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Rewrite law to stop bosses risking workers' lives in freezing conditions, says Labour's Leonard

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EMPLOYMENT laws must be rewritten to stop bosses forcing workers to risk their lives by venturing out in the snow and ice, Richard Leonard has said.

The Scottish Labour leader was speaking exclusively to the Star after the Met Office issued an unprecedented red alert for Scotland’s central belt this week.

The Better Than Zero group, which organises workers on precarious conditions in Scotland and campaigns against their exploitation, said it had been inundated with calls from people under pressure to brave the hazardous conditions.

The red alert meant that authorities believed the weather posed a risk to life. It lasted until Thursday morning, but an amber alert — the next level down — was extended until 10am yesterday.

Roads were closed, trains were cancelled and people were advised not to leave their homes.

Better Than Zero named and shamed numerous employers and bosses who had reportedly asked workers to come in or remain at work. These included branches of Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s and Morrisons.

Several of the companies later announced that they would close their outlets early.

Mr Leonard, a former trade union official, said: “To work, or be asked to work, in [hazardous] conditions is an infringement of your rights.”

He said he would advise anyone in this situation, “if you’re not already a member of a union, to join one.”

Tackling abusive bosses would take a major shake-up, Mr Leonard said, pointing out that “Labour is committed to abolishing zero-hours contracts.

He argued: “We need to see a root-and-branch review of the balance of power in workplaces. Employment law is basically fashioned on the basis of a master-servant relationship.”

But the Scottish Labour leader stressed the need for “greater access” to workplaces “for trade unions, to enforce these rights,” and said he was “keen to support initiatives such as Better Than Zero.”

Care worker Elaine McNeil was found dead in the snow in north Glasgow on Wednesday. She is believed to have become ill on her way to work and collapsed, but the full circumstances of the tragedy are not known.

A Glasgow-based charity worker told the Star: “I've been seeing a lot of shout-outs to those who have been 'braving' the snow to work. Fair play and respect to them.

“But those who have chosen not to work to protect their own health and safety are no less brave or deserving of respect.

“I’m thinking particularly of those members of our staff who have disabilities or physical or mental health problems.”

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