European Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor put forward a Communication – the "Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work" - on 6 June 2014. It sets the seal on the policy followed by the two Barroso Commissions since 2004, but veers away from the aim of levelling-up working conditions in the European Union.
The Commission has chosen to focus on three major areas: prioritising small and medium-sized enterprises through a deregulatory push; improving prevention of work-related diseases; and workforce ageing.
While acknowledging that work-related diseases kill nearly 160,000 people each year and that up to 100,000 of these deaths are caused by occupational cancers, the Communication foreshadows no changes to existing legislation to protect workers against work cancers, even though it is notoriously failing. Revising that law was a key point of the strategy for 2007-2012, but was blocked by the Commission. The same silence rules over the musculoskeletal disorders that prevent many workers from keeping working up to retirement age. A proposal for a directive was drafted in 2010 but never published by the Commission, which is enough to stymie the entire legislative process. There is no concrete proposal on psychosocial risks, which get a lip-service mention.
The only way to make a breakthrough is for the new European Parliament, the new Commission taking office in November 2014 and the Member States to give a fresh impetus to health and safety at work. The trade unions will be sure to mark their card on that.
The European Trade Union Confederation has described the Commission Communication as "weak and insubstantial".