Serbia: Nezavisnost - 28th of April at the time of COVID-19

Photo: TUC NEZAVISNOST members at work in the Hospital for Infectious and Tropic Diseases in Belgrade, Serbia

On this Workers’ Memorial Day and week of remembrance and action for workers killed, injured or disabled at work, we care for all workers exposed to the possibility of contracting Covid-19 and thus die or become unwell which is unfortunately happening.

If we compare causes of death and injuries before and after Covida-19, we see that causes are the same or very similar, mostly due to lack of inadequate personal protection equipment, inadequate work procedures and due to the disregard of such procedures. Those in charge of implementing the procedures are to be held most responsible.

The difference between before and after Covida-19 is seen more in the kind of work where deaths and injuries are taking place, now in the health sector, and no longer or much less in construction industry and agriculture.

Covid-19 revealed the illusion of occupational health and safety at all levels and in many working environments and shed light on the fact that solutions are only formal and not practical, that such solutions were not adopted to truly protect health and safety of workers but to show that laws are formally respected and for avoiding possible sanctions.

Covid-19 pointed to the absence of social dialogue and showed how important participation of workers representatives and OHS committees is in protecting the lives and health of employees.

What is positive today, is that in some companies, for example in Jura in Niš, workers threatened with strike if masks and other protective equipment were not ensured in the situation of increased general danger. This is a very important step forward for providing preventive measures compared to all previous situations when workers performed activities without or with inadequate personal protective equipment, accepting that employers cannot afford such protection, and giving up on their right to discontinue work in such conditions, thus risking their lives and health.
Health workers send such demands to their managers who failed to react timely and adequately by providing personal protective equipment and safe procedures for work with patients and by not reacting, directly threatened their health and lives. It is not enough to suspend such managers, we call for accountability of all who directly endangered workers health and lives.

On this Workers’ Memorial Day we will not mention numbers of workers who died or suffered serious consequences or injuries at work because WE VALUE EVERY HUMAN BEING. Instead we call on everyone, especially the workers and their employers to learn the lessons form COVID-19, so that this situation will never happen again. New viruses and new risks are here to stay and cannot be avoided. Only well regulated systems, investments in prevention and social dialogues, being the priority, can be the answer.