On 3 August 2020, SATSE (Sindicato de Engermería), a Spanish nursing union, lodged a case with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for the annulment of Directive 2020/739 of 3 June 2020 which classifies SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, as a risk group 3 human pathogen, and not as a group 4 pathogen.

This call for annulment by SATSE echoes the opposition of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and of several members of the European Parliament to the controversial decision of the European Commission to classify the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus causing Covid-19) as a risk group 3 human pathogen via the adoption of Directive 2020/739.

According to the ETUC, this classification infringes articles 2 and 18 of Directive 2000/54/EC on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work, and with the articles contained in its Annex III. “As long as no effective treatment and no vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 exist, this virus has to be considered as highly contagious, with a high risk of spreading, and as the cause of serious conditions and symptoms among humans. SARS-CoV-2 consequently continues to remain a serious hazard for workers, justifying its classification as a Group 4 pathogen”, said Laurent Vogel, researcher at the ETUI (European Trade Union Institute).

The Commission’s lack of transparency in not publishing the text of the expert opinions upon which its decision was based is also raised in the Spanish union’s pleas before the CJEU. According to the union, the absence of any justification of why SARS-CoV-2 has been classified in group 3 constitutes a “substantial breach” of Directive 2000/54/EC.

The classification in group 3 is disappointing for trade unions in several respects. According to Directive 2000/54/EC, when a biological agent cannot be clearly classified, it must be classified in the highest risk group among the alternatives. Moreover, the possibility exists to first classify a biological agent in group 4, and then, in line with scientific progress, in particular on developing treatments and a vaccine, to reclassify it in group 3.

“Through taking the decision to classify this virus in group 3, the Commission is applying a double standard: due to its extreme danger for the population at large, SARS-CoV-2 justifies exceptional measures, whereas for workers it is considered a risk which ‘could’ be serious. This distinction should not be made, as work environments are a key source of contamination. SARS-CoV-2 should therefore be treated as a highest-level danger under Directive 2000/54/EC”, concluded Laurent Vogel.