PERC regional meeting of the Network of trade union experts on OHS “Trade union OHS strategies in time of Covid-19 pandemics” Webinar – 6 November 2020

Online meeting of OHS experts from the trade unions in Western Balkans was held on 6 November 2020, within regular programme activities and PERC projects, with the financial support of the Swedish trade unions “Union to Union”.

Experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo participated in the meeting, and the professional support was provided by Viktor Kempa, an ETUI expert, Bert De Wel – ITUC Officer for Climate Changes, Victor Hugo Ricco – an ILO expert, Anton Leppik – PERC Executive Secretary, Olga Nicolae – PERC Brussels and colleague Cvetan Kovač, frim NHS Croatia.
The activity was organised by the ITUC/PERC Office in Sarajevo. Working languages were BSCM, Albanian and English.
The meeting had following sessions: (1.) OHS and PERC dimensions; (2.) ILO Centenary Declaration and ILO promotional framework of OHS; (3.) OHS Committee & Campaign for combatting tumours; (4.) Current status of the pandemics & Just transition; (5) Presentations of the participating countries: current situation and main challenges; (6) National case Study – positive example from Croatia on regulation of Covid as occupational disease; (7) Conclusions and next steps.
We shall highlight only the most important parts from the national TU experts’ presentations: all the countries are for the first time facing the pandemics and unknown situation in which the focus is on protection of lives and health of citizens, on which occasions governments adopt corresponding measures and responses. All the countries introduced the lockdown in the first wave with specific restrictions and measures. Trade unions however were not given opportunity to participate in the design of those measures. But, measures concern both the matters of protection of lives and health of workers, as well as protection of economy, so that the trade unions tried to exert influence the government’s responses in relation to the rights and conditions of workers in the process of return to job. In some countries, the governments have partly cooperated with the trade unions in these matters, but it cannot be argued that they accepted suggestions and proposal of trade unions in their final decisions. This is not only about the right of workers to OHS, right to absence, level of compensation in case of absence, but also about the rights after the workers return to work in case of their diminished capacity, pension rights, and all other workers’ rights. In Croatia, the only EU MS from the Region, trade unions have in various ways exerted pressures, so that this country has in a good way and with appropriate norms regulated Covid-19 as an occupational disease (though, it is so difficult to prove that it is work-related). Expert from NHS Croatia – a permanent member of the PERC Network has exchanged the Croatian experiences with the other colleagues in the Network, and he also distributed the article published on SEER on this topic, which is published in BCSM and English languages. Experts from Albania have also presented their situation, measures, and the role of trade unions in time of pandemics, and highlighted that the government did not conduct any social dialogue with either of the two trade union centres. Colleagues from North Macedonia have presented their actions and activities, pointing that their proposals were not sufficiently accepted by the government. They mentioned that they are very active in terms of recognition of link between Covid-19 and work. Network members from both centres in Montenegro talked about ample actions and activities of trade unions related to protection of workers in time of pandemics, highlighting the protection of workers in the most vulnerable sectors. Colleagues from the two trade union centres in Serbia have also presented their actions, activities, strategy aimed at OHS in which they were quite successful (signing a new collective agreement for the healthcare sector, with more favourable provisions), drafting and distribution of a fairly large number of written instructions and recommendations for workers and trade union members). Experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina – entity Republika Srpska talked about a fairly large number of the activities and actions of the trade union SSRS in specific conditions, so that they permanently kept communication with their members. They also organised a conference, while respecting measures, and run a campaign titled “health before anything”, and they signed a Memorandum on amendments to the Labour law and the Strategy for regulating rights of workers in new circumstances with the RS government. A new Network member from Kosovo stated that BSPK organises actions and activities related to OHS, and also that the government mainly adopts measures without any consultations with trade unions.
It is important to note that the permanent members of the PERC SEE OHS Network, in addition to regular regional meetings, have regular bilateral communication in which they exchange positive experiences, strategies, and methodology applicable to the promotion of these matters.

In conclusions and next steps, the representative of the PERC Secretariat suggested that the communication should be continued, including the correspondence between the Sarajevo Office and experts, as well as continuation of their bilateral cooperation, in which the ITUC / PERC would continue providing expert, as well as financial support for their campaigns, actions and activities, all from the support funds of the Swedish trade unions Union to Union.

Notification of occupational diseases in the Republic of Croatia: the impact of COVID-19
Raise climate ambition with a Just transition, Bert DE Wel
ILO OHS Framework, Victor Hugo Ricco
Healthy workplaces, Viktor Kempa