Tripartite agreement signed on working conditions and health and safety
In February 2001, the Portuguese government and social partners signed an agreement aimed at improving working conditions and health and safety at the workplace and combating accidents at work. The accord provides for measures aimed at preventing and combating workplace accidents, and improving services designed to ensure health, safety and hygiene at the workplace. It also creates a number of joint bodies to implement its provisions.
At the beginning of February 2001, the social partners and government signed an agreement aimed at improving working conditions and health and safety at the workplace and combating accidents at work (Acordo sobre condições de Trabalho, Higiene e Segurança no Trabalho e Combate à Sinistralidade). All the main social partner organisations signed the agreement - the Confederation of Portuguese Industry (Confederação da Industria Portuguesa, CIP), the Portuguese Trade and Services Confederation (Confederação do Comércio e Serviços de Portugal, CCP) the Portuguese Farmers' Confederation (Confederação dos Agricultores de Portugal, CAP), the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). The accord was signed at the same time as an agreement between the same parties on "employment, the labour market, education and training" (PT0102134F). It followed negotiations in a working group established by the Standing Commission for Social Concertation (Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social, CPCS) of the Economic and Social Council (Concelho Económico e Social, CES) (PT0001179F).
The new health and safety agreement incorporates various strategic documents and reports that had been drawn up prior to the agreement. The underlying objective behind the agreement is to contribute substantially towards improving safety and health conditions at the workplace, in order to upgrade productivity in general throughout the country, while lowering the rate of occupational diseases and work-related accidents.
Up until now, health and safety in Portugal has been regulated by a number of agreements, legislative acts and regulations of a general nature. Some provisions have either been sectoral or targeted at specific occupational hazards. The key provisions include:
- the agreement on safety, health and hygiene at work, signed in 1991, which never underwent further development or revision;
- decree-law 441/91, which provided for the election of worker representatives to deal with questions of health and safety (PT9810100F);
- the green and white papers of 1999 on preventive services to be set up in companies; and
- decree-laws 109/2000 and 110/2000 of 30 June 2000, which enacted a number of the measures previously established to prevent occupational hazards
In addition to the measures mentioned above, the 1996-9 Strategic Concertation Pact (PT9808190F) also considered the prevention of occupational hazards as a priority concern.
Despite the abovementioned legislation and regulations, the extremely high rate of workplace accidents (PT0011118N) is ample evidence that the structures designed to prevent occupational risks are either lacking in efficiency or non-existent.
It is the understanding of the signatories that the new agreement on health and safety at work, which puts special emphasis on the prevention of workplace accidents, must be guided by the following strategic objectives:
- the modernisation of companies must go hand in hand with measures that will improve health and safety conditions at work; and
- a culture of occupational risk prevention should be promoted and the responsibility for disseminating this culture of prevention should be shared by both employers and workers
To put these objectives effectively into practice, the social partners and government agree that concrete measures should be taken in two specific areas:
- the prevention of occupational hazards and active measures to combat workplace accidents; and
- improvement of services designed to ensure safety, hygiene and health in the workplace.
Prevention of occupational hazards and workplace accidents
The accord provides for a number of short-term measures aimed at preventing occupational hazards and workplace accidents. An intervention plan will be drawn up within 60 days, aimed at:
- developing measures to heighten the awareness of workers and employers and provide them with information and appropriate training, so that a culture of work safety can take root and safe on-the-job behaviour can be promoted;
- establishing or upgrading specific safety standards for the construction and public works sectors; and
- enforcing supervision and oversight measures, especially in those sectors most affected by work accidents
Other immediate measure include:
- drawing up, within 60 days, a National Prevention Action Plan (Plano Nacional de Acção para a Prevenção, PNAP), which should act as an instrument of overall policy to prevent occupational hazards and combat work accidents;
- reactivating the National Council for Health and Safety at Work (Conselho Nacional de Higiene e Segurança no Trabalho, CNHST), which is currently inoperative, and reviewing its functions, primarily with regard to membership, structure, and competences;
- creating a prevention observatory;
- adopting measures to reinforce joint action between the state Institute for the Improvement and Inspection of Working Conditions (Instituto para o Desenvolvimento e Inspecção das Condições de Trabalho, IDICT) and the Centre for Protection Against Occupational Hazards (Centro de Protecção Contra Riscos Profissionais), with a view to preventing on-the-job risks and enforcing current legislation; and
- revising thoroughly the "national chart of work-related disabilities and occupational diseases", as well as revising the list of "occupational diseases"
Other measures in this area include:
- ensuring and promoting the operation of the Higher Council of Health and Safety at Work in the Public Administration (Conselho Superior de Saúde e Segurança no Trabalho da Administração Pública); and
- promoting preventive actions and strengthening the role of the social partners in IDICT in the sphere of occupational hazards
Improvement of safety, health and hygiene services at work
The social partners and government agree that the measures to be adopted in this area should primarily aim to develop the technical capacity of companies with regard to heath and safety at the workplace, so that significant actions to ensure prevention can take place. They have therefore agreed to:
- set up a steering committee to ensure the implementation of legislation regarding health, hygiene and safety services at work;
- adopt a Programme for the Adaptation of Prevention Services in Companies (Programa de Adaptação dos Serviços de Prevenção nas Empresas);
- define the support to be given to associations in developing prevention services;
- regulate the process of electing worker representatives to deal with health and safety at work;
- promote vocational training in the area of preventing occupational hazards;
- train employers or workers directly involved in developing health and safety actions in companies;
- train worker representatives dealing with health and safety;
- create specific legislation to provide safety, health and hygiene coverage for workers in the agricultural sector;
- draw up a plan to adapt the national health service to suit the specific demands made of it under legislation in terms of ensuring health services at work (decree-law 26/94); and
- guaranteeing that trade union and employers' confederations commit themselves, through collective bargaining, to implementing safety, health and hygiene services at work and preventing occupational hazards
Since a large number of Portuguese companies are expected to have difficulty in complying with the current legislation on health and safety, the social partners have agreed that the adaptation process will include a programme to ensure that appropriate time is given for compliance and to provide adequate technical and financial support for the required changes.
This new agreement, along with the accord on "employment, the labour market, education and training" signed at the same time, is another in a series of comprehensive agreements reached between the Portuguese government and social partners. The agreement provides for a complex network of shared responsibilities and competences which will function by means of joint bodies, and in which the role of the state, acting through IDICT, is seen as crucial. (Ana Almeida and Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)