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EU must not drop worker safety standards: union


BRUSSELS— An unprecedented level of lobbying by the European chemical industry has resulted in a compromise position on the sector's new Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals regulations that fails to adequately protect the health of workers, says the European Trade Union Confederation.

The European Parliament and the Finnish Presidency of the Council agreed a compromise today over the so-called REACH rules that the ETUC concedes will deliver a "more socially responsible," approach to managing chemical risks.

The ETUC is pleased that the burden of proof has been reversed onto industry which means that employers have to prove that they are not responsible for causing damage or injury.

But the workers' body says that key points that it and the European Parliament supported have been lost in the compromise deal because of "intense" pressure applied by the chemical industry lobby.

The ETUC explained : "Industry will be able to go on using certain extremely dangerous substances even if safer alternatives are available, which is inconsistent with the substitution principle defined in existing legislation on the protection of workers.

Furthermore, the duty of care principle has been reduced to a declaration of intent."The workers' body said that the "final backwards step," for workers is the decision that companies will only have to report on substances produced in volumes of at least 10 tons per year or more.

Workers who are exposed to an estimated 20,000 substances produced in quantities of between 1 and 10 tons will therefore have no access to information that is "crucial to their safety," pointed out the ETUC.

The labor union group said that this case once again underlined the point that the EC must not allow the need to protect and enhance Europe's competitive position lead to a decline in health, safety and environmental standards.

"The REACH reform has been subjected to the most intense lobbying campaign ever mounted by industry within the European institutions. In view of this, the ETUC emphasizes that the future of European industry cannot be determined solely by the demands imposed by competitiveness. Confidentiality of data must not be allowed to have a negative impact on human health and environmental safety," concluded the ETUC.

John Monks, general secretary of the ETUC, has also called upon the European Commission to use its influence in external trade negotiations to advance the interests of European workers, as well as employers.

The ETUC said that it was "alarmed" by moves outlined by the European Commission in October 2006 towards bilateral free trade agreements, which "appear to give social and environmental objectives a back seat."

"In the view of the ETUC, it is through trade negotiations that the EU can best use its weight to promote good jobs, social protection, workers' rights and conflict prevention worldwide. The EU must adopt a coherent strategy that respects all its policies," stated the confederation.

The EU has a duty to set the highest possible standards for its own workforce, said Mr Monks.

"Europe is missing out on the opportunity to provide a real and sustainable answer to global competition by working together and investing together in research, innovation, knowledge for everyone, decent jobs with fair working conditions and a dynamic economy," he said.

Mr. Monks also urged the EC to step up efforts to achieve common EU employment standards to avoid workers in different countries being played off against each other.