European workers will benefit from better protection from Covid-19 following pressure from the ETUC and MEPs on the European Commission.
The Commission had decided against putting Covid-19 in the highest risk group of its Biological Agents Directive without proper consultation of trade unions and the European Parliament.
MEPs threatened to use their power of veto over the Commission decision following concerns raised by trade unions about its consequences for workplace safety.
Today the Commission struck a compromise with MEPs on the Employment and Social Affairs committee to accept the classification but with guarantees on protections for workers.
Nicolas Schmit, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, made important clarifications on the protective and preventive measures employers must take, including an obligation to inform staff in writing about all safety measures being taken.
The Commission has committed to workplace inspections to enforce regulations and a review of the directive to better prepare for pandemics. Schmit also announced a long awaited update of the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work.
Commenting on the developments, ETUC Deputy General Secretary Per Hilmersson said:
“The ETUC would have preferred the virus to be classified in the highest risk level but it’s important Covid-19 is included in the Directive and we welcome the commitment to enforcing the measures and to a future review of the legislation.
“It will give protection for workers but also strengthen the possibility of reducing the spread of the virus at work and therefore among the general population. It is now important that member states put the new measures in place as soon as possible.
“I also welcome the engagement of MEPs on this issue. The statement at the Parliament today shows that the Commission has understood that occupational safety and health is not a technical issue to be dealt with in obscure comitology procedures, but that social partners and the European Parliament need to be involved in an open and transparent way.
“Since last October, the ETUC has called for a new EU strategy on occupational safety and health, so we look forward to be being involved in developing a strategy that helps member states and employers to adapt to the Covid-19 challenges and to fight work-related cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, stress and accidents.”