Throughout the negotiations to reform EU legislation on chemicals which started in 2001 and resulted in the adoption of REACH in June 2007, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and its research and training institute, the ETUI, developed activities aimed at enhancing the new rules governing the marketing and the use of chemical substances in order to improve workers' protection. The ETUI and ETUC have organized two major conferences on REACH, in March 2005 and September 2006.
REACH is now there to be reckoned with. But it still needs to enable practical improvements to be made in workplace health and safety, including by replacing the most dangerous substances (carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reprotoxins, etc.) with alternatives that are less harmful to workers’ health and by improving the content of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS). That is part of the agenda worked to by Tony Musu, an ETUI researcher and ETUC chemicals advisor, in his work with ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency set up to implement REACH. As a representative of the ETUC, he occupied from 2007 to 2012 one of the three seats allocated to stakeholders on the ECHA Management Board. He continues to take part in various ECHA committees. The ETUC is also represented in the ECHA committee that manages the harmonized classification and labelling of chemicals by Frank Barry (Unite, Ireland).
REACH is a key instrument that European trade unions must take ownership of. But there are others, like the EU’s Chemicals Directive and the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. Spreading information and knowledge about chemical risks throughout the labour movement depends on having an active network of trade union experts to work through. That is why the ETUI has been hosting annual seminars on chemicals and worker protection since 2006. The timetable for REACH implementation runs up until 2018. Through these activities, the ETUI is buttressing the union movement's work to support the reform and lay the basis for its future developments.