|Globalization and Occupational Health And Safety|
(By Orlando Scott, Senior Assistant General Secretary, Barbados Workers’ Union, May 31, 2004)
I am framing this discussion on Occupational Safety and Health and the Environment (OSHE) and Globalisation, against the background of the perceived harmful factors of trade liberalisation and globalisation and their impacts on the health of nation states and health and safety of workers.
If there is a lowering in the following factors, the health of nation states, osh of workers, and the natural environment can be compromised:
• Minimum standards such as National Labour Legislation and ILO Core Labour Standards, e.g. denial of Collective Bargaining, Freedom of Association
• Responsible Business Practices
• Environmental concerns
• Fair Trade
Even in countries where there is National Health and Safety Legislation and respect for ILO Standards, health and safety and environmental protection are compromised. The fear is that an unregulated world would lead to “the rule of the jungle” and prove disastrous for workers and the environment.
• Every day 5000 people die from work-related accidents - this equates to 3 deaths each minute
• 250 million accidents a year
• 160 million people in developing and industrialized countries are affected by work-related diseases
• These casualties help swell the pressures on public health systems, making the costs and social impacts on communities to rise
Added to the above, are questions intrinsic in an unregulated system, such as:
• Long working hours,
• Job insecurity, occasioned by contracting out, and threats of layoffs,
• Concerns about stress are rapidly surfacing under the pressure of globalisation and increased world-wide competition. New technologies, deskilling, downsizing, job losses, job insecurity and poorer conditions of work are adding to the problems.
Occupational health and safety is the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of the physical, mental and social well being of workers in all occupations.
OSH should be viewed in holistic terms. It’s about the physical, mental, spiritual and social well being of workers. We often emphasise the physical for obvious reasons – we can hear noise, experience extreme temperatures, feel vibration, and complain about poor lighting.
Also, the consequence of working under pressure, having fears of a lay-off, is not easy to see.
We must all note that, in today’s hectic world, the workplace is one of the primary sources of stress – along with family and financial problems.
The largest single cause of stress is lack of control over one’s situation and, in today’s competitive world with its greater time pressure, job instability, skills requirements, increasing demands at work, almost all occupations are subject to stress.
The biggest source of stress is change and uncertainty, for example:
• Factory and office closures,
• Mergers, e.g., Cable and Wireless, Geddes Grant, A.S. Bryden’s, among others.
The workplace also leads to other factors of mental ill health, such as:
• Corporate downsizing
• Threats to existing benefits
• Rumours of lay-offs
• Global competition
• Skill obsolescence
• Mergers and similar sources of organization turmoil have eroded workers sense of job security and have contributed to diseases like anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders.
A recent ILO study of mental health policies and programmes affecting the workforces of five North Atlantic countries shows that the incidence of mental ill health problems is increasing, with as many as one (1) in ten (10) workers suffering from:
• stress, and
• burnout, which lead, in some cases, to unemployment and hospitalisation.
The report states that a number of common threads appear to link the high level of stress, burnout and depression to changes taking place in the labour market, due partly to the effects of Economic Globalisation.
The report notes that the recession of the early 1990s “brought many changes to Finnish society and the Finnish labour market, such as:
· High unemployment,
• Job insecurity, and
• Short-term contracts and time pressure innovations, which coincided with a marked deterioration in the reported mental well-being of the workforce.
OSH is also about taking care of the physical, chemical, biological and ergonomic hazards
Globalisation may be defined as that structured approach to the development of the world as a single economic space.
Employers: it is a positive force of growth and the integration of nations and peoples, and should be facilitated. It has the potential to create employment, which would redress social ills including poverty.
Workers and trade unions: the greatest danger of globalisation lay in its propensity to create disparities and marginalisation within and between nations and contribute to unemployment.
Disparities: 75% of the world’s population enjoys only 16% of its income. The richest 20% have access to 85% of global income.
Questions: Should, or can, the world economy be controlled and monitored, and if so, by whom?
How will the world economy, in general, and business, in particular, face the challenges of labour, human resource, development, improvement of working conditions and labour relations?
What are we talking about?
• deregulated markets except for those who control them – e.g., telecommunications
• the reduction in the power of the state and the private sector as change agent
• at the macro level the transnational is the major engine of growth and transformation
The dumping of cheap and poor quality food, e.g. – chicken and the perceived attitude by the North Atlantic of lack of standards in Caribbean regarding food.
Complaints by banana-producing countries e.g., the indiscriminate use of pesticides and reports from Belize of banana workers having spontaneous abortions.
Workers suffering from skin rashes and other fall-out from pesticides
Child labour/ HIV/AIDS in Africa- parents dying from AIDS and the need to place children to work.
BWU battle with off-shore companies ….. RSIs
What could be?
The fear was that once the multilateral agreement on investment (MAI) was finalised, the vast power of the multinationals surpassing that of nation states would be unleashed.
The core chapter of the (MAI) is entitled investor rights
- these include the absolute right to establish an investment, including
Governments were supposed to be charged with the obligation to ensure effective enjoyment of investments.
To guarantee this, the MAI contained broad provisions to compensate foreign investors and corporations for any action a government would have taken that undermined the profitability of the investor.
The investor would have been able to take the government to court on issues such as environmental standards, labour legislation, and consumer protection, once they were seen as contribitors to reducing the profitability of the investors.
QUESTIONS TO BE ASKED:
• Lack of strict enforcement Governance re: sustainability of the environment, e.g. limiting/reducing/forbidding emissions that degrade/pollute the – marine environment, air, soil and underground (fresh) water resources.
We have seen in Barbados, how factory emissions have polluted streams (Holetown), and near-shore marine environment and have killed fish. We suffered in 1999 severe economic effects of a fish kill. Algae blooms and death of reefs, are all caused by pollution.
• Pollution of nearby villages caused by fallout from industries especially by fires.
Separate fires at chemical plant and furniture plant that have killed a worker and contaminated the environment.
• Lack of strict enforcement of labour laws that protect workers from unscrupulous investors in labour matters
• Protection of workers from contaminated and polluted working environments
We know that long-term exposure to some toxic substances can cause cancer and genetic mutations, as seen in Mexico in maquiladoras or EPZs
Now widespread agreement that roughly 85% of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, e.g., chemicals in air, food, or water, smoking, etc.,
Also, there is evidence of the role of biochemical change in causing of mental ill health has increased.
Exposure to heavy metals, like lead and mercury and to certain synthetic compounds may create a predisposition to brain tumours or abnormal behaviour.
• Protection of consumers with regard to unsafe foods, unsafe medicines and other products
IN DIRECT TERMS, CARIBBEAN PEOPLE POINT TO NEGATIVE IMPACTS ON SUGAR AND BANANAS…………POSITIONING THE CARIBBEAN INTO A ZONE OF POVERTY.
Poverty can predispose to:
• Inadequate shelter
• Access to safe water supplies,
• Refuse disposal facilities
• Poor sanitation and infectious diseases as well as malnutrition; and
• Malnutrition is the most pervasive cause of ill health.
IF CARIBBEAN PEOPLE HAVE DEVELOPED A VICTIM MENTALITY RE: GLOBALIZATION - WE SHOULD
EFFECTS OF MARKET LOSS IN BANANAS AND SUGAR WOULD LEAD TO PAUPERIZED ECONOMIES.
• A weakened economy cannot service welfare schemes
• Unemployed workers cannot contribute to Social Security
• The absence of the social security net is detrimental to retirees and the unemployed and puts a strain on other social services.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
SOCIAL DISLOCATION AS MANIFESTED IN DRUG CULTUURE AND GANG WARFARE
WHAT’S THE PICTURE OVERSEAS?
GLOBALISATION has had a tremendous effect on the lives of European workers for a long time, according to documented statements by European trade unions.
THE INTERNATIONAL TRANSPORT FEDERATION (ITF) REPORTS:
BRITISH TRADE UNIONS ARE SAYING THAT FREE ENTERPRISE SYSTEM CAN GET OUT OF HAND
What are we seeing in specific sectors?
A RECENT ITF CIVIL AVIATION CONFERENCE STATES THAT COST-CUTTING CAN UNDERMINE AVIATION SAFETY:
*IN AIRLINE INDUSTRY, THERE HAS BEEN RESTRUCTURING, - GETTING RID OF “NON-CORE” OPERATIONS SUCH AS BAGGAGE HANDLING, MAINTENANCE AND CATERING – THESE ARE BEING CONTRACTED OUT OR PUT IN THE HANDS OF SUBSIDIARY COMPANIES WHICH WOULD SEEK TO SERVICE OTHER AIRLINES.
*NEW MOVES TO LIBERALIZE GROUND HANDLING AT AIRPORTS AROUND THE WORKD HAVE RAISED FEARS THAT UNSCRUPOLOUS CONTRACTORS WILL UNDER-BID THEIR COMPETITORS BY LOWERING STANDARDS, INCLUDING TRAINING AND STANDARDS FOR RAMP STAFF.
An ITF conference in May-June, 1999, released sobering statistics which stated that if the existing global accident rate of about one fatal accident rate of about one fatal accident per two (2) million flights continues unchanged, the strong and continuing growth in air traffic means that, by end of the first decade of this millennium we would expect to see ONE MAJOR FATAL CRASH EACH WEEK.
Another ITF meeting was called to discuss the urgent problem of contamination of aircraft of organophosphates, and other components such as hydraulic fluids and lubricating oils.
* ANOTHER CONCERN OF THE ITF IS THE NEED TO SET RULES SUCH AS THOSE THAT PROTECT FLIGHT AND CABIN CREW FROM FATIGUE AND ENSURING MINIMUM CREW COMPLEMENTS ON BOARD AIRCRAFT
An ITF study on the airline industry, showed TRENDS OF DEREGULATION AND GLOBALIZATION IN THE AIRLINE SECTOR. THE REPORT SHOWS THAT WORKERS WERE EXPERIENCING:
• INCREASE IN WORK INTENSITY
• WIDESPREAD REDUCTION IN JOB SATISFACTION
• JOB INSECURITY, AND
• WORKER SAFETY.
IN TRANSPORTATION SECTOR IN BRITAIN, ITF REPORTS THAT WORKERS HAVE SWAPPED SECURE WELL-PAID JOBS FOR TEMPORARY CONTRACT WORK OR NO WORK
*IN THE RAILWAY INDUSTRY, PRIVATISATION AND FRAGMENTATION HAVE PROVIDED OPPORTUNITIES FOR ASSET-STRIPPING ACQUISITIONS AND ARE CREATING A NEW BREED OF GLOBAL OPERATOR
* IN ROAD TRANSPORT, IN HAULAGE AND PASSENGER SERVICE, DEREGULATION PARTICULARLY IN THE FORM OF EXCESSIVE WORKING HOURS, UNDERMINES WORKERS’ SAFETY AS WELL AS THAT OF OTHER ROAD USERS.
* IN THE DOCKS, WIDESPREAD REGULATION OF EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES, ALONG WITH PRIVATISATION AND THE EMERGENCE OF GLOBAL PORT OPERATORS, HAVE BEEN ACCOMPANIED BY EMPLOYER ATTACKS ON TRADE UNION ORGANIZATION.
IN INDIA, FOR EXAMPLE:
• DOCKERS HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY CHEAP CASUAL LABOUR WHO LIVE ON THE TERMINALS 24-HOURS PER DAY
• ARE AVAILABLE PERMANENTLY
• ARE NOT TRAINED PROPERLY AS DOCKWORKERS
• DON’T WEAR HARD HATS OR SAFETY BOOTS
• IF THEY REFUSE WORK, THEY ARE FIRED.
IN SHIPPING, WHICH HAS LONG BEEN THE MOST GLOBALIZED OF ALL TRANSPORT INDUSTRIES, FLAGS OF CONVENIENCE CONTINUUE TO LOWER STANDARDS OF EMPLOYMENT AND SAFETY.
THE SAME PHENOMENON HAS SPREAD TO THE FISHING INDUSTRY.
CONTRACTING-OUT, THE INTERNATIONAL MOBILITY OF JOBS IN AIRLINE REVENUE AND ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENTS, THE INTRODUCTION OF LARGE NUMBERS OF TEMPORARY AND PART-TIME WORKERS WERE ALL AREAS IDENTIFIED AS CAUSING MAJOR PROBLEMS FOR WORKERS.
ITF CIVIL AVIATION CONFERENCE STATES THAT COST-CUTTING UNDERMINES AVIATION SAFETY.
The ITF CALLED FOR SETTING RULES SUCH AS THOSE PROTECTING FLIGHT AND CABIN CREW FROM FATIGUE AND ENSURING MINIMUM CREW COMPLEMENTS ON BOARD AIRCRAFT
FLEXIBILITY AND LONG WORKING HOURS IS AN IMPORTANT QUESTION THAT HAS TO BE LOOKED AT, IN RELATION TO GLOBALIZATION AND WORKER SAFETY.
SHIFT WORK, LONG WORKING HOURS, TOGETHER WITH OVERTIME AND SHIFT WORK, HAVE A LONG HISTORY IN CERTAIN INDUSTRIES
SHIFT WORKERS SUFFER SLEEPING AND EATING PROBLEMS AND HAVE MORE DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS THAN DAY WORKERS.
IN THE AMERICAS – IN THE EXPORT PROCESSING ZONES – BIRTH DEFECTS AMONG CHILDREN BORN IN MEXICO. WOMEN LIVE AND WORK NEAR POLLUTED RIVERS AND STREAMS – CHEMICALS RELEASED FROM MULTINATIONAL FACTORIES.
GLOBAL COMPETITION LEADS TO JOB LOSSES
WITHOUT ADEQUATE SYSTEMS OF SOCIAL PROTECTION, THE SOCIAL PAIN HAS BEEN ACUTE
THE CONCERN WITH THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LABOUR CONDITIONS AND TRADE IS REAL
ILO’S PLOY HAS BEEN TO PROMOTE FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS AT WORK
THE COPENHAGEN SUMMIT OF 1995 IDENTIFIED 7 ILO CONVENTIONS CONCERNED WITH BASIC RIGHTS IN FOUR AREAS:
• FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
• FORCED LABOUR
• DISCRIMINATION; AND
• CHILD LABOUR
THE ILO DECLARATION ON FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES AND RIGHTS AT WORK, `ADOPTED IN 1998, INTENDED TO FURTHER THE SAME GOALS.