At the 110th Conference of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) in Geneva, a historic decision was made: the right to a safe and healthy working environment (Occupational Safety and Health, OSH) was included in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This fulfilled a long-standing demand of workers' representatives.
The “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” was launched by the ILO in 1998 and obliges member states to respect the principles and rights set out therein, regardless of whether a country has ratified the relevant ILO conventions. The right to a safe and healthy working environment was included as a new, fifth category. The previous four categories are: The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labour, the elimination of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace.
The inclusion of health and safety at work as a fundamental right is an important step in the struggle for better working conditions. Unfortunately, the reality for many workers in our project countries is still far from this idea: when ships are dismantled in Bangladesh, workers come into unprotected contact with asbestos; in toy or electronics factories in Asia, they are exposed to toxic chemicals; on palm oil plantations in Malaysia, they are not given suitable protective clothing to protect them from sprayed pesticides.
The ILO’s decision will not change this overnight. However, it makes it clear that unsafe, unhealthy or even life-threatening working conditions are not a trivial offence and must not be accepted or tolerated at any time. We will continue to fight for this with all our might.
Why it is so important to enshrine health and safety at work as a fundamental labour right explains ILO expert Manal Azzi.
«The inclusion of the right to safety and health at work in the ILO Declaration is a historic decision. The challenges remain high, but this decision motivates and we will use it to give great emphasis in our projects to the demands for concrete improvements in health and safety at work in order to achieve real improvements in working conditions.»