New measures to reduce accidents at work
In the light of two fatal workplace accidents in the construction industry, the government has moved swiftly to put in place measures to combat workplace accidents. The measures include setting up a Standing Committee to monitor the implementation of health and safety procedures at worksites and organising special training programmes on health and safety for employers and workers in the construction sector.
On 16 July 2007, prompted by two recent fatal workplace accidents in the construction industry, the Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, Antonis Vassiliou, called an extraordinary tripartite meeting on the issue of the rise in workplace accidents. According to data supplied by the Department of Labour Inspection (Τμήμα Επιθεώρησης Εργασίας) of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, MLSI), the rate of workplace accidents has declined by about 1.23% in the economy as a whole, when comparing data from the first half of 2007 with data from the first half of 2006. Nevertheless, certain sectors of the economy show an increase in occupational accidents, which gives particular cause for concern; the highest accident rate, at 26.61%, is reported in the construction industry.
Alongside the representatives of the Ministry, the employer side participated in the meeting with representatives from the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Κυπριακό Εμπορικό και Βιομηχανικό Επιμελητήριο, ΚΕΒΕ), the Employers and Industrialists Federation (Ομοσπονδία Εργοδοτών και Βιομηχάνων, ΟΕΒ) and the Federation of the Building Contractors Associations of Cyprus (Ομοσπονδία Συνδέσμων Εργολάβων Οικοδόμων Κύπρου, OSEOK). Representatives of the Council for the Registration and Control of Building and Civil Engeneering Contractors (Συμβουλιου Εγγραφησ Και Ελεγχου Εργοληπτων Οικοδομικων Και Τεχνικων Εργων) and the Chamber of Technical Professions also took part. The workers’ side was also well represented at the meeting, including representatives from the Democratic Labour Federation of Cyprus (Δημοκρατική Εργατική Ομοσπονδία Κύπρου, DEOK), the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PEO) and the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (Συνομοσπονδία Εργαζομένων Κύπρου, SEK).
Decisions of tripartite meeting
Given the severity and urgency of the problem, the meeting concluded by putting forward specific action points.
Standing Committee to monitor workplace safety
After the meeting closed, Minister Vassiliou announced that the main decision taken was to set up a Standing Committee to closely monitor the implementation of health and safety measures at all worksites. The Standing Committee also undertook to prepare within two months a preliminary report on more drastic measures to be taken to address the problem, both in the short and in the long term, such as the more effective operation of the competent disciplinary bodies (or their creation where none exist). In this context, it was also decided that the social partners would work more closely with the Department of Labour Inspection, in order to carry out more on-site inspections. The decision to suspend or even withdraw the licences of contractors who violate labour legislation was seen as a particularly strong preventive measure.
Health and safety training
It was also decided to initiate special training programmes on health and safety issues, designed to train employers and workers in the construction sector. The objective is to eventually make such programmes compulsory; therefore, over a period of two years, a certificate of attendance at these training courses will be a required condition for employment in the construction sector.
Views of social partners
According to the General Secretariat of the Construction Workers’ Union affiliated to PEO, most of the decisions relate to long-standing demands of the trade union; if they are not implemented, PEO will be forced to take action. In line with the other trade unions, PEO also believes that besides the lack of safety measures, most workplace accidents occur when employers either fail to implement collective agreements, disregard existing legislation or do business mainly through outsourcing agencies.
On the employers’ side, the President of OSEOK emphasised that the association has already held the first of 12 training seminars entitled ‘Worksite safety and health’. He invited all building contractors – regardless of whether or not they are members of OSEOK – and all construction workers to attend these seminars. At the same time, he underlined the need for collective action by Cypriot citizens, who are urged to file a complaint with the Department of Labour Inspectorate about any contractor who does not comply with current legislation.
Programme to reduce workplace accidents
Targeting an overall reduction of workplace accidents throughout the Cypriot economy, and based on the European goal of reducing occupational accidents by 25% before 2012, Minister Vassiliou believes that workplace accidents can be reduced by as much as 50% in Cyprus. Thus, the minister inaugurated on 12 July 2007 a project for the ‘Provision of services to strengthen the Department of Labour Inspection for the purpose of improving working conditions in the sectors of construction, mining industries and port works’. More specifically, this programme, which is financed by the EU, provides for a total of 2,000 workers to be trained in matters of occupational safety and health – 1,000 personnel in the public sector and 1,000 in the private sector.
Eva Soumeli, Cyprus Institute of Labour (INEK/PEO)