Towards Agreement:

Employers and Workers in Dialogue


Rebekah Smith is senior advisor at Business Europe, and coordinates employers in the EU Advisory Committee on Safety and Health. Laurent Vogel works as a researcher in the unit for Working Conditions, Health and Safety at the European Trade Union. Following three plenary presentations of best practices , Vogel and Smith meet up to discuss their differing perspectives.

Should we applaud to see the two of you together, or is it unremarkable for you to meet face-to-face?

Laurent Vogel: Of course, we often need to discuss the next steps in prevention and better regulation concerning carcinogens, as we are both stakeholders in that discussion.

Rebekah Smith: I probably see Laurent more than I see my direct colleagues some weeks. We're often in the same kind of conferences discussing the subject, and we’re always trying to discuss jointly, even if we don't always agree.


You've been listening to these three examples. What did you think?

LV: They are excellent examples. They're complementary also and they’re about different problems and methodologies, but with good results.

RS: I agree: they were extremely interesting. One thing they show is how things work at the workplace-level. It's not enough just to have legal requirements; we also need to look at these kinds of social partner agreements.


How important is it to meet each other, to be able to talk face-to-face?

LV: I believe the Swedish case is very interesting, because often, when we ask employers for substitutions for using carcinogens, we’re told there are no alternatives. Finding an alterative may be impossible if you maintain the same production process. The Swedish case shows that you can search for an alternative outside the normal production process, that you can find an alternative if you really want to.

RS: Having a common goal is very important, but I think what these examples show is that no one size fits all. You need different approaches for different sectors, for different substances. In the Swedish example, a substitute may work, but it may not work for other sectors as well. It's really about finding what fits the sectors' specific needs together.



Do we really need special committees for every topic we're going to discuss in the future, or is it possible to have a sort of general agreement?

LV: What we need to do, based on the examples, is to improve regulation and enforcement, and also to improve the influence of safety representatives. That was very clear in the Danish example in particular: without safety representatives, nothing would have changed.

RS: We also need to look at how EU policy can help in terms of promoting innovation and technological advances, which were clearly very important in these cases.


One last, easy question. What are the tensions or difficulties in the dialogue with social partners?

RS: It depends on the issue that you're talking about, but it's always important to build trust at the beginning. It’s not always easy as our goals are not always the same. But it's about being ready to accept that the other side may have different goals - and trying to find a compromise that meets both.

LV: I believe one of the difficulties is to have a very clear agenda, to avoid mixing all the issues in one discussion. We need to have specific discussions on health and safety issues based on what we know about health and safety. If we mix all the points in the agenda, then the discussion will become too complicated to function.



Examples of cooperation between social partners:

Reducing ultrafine particles at Copenhagen Airport


Lars Brogaard, academic secretary at 3f Kastrup, Denmark, gives insight in the social dialogue and work group to reduce the amount of carcinogen substances at Copenhagen airport.


Soon after the Danish National Board of Industrial Injuries acknowledged the first cancer case of a Copenhagen Airport employee in 2008, an official working group on air pollution was established. Researchers at the University of Aarhus discovered the concentration of ultrafine particles at the airport to be alarmingly high. These researchers are developing ways of reducing the pollution.


Non-carcinogenic alternatives to ward off pine-loving beetles


Magnus Lindberg and Henrik von Hofsten, researchers at Facket för skogs, Sweden, present good cooperation in the Forestry.


Chemical insecticides are increasingly unpopular in the Swedish pine forest industry, as non-toxic alternatives to ward off the pine weevil pest are now used on nearly half of the planted seedlings. This is due to the combined efforts of parties who have joined in the Committee for Seedling Protection funded by the forestry sector.


Minimize exposure to carcinogenic substances in bitumen


Reinhold Ruehl, statutory accident insurance for the construction industry, Frankfurt, Germany addresses the German Bitumen Forum.


Founded in 1996, the German Bitumen Forum brings together some eighty partners – among them, construction and roofing companies, asphalt producers, trade unions, and occupational physicians. The Bitumen Forum aims to reduce the exposure to carcinogenic substances found in particular mixtures of bitumen through taking workplace measurements, evaluating these measurements and implementing its findings.