Today, workers all over the world will take the time to honour the memory of colleagues, both known and unknown, killed at work or who have died from a work-related illness. The EESC Workers' Group joins in this day of remembrance and supports the call from the international trade union movement that occupational health and safety must be given the status of a fundamental right by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
"The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the importance of health and safety at work – quite literally, a life and death matter for many workers. While many people have been working from home, essential workers have continued going to their workplaces, saving lives and keeping our society and economy functioning. Many have died as a direct result", said Oliver Röpke, President of the Workers Group. Among the more than 550,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the European Union, there are uncounted thousands of workers who got it at work.
The European Union's legal framework recognises that 'every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity'. Employers are required to provide healthy and safe workplaces. The reality, however, is that workers are still killed at and by work - through accidents, work-related cancer and other illnesses. Many also suffer from debilitating health problems caused by work-related stress, harassment and bullying.
Teleworking has been an essential part of the fight against the pandemic, but is not without its own risks as the EESC's recent opinions on the Challenges of Teleworking and Teleworking and Gender Equality, requested by the Portuguese Presidency, clearly show. The EESC therefore recommends an assessment of existing rules to see if they are still effective: rules applying to the workplace must be applied to the home office, including on working time, health and safety, and protection against harassment and violence.
The Workers' Group is also very concerned about findings from new ETUC research showing that safety inspections have been cut by a fifth since 2010, falling from 2.2 million annual visits to 1.7 million. There are over 1,000 fewer labour inspectors available to visit workplaces across the EU. It is both shocking and unacceptable that over a third of European countries no longer meet the ILO’s standard of having one labour inspector per 10,000 workers. Member States must urgently address the situation regarding the shortage of labour inspectors.
Oliver Röpke said, "the Commission has indicated that it will present a new Occupational Safety and Health Strategy for Europe as one of the key actions linked to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Workers' Group urges the Commission to set out specific actions to strengthen workers' safety and health at work including measures to address workplace stress and psychosocial risks, musculoskeletal disorders, work related cancers and other work related diseases".
Trade unions have played a critical role during the pandemic in trying to protect workers' safety and health and that of their families. The labour movement's fight in this regard is nothing new. Just as trade union actions led to the gradual improvement of working conditions during the industrial revolution, they will continue to fight for workers' safety and health as we witness new and emerging forms of work. As we mourn the dead, we continue to fight for the living: it is time to make occupational safety and health a fundamental right at work!