Workers Memorial Day: Commission must rethink ‘astonishing’ omission of workers’ health and safety from work programme

Workers Memorial Day graphic

The ETUC is using Workers Memorial Day to appeal again to the European Commission to prioritize workplace health and safety in its plans for the next five years in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Trade unions first raised the alarm last September when occupational health and safety was omitted from Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines, pointing out that every year there are 4,000 fatal accidents at work and 120,000 people die of work-related cancer.

Despite that, the Commission continued to overlook this matter of life or death when it published its work programme for 2019 to 2024 in January.  

The ETUC is now writing again to the Commission President to urge her to reassess her priorities in light of the coronavirus crisis, which has been responsible for hundreds of deaths at work.

In a separate letter sent to Nicholas Schmit, the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, today the ETUC and its affiliates have called on him to ensure Covid-19 is recognised as an occupational disease.

Our appeals come on Workers Memorial Day, the international day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives at work which is routinely observed by the European Commission.

The ETUC is calling on the European Commission to:

  • Include a plan for zero workplace deaths and the elimination of work-related cancer to its work programme for 2020.
     
  • Add Covid-19 to the EU directive on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents to ensure the most effective and strict prevention measures
     
  • Enlarge the scope of the recommendation concerning the European schedule of occupational diseases to cover all professions exposed to Covid-19 at a higher level than for the general population
     
  • Enforce existing legislation in member states after a dramatic drop in workplace inspections in many countries

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Per Hilmersson said:

“The omission of health and safety from the European Commission’s agenda was astonishing before the crisis considering there are still 4,000 fatal accidents at work and 120,000 people dying of work-related cancer every year.

“In light of recent events, it would be grossly negligent to keep turning a blind eye to this matter of life and death.

“Yet workplace health and safety is still not given the importance it deserves in the Commission’s roadmap towards lifting Covid-19 containment measures. The exit strategy needs to have a hazard-based approach, with proper prevention measures put in place before we can return to work.

 "“It is high time for Ursula von der Leyen and her team to prioritize occupational health and safety, of which there was no mention in her political guidelines when elected Commission President and of which is still no mention in the recently leaked Commission work programme.”

28.04.2020
Press release