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European Deregulation Is Threatening Workers’ Health And Safety Says ETUC

Whilst David Cameron is busy castigating the EU in public, he is adopting the EU Commission's policies in private.

When it comes to health & safety and employment rights, the EU Commission is well ahead of him in moving forward to water down existing health and safety and employment rights of workers employed by small to medium enterprises. Even Cameron's policy of removing so-called ‘gold plating’ of European Law into UK law has been superceded by the EU Commission.

A new report issued from Brussels entitled, Minimizing regulatory burden for SMEs Adapting EU regulation to the needs of micro-enterprises, was issued by the European Commission on 23rd November.

In it, recommendations are made which cover health and safety and employment protection for those employed in small companies. The intention being to ‘water down’ any future legislation which covers these ‘micro-organisations’.

ETUC logo - click to go to websiteThe European Trade Union Confederation has written to the EU heads of state and governments expressing concerns about the effect the proposals will have on the health and safety of the employees of SMEs if the proposals are accepted. It argues that more injuries and illnesses will be the result of exemptions and watering down legislation for small to medium enterprises or 'micro-organisations'.

In the report's introduction the Commissioners state that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in shaping Europe's economy, accounting for 99 % of enterprises, of which 92 % are micro-enterprises.and that they have a crucial importance to the European economy as employers and sources of innovation.

It goes on:

“The Commission is committed to support their development, notably through the "Small Business Act" with its "Think Small First" principle and by facilitating, amongst other things, access to EU funding. The Commission's Smart Regulation agenda also aims to help small businesses by minimising the regulatory burden of legislation that is deemed necessary at EU level.”

Page 4 of the introduction, which could have been written by David Cameron himself, clarifies further:

Click to download report“Much legislation will remain applicable to SMEs and micros, covering fundamental public policy obligations, for example, product safety standards that are integral to trading throughout the single market. Exemptions or lighter provisions for smaller businesses will not undermine overall public policy objectives pursued through the relevant regulations, for example in public and workplace health and safety, food safety or environmental protection.

Their aim should be to reduce the disproportionate burden of delivering these objectives. There are instances when lightening the burden for smaller operators, while in itself attractive, could produce broader negative repercussions which could outweigh any benefits. In such cases the priority attached to the impact on smaller operators should play a key role in the design of the whole instrument. The key issue is to apply the “Think Small First” principle to avoid unnecessary burdens on SMEs.

With regard to health and safety, the report has some dangerous implications for workers and will increase the risk and incidents of work related upper limb disorders, workplace stress, and eyesight problems.

Annexe 2 of the report lists laws which the Commission believes can be minimised when it comes adherence by SMEs.

The proposal is to apply this criteria:

“The possibility to replace the systematic documentation of risk assessment for micro
enterprises dealing with low risk activities by a proportionate risk-based approach could be examined in the light of consultation with the social partners and after the assessment of the impact of current obligations.”

To EU directives covering:

* introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work

* the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or
mutagens at work

* on the minimum health and safety requirements on ergonomics at work particularly to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSD) and display screen vision conditions and repealing Council Directive 90/269/EEC and Council Directive 90/270/EEC (manual handling of loads and work with display screen equipment respectively)

Derek MaylorDerek Maylor, the NW BTU Health & Safety Co-ord chairperson commented on this in his November website message for Unionsafety:

"Also with the EC we tried, unsuccessfully, to influence the initiative that will combine the Manual Handling directive and the Display Screen Equipment directive into one on minimum health and safety requirements on ergonomics at work. The release of the recommendations appears to have been put back to next spring for some reason, we hope there is not a business lobby behind this and we will make enquires via our elected European representatives."

It seems that there is indeed a business lobby behind this of course as these changes are all about SME businesses and have nothing to do with protecting the employee!

Such is the concern within Europe, that the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) sent a letter to EU Heads of State and Government to express serious concerns about the report from the European Commission on “Minimizing regulatory burden for SMEs (Small and medium-sized enterprises) to be discussed at the next European Council. The report has far- reaching consequences for workers.

Click to download from E-LibraryAlthough the ETUC recognises the important contribution made by SMEs to create jobs and growth, it opposes the proposal to exempt them from EU legislation. Exempting small companies carrying out low risk activities from producing a written risk assessment, as proposed by the Commission, is a threat to workers’ health and safety.

Furthermore, the ETUC insists that any review of legislation concerning employment and social policy must involve the social partners. The ETUC calls on the Council not to support further deregulation and to take action to protect working conditions, equal treatment and fundamental rights.

Specifically concerning risk assessments, the ETUC letter warns:

“Typically, the pieces of future legislation identified by the Commission in Annex 2 for exemptions or lighter regime primarily concern social policy and are not only inappropriate (any review of legislation concerning employment and social policy must involve the social partners as provided for by the Treaty), but also dangerous from a worker’s health and safety point of view.

The ETUC has repeatedly argued that exempting small companies carrying out low risk activities from producing a written risk assessment will increase the exposure of workers to risks arising at the workplace.

All available data suggest that the risks are greater in micro-enterprises, which constitute the bulk of all European enterprises. Moreover, the Commission has not offered a definition of what they mean by low risk. This would actually require a prior risk assessment. An activity may be low risk in terms of accidents, but high risk in terms of psychosocial factors. Besides, the cost of excluding micro-enterprises should be calculated with regard to increased risks of injury and other health and safety problems.”

The ETUC is calling for MEPs to support these demands as reflected in MEP Karima Delli's European Parliament report due to be adopted in Strasbourg on 14 December.

The reality for Trade Unions in the UK is that they now face a war to preserve existing employment protection and health and safety at work protection on two fronts: The UK Con-dem(ned) government, and the European Commission and Parliament.

You can download the European Commissioner Report from the E-Library Database by selecting category:
'EU Commission/Parliament Reports' whilst leaving the keyword field blank.

Download full ETUC letter from the E-Library Database using keyword 'ETUC'

Download ETUC's report on MSD Conference 2007 from the E-Library Database using keyword 'ETUC'

Source: ETUC

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