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Health and Safety must be a fundamental principle and right at work

14 March, 2022As the 344th Session of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) commences on 14 March 2022, global unions are calling for an amendment to the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work that will lead to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) being considered a fundamental principle and right at work.

The amendment would see OHS joining the four fundamental principles and rights at work that the Declaration currently recognizes: freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively; the prohibition of forced labour; prohibition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in employment.

The Governing Body meets three times a year, in March, June and November. It takes decisions on ILO policy, decides the agenda of the International Labour Conference, adopts the draft programme and budget of the organization for submission to the conference, and elects the Director-General.

The call by global unions’ is consistent with the 2019 ILO Centenary Declaration on the future of work and a global campaign for OHS to be added to the fundamental principles and rights at work. In June 2019, UN experts urged the ILO to immediately recognize and adopt safe and healthy working conditions as one of its fundamental principles and rights at work. A follow-up to the resolution on the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work called for proposals, including safe and healthy working conditions, to be added to the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.

According to the first joint WHO/ILO monitoring report, released on 27 September 2021, at least 1.9 million workers lose their lives every year due to the work-related diseases and injuries. However, when adding causes of death by risk factors not included and filling in information gaps from poor record-keeping, the number is closer to a staggering three million deaths.

“Health and safety at work is neither a perk to be bargained for nor a favour to be asked. It is our right,”

said IndustriALL mining director and OHS lead, Glen Mpufane.

“No wage is worth our health or our life, and no remedy can be granted by an arbitrator that will restore our health or our life, once it is lost.”

At the November 2021 meeting of the ILO Governing Body, global unions finally secured agreement that the agenda for the 2022 International Labour Conference would include an amendment to the ILO 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work to achieve this.

On the back of this achievement, and to maintain the momentum and ensure that the  ILO Governing Body takes the decisions workers need on OHS, IndustriALL Global Union calls on its over 50 million members and affiliates to amplify the call by the ITUC to call on governments and employers:

  • To designate Convention 155 on OHS as a fundamental right at work, as it is the main convention setting out what governments need to do.
  • To designate ILO Convention 161 on Occupational Health Services a complimentary fundamental right at work. ILO Convention 161 on Occupational Health Services requires governments to ensure that workers have access to an occupational health service, either in their workplace or through the public health system.
  • To allow the broadest interpretation of health and safety, urge Governments to support the term “working environment” as reference in the fundamental principle and right at work.
  • To ensure that should be no international competition over OHS standards in trade agreements.

“The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights include a duty and responsibility to protect the health and safety of workers. With the United Nations’ resolution recognizing access to a healthy and sustainable environment as a universal right, another historic moment awaits the Governing Body to make the correct decision,”

said IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Kan Matsuzaki.