European Commission’s ‘Better Regulation’ has killed 100,000, say unions

Construction worker. Berlin, April 2014. [ Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr]

On 28 April, European trade unions will remember the 100,000 people who die from occupational cancers every year. The unions accuse the Commission of not protecting workers from chemicals which cause cancers, due to suspended work on the necessary legislation.

In October 2013, the European Commission halted its work on defining exposure limits for cancer-causing chemicals. This resulted in Europe only having legal exposure limits to three chemicals, labor organisations claim.

“Measures to protect workers from cancer and fertility difficulties, are being treated as ‘red tape’ and a so-called ‘unnecessary burden’ on industry,” said Bernadette Ségol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

“It is shameful.”

The executive has delayed publication of a number of reports related to health and consumer issues and food safety recently, incurring criticism.

In December 2014, the Commission adopted its work programme, setting out the actions it intends to take in 2015 to create jobs and growth. As part of the preparation, the Commission examined 450 proposals currently awaiting approval by the European Parliament and Council, and proposed to withdraw or amend 80 of them.

The European Commission also announced that it wanted to build on its Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT) by having a dedicated Commissioner and unit committed to removing regulatory burdens, thereby creating an “environment conducive to investment”.

The ETUC is demanding legally enforceable exposure limits for a priority list of the 50 most toxic chemicals for causing cancer, and for male and female fertility. They also call for more progress on the revision of the Directive on Carcinogens and Mutagens at work to expand the number of chemicals with binding exposure limits.

“I am all in favour of ‘better regulation’ but this is treating human life like another line in the balance sheet, like the cost of raw materials or energy. The First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, recently said that better regulation does not mean deregulation and lowering standards, so I hope he is willing to take action to protect workers from cancer,” Ségol said.

On Wednesday (22 April), an EU official working for Timmermans responded to recent accusation that the Commission’s Better Regulation unit and the First Vice-President have been slow in reviewing legislation and rejected the notion that better regulation equals deregulation, or no regulation.

“This is something that we strongly reject. There is no truth to this idea that Mr Timmermans is delaying things or slowing things down,” the official told EURACTIV.

To mark International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, the ETUC will meet with Parliament President Martin Schulz and Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen in Strasbourg.

The European Commission's 2015 Work Programme sets out 23 new initiatives proposed by the Juncker Commission, following political guidelines presented to the Parliament. The Commission intends to withdraw or amend 80 existing proposals for political or technical reasons.

The Work Programme presents actions where the Commission will deliver in 2015. In addition, in many areas, the Commission will also continue to work to ensure that existing policies and rules are fit for purpose.

  • 28 April: International Workers’ Memorial Day

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