ILO Fundamental Rights at Work
In June 2019, at the 108th session of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Centenary Conference, it was unanimously agreed by governments, workers and employers that occupational health and safety should be designated as a Fundamental Right at Work (FRAW). That decision, once implemented, would elevate health and safety to the highest level of international labour standards, increasing the accountability of governments and employers in saving lives at work.
That was before the pandemic struck. This week, (March 2021), the most influential occupational health and safety organisations in the world backed an ITUC led campaign calling on the Governing Body of the ILO to ensure that the 2019 pledge on FRAW is implemented at the ILO conference in June 2021.
The Collegium Ramazzini (an international scientific society examining occupational and environmental issues), said: “Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are harmed each year by their work. Millions more die. This carnage is preventable, but only if the protection of workers from harm is given high priority and worker health and safety is recognized as a fundamental human right.”
Nick Pahl, CEO of the UK-based Society of Occupational Medicine, (the professional body for occupational physicians globally), said: “The Society of Occupational Medicine strongly supports the designation of occupational health and safety as an ILO Fundamental Right at Work. We urge the ILO Governing Body to act expeditiously to progress the decision of the ILO Centenary Conference.”
The International Commission on Occupational health (ICOH) President, Dr Jukka Takala said: “The ILO and ICOH have estimated that 2.8 million people die each year from work-related illness and injury’. ICOH urges the ILO Governing Body to take action to progress the decision of the ILO Centenary Conference.’”
Welcoming the support of experts from across the globe, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Governments and employers should listen to these leading experts. For far too long, protecting workers from work injuries and illness has had a lower status than other fundamental rights at work. Some employers and even some governments seem to think that the costs of doing business can be traded off against workers’ lives. Giving health and safety the legal status it deserves will right a historic wrong, and also boost efforts to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.”
Prevention of workplace illness was one of the objectives of the ILO from its very foundation in 1919. Making occupational health and safety a fundamental right at work — on a par with the prohibition of child and forced labour, discrimination at work, and the right to join a union, bargain collectively and ultimately to take strike action — would make employers and governments more accountable when they fall short and would signal that workers have the right to refuse to take unnecessary risks at work. It would drive better health and safety standards along the world’s supply chains and it would reaffirm the right of working people to be informed and consulted by their employers about the hazards in their workplaces.
It has been proven time and again that working with health and safety worker representatives, with joint management-union safety committees, keep working people and the public safer and healthier. Boris Johnson continually tells us that UK health and safety laws are ‘gold plated’ and that the UK has some of the best employment protection laws in the world.
It’s time to call him out on both counts and to demand that the UK supports the call for FRAW at the ILO Conference in June this year.