BWI challenges WHO on COVID-19 advice for workplaces

06 June 2020 12:43

BWI raised issues with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the advice it issued for workplaces about COVID-19 that were prepared and issued without any inputs from trade unions on how to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. BWI urged WHO to rethink its advice on physical distancing in the workplace which undermines policies and regulations to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at work that have been agreed with trade unions in several countries. 

Several scientists have said that COVID-19 prevention recommendation of the WHO that people maintain at least one metre distance apart is insufficient and many governments have adopted minimums of 1.5 metres and 2 metres in their physical distancing requirements in response to COVID-19. Most recently, a scientific journal the Lancet, published an article that shows the WHO recommendations are on out-of-date models dating back to the 1940s and supports the use of better personal protective equipment and more stringent social distancing for prevention of COVID-19. 

WHO guidelines for public health and social measures in the workplace that stipulate at least 1 metre distancing, undermine more stringent distancing requirements and give employers grounds to contest measures that are in place to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to the virus. By not involving trade unions in the guidelines that have been developed, the WHO has weakened the work of trade unions to secure a safer physical distancing policy of at least 2 metres and does not recognise that workers have continued exposure to others in the workplace. 

The WHO has played into the hands of the employers because it is more convenient and efficient if the physical distancing requirement is just one metre. The advice from the WHO endangers workers’ health and is irresponsible when we should be taking the most cautious approach to protect workers from preventable health risks.” said BWI General Secretary, Ambet Yuson.

The letter that was sent jointly with other Global Union Federations and the ITUC.  The letter was also copied to the ILO, who shortly after issued their own, guidance on the safe return to work. ITUC and the Global Union Federations agree that the ILO guidance should replace the WHO advice  for workplaces in the context of COVID-19. The ILO guidance highlights workers’ and trade union rights, the importance of risk assessments before returning to work, maintaining physical distancing of at least 2 metres at all times, providing PPE, and observing strict hygiene measures.