The Italian Presidency of the EU hosted a conference in Rome on 4 and 5 December on future health and safety at work policy, at which a call by ETUI researcher Laurent Vogel for the EU Directive on carcinogens and mutagens in the workplace to be overhauled received backing from the Italian government representative.
"100,000 people die each year in the European Union from a failure to prevent work-related cancers," Laurent Vogel told some 300 attendees from a score of countries. The ETUI researcher added his voice to proposals from different Member States - Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands – for an early review of the current Directive. "The review process was started ten years ago; it is high time something was actually done at last to cut down workers’ exposure to countless carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxins," he added.
The Italian Labour Ministry’s Director General for occupational health policies, Paolo Onelli, said that Italy would join with this group of states in order to fashion a common legislative framework for more effective prevention. His statement was one of the big achievements of the conference.
The conference also discussed the drive to lighten the impact of EU law on business. To see its programme through, the Commission has taken advice from a group of experts, known as the Stoiber Group after its chairman, Bavarian conservative Edmund Stoiber.
Heidi Rønne Møller, the only trade union representative in the group whose remit ran out on 31 October, painted a vivid picture of the lobbying done by most of the group’s members to roll back health and safety laws. Of the group’s 15 members, 10 were personal appointees of Edmund Stoiber. There were just four representatives of civil society (unions, environmental, public health and consumer groups). The 40 billion euros in savings produced by the group as the expected outcome of its proposed dismantling of EU laws in fact derive from a vague and unscientific opinion poll.
On its side, the Commission has given no pledges other than to say that the framework could be reviewed sometime in 2016, and to put forward its "strategic framework for health and safety at work for the period 2014-2020".
The next step will be played out in March 2015 at the EU Council of Ministers meeting which will adopt a resolution on EU occupational health policy.
A series of speakers illustrated various aspects of national preventive health and safety at work strategies, highlighting the growing problems from public spending cuts in this area and political pressure to deregulate. Spirited discussions took place on the precise scope of the "simplifications" of laws under way in several countries. Leaders of the three Italian trade union confederations (CGIL, CISL and UIL) voiced the common concerns of the Italian labour movement about a model of prevention undermined by the casualization of work.
Marie-Anne Mengeot (Journalist)
Eric Van den Abeele