The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that effective collaboration between employers, workers and governments is the best way to implement Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) measures that can save lives in this and the next crisis, says a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Learning from what was achieved in addressing the complex situation of the pandemic might help prevent millions of deaths due to occupational accidents and diseases, says the ILO report, which shows how social dialogue has contributed to the fast and effective implementation of measures during the COVID-19 crisis.
During the pandemic, governments who prioritized the active participation of employers’ and workers’ organizations in OSH governance were able to develop and implement emergency laws, policies and interventions, says Enhancing social dialogue towards a culture of safety and health .
The collaboration between and among actors in the world of work has been essential in ensuring that the measures put in place were acceptable to and supported by employers and workers – and were therefore more likely to be effectively implemented in practice.
In many countries, it has resulted in the adoption of legal requirements covering different areas – from measures to prevent and deal with cases of COVID-19 in the workplace to telework arrangements.
In Austria, for example, the social partners negotiated an agreement on systematic testing in the workplace for particular sectors that faced an increased risk of viral transmission, such as the retail sector. In Singapore, changes to rules on vaccination took place after consultations and discussions with the tripartite partners. In South Africa, tripartite discussions were held to amend measures targeting the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.
Tripartite dialogue – between governments, employers and workers – at the national level has sometimes been followed up by further consultation at the regional or sectoral level, so that they might be adapted to the specific context.
In Finland for example, trade unions and employers’ organizations worked closely with the government to develop measures for the tourism and restaurant sectors. In Italy, social partners in the banking sector created detailed rules on telework, which outlined the right to privacy and the right to disconnect.
National tripartite OSH bodies have also played an important role in the fight against the pandemic. They are usually composed of government representatives (Ministry of Labour and other relevant ministries and institutions), as well as representative employers’ and workers’ organizations. In many countries, the tripartite bodies also involve – on a permanent, or ad hoc basis – representatives of additional institutions, for example OSH associations and academic institutions.
During the COVID-19 crisis, many of these tripartite OSH bodies in countries have taken part in the decision-making process at the national level; they have also been involved in defining lockdown and restriction measures, return to work strategies, and other instructions or guidance to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
In Guatemala, the National Commission for Occupational Health and Safety took the initiative to meet virtually during the first months of 2020 to propose OSH mechanisms and reduce the consequences of COVID-19 in workplaces. In the Philippines, the national tripartite structures dealing with OSH (the Tripartite Executive Committee and the National Tripartite Industry Council) were involved in the design and implementation of guidelines to ensure the quality of ventilation in workplaces and public transport in the prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19.
“As the world continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the uneven recovery, occupational safety and health remains at the forefront of countries’ responses. The lessons learned from this crisis about the importance of social dialogue in strengthening safety and health at the national and workplace level need to be applied to other contexts. This would help reduce the unacceptable level of occupational deaths and disease that occur every year,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.