Regular vistors to the the IER website may remember that when we covered Workers’ Memorial Day on the 28th April, we carried the story that many international trade unions were using the day to highlight the demand that the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopts occupational health and safety as a fundamental right at work.
“It’s as important as freedom of association and the elimination of forced labour, child labour and discrimination in employment” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow at the time.
Well, on 10th June a historic announcement was made to introduce a fifth fundamental principal and right at work with the right for workers to a healthy and safe working environment. It is the first extension of workers’ rights in 25 years. (1)
This stands alongside those Fundamental principles and rights at work, originally adopted in 1998:
1. Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
2. The elimination of forced or compulsory labour
3. The effective abolition of child labour
4. The Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
5. Right to a healthy and safe working environment
The main aim of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work related issues. It is the only tripartite UN Agency and has been in existence since 1919 when the ILO was formed.
This significant development has only been possible with the dedication and hard work of individuals across the globe and we congratulate and thank them for their fortitude and relentless pursuit of decent work that is safe and healthy and that will benefit all of society.
The fundamental right to safe and healthy work was the major theme of this year’s International Workers Memorial Day as we remembered all those people who die in the UK because of exposure to toxic and hazardous substances and work activities.
Every year in the UK more than 50,000 people die because of work activities and because their employers have failed to control the risks to their health and safety. (2) This is both immoral and makes no economic sense to the UK economy, to our health care systems and to the commercial interests of organisations. Every death is cost to individuals, to communities and to society in general. This needs to be addressed and reduced. Covid-19 has led to the deaths of more than 20,000 workers. Deaths that should and could have been avoided with employers taking a precautionary approach to the risks.
This Thursday 16.6.22 is ‘Clean Air Day’ and the Hazards Campaigns TUCAN (Trade Union Clean Air Network) is holding an event to discuss the harm that toxic and polluted air is causing workers, their community and families. According to the Govt, air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health, killing between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year. (3) However, little is done to protect the health of workers exposed inside and outside the workplace every day and everyone should have the right to not be harmed because of their work.
“No-one should be exposed to polluted air, be injured, develop occupational diseases or die because of work. The vast majority of these are foreseeable and preventable. Workplace harm is a blight on our society and for our families and loved ones.”
The Hazards Campaign calls on the UK government to ensure the safety and health of all workers as outlined in ILO conventions 155 and 187 and to agree to support their recommendations in UK law, including in trade agreements, international financing rules and in the global supply chains.
“Having the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations body with representation from governments, employers and workers organisations, agree the right to safe and healthy work as a fundamental right globally is an amazingly significant event and those who have achieved it deserve applause. However, this right does not apply in the same way EU Directives or national laws do and we will have to fight to ensure our government (and many others) do what is necessary to meet the spirit of this right. What is clear is that it will be a useful tool in the fight against the de-regulators and those who hide de-regulation in secret international trade deals but we will have to learn exactly how it may be used in those fights in the months and years to come.”
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This story was first published on the Hazards Campaign website