw the closed grab where Simon's head should have been, and blood oozing from its claws. Simon had been decapitated. Later Sean was ordered to hose the blood off the bags of stones so they could be used, and was sent home when he refused.

As it came out in court later, the crane driver could not see into the hold, and the banksman on the dockside was a Polish crew member who did not speak English. The grab should not have been in use. Either a different crane ought to have been used, or the grab should have been detached before the chains were attached directly to a hook. But changing the crane would have taken time, and ten weeks before James Martell, Euromin general manager, had ordered that the chains be welded on to the grab. Simon was killed because of that idea, when the lever that operated the grab got caught in the crane driver's clothing, causing the jaws to close around the young worker's head.

There were 374 work-related fatalities in this country that year. But as they heard the horrific news about Simon's death, friends and family were determined that he should not become just another statistic. They would do everything to see that whoever was responsible for this tragedy should face justice, and that Simon's case would highlight the whole issues of casualisation, workplace safety, and ruthless exploitation, particularly of young people.
As they say in their campaign slogan:

"People like Simon Jones get killed at work all the time and nothing gets done about it.
Not this time."

With few resources beyond their energy and determination, they laid out money to print posters and leaflets, trusting supporters would raise the funds.
They wrote to unions and MPs. Before April 1998, the police were not formally required to investigate workplace deaths. A new policy requiring their attendance came into force just before Simon Jones's death, but local police had not yet been trained and the investigation started six weeks late.
Investigations usually come under the government's Health and Safety executive (HSE), but only 30% of workplace death cases end in a prosecution. The HSE is chronically under-resourced and often criticised for delays and lack of transparency. Even when police decide to move, there have been few successful prosecutions for deaths at work.

The young people in the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign used bold and imaginative methods to make sure someone took notice. On September 1, 1998, on what would have been Simon's 25th birthday, protesters invaded Shoreham dock. Climbing two 80ft towers belonging to Euromin, they unfurled banners reading "Simon Jones RIP" and "Casualisation Kills". Simon's girlfriend, Emma, said: "My arms were shaking and the structure was swaying in the wind. But for the first time I felt I was doing justice to his memory."

Euromin was forced to close down for the day, sending workers home on full pay. The journalists and TV crews came. Two days later, the group occupied the Brighton office of Personnel Selection, hanging from the window a banner reading "Murderers" and handing out leaflets about the campaign.

A few weeks later, environment minister Michael Meacher admitted that the government's plan to spend an extra £4.5m on health and safety inspectors was "not enough". At the time of Simon Jones's death, there was only one HSE inspector responsible for every dock in the south of England, as well as for hospitals and local authority, police and Ministry of Defence establishments. Euromin had had only one visit from this inspector, in December 1994, after an anonymous complaint. No loading or unloading was taking place at the time.

In March 1999, George Galloway tabled a question in the House of Commons concerning the casualisation of labour, and described in detail the safety failures at Euromin that had resulted in Jones's death. A group from the campaign travelled to London to lobby MPs and demonstrate at the Department of Trade and Industry. Somehow after they occupied the DTI lobby the fire alarm went off, and the building was evacuated, so they were able to leaflet the crowd outside.
In April, 1999 the Crown Prosecution Service announced there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Euromin or any senior manager for manslaughter. The HSE had also completed its inquiries but could not explain why Euromin had been allowed to operate in such a dangerous manner, why it had not been properly inspected and why it was allowed to remain open.

On April 28, 1999, Workers Memorial Day, just over a year after Simon's death, campaigners gathered outside the HSE's London headquarters, while his family laid a wreath at the door. When their requests to speak to the director were refused, 30 protestors blocked Southwark bridge, next to the building, and stayed there for three hours, holding up traffic until they got their meeting.

Meanwhile, lawyer Louise Christian pressed for legal action. In 2000 two high court judges overturned the CPS's decision, ruling that it had behaved "irrationally" in insisting that there was no realistic prospect of conviction; in a strongly worded judgment, they ordered it to reconsider "with dispatch".

It was a further nine months before summonses were issued to James Martell and Euromin. On November 7, 2001, the trial of Martell and Euromin began at the Old Bailey. On November 29, Martell and Euromin were cleared of manslaughter by a majority verdict; the company was found guilty of two lesser charges of breaching health and safety regulations, and fined £50,000.

Judge David Stokes said: "I regard the excuses put forward [by Euromin] as lamentable. The fact is that this company, between February 1997 and April 1998, failed to carry out any of the most important parts of its duty. The failure to do that was absolutely deplorable in my view. If it had been done, the death of this young man might have been avoided."

No action was taken again Personnel Selection for sending inexperienced workers to a job where they had not checked conditions. Or the Department of Employment, whose staff are themselves under pressure to get people into work, any work.

With the government still dragging its feet on Corporate Manslaughter Laws promised when it came to office almost ten years ago, casualisation still widespread, official safety inspection far from expanding being reduced, and trades unionists still hamstrung by the Tory anti-union laws, the reasons for the death of Simon Jones, and hundreds like him every year, have not gone away. So neither will the campaign.

Although they may have used unorthodox tactics to make their protest known, the Simon Jones Memorial Campaigners have worked through conventional legal and political channels when they could, and have teamed up with the organised labour movement. But as one of the sacked Liverpool dockers remarked when hearing that campaigners had halted operations at Shoreham dock, 'A few years ago, it would have been workers coming out that shut that dock, not protesters going in.' When casualisation and anti-union laws have weakened trade unionism and outlawed what would have been normal solidarity action, it becomes necessary to rethink what's "normal" and maybe to behave like outlaws.

Whether for your mates who've been sacked, or for a pal who has been killed.

Simon Jones' ashes lie scattered in his favourite Brighton park, and a tree was planted in his memory. But most of all he will live on in the struggle for workplace rights and safety, and to insist workers are not just numbers, but human beings, entitled to our safety, our rights, our lives.

Meantime, in Liverpool, the Dingle Community Theatre is performing the play
SIMON JONES WAS SOMEONE! tonight May 10th at 8pm at the Casa Club, Hope Street, Liverpool Entrance is free. Tickets are available from the Casa Club or by phoning 0771 684 8894.

The play, written by Alan Bower and Tom Mclennan, is an hour long, agitprop style drama that looks at Simon’s death and the subsequent campaign to get justice for him and his family. “Simon Jones was Someone” not only looks at the personal tragedy behind casualisation and a deregulated society where profits come first - it also looks at the possible responses to such horrible crimes and the failure of trade unionism in the post-Thatcher era to challenge them.

A collection will be held after the play for the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign kills.

The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign can be contacted at PO Box 2600, Brighton BN2 2DX, 01273 685913 (

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