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5 April 2016

Union campaign criticises Commission apathy towards hairdressers’ health

Since early March, Brussels underground stations have been displaying posters showing how daily exposure to chemicals contained in cosmetic products can affect hairdressers’ health. Launched on 1 March by UNI Europa, the European services workers union, this campaign is designed to showcase how the European Commission is stalling important social legislation.

In April 2012 UNI Europa and the employers’ organisation Coiffure EU signed a framework agreement on a series of aims designed to improve occupational health and safety protection in the sector. The agreement dealt also with the working environment, safety standards, staff training, and the harmonisation of working conditions (in relation, for example, to the handling of cosmetic products, measures to prevent harm to the respiratory tract, etc.).

The social partners asked the European Commission to forward their agreement for decision by the Council, in accordance with the procedures enshrined in the Treaty, so as to make it binding in the EU member states. Under pressure from several national governments, the European Commission declined to take this step.

With the arrival of the Juncker Commission, a change in attitude towards the European social partner agreement might have been expected. Yet the Commission, on the contrary, went one step further by disseminating a publication in which the agreement was mocked.

‘UNI Europa and its allies will no longer stand idly by while the health and safety of thousands of workers, most of them young and female, is being held hostage. The health and safety of hairdressers is not a “small thing”– these workers are at very high risk of developing skin ailments, musculoskeletal diseases and occupational asthma’,stated Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.

The UNI Europa campaign forms part of a broader trade union mobilisation against the Commission’s ‘Better regulation’ agenda, regarded by the European labour movement as a threat to workers’ social rights.

Hairdressers are, according to UNI Europa, ten times more likely than the average worker to develop skin conditions and five times more likely to develop musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis and tendinitis. It is estimated that 20% of them will, at some point in their lives, be affected by work-related asthma.

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