European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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4 June 2018

Regional forums on health and safety at work 14 years after EU enlargement

The ETUI recently held two regional meetings with trade unions from Balkan countries and Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) on occupational health and safety issues. The meetings took place in Bucharest (February) and Prague (March). The main objective was to facilitate exchanges of experiences and good practices in the areas of workers’ compensation and occupational health services. The meetings also looked at joint trade union strategies to promote healthier working conditions via the media.

The trade union members from the Balkans and the CEECs expressed their frustration at the current state of play as regards occupational health and safety (OHS) in their countries. They criticised the lack of emphasis on this topic in public policies, the shrinking resources available to develop OHS policies, and the legal infringements that systematically undermine improvements in workers’ working and health conditions. In most cases, workers who are injured or who become sick because of their job are not being properly compensated for the damage to their health.

There are also significant differences among the national systems for recognising occupational diseases, to the extent that in some countries compensation is not provided for any work-related illnesses. The trade unions are therefore calling for the adoption of a European list of occupational diseases together with common standards for the recognition of work-related diseases. In most Balkan countries and CEECs the labour movement is seeking greater transparency in compensation schemes as it is often the case that only those involved in the system know how the compensation is actually worked out. They are also calling for prevention funds to be included in accident insurance systems.

Media indifference towards OHS issues is another common feature in all of the countries represented. The participants suggested that their confederations should step up efforts to cooperate with local media outlets, which seem to be keener to cover these issues than national media. For instance, Serbian unions succeeded in getting regional daily papers to publish articles on recently concluded collective agreements. In the Czech Republic the trade union confederation CMKOS attracted broad media coverage for its promotional campaign on work-related accidents as part of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, held each year on 28 April.

The participants discussed the topics to be included on the agenda of future OHS forums. They highlighted the worrying situation of certain categories of workers such as posted, migrant, temporary and digital platform workers. These are among the most vulnerable workers, and they are often faced with a lack of clear and accurate information or instructions regarding work-related hazards. The trade unions are seeking fair rules, and adequate monitoring and enforcement of the legislation in sectors where these types of workers are widely represented. The participants were also very interested in topics such as OHS in multinational companies, OHS and European Works Councils, outsourcing and the ageing of the workforce in the context of their own regions.

All of the participating unions were asked to monitor the quality of implementation of the laws regarding protection of workers, specifically exposure to risks in the work environment. They were also invited to gather and exchange information on compensation cases where workers’ rights have been violated. The ETUI offered to play an intermediary role in these exchanges.

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