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Workers’ health and safety to be addressed by G20


No week passes without terrible news about yet another occupational accident, or with media articles on workers’ losing their health and lives due to substances they were exposed to in their workplaces.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster, where more than a thousand people working for the textile industry died, when the unsafe factory building collapsed, the G20 governments launched an evaluation process to identify ways by which they could contribute to safer workplaces.

Almost a year after, this initiative is starting to take shape, and G20 governments have invited unions within the L20 to provide ideas on the way, in which G20 could contribute to healthy and safe workplaces.

From the trade union side, there has been a strong emphasis given to the role of further regulation and enforcement of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws at the national level, as well as along the supply chains through influencing business behavior in non-G20 countries.

The L20 has therefore suggested diverse options which could be taken immediately by the G20 and its member states and could have a decisive impact on workers’ lives and health.

These measures include the development of country roadmaps for promoting safer workplaces, including the recognition of workers’ right to safety and health, and therefore the right to information on OHS, right to receive OHS training, right to refuse dangerous work, whistleblower protection, protection from victimization or ‘blacklisting’, among others.

The G20 Roadmaps should also detail actions such as:
  • Effective enforcement of OHS legislation, the need for adequate resourcing of OSH enforcement by governments –including labour inspectorates- and to increase the cost for negligent employers ignoring OSH, as well as forthe imposition of explicit legal safety duties on owners/directors of companies.
  • The ratification, implementation and enforcement of all relevant ILO Conventions and Recommendations.
  • Better address the OHS protection for workers in non- standard forms of employment such as temporary workers as well as for workers with greater vulnerability owing to their status as migrants, as members of minority groups or workers, who are otherwise considered socially disadvantaged.
  • Address OSH in highly hazardous sectors, such as mining, agriculture, fisheries, docks and construction as well as in textile and garment factories, in particular those related to fire risks and building integrity.
  • Take action on unsafe/unhealthy exposure to carcinogenic substances, including asbestos, cadmium, mercury, and risks related to nanotechnologies and other emerging but poorly studied substances/processes.
  • Address psychosocial risks, including stress, harassment, bullying or mobbing and other forms of violence at work.
The L20 is also asking G20 to have a deeper discussion on promoting safer workplaces across global value chains, building on government, business and labour experiences, and considering the role of multilateral instruments developed to date, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
Trade unions also think that G20 governments could contribute to building healthier and safer workplaces by sharing information on important issues such as better ways of working (better design of work to reduce or eliminate physical, biological, chemical, psychosocial and other hazards), elimination of hazards (bans, restrictions and controls on toxic substances and hazardous processes), emerging hazards (legislative and control strategies including precautionary approaches), recognition and prevention of occupational diseases (collation of consolidated lists of recognised occupational diseases at a national/state level, for example for compensation purposes), among others.

These proposals will be made in the framework of the upcoming meeting of the G20 Task Force on Employment, which will take place in Brisbane, Australia, this week on 23-24 July.