Unions strengthen worker protections, demand to elevate health & safety to ILO’s fundamental rights compact


Unions strengthen worker protections, demand to elevate health & safety to ILO’s fundamental rights compact

On October 7th, World Day for Decent Work, UNI Global Union and unions on every continent will call upon the International Labour Organization (ILO) to designate occupational safety and health as a fundamental right.

We will draw attention to the lifesaving measures that unions have taken to protect all workers during COVID-19 and demand that workers everywhere have a right to a union and to independently elected safety and health committees.  

“COVID-19 has brought occupational safety to the forefront in the global conversation about workers’ rights and put on display the indispensable role that unions play to keep workers safe from old and new forms of on-the-job hazards,” said Christy Hoffman General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “The time is now to set new safety standards through bargaining and regulation to protect everyone. The right to health and safety is fundamental.” 

After nearly 18 months of the pandemic, unions around the world have demonstrated the critical role they play to protect workers’ health, through negotiating rules about crowding, personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing ratios and ensuring the “right to disconnect”, freedom from surveillance and protection from violence at work.   

We have learned through all of this that, even in the relatively “safer” services industries, the core issue of safety and health can never be downplayed or minimized.  And while the safety measures required by the pandemic are increasingly behind us, there are new health and safety challenges accelerating through our digitalized world of work which require that this issue become a bigger priority for all workers. 

From Amazon’s skyrocketing injury rates driven by faceless algorithmic management, to surveillance-induced stress at call-centres worldwide, to email chains that go past office hours, the new world of work is generating new occupational hazards that demand a strong response from unions everywhere.  Both at the bargaining table and through regulation, unions are stepping up to the challenge. 

The ILO is a tripartite body comprised of governments, employers, and unions. Unions are calling upon employers and governments to elevate occupational safety to the highest level of international labour standards.  A fundamental right is one which applies to all countries and workers. 

The 2019 ILO Centenary Declaration, unanimously adopted by governments, unions and employers, recognized the importance of occupational health and safety for all workers. Since then the pandemic coupled with hazards created by technology’s expanded use at work has added new urgency to making health and safety a fundamental right and shown that unions are essential to implementing and enforcing that right.