ILO issues landmark decision on asbestos


International Labour Organization tells Canadian government to adopt strictest standard limits to protect workers' health and to consult with worker and employer organizations on reviewing its national laws and regulations on asbestos.

GENEVA: In its conclusions about a case on Canadian asbestos launched by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the International Labour Organization (ILO) issued a landmark decision on June 11, 2011, singling out Canada as having a particular obligation to "keep abreast of technical progress and scientific knowledge" because it is one of the world's main producers of the cancer-causing material.

The ILO Committee on the Application of Standards has told the Canadian government to adopt the "strictest standard limits for the protection of workers' health as regards exposure to asbestos" and to engage in consultations with its worker and employer organizations on the application of sections of the ILO Asbestos Convention 162 for reviewing national laws and regulations.

The Committee asked Canada to "take into account the evolution of scientific studies, knowledge and technology, as well as the findings of the World Health Organization, the ILO and other recognized organizations concerning the dangers of exposure to asbestos." Both the WHO and the ILO since 2006 clearly recommend a ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos.

The committee heard that Quebec, the Canadian province where asbestos is mined and exported to developing countries, has one of the highest death rates from asbestos in the world. Exposure limits to chrysotile in Quebec are ten times higher than permitted levels in the rest of Canada and one hundred times higher than most European exposure limits. A recent report by the Public Health Institute in Quebec found that of 3,000 samples from air monitoring in the town of Thetford Mines, 43 per cent exceeded the legal limits.

The industry employs around 300 workers in the Quebec Thetford Mines and the nearby town of Asbestos, and now hopes to expand mining and exporting through a government loan guarantee of 58 million dollars.

Canada continues to export the cancer-causing fibres, with the approval and encouragement of the Canadian and Quebec governments, to many countries including India where a few days earlier, on June 8 and 9, the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) held a two day conference with Indian trade unions to continue work on banning asbestos gobally.

Next week from June 20 to 24, the international campaign for the banning of asbestos faces another challenge at the conference of the Rotterdam Convention, where chrysotile asbestos is high on the agenda for the third time as one of four substances recommended for hazardous listing. Canada has been working for several years to keep chrysotile asbestos off the list of hazardous substances under the Rotterdam Convention, to which Canada is also a signatory.

Today, June 14, the IMF joins with BWI and the Global Unions in supporting a statement on Chrysotile at the Rotterdam Convention meeting. See the statement here: