Unite achieves significant gains at Biological Hazards talks

Progress made in improving biosafety for workers

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UNITE LIVE  – Unite achieves significant gains at Biological Hazards talks (450 words)

Progress made in improving biosafety for workers.

Unite has been taking part in vital negotiations at the recent Biological Hazards Convention, held in Geneva this month.

Unite National Health and Safety Advisor, Rob Miguel, has been leading negotiations on behalf of UK trade unions and workers at the Biological Hazards Negotiations, part of the 112th International Labour Conference .

There is currently no international regulation focused on biological hazards in the working environment, but the, at times exhausting, negotiations concluded with progress towards regulating biohazards.

The Biological Hazards Committee had world-wide representation of workers, employers and governments and the negotiations were particularly intense, however Rob felt optimistic about the substantial progress made in this critical area.

Rob explained, “Biological hazards are incredibly important, especially after the pandemic which claimed around 7 million lives and highlighted public health issues within the workplace.”

“Negotiations aimed to construct a set of standards for occupational health and safety, with the aim of achieving binding articles that established global protection for workers against biological hazards.”

And with that in mind Rob was positive about the outcome. Though accepting that there had been “difficult and significant battles” with employers over various aspects, he felt that: “governments have generally been receptive to both employers’ and workers’ needs, making the negotiations productive.”

Rob said there were a number of areas that the discussions covered, which resulted in some “crucial inclusions” and some “significant steps forward.” 

The talks were wide ranging and included the establishment of a convention and recommendations, rather than only recommendations, and a broader definition of health that covered workers mental health and workers’ well-being.

An important area for workers was a recognition of the right for workers to remove themselves from danger connected to biological hazards, and that union reps should have a set of rights that includes being consulted, the ability to participate in investigations of occupational diseases and accidents and be given appropriate reports on health surveillance and medical examinations.

The impact of climate change was also explored, and Rob said this was “the first time, climate change has been acknowledged in an occupational safety and health convention.”

The committee also accepted that a precautionary approach for essential, as was the need for income protection and ensuring that workers’ had financial stability during self-isolation.

Rob said that though this was a contentious issue it ultimately acknowledged that, “Full pay during isolation prevents workers from having to choose between health and income, which is vital for public safety.”

Along with “entitlement to employment injury benefits or compensation” resulting from any exposure to biological hazards. Other issues covered were around equalities and gender differences, and rights for workers and union representatives. 

Rob stressed this was just the start and more negotiations would be taking place in 2025. Rob said: “We haven’t finished yet, and I’m hopeful we’ll get more of these important aspects into the programme.”

By Keith Hatch