European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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22 July 2013

Psychosocial risks: new European trade union network

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) staged the first European trade union seminar on psychosocial risks in Bilbao on 19, 20 and 21 June. The 19 union reps attending took a comparative EU-wide look at the problem and discussed a suitable trade union strategy for tackling what has grown to be a huge issue for workers.

The kick-off presentations by Spanish trade unions sparked discussions on what was immediately seen to be a very mixed bag of national situations. Psychosocial risks have been a health and safety at work priority for two decades in some European countries, but are just now coming onto the agenda in others.

The presentation by Professor Marie Anne Dujarier of Sorbonne Nouvelle University prompted questions about the very term "psychosocial risks", with participants agreeing that an alternative was needed that did not perpetuate the confusion between cause and effect. In practice, this means shifting the focus from work stress (effect), for example, towards acting on the causes of it, most often found in work organization (e.g., workload, management methods, etc.). This also helps to break with the individualization of problems and victim-blaming and give visibility to the collective aspect of the problem.

Day Two saw Jan Popma of Amsterdam University present his work on technostress - a group of disorders resulting from information overload due to the demands to stay connected created by new technologies (smartphones, etc.). The FGTB representative presented the findings of her union’s survey of its members on technostress. The results are enlightening: 50% of workers believe their work pace is dictated by their computer or equipment and 55% of those questioned found it a source of mental pressure.

The Dutch representative reported on the situation in the Netherlands, where a third of occupational diseases result from exposure to psychosocial risk factors. He presented an online diagnostic tool developed by FNV usable by all workers. The two French trade union reps each presented the method for action they had developed to address a spate of suicides in the Renault carmaking group. Both presentations highlighted the importance of worker participation in risk assessment and the search for solutions.

Finally, European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) representative Margozata Milczarek presented the agency’s forthcoming 2014-2015 campaign on "workplace stress management”.

The seminar ended with a discussion on the direction and priorities for the newly-created trade union network. While the exchange of experiences had been particularly productive, the participants agreed that the network needed more concrete objectives, such as developing and putting out risk assessment tools and tools to help stewards take hold of the issue and deliver solutions at the point of need.

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