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28 May 2018

Defining the spirit of a European directive on psychosocial risks

On 26 and 27 April 2018 the European Trade Union Network on Psychosocial Risks met for the fifth time, in Tuusula, Finland. There were 27 participants, representing trade union organisations from 16 countries and European trade union federations. The previous annual seminars had in turn examined the implementation of the framework agreements (Bilbao, 2013), tools for evaluating psychosocial risks (Brussels, 2014), multidisciplinary dialogue with other professionals in the field of psychosocial risks (Malta, 2015) and the collective action that could be taken in this area (Brussels, 2017), and this fifth seminar provided the opportunity to hold a preliminary discussion on a possible European directive on psychosocial risks (PSR).

Although the trade unions represented at the seminar are by no means naïve as to the probability of there being a legislative initiative on PSR in the short term, they are nevertheless convinced that in the medium or long term there will be no alternative but to prepare a specific directive on this matter, given that the situation is deteriorating in an alarming fashion throughout Europe.

Pending this momentum, the seminar sought to give participants the chance to draw up an initial trade union blueprint for a PSR directive. Loïc Lerouge, a CNRS researcher in the Centre for Comparative Labour and Social Security Law (COMPTRASEC) of the University of Bordeaux, opened the seminar with a presentation on the existing legal principles in European law that could be used as a basis for a European directive. Following his presentation, the participants were invited to work in groups on one of the three trade union priorities in the field of PSR, which had been highlighted at the previous seminar: working time, work intensity and job insecurity. For each of these topics, the groups identified the most relevant legal principles to be included in a directive.

The seminar continued with presentations by two members of the network. Nina Hedegaard Nielsen reported on the FTF trade union’s lobbying of the Danish Government to obtain legislative provisions on psychosocial risks. She set out the reasons why the FTF and other trade union confederations believe that such provisions are needed, and she discussed the desired draft provisions, directly inspired by Swedish legislation. Hugh Robertson, from the TUC, a British trade union, spoke to the participants about the stress management rules drawn up in the United Kingdom by the administrative authority responsible for health and safety at work (the Health & Safety Executive, HSE). Where these rules are applied, the benefits can be seen in companies, with one example being a reduction in absenteeism. Unfortunately, at present there is a lack of incentives to encourage employers to apply these rules.

Maria Steinberg, a lecturer in Örebro University, closed the first day of work with a presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of the Swedish legislation on the organisation of work.

Following on from this presentation, the second day of the seminar opened with a presentation on the Belgian laws on welfare at work by Manon Antoine, a researcher in Namur University and a lawyer at the bar of Liège. Swedish and Belgian laws are pioneering in many regards and can thus be used as inspiration. With this in mind, the groups held further discussions, this time to see if a European directive on PSR could be transposed into the existing legal arsenal of these two countries.

The seminar closed with a session on the initiatives put in place by members of the network. Renske Jürrens, from the Dutch trade union FNV, outlined the successful trade union actions to support prison wardens, who have an excessive workload. Martin Jefflén presented the draft campaign that Eurocadres hopes to run in the near future at European level to promote a PSR directive.

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