Marc Sapir, ETUC

Marc Sapir, ETUC

Ladies and gentlemen, comrades, colleagues, brothers and sisters,

It is an honour for me to speak at the opening of this second conference and to greet our hosts on behalf of the Economic and Social Committee. In Europe, the trade union organisations set up a joint organisation more than 25 years ago, bringing together the national confederations and European sectoral organisations, that now covers trade unions from 28 countries -- all the Member States of the European Union and the EFTA countries, as well as some of the countries that have applied to join the Union. The ESC brings together national and European organisations in a joint endeavour and struggle to create a Europe that meets the interests of workers -- we have joined forces in order to take action, but also to negotiate and to participate in the process of European integration. The most recent Union Treaty (Amsterdam) gives the social partners major responsibilities in the Community law-making process, and the ESC has consistently sought to strengthen the social dialogue at European level.

Ever since it was set up in 1974, the ESC has sought to promote a European policy for the health and safety of workers. It has always believed that the process of economic integration, which is based on free trade, should be accompanied by common policies, especially in the social area in order to avoid social dumping and guarantee social cohesion. A number of common policies exist, but they do not go far enough to meet the social challenges that workers have to face, and in particular just before an enlargement that will further increase the differences between countries and regions.

An essential role of the European Union and the authorities is to adopt legislation on the health and safety of workers that is common to all the Member States. The Framework Directive adopted in 1989 is an essential part of a converging policy in the area of prevention.

This Directive is at the centre of the European tripartite contributions and will be at the centre of our discussions over the coming days, as it is at the centre of the discussions in many Member States of the Union, at a time when there are signs of a deterioration in working conditions. It recognises some basic principles in which we as a trade union believe very strongly:

  • a broad view of health and safety that is not limited to the technical and organisational aspects of work but which, more fundamentally, recognises the need to adapt work to man;
  • the recognition that workers and their representatives are essential to a policy of prevention in enterprises through procedures of information, consultation and participation;
  • the liability of employers, but in the framework of a set of obligations;
  • the introduction of the concept of the evaluation of the hazards of workplaces, which must not be an administrative tool but rather a way of identifying and evaluating existing hazards, and especially of planning the use of future facilities and forms of work organisation.

What we need to share today is a determination to act in order to improve the health and safety of workers and to recognise that this is a legitimate and fundamental objective. This means not only seeking to achieve this objective by appropriate means and with appropriate determination, but also incorporating it into other State policies on the organisation of markets or social matters.

Recognising the importance of health and safety means listening to victims and the complaints of workers, but also understanding the economic and social repercussions of poor working conditions. However, this must not lead to an attempt to use prevention policies as an instrument to achieve other ends, making them lose their basic objective.

It is therefore essential to exchange points of view and experience and carry out joint projects in order to help to achieve these aims.

It is our hope that this San Francisco Conference will contribute to this because:

  • the dialogue with the USA, with which we share a common area and common histories, is clearly needed and essential;
  • we hope that our presence on the rim of a different ocean from the one that we have in common will be a symbol of a shared determination to see other regions of the world support our principles and share our determination to conduct a social dialogue.

The Conference which opens today is another step along the road after the Luxembourg Conference two years ago:

  • In our work two years ago, we stressed:
    • that it was a first stage;
    • the importance of preparation;
    • the need to concentrate on specific topics.
  • Follow-up:
    • working parties were set up, and it should be stressed that they constitute a major investment in financial and human terms. This involves getting to grips with a complex process, but there has not been sufficient transatlantic dialogue on the topics chosen;
    • Website of Bilbao Agency/OSHA.
  • Joint declaration by AFL-CIO/ESC:
    • Why? because more and more enterprises are located on both sides of the Atlantic/markets are becoming increasingly integrated: this is referred to as globalisation, but also our two regions are the most advanced in terms of regulation;
    • the two organisations stated how essential the participation of workers is at enterprise level in order to improve the working environment, and they reaffirm the need to establish this right on both sides of the Atlantic;
    • two subjects of common interest: asbestos and MSD/cooperation at trade union level;
    • as far as asbestos is concerned, these exchanges of information were active, especially under the WTO procedure. I should like to point out that we very much welcome the positive contribution of the US government in the rejection of the complaint concerning France's measure to ban asbestos -- are we now at the appeal stage? This procedure is crucial because it should be borne in mind that the question of the application of the TBT agreement to protection measures has still not be clarified, and the rights of States to protect workers have still not been recognised;
    • TMS: trade union campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic, in the USA State regulation exists, and in Europe we already have the basis of legislation but the work needs to be continued in order to define the requirements more clearly and cover the questions of repetitive movements -- let us hope that the OSHA decision will inspire the Commission and the Member States!
  • The questions dealt with in Luxembourg concerning the regulatory process are still topical in Europe:
    • Some people still believe that the legislation needs to be simplified, but that it is, above all, an obstacle to entrepreneurship and that matters of health and safety must be left to enterprises as part of sound management;
    • the question of the evaluation of the application of the rules has not been resolved either -- a procedure for the evaluation of directives has been adopted by the social partners but has not yet been introduced;
    • the need for non-legislative documents was discussed but has still not been clarified.

These things might make some people lose heart, but there are increasing political signs that governments are realising that common European policies for employment are all well and good, but that they must take account of the quality of employment. This is because, in recent years, questions of the working environment have moved down the political agenda, especially at Community level. And what is the situation on the ground? There are increasing signs of a deterioration in working conditions for a growing number of workers.

And on both sides of the Atlantic today, it is clear that the statistics on fatal accidents and occupational accidents are insufficient indicators for taking action at both political and enterprise levels. And that there is a need to observe and listen to workers; work is becoming more intense and faster -- it is getting to the point where work knows no bounds!

We believe that this conference, and in particular each workshop, must bear these essential facts in mind.

In Europe, the priority is now the enlargement of the European Union, with all its consequences. And yet, the EU/US dialogue is essential between these two most advanced regions, in order to ensure the continuation of a protection policy based on high standards. We hope that this dialogue will continue on a sound and concrete basis.