BEERG: Unions Call for Virus to Be Declared an Occupational Disease

May 01, 2020

The Council of Global Unions is demanding that governments recognize COVID-19 as an occupational hazard and occupational disease, arguing “it should be made clear that employers have a responsibility to protect their employees.”

Such a classification would, according to a joint statement, “ensure the right to worker representation and occupational safety and health (OSH) rights and the application of agreed measures to reduce risk.  These rights include the right to refuse to work under unsafe working conditions.  Governments must require reporting and recording of work-related cases and ensure that full medical care as well as compensation schemes are provided for victims of work-related COVID-19 and for their affected families.”

BEERG’s legal colleagues across Europe highlight the new risks that companies run of being taken before courts and tribunals over alleged failures to provide proper protective equipment or safe working environments as a result of COVID-19.

It is strongly advised that companies should consider guidance such as that provided by the European Union and national governments and other health authorities when reconfiguring workplaces to facilitate the return of employees.  Further, it is strongly advised that where local employees’ representative bodies exist, such as work councils and/or unions, they be fully informed and consulted about any proposed measures.  Such consultation is legally mandated in many countries.

For most companies, health and safety does not fall within the mandate of their European Works Councils (EWCs).  However, the health and safety measures that will be necessary to ensure safe places of work will, in many instances, require extensive work reorganizations and such reorganizations do come within the mandates of EWCs.  We think it prudent that, where at all possible, EWCs be informed and consulted about the company’s overall COVID-19 health and safety framework.

Read the full BEERG Global Labor Newsletter.