GLOBAL: Calls for Covid-19 to be classed an ‘occupational disease’

Unions worldwide are calling for Covid-19 to be classified as an occupational disease in all affected groups of workers, to guarantee stronger workplace protections and access to compensation.

The call from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and its global union partners came on International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April.

“While there are many aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which are yet unclear, one thing that is clear is that most transmission is occurring in workplaces such as hospitals and care facilities, as well as in workplaces where transmission can occur in workers engaging with the public,” noted ITUC’s General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

“There is already evidence that in numerous countries, protective workplace measures such as distancing and personal equipment are insufficient or even absent. Workers are being made to take risks that shouldn’t be taken, and in some cases, such as in Amazon warehouses, they face sanctions or dismissal for raising safety concerns,” she added.

“Bringing Covid-19 into occupational disease classification is crucial to stopping this and reducing the spread of the virus. This is becoming even more urgent as countries begin to relax restrictions on economic sectors and public spaces.”

The global unions say there must be a “presumption” that cases are work-related unless conclusive evidence is presented to the contrary, and includes lengthy lists of jobs where presumption should occur.

“We are also calling for occupational health and safety to be given the status of a fundamental right at the International Labour Organisation,” said Burrow. “This is a long-overdue measure which would give workers’ protection from death and disease the same priority as freedom of association, collective bargaining and protection from discrimination, forced labour and child labour.”

The ITUC survey results, released on 28 April, revealed that in over half (51 per cent) of countries PPE supplies are sometimes, rarely or never adequate, putting at risk the millions of frontline health and care workers responding to the pandemic.