Health and safety at work is a fundamental right

The ITUC has condemned employer representatives and employer-aligned governments for refusing to allow the International Labour Organization (ILO) to move ahead with recognising health and safety at work as a fundamental right.

Despite a pledge in the ILO’s Centenary Declaration adopted last year that all workers should have adequate health and safety protection, the trade union call for the ILO to move ahead on the issue is being blocked at the organisation’s Governing Body meeting in November.

ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, said: “Some 2.3 million people die each year due to workplace illness and accidents and the current pandemic will only add to this appalling loss of human life. Many millions more have been injured or have long-term illnesses from their work.

"The right to protection from deadly work processes, noxious chemicals and other hazards must be recognised as a fundamental right, along with freedom of association and collective bargaining and protection from discrimination, forced labour and child labour. These are all cornerstones of the new social contract the world so desperately needs to build resilience and recovery in the COVID-19 era.

“While broad-scale public health measures have been and will likely continue to be crucial for inhibiting the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, much more attention needs to be paid to workplaces, to prevent infections and spread of the virus back into the community.

“The key to this is occupational health and safety, with workers and their union representatives involved in the necessary prevention and protection decisions. Business interests are stalling the agenda at the ILO, but they are mistaken if they think they can make it go away. We call on governments not to give in to the corporate agenda at the ILO, which puts profits ahead of lives, and to join us in protecting workers from death and disease,” added Ms Burrow.