Today is International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) and the UN’s World Day for Safety at Work. This marks a time for us to pay our respects to the 100, 000 people across the EU and 2 million people worldwide who die every year because of their work.
The EU has played a vital role in creating Health and Safety legislation which protects millions of workers in Europe. For many people across Europe this is one of the EU’s proudest achievements. Individuals deserve to be safe in their workplace and Labour MEPs continue to fight for the rights of British workers.
Most deaths are caused by occupational accidents or work related diseases, this is most often due to exposure to dangerous substances. To tackle this, Labour MEPs have called on the European Commission to rethink their approach to revising Health and Safety measures and have demanded that the revision of the Directive on Carcinogens is unblocked immediately.
East Midlands MEP, Glenis Willmott, said:
“It is completely unacceptable that thousands of preventable deaths happen every year. Being protected in your workplace is a basic human right.
“I call on the Vice President of the Commission Frans Timmermans to take real action to protect workers from cancer and unblock the revision of the Directive on Carcinogens or Mutagens immediately.”
In 2013 the Commission decided to suspend all ongoing initiatives in occupational health and safety legislation; a decision that has been highly criticised by Trade Unions and Labour MEPs.
The Carcinogenic Agents Directive has been under revision for 10 years. In response to this unacceptable delay the focus of this year’s IWMD is removing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.
Hazardous substances can cause asthma, dermatitis, lung disorders, cancer and death. Unfortunately, many workers often have no protection and almost every workplace in the UK will have hazardous substances in some form.
Glenis Willmott MEP added:
“The Commission’s new Strategic Framework on Health and Safety has nothing on carcinogens, asbestos, blacklisting or the list of occupation diseases. Health and safety’s not red tape; it’s life and death. This Commission talks a good game, but so far that’s all.
“As we commemorate those who have died at work, how about some real action from the Commission to save future lives?”
Plans to put a life-saving ‘Dashboard Angel’ in every new car are set to get the green light this week thanks to Labour MEPs and their political group in the European Parliament, which led on the proposal.
Under the new rules, car manufacturers will be required to install an on-board ‘E-Call’ system in new cars, which will automatically dial the emergency services in the event of a serious accident. The system is designed to work with the European-wide 112 emergency services number, ensuring drivers are protected when travelling abroad.
Glenis Willmott, Labour’s leader in Europe said:
“Road safety concerns us all. Knowing that if you are in a serious accident emergency services will be automatically contacted and on their way to help can give all drivers and passengers across the European Union peace of mind and reassurance for families travelling abroad.
“ECall is an effective tool which will help reduce road deaths and save lives across the UK and the EU. As we see technology develop, cars are amongst our everyday objects in which technology will have a direct and important impact. E-call is one of the latest examples of this transformation.”
“Many people in the UK travel around Europe on business or on holiday, and we also have a large number of visitors from abroad on our roads every year. When accidents occur, if emergency services cannot be alerted quickly because of language difficulties or the inability of car occupants to call for help, the resulting delays can potentially be fatal.
“The E-Call system will allow the emergency services to get to accident scenes faster and could save thousands of lives each year. It is very disappointing the Tories and UKIP in the European Parliament have been opposing this measure, showing yet again they do not take road safety seriously.”
The new rules ensure the e-Call system is dormant until activated in the event of an accident. Vehicles equipped with eCall are not traceable and are not subject to any constant tracking. The set of data sent by the in-vehicle eCall system includes the minimum information required for the appropriate handling of emergency calls.”
As the international community prepares to take stock of the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals, Members of European Parliament are gravely concerned by the looming threat of drug resistant malaria. Currently concentrated in Asia, drug resistance could rapidly spread to India or Africa and undo all the progress made in eliminating the disease to date. Urgent political action is thus needed in order to mobilise sufficient resources to face a malaria resurgence.
South East Asian mosquitoes harbour drug resistant parasites, which are immune to the standard malaria treatment process. In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, the parasite is largely resistant to artemisin, which has typically been a key ingredient of anti-malarial treatment. This gives reason for serious concern regarding future treatment methods and growing mortality rates linked to malaria
“We are determined to make vaccines and treatment accessible for all. It is essential that the EU institutions do their best to fight against this killer in Africa and Asia by investing in Research and Development for poverty-related and neglected diseases” MEP Glenis Willmott, Chair of the European Parliament working group on innovation, access to medicines and poverty related diseases (EPWG).
At present, there are 198 million cases of malaria annually, causing 580,000 deaths. 90% of these occur in Africa. There has however been progress: as part of the Millennium Development Goals, 55 countries managed to slash malaria rates by 75%. A reduction in malaria rates is likely to be coupled with economic growth as the disease is believed to result in estimated annual losses of 1.3% in GDP in most affected countries.
“While this is good news, drug resistance could reverse all these trends. If we want to prevent it from spreading, we have to eliminate it. Next-generation drugs, new vaccines and diagnostics are needed so that we stand a chance against malaria” said Fanny Voitzwinkler, Head of EU office of Global Health Advocates. Moreover, better health services and the strengthening of community systems are essential in order to ensure that cases are identified and treated. This will result in total savings of $270 billion by 2030 in Sub-Saharan Africa alone and save millions of lives.
Despite huge increases in political will and financial resources in recent years, we are still faced with a large funding gap. According to estimates, a total of $5.1 billion would be needed to eliminate the disease whereas only $2.7 billion was raised through international and domestic funding in 2013. This gap highlights the relative lack of understanding of the devastating effects of malarial drug resistance in political circles.
It is no secret that the EU is increasingly withdrawing from middle-income countries and refocusing its support to the globe’s least developed states. While the reasoning behind this principle is laudable, it does risk jeopardising the health of millions of poorer citizens stuck in the income classification trap. Vulnerable communities will struggle to access health care if aid is suddenly withdrawn and alternative mechanisms are not put in place.
The European Parliament Working Group on innovation, access to medicines and poverty-related diseases calls on the EU, affected countries, technical partners and civil society to come together and devise political strategies in order to strengthen health systems and stimulate resource mobilisation for malaria.
The EU has long recognised the importance of maintaining biodiversity in the EU, and keystone legislation like the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive are vital for protecting our wildlife.
Unfortunately, this week the hunting lobby in Malta won a referendum in favour of continuing their derogation to the Birds Directive and the spring hunting of birds by only 2,200 votes. It is estimated that up to 27,000 birds could be trapped during the spring hunting season this year, but although a continuation of the hunt is undoubtedly a disappointing result for bird lovers, we need to keep up the pressure on Malta to protect their birdlife.
Under the EU’s Birds Directive, certain hunting methods, including traps, are banned entirely and it is illegal to hunt birds during their breeding or migratory seasons. However, Malta is making use of a derogation in the Directive, which allows exceptions to be made on the condition that there is no suitable alternative, that hunting is done on a selective basis, that only a small number of birds are killed and that these conditions are strictly supervised. There have been repeated accusations that Malta has exploited this derogation in order to allow spring hunting at an unsustainable level, and illegal hunting remains a persistent problem.
Last Saturday’s referendum was triggered by a petition organised by the Coalition against Spring Hunting (comprised mainly of animal and bird welfare organisations and charities like Birdlife), which gathered the 40,000 signatures needed for a referendum in Malta. Unfortunately, the spring hunting season has become very politically sensitive, with accusations that the government is soft on hunting to appease a powerful hunting lobby.
During the Spring hunting season, many migrating birds rest in Malta on their way north to breed, but Malta is alone in the EU in allowing hunting of Turtle Dove and Quail, and trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush. Alarmingly, the Turtle Dove is almost extinct as a breeding bird in the UK, with bird lovers in the UK launching campaigns to save it, while it is being actively hunted in Malta.
Labour MEPs have always strongly supported efforts to bring the illegal killing of protected species in the EU to an end and we have been pressuring the European Commission to take action on Malta’s spring hunting season for some time.
Last year, I submitted a parliamentary question to the Commission about the Birds Directive, asking what could be done to stop illegal hunting of birds. Their response was that implementation is the responsibility of Member States, but that they could investigate in cases where illegal hunting was alleged to be happening. The Commission has pledged to take steps to address poor enforcement of the Birds Directive, including investigations into cases of systematic enforcement failures, and future infringement proceedings.
Labour MEPs have also asked the Commission for regular information about the success of their new enforcement drive, and I hope that we will manage to make progress at EU level by closely monitoring the progress of the Commission.
Birds don’t respect national boundaries, and the Birds Directive is an excellent example of how we can achieve more by working with other Member States. We need proper enforcement of the rules to make sure that iconic summer birds, like the turtle dove, are able to safely migrate to our gardens each year. I hope that this incredibly close result will not stop conservationists from protesting spring hunting in Malta.