On 28 April, International Workers’ Memorial Day, unions around the world are focusing their demands on getting the International Labour Organization (ILO) to adopt occupational health and safety as a fundamental right at work.
The existing fundamental ILO rights, which hold governments to the highest level of accountability, are:
- freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
- the elimination of forced or compulsory labour;
- the abolition of child labour; and
- the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “The pandemic has cruelly exposed the lack of protection for workers and indeed for the public who enter different workplaces. Evidence from around the world shows that the virus is spreading at work, not just in health and care settings but also in factories, meat works, warehouses, schools, offices, transport and other sectors.
“With 2.78 million people each year dying from work-related illness and injury even before the pandemic, the picture is now bleaker than at any time in recent history. Now is the time for governments and employers to elevate the status of occupational health and safety to the level of a fundamental right at work.”
The 2019 ILO Centenary Declaration, adopted unanimously by governments, employers and unions, includes a pledge that all workers will have their safety and health protected at work. The ILO Constitution includes a similar promise, and the World Health Organization already defines health as a fundamental human right.
The trade union movement is now making a global push to lift the status of occupational health and safety to the highest level at the ILO.
As a fundamental ILO right, it will mean a greater level of accountability for governments and stronger obligations on them to ensure employer compliance.
“Every ten seconds, someone dies because of lax workplace procedures. Weak or absent workplace protection for huge numbers of workers was a disgrace before the pandemic; it has now become a fully fledged scandal. This is long overdue, and we call on all governments to meet their obligations to protect workers and members of the public who go into places where people work. This is their fundamental right,” added Sharan Burrow.