25 November 2015

Small? We don't think so!

After the Juncker Commission formally took office in October 2014, we were introduced to two words that were meant to become the new reality for everyone operating in or around the European Institutions: Better Regulation. These words, which, granted, don’t sound too scary, eventually came to haunt the lives of the new members of European Parliament, NGOs, consultants and the whole EU Bubble. According to the Commission, “Better Regulation means designing EU policies and laws so that they achieve their objectives at minimum cost. Better Regulation is not about regulating or deregulating. […] This is necessary to ensure that the Union's interventions respect the overarching principles of subsidiary and proportionality i.e. acting only where necessary and in a way that does not go beyond what is needed to resolve the problem.”

At first glance, this sounds fantastic. However, the devil, as always, is in the details. The main criticism over the Better Regulation agenda has been that it is an effort by the Juncker Commission to block a series of legislative proceedings, create more red tape in order to make legislative changes longer and costlier (therefore delaying social progress) and limit the powers of the European Parliament in changing Commission’s proposals.

In short, the Commission wished to be big on the big issues and small on the small issues. Of course, what is deemed big or small, is solely at the Commission’s discretion, which brings me to something that happened a few months ago and caused an official reaction by the EADV.

On 30 October 2015, the Commission published a document entitled “Better Regulation and Transparency”. In this publication, the Commission declared again that it “must not be big on small things” by portraying an image of a hairdresser cutting hair and a pair of high-heeled shoes (see picture). The crossed over image clearly referred to the European Framework Agreement on the Protection of Occupational Health and Safety in the Hairdressing Sector signed by the sectoral  social partners in Brussels on 26 April 2012, under the presence of the then Commissioner of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor, which had been fully supported by the EADV. Scientific advice to this breakthrough achievement had been given by EADV members within the Commission-financed Safehair 1.0 & 2.0 projects (www.safehair.eu).

The more, we were puzzled that the Commission currently holds the opinion that occupational health and safety in this sector is a “small thing” when hairdressing is one of the most affected high risk professions by occupational skin diseases.

For this reason, the EADV penned a letter that was sent to Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility and Stefaan Hermans, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Thyssen on 20 November 2015. The letter, signed by the EADV President Prof. Dr. Erwin Tschachler and the Chair of the Media & PR Committee Prof. Dr. Swen Malte John, clearly outlined the complaints of the EADV vis-à-vis the aforementioned publication of the Commission, highlighted that occupational health and safety is under no circumstance “small” and underlined that it is the Commission’s responsibility to stay “big” on this issue.

UNI Europa, the European services workers union, and Coiffure EU, the European association of employers’ organisations in hairdressing also drafted a joint letter and expressed similar concerns. In fact, UNI Europa highlighted the EADV’s intervention in an article published on their website on November 27.

On 21 January 2016, Commissioner Thyssen replied to our letter. In her letter she mentioned that “the publication you refer to is a product of the Commission’s Communication service. I understand the depiction chosen is unfortunate in this particular case and that it has raised some eyebrows, in the first place among the social partners currently revising their European Framework Agreement on the protection of occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector. […] [t]he Commission remains committed to a high level of protection for workers from occupational risks. As announced in our Work Programme 2016, the Commission is currently carrying out a review of the existing occupational health and safety legislation, aiming at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of an EU framework for protecting workers.”

We plan to put these words and promises to the test. The EADV has been fighting for a long time to recognise skin cancer as an occupational disease for outdoor workers, who are at a significantly raised risk of squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. This issue brings an extreme burden on the healthcare systems at a time when prevention through awareness raising and proper legislation could be extremely effective.

We really hope that the Commission stays firm to its commitment in further protecting and improving workers´ health and safety. No matter what, we will be watching.

You can find the relevant EADV Press Release here.

Nikos Manaras

Senior EU Affairs and Media Coordinator - EADV