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3 June 2013

Health and safety at work: EU Commission launches late consultation

On 31 May, the European Commission launched a public consultation on its future policy orientations for occupational health and safety. At a recent ETUI conference, trade union representatives as well as other stakeholders and policymakers had expressed their frustration with the Commission’s slowness to present a new multi-annual health and safety strategy.

Since 2002, the Commission adopted and implemented two strategies for safety and health at the workplace. The last strategy expired at the end 2012 but the Commission has so far hesitated to formulate a new long-term strategy.

Now, after considerable pressure from trade unions, the Commission finally decided to launch its public consultation which runs from 31 May to 26 August 2013. As a basis for this consultation, the European Commission published on the same day the results of the evaluation of the European Strategy on Safety and Health at Work 2007-2012.

Lots of interested stakeholders fear that, under pressure from the economic crisis, the Commission is downsizing its commitment to an effective strategy to tackle the issue of work accidents and working conditions. With less than one year to go before the next European elections and the renewal of the EU Commission, serious questions have also been asked about the late timing of this consultation and its possible follow-up.

László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, defended in a statement the usefulness of the EU’s past strategies: "Accidents at work are at a historically low level, and the European Union’s occupational safety and health standards are a reference for the rest of the world. Investing in occupational safety pays off in terms of improved productivity and staff well-being, reduced absenteeism and staff turnover and greater job satisfaction, especially during the crisis. However, this policy area also faces challenges and together we need to find solutions to address these challenges”.

ETUC confederal secretary Judith Kirton-Darling questioned the consultation: “Finally, we see that the Commission has recognised the need to address health and safety at work, but where is the new strategy? Where is the response to the deterioration of working conditions and intensification of work? The EU must address these crucial questions urgently”.

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