European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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18 June 2015

A publication that links the world of work and the experts

As part of its traditional monthly forum, on 9 June the ETUI organised a debate between three coordinators of the book ‘Les risques du travail’ and around 80 people. Thirty years after its first edition, which had helped to increase the visibility of the occupational risks in France, the new edition, the fruit of collaboration between the ETUI and the publisher La Découverte, seeks once again to build bridges between workers and committed experts.

‘There can be no negotiation over risks to the lives of workers’, stated Annie Thébaud-Mony. A reminder was certainly not without merit. The labour sociologist, who has devoted much of her research to the subcontracting of dangerous work, particularly in the nuclear industry, pointed out that the social inequalities in the area of occupational health had become even worse since the 1980s. ‘In every part of the world, in the name of competitiveness, work kills, injures and causes illnesses in millions of men and women who have no choice but to earn their living in a job that they know could seriously damage their health’, she wrote in the recently published work.

Although technical progress and the advent of the era of IT and robots augured well 30 years ago for less arduous conditions for workers, the ergonomist and statistician Serge Volkoff noted that, on the contrary, work was becoming more and more strenuous. ‘In France 38 % of workers have to cope with extremely physical demands at work’, he deplored. He stressed, in particular, the physical hardship of machine maintenance tasks, so replacing humans with robots was not enough to eliminate the risk factors.

Laurent Vogel, an ETUI researcher, felt that it was important to give greater recognition to the contribution workers made to our knowledge of work, and to show a little less deference to the experts.

‘How can we explain those magical moments when workers mobilise to defend their right to decent working conditions?’, he asked.

In his view, the research that led to concrete actions to transform work was the research that ‘opens doors and enables collectives to bridge the gaps’.

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