On the 8th May 2013 the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D Group) held a seminar under the theme ‘Health and safety at work: involve the workers’. I was invited to do a presentation on worker involvement due to my ‘expertise’ in this field. The other presenter on the day was Aída Ponce Del Castillo, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute. Aída is head of the Health and Safety Unit and she was there to cover health and safety issues in relation to the next European Commission Health and Safety Strategy.
2. The session was chaired by Stephen Hughes MEP and was opened by the S&D Group President Hannes Swoboda who highlighted the scale of death, injury and ill-health associated with work throughout Europe. While he said the economic crisis was of key concern, we cannot let standards drop. Indeed we must maintain an approach of improvement, built upon the health and safety advances already made. He saw the session as a major contribution to developing the S&D Group’s response to the lack of progress made by the European Commission on the new strategy.
3. I gave a presentation that highlighted key points from a paper circulated to those attending: European Commission: Efficiency Deficiency. The following were the main points:
- Around 160,000 people in the European Union died through work related fatal accidents or illness each year. Most of these deaths were preventable.
- There is overwhelming evidence that greater worker involvement leads to improved health, safety and business performance.
- In 1995 a UK study found that where trade union safety representatives operated, usually working with managers through a safety committee, accident rates were half – 50% less – than those companies where managers alone made decisions on health and safety issues. This was done across the whole of the UK manufacturing sector. In 2009 the HSE’s Health and Safety Strategy for worker involvement was a key priority: one of three strategic priorities.
- The HSE estimated that 60% of employees were not even consulted on those health and safety issues their employers were legally obliged to.
- Key evidence from UK and American sources was quoted to underpin the main proposition: worker involvement should be a central strategic issue in the European Commission’s social and economic policy.
- Worker involvement should be the central strategic issue within the European Commission’s Health and Safety Strategy for 2014-2020, currently under discussion.
- Managers must create the environment in which workers can perform at their best.
- Referring to the current European Commission campaign ‘Working together for risk prevention’ it was suggested that the Senior Labour Inspectorate Committee (SLIC) should do an investigation into worker involvement as was done for asbestos in the year 2000. [Here delegations from four countries formed a group that spent a week in France, Spain, Sweden and the UK reviewing the application and enforcement of asbestos directives.]
- The campaign ‘Working together for risk prevention’ should be continued into a new initiative over a ten year period to promote worker involvement across all Member States.
- There were a series of suggestions put forward that the European Parliament could use promote to improve worker involvement. This included lobbying International Standards organisations to set out comprehensive standards for worker involvement in managerial standards.
- I specifically used the example of the Indian Information Technology company HCLT that went from a US$700 million turnover to a US$2.5 billion turnover in 5 years on the back of a major reorganisation that restructured the company to support those people who added value to the business. These were the workers who worked directly with their clients. In the CEO’s own book – Employees First, Customers Second - he describes the five year process in getting the emphasis on worker involvement.
- The European Parliament should promote worker involvement as one of the key strategic issues we should be pursuing to help employers create the economic drive to get us out of the current economic mess bequeathed to us by the millionaire executives of the leading financial institutions.
4 Following this presentation Aída Ponce Del Castillo gave a presentation on health and safety developments in the European Commission to underpin the importance of getting a new strategy in place. This should not only plug gaps in existing directives such as musculoskeletal disorders and stress but also identify newly emerging risks, eg nanotechnology.
5 Once the session was opened up to questions and comments, several speakers supported what had been said about worker involvement and a new Commission strategy.
6 In summing up the session, Stephen Hughes indicated that this was an important session and the points raised will be taken into the Group’s policy area committee covering labour and industrial policy. They need to maintain pressure on the Commission to bring forward a new strategy. He also made a connection to the tragedy in Bangladesh where at least 700 clothing and textile workers had been killed when the building they worked in collapsed. The Commission have actively promoted health and safety standards throughout the world in the past.
[It was noted that Stephen Hughes gained an excellent reputation on health and safety at work issues almost as soon as he entered the European Parliament as an MEP in 1984. He will not be standing for election in 2014, by which time he will have served 30 years as an MEP, still working – as he has done continuously over those years – to improve the health and safety standards for workers throughout Europe and the rest of the world. His achievements on behalf of working people were well recognised.]
7 Since the meeting it has been made clear that those present fully supported the position proposed on worker involvement and this will be taken forward within the S&D Group.
9th May 2013