Critical ILO Convention on Worker Protection Against Biological Hazards

Gerardo Juara, from PSI affiliate AGOEC in Argentina which represents waste and environmental service workers, shared his insights and experiences from participating in the ILO's Standard-Setting Committee on Biological Hazards and discussions on a groundbreaking convention and recommendation aimed at protecting workers from biological hazards in the workplace.

Juara expressed his enthusiasm about the potential impact of this convention, calling it possibly the most important of the past and next decade. He emphasized that the convention is born from the critical lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. This initiative addresses the future risks that workers may face in the event of another pandemic, climate disasters, and the ongoing global warming crisis—all of which entail significant biological risks.

Juara highlighted that public service workers are often on the front lines, risking their lives to combat the effects of biological hazards. This is a primary reason for his optimism, as the convention brings the voice and experience of these workers to the forefront.

The progress, however, has been slow. Only 10 out of 44 points have been discussed, with several key points deferred to next year. Juara noted that the employer sector is resistant to bearing the costs of future pandemics, especially given their potential role in climate disasters, biodiversity loss, and natural resource exploitation. This resistance complicates the consolidation of concepts regarding risk and damage.

In the next emergency, many workers will stay at home, but we will have to go out

One of the significant challenges is incorporating concepts from environmental law, such as the precautionary principle, which expands worker protection in unprecedented ways. Despite these challenges, there have been gains. Juara pointed out that many governments now recognize the economic toll of pandemics and appreciate the efforts made by public service workers.

Looking ahead, the next year will be crucial. The convention sets the regulatory rules, while the recommendation outlines the roadmap for Public Services International's strategy. The focus will be on reinforcing recommendation points, gathering affiliate experiences, and consulting other conventions. The aim is to develop a comprehensive framework by next June to equip public service workers with the necessary tools to manage future biological risks effectively.

As Juara concluded, "In the next emergency, many workers will stay at home, but we will have to go out."