Why it is crucial that health and safety in the workplace are fundamental workplace rights, explains Manal Azzi, expert at the International Labour Organization ILO.
What are the greatest challenges to guarantee safety at the workplace?
That depends on the sector, the country and its development, but diseases and accidents at the workplace are a big problem in general. The traditionally dangerous sectors include agriculture, the building industry and mining,
but psychosocial risks are increasingly coming to the fore: suicide, burnout, anxiety, depression. This has further intensified with the corona pandemic. But it’s also problematic that workers are exposed to toxic substances.
The outsourcing of production to subcontractors in supply chains and informal work contracts increase the risk. Prevention and safety are inadequate in too many places, as is data availability, which is why we are dependent
At the annual international ILO conference in June, occupational health and safety has been declared a fundamental right.
We have been campaigning for that for almost four years. The existing fundamental principles and rights at the workplace – no forced labour, no child labour, no discrimination, freedom of association – have been supplemented by this fifth one. That decisively alters the significance of health and safety at the workplace, as all countries have to abide by the core labour standards, whether they have ratified them or not.
What resistance was there?
It was said that the right to occupational safety and health is complex and cannot really be guaranteed, which indeed is a problem with all rights. The main concern was on the one hand which ILO Conventions would be associated with it, and on the other the effects on existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Do FTAs automatically have to fulfil the fifth principle? Or do they first need to be adapted? That can be decided by the respective government.
We want workers to have the right not to be exposed to any hazardous conditions, and that will be defined by whoever is responsible. The focus is on prevention and access to expertise and instruments to enforce this right.
What changes for workers when health and safety at the workplace is an ILO Core Convention?
It becomes a national priority with budget, resources, increased capacities. The launch of projects and global campaigns will result in better protection. In addition, workers campaigning for occupational safety and
health can refer to it.
Will it also have an impact on how asbestos is dealt with in countries where it is still not banned?
Asbestos is not explicitly mentioned. But the obligation to report on how toxic substances are dealt with will be increased in general, and as asbestos is known to be carcinogenic, a safer workplace will have to be asbestos-free.
“The acknowledgement as fifth principle decisively alters the significance of health and safety at the workplace, as all countries have to abide by the core labour standards, whether they have ratified them or not..”