European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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9 October 2017

Trade unions and employers’ associations consulted by the Commission on the Carcinogens and Mutagens at Work Directive

A consultation of trade unions and employers’ associations on the future of the EU Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work was launched by the European Commission on 26 July.

The political context of this consultation is significant: the procedure for revising the Directive was initiated in May 2016 with a first proposal, and the second proposal for a revision was tabled in January 2017 and is currently being debated by the European Parliament.

Although very little progress has been made recently in most areas of European social legislation, the prevention of occupational cancers represents a notable exception given that the European Parliament and a number of Member States have adopted amendments going far beyond the minimalist proposals initially tabled by the Commission. Much still remains to be done, however, and it is likely that the various stages of the revision process will continue into the next Commission’s term of office.

In its response, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) emphasised the importance of this issue given that occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths, accounting for more than 100 000 deaths every year in the European Union. The ETUC has called for reprotoxic substances to be included within the Directive’s scope, and for mandatory limit values to be set by 2020 for at least 50 carcinogens instead of the three currently covered by the Directive.

According to the ETUC, these limit values should be set on the basis of uniform methods and should adhere to high standards in terms of preventing damage to human health. The trade union organisation also stressed the importance of protecting workers against emissions from diesel engines, which are currently one of the main causes of work-related cancers.

In the ETUC’s opinion, efforts to prevent occupational cancers are hampered all too often by the stereotypical notion that female-dominated occupations are, for the most part, unaffected by this problem; legislative decisions should instead take account of exposures suffered by both men and women.

The response from Business Europe – a European employers’ confederation which supports the Commission’s minimalist approach – was considerably less ambitious, and focused instead on the procedural challenges which risk delaying the ongoing revision process.

Attendees at an ETUI conference scheduled to take place in Brussels on 14-15 November 2017 will debate various issues relating to the fight against occupational cancers.

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