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The European Trades Union Confederation, the pan-European federation that represents Europe's labor unions, has attacked the European Commission for failing to consult it, the business community and government health and safety bodies over its new five-year health and safety plan.
The workers' body also said that the plan focuses too much on preventing accidents in the workplace and not enough on fast-growing and illnesses caused in the workplace such as cancers and repetitive strain injury.
The ETUC called for the revision of the existing directive on carcinogens and the adoption of binding limit values on the principal carcinogens.
It also called for the adoption of a comprehensive directive on repetitive strain injury, to replace what it describes as the inadequate "simple coordination" of existing provisions.
The ETUC claims that up to one third of European workers suffer from RSI.
The ETUC's response followed the publication of an E.C. strategy set for 2007-2012 that it claims will cut work-related illness and accidents by a quarter across the European Union.
The E.C. claims that this follows a 17% reduction in fatal accidents from 2002-2004 and a 20% fall in accidents leading to absence from work of three days or more under its previous plan.
The E.C. said that it recognizes that progress remains uneven across different countries, sectors, companies and categories of workers. It also said that changes in working life has led to new occupational risks and that certain workplace illnesses such as RSI are on the rise.
But its latest action plan did not suggest that employers should be overly concerned about a new swathe of tough health and safety rules.
The E.C.'s action plan does not call for any news rules but rather the "improvement and simplification" of existing rules through non-binding instruments such ass exchange of good practice, awareness-raising campaigns and better information and training.
The ETUC said it was unimpressed by both the content of the new plan and the lack of consultation prior to publication, claiming that it and other bodies had been "kept in the dark."
"In the past, a wide informal consultation always preceded the adoption of these programs, with the Commission distributing a preliminary draft to the national authorities, trade unions and employers. However, for the first time, the preparation of the 2007-2012 strategy took place in the greatest secrecy," stated the union body.
"Even the Community agencies specializing in health and safety at work were kept out of the process, to say nothing of the trade union organizations and, apparently, BusinessEurope," it continued.
The ETUC said that the failure by the E.C. to tackle carcinogens and RSI under the last plan needs to be addressed. It said that E.C. initiatives in these areas had been "blocked."
"The ETUC calls for the revision of the existing directive on carcinogens, the adoption of binding limit values on the principal carcinogens and for the adoption of a comprehensive directive on repetitive strain injury, not limited to the simple coordination of existing provisions that have already been demonstrated to be insufficient," said the ETUC.