Stop Casualties at Work!
By Fatos Cocoli
Albanian Daily News
Published May 9, 2019
Today in Tirana a regional conference is waged on how to improve the health and safety of workers at work. The situation is precarious everywhere in the Western Balkans. 27 employees died in Albania in 2018. 23 workers died in Serbia and 19 in Kosovo in 2017. In Serbia, 30 percent of those who perished were informal workers.
In our country, there are hundreds and thousands of workers heavily injured during work and presently living as invalids. There are tens of thousands of workers suffering from serious occupational diseases that seriously threaten their lives, because of having worked or still working in extreme inappropriate conditions.
Although there is a gradual improvement in the area of health and safety at work in the region, much still remains to be done, especially given the large number of workers employed in the informal sector.
As the State structures are lazy and slow in reaction, civil society organizations are thinking to engage and wake them up. Four of them, the Center for Democracy in Serbia, Center for Labour Rights (CLR.AL) in Albania, Education Peers Network in Kosovo and Center for Civil Cooperation-Livno in Bosnia and Herzegovina, engaged in deeply studying the work health and safety conditions in their respective countries. Today, here in Tirana they have gathered to share the findings and recommendations of their study, supported by the Olof Palme International Center, with funds from the Swedish Government.
Natasha Vuckovic, director of the Center for Democracy in Serbia says that "we need to draft the law on Insurance against Injuries and Professional Diseases at Work. The insurance has to pay the damaged workers. So far, the social indemnities that the invalids from work receive in the form of social assistance are ridiculous". The concerned NGOs are able to attract the needed expertise for preparing a good draft law in all the four countries, but the responsible public inspection and monitoring structures should support them in this endeavor.
Mr. Edison Hoxha, director at the Center for Labour Rights (CLR.AL) says that they have prepared, together with the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Albania, a package of proposals and recommendations to the Parliamentary Committee on Labor, Social Affairs and Public Health, in regard to improvement of the applicability of the law "On Safety and Health at Work", on the occasion of repeated health incidents in different sectors of industry, such as in textile and construction. In the package, the CLR.AL proposes to the Council of Ministers and the line ministries to complete the by-laws and institutional framework for safety and health at work. The Council of Ministers should also put into operation the Inter-ministerial Council for Work Safety and Health, a structure provided by law, but which has not functioned until now. On the other side, Mr. Hoxha is of the idea that Labour Inspectorate and Health Inspectorate should train their inspectors to increase their professional and ethical capacities while inspecting state and private enterprises. He says that his Center for Labour Rights (CLR.AL) will follow with priority the implementation of these proposals with the commissions in Parliament and in cooperation with all interested parties.
The four "musketeers" in the field of rights at work, the above-mentioned NGOs will come up today with other interesting proposals for their respective Governments. If they have to be accountable towards their citizens and employees, the Governments of Albania, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina should strengthen the capacities of State structures for inspecting health and safety at work, increasing the number of inspectors and increasing fines and administrative measures for violators. They have also to encourage the public and private companies to establish and ensure the non-formal functioning of health and safety councils in them.
The "stop casualties at work NGOs" are also proposing to introduce the National Digital Accident and Injury Registry at the work ministry or similar State structures and set the red flags system for state and private companies having the highest number of accidents and injuries at work, by implementing a special program for their inspection. They advocate as well for a National Strategy for Improving Health and Safety at Work 2020-2024 for their countries.
Are all these doable? Or is it a mission impossible? The Center for Democracy in Serbia, the Center for Labour Rights (CLR.AL) in Albania, the Education Peers Network in Kosovo and the Center for Civil Cooperation-Livno in Bosnia and Herzegovina are hopeful their governments will listen to them. We hope and fan for them as well.