Spanish unions bring campaign against industrial accidents into companies

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In October 1997, the UGT and CC.OO union confederations began an awareness and action-oriented campaign in protest against the increase in the number of industrial accidents in Spain. The unions demand immediate compliance by organisations with current legislation on health and safety at work.

In 1997, the number of industrial accidents in Spain increased and is still the highest in the European Union (ES9708216F). The UGT and CC.OO trade union confederations believe that this situation is not due to shortcomings in the current legislation on health and safety at work. The Law on Prevention of Industrial Risks (LPLR) was passed in 1995 and its regulatory development is practically completed.

This law marks a considerable step forward in legislation on accident prevention by clearly delimiting the employers' responsibilities and establishing mechanisms for the participation of the workers' representatives: safety delegates must be appointed (the number of which will depend on the size of the company), and all companies with 50 workers or more must have a health and safety committee comprising the safety delegates and the employer's representatives.

The trade unions consider that this regulatory framework is comparable with that in any other EU country and will make it possible to establish an effective accident prevention policy. In their opinion, the problems are of a different type.

  • The general failure of employers to comply with existing legislation. According to the LPLR, employers are responsible for preventing accidents in companies. In order to do this, they must carry out a risk assessment study, plan accident prevention with the participation of worker representatives on health and safety at work, set up a prevention service in the company or subcontract this service to another company, and guarantee the training of workers in risk prevention and preventive measures. The unions believe that employers are systematically failing to fulfil these obligations.
  • Ineffective action by the public administration. According to the LPLR, the public administration should monitor and control health and safety at work and risk prevention through the Labour Inspectorate (Inspección de Trabajo). The unions believe that its action has so far been ineffective, since no sanctions have been imposed for failure to fulfil the current legislation.
  • Insecure employment. The unions claim that the failure to comply with existing legislation is even more serious in the Spanish context of insecure employment. Job rotation and temporary employment have increased greatly over the last few years, above all in small and medium-size enterprises. Many workers lack the job stability, qualifications and work experience necessary to work safely, so strict enforcement of current legislation is even more vital for accident prevention.

Union campaign against industrial accidents

In response to this situation, last October UGT and CCOO began a joint campaign against industrial accidents under the slogan "Industrial accidents can be avoided, the law must be enforced". The objectives of this campaign are to protest against the increase in industrial accidents and to demand the immediate enforcement of existing legislation on health and safety at work. Several types of action have been planned.

Union Action Day

The campaign began with the calling of a "Trade Union Action Day", with rallies of workers' delegates (delegados de personal) and workers' committees (comités de empresa) in front of the headquarters of the employers' associations and the labour authorities in all the capitals of the Autonomous Communities, as well as in other places. This Action Day was held on 22 October (20 October in Catalonia), coinciding with the European Week on Health and Safety at Work. The level of participation was high.

Campaign for enforcement

The main aim of the campaign is to mobilise all workers' delegates and workers' committees to demand immediate enforcement of the LPLR. All worker representatives were urged to demand that their companies comply with the main employers' obligations as laid down by the law. which are:

  • carrying out the risk assessment study;
  • setting up the prevention services and electing the delegates; and
  • setting up health and safety committees.

If the companies refuse to fulfil these legal requirements, a grievance will correspondingly be lodged.

Preventing industrial risks through collective bargaining

The unions believe that collective bargaining must play a central role in complementing and improving the current regulations on health and safety and adapting them to the current situation. They therefore propose to begin a round of negotiations with the employers at a multi-industry level in order to develop a framework of consensus on objectives and measures towards achieving a more effective prevention policy.

The unions also plan to promote the establishment of the joint committees on health and safety at work that are provided for in the April 1997 multi-industry agreement on collective bargaining (ES9706211F), with the aim of extending the application of the law to all small and medium-sized enterprises (SME s).

Greater control by the public administration

The unions have drawn up a wide-ranging set of proposals to guarantee a greater degree of control by the public administration:

  • establishing sectoral and regional action plans with the public administration and social partners;
  • reinforcing the Labour Inspectorate by providing the necessary technical, human and financial resources to carry out active control, especially in SMEs; and
  • creating a central register of companies sanctioned for non-fulfilment of the health and safety regulations over the last five years. Under current legislation, these companies may not enter into contracts with the public administration.

Commentary

Health and safety at work is becoming one of the main areas of conflict and negotiation in labour relations in Spain. Over the last few years, great progress has been made in this area: the LPLR and its regulations were drawn up with a high degree of participation and consensus amongst the social partners; furthermore, the multi-industry agreement on collective bargaining establishes an initial set of criteria and measures for improving the legislation and adapting it to the situation in each sector.

The time for action has now arrived because this regulatory framework will be of no use if it is not applied. One of the objectives of the union campaign is to draw attention to this issue, but it is not the only goal. So far, the main area of union action has been in the tripartite and bipartite negotiations that have been held to establish the new regulatory framework for health and safety; as of now the area of action is the company itself. With this campaign the unions also wish to mobilise their members and worker representatives to play a more active role in this area. The participation of workers in accident prevention is one of the greatest advances of the current legislation and the unions must meet this challenge. (Maria Caprile, CIREM Foundation)

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