CESI urges European Parliament to push for a classification of COVID-19 as a highly dangerous group-4 virus under EU health and safety law

Following a decision by the European Commission to classify COVID-19 as a medium-threat group 3-virus in the EU’s biological agents directive 2000/54/EC, CESI sent letters to all MEPs of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs to urge them to veto this decision.

A categorisation of COVID-19 in group 4 of the directive would mean the highest available health and safety and protection standards for workers (potentially) exposed by the virus. A classification in group 3 would mean less protection. Under the so-called regulatory procedure with scrutiny, which applies to the classification of viruses, the European Parliament can block a measure by the European Commission if it is not compatible with the aim and content of the legal act, i.e. in this case the biological agents directive and its definition of the groups of viruses. The European Pariament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs will convene on Thursday to discuss and vote on the matter. In today’s letter to the MEPs CESI made clear that:

• as a European trade union confederation CESI represents more than 5 million workers, most notably in the different parts of public services and local, regional and central administrations across Europe. Many of those have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the first row and have made big sacrifices as part of their professional duty to be there for citizens and patients in need. Not only healthcare professionals but also the personnel in police forces, educational institutions, in child and elderly care facilities, and many more. Not few became infected and even paid with their lives;

• against this background, CESI feels that it does not do justice to workers that the European Commission 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”;

• 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. 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 would profoundly torpedo these efforts;

• while from the start of the crisis CESI has publicly called to help firms as much as possible to survive the COVID fallout, it is difficult to accept that alleged excessive administrative burden or other corporate or economic costs is placed above the adequate protection and suffering of workers. There are other ways to help businesses than on the back of workers;

• 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;

• in this context CESI counts on the support of all MEPs to veto the European Commission’s decision and to stand up for a classification of COVID-19 as a group 4 virus.