Guide Workplace Health and Safety: International Perspectives on Worker Representation

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They may have been made in the spirit of the Robens-influenced HSW Act but, in providing trades unions with exclusive rights to appoint health and safety representatives, they were a conscious departure from the unitarist industrial relations thinking that dominated the Robens approach and the product of a quite separate trajectory in which the political power that organised labour was able to wield at the zenith of the post-war compromise was instrumental. In this respect, as Walters , has previously demonstrated, it was the political influence of the trade union campaign, and in particular the wider agreement between the trade unions and the —8 Labour Government the so-called Social Contract , that allowed the unions to obtain the wording to the regulations that best suited their purpose — transforming a general requirement to consult workers that was the recommendation of the Robens Report and the first Health and Safety at Work Bill into a specific requirement to grant trades unions and only trades unions rights to appoint health and safety representatives and to enable these representatives to require employers to establish joint health and safety committees.

The Framework Directive was linked to the introduction of minimum standards to protect workers — the so-called social dimension of EU employment policy at the time.

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It suggests that decisions at the EU level are a function of both power and opportunity and cannot always be read off in a seemingly straightforward way. The model Whatever the reasons that lie behind national regulatory models on worker representation and those of the EU, there is broad similarity in their requirements. As Walters and Nichols , p. There are, of course, variations in the details of these arrangements from country to country, and in certain cases national provisions develop the model somewhat further.

For example, in Sweden there is provision for regional health and safety representatives; and in Australia health and safety representatives are allowed to issue Provisional Improvement Notices and also to grant trade union officials rights of access to workplaces. The significance of these particular provisions will be addressed in detail in subsequent chapters. An important distinction that can be made between UK provisions and the majority of national and EU provisions concerns the role granted to organised labour.

What these developments would seem to imply for these countries is a retreat from the regulatory endorsement of trade unions as central to the representation of employee interests in health and safety. Given the evidence of the role of trade unions in making such representation effective, this retreat is addressed in subsequent chapters, both specifically in relation to these countries and in relation to the role of organised labour more generally.

Different experiences of worker representation Since the s the nature of the political economy, the structure and organisation of work and the balance of power between labour and capital have all altered profoundly in the advanced market economies 8 Introduction represented in this book. This leads to one of the central questions addressed in the following chapters: How has the model for worker representation on health and safety fared in the face of these changes? To undertake this examination the book has been constructed in two parts.

It starts from the premise that these arrangements, which are found widely in advanced market economies, are supported by a mixture of legislative rights and industrial relations structures. These are discussed in a range of different national contexts, and their limitations in the modern world of work are identified. The research from the UK, Australia, France and Spain shows certain preconditions need to be met if worker representation and consultation is to be effective; and Part I explores the extent to which these preconditions are eroded or enhanced by current regulatory and organisational constructs in different situations across a range of countries and at the international level.

In Chapter 1 Theo Nichols and David Walters review the changes in British health and safety arrangements for formal worker representation since the s.

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They consider the effectiveness of various arrangements, statistically and by means of recently completed case studies. They find arrangements for worker representation lacking even in the sectors in which the preconditions for effective operation might be considered the most likely to exist. They argue that this suggests a case for increasing the role of regulatory agencies in ensuring compliance with the legal requirements for representation and consultation in the UK. However, as the chapter makes clear, far from doing so, in recent years the policy on regulatory intervention on this subject in the UK has in fact moved in the opposite direction.

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Somewhat in contrast to the British case, Richard Johnstone demonstrates that in Australia there has been some limited regulatory effort to address perceived challenges of change in the structure and organisation of work for the statutorily based arrangements on worker representation and consultation on workplace health and safety. In Chapter 2 he examines the statutory provisions governing health and safety representatives and committees in Australia. He identifies a dominant model for health and safety representatives based on that in operation in the UK, but with significant variations which are particularly evident in the enforcement powers vested in elected health and safety representatives.

The chapter briefly notes that three Australian jurisdictions take approaches to worker representation that deviate in significant ways from the dominant Australian model. It also discusses: the general David Walters and Theo Nichols 9 withdrawal of the privileged position of trade unions in institutional arrangements; attempts to modify institutional arrangements to enable precarious and contingent workers to be represented at workplaces; and some of the recent research data on the operation of Australian institutional arrangements for worker representation in relation to occupational health and safety.

Returning to Europe for the remaining contributions to Part 1, we first consider evidence from recent surveys of the role of joint consultation on health and safety from two EU countries, France and Spain.


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  4. Thomas Coutrot presents the first national empirical study of the influence of CHSCT presence on health and safety issues at the firm level in France. It describes the background to the introduction of the requirements of CHSCTs and the spread of CHSCTs across the sectors covered, and identifies the features of workplaces in which they are most likely to be present. It further discusses evidence of their influence on strategies to reduce occupational risks in firms. In Spain the Law for the Prevention of Occupational Health Risks requires all workplaces with six or more workers to have one or more safety representatives.

    Having first outlined these regulatory provisions and their industrial relations contexts in Spain, Ana Maria Garcia and her colleagues present the results of a recent study of the experiences of safety representatives. They survey the activities of health and safety representatives, their perceptions of occupational risks and their management as well as their training needs and the obstacles and supports they perceive to performing their duties.

    The survey represents the first systematic investigation of such issues in Spain. It shows that, while safety representatives are active in a number of ways in relation to health and safety, the extent to which they are consulted on health and safety arrangements remains limited in many workplaces, and that a significant number of safety representatives report that some of the activities for occupational health and safety protection in their companies that are required by law such as risk evaluation, planning of preventive interventions, and workers consultation and participation in evaluation and planning are not properly implemented.

    Most of published research on representing workers on health and safety has been based on studies conducted in English-speaking 10 Introduction countries such as the UK and Australia. While the broad legislative requirements may be similar, industrial relations cultures and contexts vary enormously between countries, and make the two surveys from France and Spain that are described in Chapters 3 and 4 particularly important in aiding a wider understanding of the issues and challenges confronting the implementation and operation of the regulatory model across a range of different national settings.

    Since the EU has played such an important role in promulgating the regulatory model that is at the heart of current arrangements in the countries covered in this book, it is appropriate to end Part I with some reflections on EU policies on worker representation on health and safety.

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    In Chapter 5 Laurent Vogel and David Walters point out that, although there are no systematic statistical data, it is estimated that there are over a million safety representatives in the European Union. They observe that, although most are trade union members, whose presence is based on broadly similar regulatory frameworks, different industrial relations systems in different member states make for widely differing styles of implementation. They offer a critique of current EU policies on employee representation at the workplace set in the context of its historical development from the s onwards.

    They further discuss a range of features of the current profile of worker representation on health and safety in the EU and the political and policy background to the challenges it faces. These challenges set the scene for the second part of the book, which provides case studies from several further countries both within and outside the EU, and which focuses more explicitly on the challenges to worker representation presented by changes in the structure and organisation of work.

    It also presents a comparative discussion of trade union approaches to supporting worker representation in health and safety in Australia and the UK, and the extent to which David Walters and Theo Nichols 11 such representation is embraced in union strategies to achieve renewal in these countries.

    In Chapter 6 Wayne Lewchuck and his colleagues draw on a recent survey of workers in Ontario to focus on Canadian experiences of representing workers on health and safety in precarious employment. They describe the transition to an internal responsibility framework to regulate health and safety issues that took place in most Canadian jurisdictions in the late s. At that time, legislation mandated Joint Health and Safety Committees in most workplaces; worker knowledge of the hazards they faced was enhanced through new right-to-know regulations; and workers were given the right to refuse dangerous work.

    Very little has changed in this regulatory framework in the ensuing three decades, but the effectiveness of the regulations in improving health and safety outcomes has been, and continues to be, debated. In earlier work Lewchuk argued that their effectiveness was sensitive to the labour—management environment of individual workplaces.

    In particular, the framework was more effective where labour was organised and where management had accepted a philosophy of co-management of the health and safety function. While the regulatory framework has remained essentially in place, the economic and social context in which it functions has changed. Today, the economic climate has become more competitive as the Canadian economy is more reliant on foreign markets for its products.

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    Union density has fallen, and the unions that remain face a more aggressive management focused on profitability. There have been significant changes in the structure of employment relationships. Non-standard forms of employment, some of it of a precarious nature, have grown in relative importance.

    The chapter engages with these developments and presents new evidence on the impact of some of these changes on worker voice and the nature of worker citizenship. The authors argue that they raise serious questions regarding the continuing efficacy of the internal responsibility system as a strategy for improving the health of workers. These findings are to be seen against a background of poor safety performance in the Baltic States and, in particular, evidence of work intensification. It would appear that overall problems of securing effective workplace social dialogue in the neo-liberal New Member States are also affecting occupational health and safety participation.

    This, the authors suggest, means that the new EU strategy —12 on working environment in which social dialogue as a participative pathway to health and safety improvements is ignored, and fails to address the fundamental problem in securing employee voice in post-Communist New Member States. To turn to successful strategies for addressing the challenges to worker representation, in Chapter 8 Kaj Frick examines a Swedish scheme to represent the health and safety interests of workers in small enterprises.

    One of the widely recognised challenges to institutional arrangements for representing workers in workplace health and safety concerns workplace size. In virtually all surveys of the coverage of these arrangements, representation is shown to be increasingly difficult in smaller workplaces.

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    In this respect regional safety representatives have been a success story in Sweden since the mids. Regional safety representatives now cover some four-fifths of small workplaces with employees in Sweden, and such representatives visit workplaces between five and ten times more often than labour inspectors and considerably more than the occupational health and safety services which are also found in Sweden. They support the small worksites by appointing, training and supporting local representatives, checking on occupational health and safety problems and advising on how to solve them.

    He argues that the preconditions for this success have included a positive industrial relations and occupational health and safety climate, in which employers and managers accept and even appreciate cooperation with unions and their representatives — which has extended to those in small firms — and in which good occupational health and safety has significant political value. David Walters and Theo Nichols 13 However, Frick also suggests that the strong support for occupational health and safety in small sites that has been provided by the regional safety representatives may now be threatened by wider changes in the governance of the scheme and especially by the withdrawal of state financial support.

    Trends in the continued restructuring and globalisation of Swedish production may also make it harder for such representatives to reach small workplaces, which, in turn, may have fewer internal occupational health and safety resources than before, contributing further barriers to the current and future effectiveness of the scheme. In Chapter 9 Rebecca Loudoun and David Walters examine the attitudes and perceptions of trade union officials towards health and safety representation in Britain and Australia in the light of the challenges confronting worker representation and the significant role trades unions play in supporting it.

    They first review the traditional roles performed by unions to support health and safety representatives, highlighting the importance of external trade union support for effective worker representation and consultation in health and safety. They summarise the well-documented difficulties that unions face in providing this support before presenting their own findings, which are based on responses from full-time trade union officials in the UK and Australia. They demonstrate the existence of both similarities and differences between British and Australian perceptions and outline possible reasons for them before going on to explore attitudes among British trade union officials at national and regional levels towards the relationship between health and safety and trade union organising.