BWI and EFBWW say jobs shouldn't kill, push for OHS as fundamental right

*Joint BWI and EFBWW Statement on International Workers Memorial Day

On 28 April, the Building and Woodworkers' International (BWI) and the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) commemorate workers who have lost their lives to workplace accidents and diseases and highlight our ongoing fight for healthy, safe and decent working conditions. 

Our struggle with OHS has caught the public’s attention due to the general awareness of the need to address COVID-19 at workplaces. Trade unions have witnessed that COVID-19 has been handled far better in companies where workers have access to occupational health and safety rights and are involved in the OSH management.  Despite the measures and laws to prevent occupational deaths, injuries, and ill-health, we know more than ever about hazards at work: more than one hundred thousand building and woodworkers still die each year in entirely preventable “accidents”. And the impact of bad working conditions takes its toll on workers’ health in all sectors BWI and EFBWW represents, from cement and brickmaking to wood processing and site labouring. 

In memory of our members and other workers who passed away, we are committed to supporting the recognition of healthy and safe workplaces as a fundamental right by the International Labor Organisation (ILO). A global consensus for such a change will encourage the application of good occupational health and safety standards and discourage countries and companies from seeking competitive advantage based on substandard conditions and practices.  

The trade unions are ready, willing and able to help. However, informal employment, subcontracting, union-busting, and exploitative labour practices undermine our efforts. Results are achieved when trade unions and management cooperate on common occupational health and safety objectives toward workplaces with zero fatalities and where risks of occupational diseases and accidents are addressed. Thus, BWI and EFBWW affiliates have built a global alliance with employer associations and companies in the construction, building, wood and forestry sectors to sign a declaration acknowledging that OHS should be a fundamental worker right. 

We welcome the landmark decision by the ILO Governing Body in March 2022 to place the decision regarding OHS as a fundamental right on the agenda for the 2022 International Labour Conference (ILC). While this is a positive development, it is not certain that we will win our demand of solid support for the right by the Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health (1981) and Convention 161 on Occupational Health Services (1985). 

We therefore call for the recognition of OSH as a specialised area of public health for which governments must take unequivocal and urgent action to achieve healthy and safe workplaces as a fundamental worker right in the ILO.

This victory at the ILO is critical to determining the approach to the global governance of occupational health and safety needed to improve the application of international occupational health and safety standards at all workplaces worldwide.