World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2020: In the face of a pandemic

CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger reiterates CESI’s call for a decisive short-term management of the Corona fallout and bold action by EU and national leaders to mitigate social, economic and financial problems for workers and business that a post-Corona crisis threatens to entail.

Of course dominated by the current Corona crisis, the 2020 World Day for Safety and Health at Work has been placed under the title ‘In the face of a pandemic’.

And we really are in the face of a pandemic.

Some months ago, hardly anybody could have imaged the situation we currently find ourselves in. Tens of thousands of deaths, the economy paralysed, millions of jobs at risk or already lost, entire sectors down, maybe irreversibly.

The public services and their staff, above all health professionals, working beyond their limits; many of whom also infecting and dying themselves.

What remains surprising for me (as a non-expert!) is that I would have expected mechanisms and crisis scenarios in place, at least insistent warnings, of what was to come. At least eventually.

Given the crisis evolution in China, what were we, me included (!), (not) thinking? That China was far away? That our societies, our health systems, our ‘Western way of life’ would make us less vulnerable?

I don’t like finger-pointing, I never liked it. We are all in the same boat. And I can imagine how immensely difficult it must have been to chose between (at that time potentially hysterically) alarmism and (at that moment apparently thoughtful and well-reflected) appeasement.

But yet: It remains inexplicable to me why policy makers and authorities did not see it coming. How many of us still spoke about the virus as causing solely “light flus”, of being “most likely inoffensive” or of being “harmless” for us in Europe (or in the US)?

How did we come to the situation that we had not stocked sufficient protective gear for professionals managing the crisis and exposed to the virus, above all healthcare workers? How did we become so over-dependent on third countries on essential and live-saving gear?

Having had months and weeks for at least some sort of premonition…

Not only businesses and our societies and freedoms, but also workers and public sector staff are now paying a very high price for this lack of foresight. But also for enduring austerity, underinvestment and over-zealous privatisations of public services and healthcare.

This is something we need to reflect upon about today on this annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

Beyond the now urgently needed hasty (short-term) measures to protect workforces, citizens and professionals exposed to the virus, we will soon need to talk policy and administration accountabilities and how to prevent in the future what is happening today.

For us at CESI, it is clear what this means: A functioning European pandemic early-warning system, an efficient and streamlined European crisis management framework which all Member States adhere to, and above all, investments of a very large scale in the personnel, equipment and facilities of our healthcare and public services –  in order to make them and our societies resilient and crisis-proof.

The emphasis here is on investment, not on costs, because, as we currently all witness, this expenditure is clearly cheaper in the long-run than trying to fix problems as we to right now.

We do not want an overmighty state and a public hand interfering in what we, as free individuals, can deliver and manage – we do not want to be deprived of our freedoms, our responsibility, maturity and accountability as individual citizens.

But where private services have not delivered -and focused only on profit-, and where this profit-mindedness led to the demise of the general interest, to rethink our societal models, including the eventuality of recommunalisation of certain services cannot remain a taboo either.