ILO issues landmark decision on Asbestos

In its conclusions about a case on Canadian asbestos launched by Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)  the International Labour Organisation (ILO) today issued a landmark decision that could create ripple effects on global campaigns to ban the product.

 The decision by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards has told the Canadian government to adopt the “strictest standard limits for the protection of workers’ health as regards exposure to asbestos” and to engage in consultations with its worker and employer organizations on the application of sections of the ILO Asbestos Convention 162 for reviewing national laws and regulations.

 In noting that the ILO Convention “placed an obligation on governments to keep abreast on technical progress and scientific knowledge”, the Committee called on Canada to “take into account the evolution of scientific studies, knowledge and technology since the adoption of the Convention, as well as the findings of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ILO and other recognized organizations concerning the dangers of the exposure to asbestos.”

Yesterday at the ILO the CLC and other unions argued that Canada had consistently ignored scientific and technical information that pointed to the need for a total ban of the product.

 The ruling introduces a new element for countries that have ratified ILO Convention 162, which requires periodical reviews in the light of technical progress and advances in scientific knowledge. It  more clearly identifies that information about the elimination of asbestos from the WHO, ILO and other competent authorities must now fall within the scope of such reviews, putting an end to a practice by governments like Canada’s to ignore such information.

 The decision is significant for countries that have ratified C162 but not yet banned asbestos: Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Russian Federation, Serbia, Macedonia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The decision is expected to add impetus for campaigns by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and others for a total world-wide ban of all types of asbestos.

This article first appeared in Cosatu Today 14 June 2011

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