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Sixth session of Working Group 2 – Social Policy and Employment (Chapter 19) “Safety and Health of Workers at Workplace: National Conditions and European Standards”

On 26.08.2019 in the MP’s Club in Skopje, the sixth session of the Working Group 2 of the National Convention on the European Union in the Republic of North Macedonia (NCEU-MK) was held. The topic of the WG2 – Social Policy and Employment (Chapter 19) was: Safety and Health of Workers at Workplace: National Conditions and European Standards.

This session was attended by more than 50 representatives from all stakeholders, such as representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, non-governmental organizations and associations, syndicates, professors and experts from the country.

The session was opened by Mileva Gjurovska, who gave a brief summary of the work done so far at the NKEU-MK and the Working group 2. She pointed out the importance that Chapter 19 has in the European Union and that the problems related to the safety and health of the workers are central in the negotiations process.

The second speaker was Jovana Trenchevska, State Secretary in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. According to her, this topic is extremely important and current, both in the EU and in our country. She presented the statistics of the Institute of Public Health for officially registered injuries at the workplace in our country. Trencevska says: We are facing changes such as population aging, environmental pollution, climate change, rapid technological development which lead to changes in the jobs themselves, and this should be followed by changes in worker safety measures. She concluded by highlighting the need for joint efforts by all stakeholders to work and to improve the regulations and create better health and safety workplace policies.

Мarija Ristovska presented how the legislation related to the protection and safety of workers was developed in the European Union. She pointed out that the challenge today is to renew the existing strategic framework due to the aging of the population and the introduction of new and more flexible jobs. In the end, she stressed that it is not enough just to adopt the current EU regulations and policies, but we need to look ahead and intercept the future EU policies.

Milan Petkovski emphasized that it is of the utmost importance to build a preventive culture, that can be a precondition for reducing the number of injuries. Commenting on the statistics of the Institute of Public Health, he noted that these data do not correspond to the reality and the data available in MZZPR. According to him, in order to improve the safety of th workers, it is necessary to use the knowledge and potential of the health and safety engineers to our benefit. Instead of the data obtained with the risk assessment being used for preventive purposes, unfortunately, often it is not even opened unless there is an inspection at the company. Petkovski states that this practice needs to change.

Svetlana Trbojevic agreed that we should pay more attention to a prevention strategy. She talked about health as a psycho-bio-social construct and that it is not enough just to pay attention to physical health, but to have a more holistic approach and to take care of the overall health of the workers. This requires greater involvement of psychologists, social workers, and sociologists. There is also a need for increased awareness of safety at work for both employers and employees about their own responsibility in the workplace.

Toni Vojneski pointed out that the inspectors follow and enforce the law and are bound by it. He stressed that they are doing their best and they try to be on the field as much as possible. He highlighted the development of administrative capacities and human resources through various trainings and projects as main priorities.

Suncica Dimitrijoska was speaking about people with disabilities. She pointed out that people with disabilities need employment first and foremost. To achieve this, their involvement in the educational process needs to be increased, but also conditions must be adjusted to enable them to function properly in the educational institutions. She noted that there is a trend for people with disabilities to be involved in the open economy and not just protective companies. This trend should continue, as this can lead to their greater integration through employment in the same companies with persons without disabilities.

Angel Dimitrov spoke critically about the law, which he said was reduced to a mere bureaucratic procedure that entails gathering extensive documentation that is only used in the event of an inspection. We need to find a way to turn this bureaucratic procedure into a more effective one that will produce better results. His opinion is that company professionals should be able to make their own risk assessments because they know the job better than any other and external consultants should only come in for specific cases. He also pointed out that liability in the event of injury should fall not only on employers but also on professional consultants.

Vane Kocev spoke about the importance of syndicates and unions. He said protecting workers is a higher priority where syndicates are more concerned with the subject. He took the company, Bucim-Radovis, where he works as an example. Kocev highlighted the good practice he has with the management, with their hard work and commitment to maximally respecting the safety regulations. He also explained the procedure for a possible injury at work. He noted that in contrast to employers who truly take care of safety at the workplace, there are others who do so only as a pro forma and where employee safety is unsatisfactory. Harmonization of the law is crucial, by bringing together all relevant stakeholders.

Hilda Meshkova, a judge at the Primary Court- Skopje 2, was the last speaker before the debate. She stressed the need to define the exact job assignments for each job. This would reduce the number of accidents, which sadly occur way too much, due to insufficient regulation of the work activities. Judge Meshkova also believes that we, as a welfare state, must remain committed to monitoring the health of employees, as only good, healthy worker can do productive work and increase the employer’s profit. Unfortunately lately, the frequent occurrence of workplace injuries is precisely because of workers’ failure to comply with the rules.

It followed a lively discussion, in which the participants and the speakers shared their thoughts on this matter. The session ended with the adoption of the recommendations on issues related to the safety and health of workers at the workplace.