Unite says that thousands of workers are being denied toilets

On World Toilet Day, tens of thousands of people cannot access proper toilet facilities at their workplace

While the emphasis of World Toilet Day is on improving facilities in the developing world, Unite has thrown a spotlight on to the problems experienced by UK workers every day.

Poor or no facilities

Unite has discovered staff at major UK high street bank branches being forced to urinate in buckets, while construction sites failed to supply any women’s lavatories.

Bus drivers have been disallowed toilet breaks for as much as five hours, and call-centre workers for big financial companies have to log out and then in to go to the toilet.

Unite commented that thousands of employees throughout the UK miss out on ‘toilet dignity’, since they are either not supplied with proper toilets, or are restricted when using facilities.

The worst industries

The union demands that employers act to ensure that employees have proper toilets without officious or unnecessary restrictions. It commented that the worst examples found were in lorry and bus driving, warehousing, construction, the finance sector and agriculture. Unite remarks that women are particularly likely to suffer, especially when on their period.

Period campaign

In September the union established a ‘period dignity’ campaign. This multi-strand campaign calls for sanitary products in schools, colleges and the workplace to be as usual as having toilet roll available.

The campaign also asks for the government to meet its commitment to take VAT off sanitary equipment. Unite wants women and girls to have a positive period knowing that they can easily lay their hands on sanitary products.

Health implications

Unite said that many UK workers experience toilet problems on a daily basis, potentially risking their health and exacerbating existing medical conditions. Having to wait to use a toilet can lead to damage to the bowel and bladder, urinary tract infections, and a build-up of toxins. However, employers continue to break welfare, health and safety obligations by not supplying proper facilities.

Legal requirements

Employers have a duty to provide decent washing facilities and toilets under the Welfare (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, with different rules for the construction industry. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) supervises the regulations and has the ability to take legal action.

Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, was staggered by the findings, noting the humiliation of the many workers who lack toilet dignity. She says employers who fail to provide decent facilities ought to be prosecuted by the HSE, and named and shamed.

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