On the occasion of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is calling on the Commission to adopt binding legislation to prevent psychosocial risks at work.
Over the past twenty years, we have witnessed an increase in psychosocial risks in the workplace. According to the latest European Labour Force Survey, 44.6% of workers in Europe are exposed to psychosocial risk factors. The cause lies in the profound changes that the world of work has undergone over the last two decades. The development of information and communication technologies has overturned management practices and economic models, with all the attendant consequences for workers' mental health.
Between 2000 and 2016, deaths from heart disease and stroke associated with exposure to long working hours rose by 41% and 19% respectively worldwide. Work-related mental disorders are also on the rise, and are still insufficiently recognised in Europe. Recent estimates indicate that between 17% and 35% of depressions can be attributed to work.
And yet, to this day, no European directive on health and safety at work explicitly mentions psychosocial risks. Only the directive on the improvement of working conditions, still at the proposal stage, mentions them in one of its articles, without defining them.
On 27 April 2023, the EESC presented an opinion entitled "Precarious work and mental health", stressing the need to adopt binding legislation at EU level and to extend and update the framework directive on health and safety at work (89/391/EEC). "We need a quality working environment that is not a source of physical or psychological suffering. To achieve this, we need a European directive dealing specifically with psychosocial risks", said the opinion's rapporteur José Antonio Moreno Díaz.
The Spanish Secretary of State for Employment and the Social Economy, Joaquín Pérez Rey, took the opportunity to present the priorities of the forthcoming Spanish Presidency of the Council, focusing on reducing social inequalities in the EU and making labour markets work more democratically. EESC President Oliver Röpke said: "I am delighted that we are able to discuss these topical issues, which will be at the heart of the EESC's priorities for this new term of office. I have every confidence that the Spanish Presidency will make good use of our Committee's opinions".
The EESC's opinion joins numerous calls for a binding framework. Since 2019, the "End Stress" campaign launched by the trade union federation Eurocadres with the support of the European Trade Union Confederation has been calling for legislative measures to combat the "stress epidemic" affecting Europe. Similarly, two European Parliament reports published in 2022 explicitly called on the European Commission to propose a directive on the prevention of psychosocial risks.