CESI regrets lacking majority in European Parliament to give workers maximum protection from SARS-CoV-2

Yesterday, MEPs in the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs did not find a majority among themselves to include SARS-CoV-2 in virus group 4 under EU health and safety law, in order to give workers the highest protection standards possible. Previously, also the European Commission had opted to classify the virus in group 3, which means less protection requirements from employers. CESI deeply regrets this decision as a sign that workers have been let down by the EU.

CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger said: “It is hardly acceptable that policy makers and governments have -rightly- imposed large-scale lockdowns as an unavoidable instrument to face a highly dangerous threat, when afterwards they tell workers in hospitals and other professions in which frequent and intense viral exposure is likely that in the end they do not deserve the highest possible level of protection. Workers across Europe feel let down by the EU, which often portrays itself as a social union.”

Under the so-called regulatory procedure with scrutiny, which applies to the classification of viruses, the European Parliament could still have blocked the decision of the European Commission. However, after the European Commissioner for Jobs, Nicolas Schmit, pledged to encourage member states to include written inormation for employees on how to work in the presence of the virus, no majority was in sight against the European Commission. The Council can still bock the vote, in theory, but a political will is lacking also in that institution.

CESI feels that it does not do justice to workers that the EU has classified COVID-19 as a group 3 virus in the biological agents directive, a category which should include viruses for which “there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available”. Given that there is no effective prophylaxis or treatment for COVID-19, clearly, COVID-19 must belong in group 4 which per definition includes viruses for which there is “no effective prophylaxis or treatment available”.

Klaus Heeger concluded: “Workers appreciate if policy makers and citizens clap their hands to say thank for your their work and sacrifice – But what will help them much more is that this will result in concrete action: the best protection measures that are available. As a European umbrella organisation, CESI has in the past continuously tried to bring the EU closer to workers and highlight the benefits that the EU means for them. A classification of COVID-19 as a group 3 agent  profoundly torpedoes these efforts. ”