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Hazards issue 134, April-June 2016
UNI Europa: ‘Better regulation’ means worse regulation
A union campaign has exposed the dangerous flaws in the ‘better regulation’ strategy in operation across the European Union.


The slogan adopted by UNI Europa, the European services workers’ union, sums up its concerns: Better regulation – It really isn’t. The campaign, which quickly garnered support from other Europe-wide union groups, showcases how the European Commission (EC) is stalling important social legislation, “the first example being the mockery of the agreement on the health and safety of hairdressers.”

A ‘Better regulation and transparency information sheet’, an EC guide published online in November 2015, included an illustration showing a standing hairdresser cutting a client’s hair, with a large stiletto-heeled shoe to the forefront. The graphic, next to a caption saying “the EU must not be big on small things” has a large red cross above it, rubbishing a recommendation that hairdressers should wear sensible shoes.

In fact, the agreement was nothing to do with the EC; it was struck between UNI Europa and the hairdressing employers’ group, Coiffure EU. “UNI Europa and its allies will not stand idly by any more while the health and safety of thousands of, mostly young and female, workers is being held hostage. The health and safety of hairdressers is not a ‘small thing’– they are at very high risk of developing skin ailments, musculoskeletal diseases and occupational asthma,” said Oliver Roethig, regional secretary of UNI Europa.


The union body said these problems, “combined with absences and untimely exit from the sector also cost Europeans millions of Euros due to increased demand for social security, healthcare services and ultimately a total retraining of hairdressers into other occupations.” A letter to the EC president and the employment and social affairs commissioner, signed by both employers’ group Coiffure EU and UNI Europa, noted: “The social partners request the official retraction of the graphic on hairdressers in the publication.”  

The union didn’t leave it at that. UNI Europa’s campaign posters appeared in prominent locations around Brussels, with a concentration around the European Parliament buildings. The graphic images, pointing out the harm caused to workers by poorly regulated working conditions, had the intended effect. The EC quietly removed the entire offending document from its website.

However the EC’s current safety strategy has had promised action on work cancers, strain injuries and other previously agreed priorities removed as part of its ‘better regulation’ purge.

A 26 May 2016 Council of the European Union news release headed ‘better regulation to strengthen competitiveness’ illustrated how the clampdown on protective laws is still alive and kicking workers. It noted the Council “urges the Commission to rapidly proceed on this to enable the introduction of reduction targets in 2017, whilst always taking into account a high level of protection of consumers, health, the environment and employees and the importance of a fully functioning Single Market.”

It’s all based on a presumption that regulations are bad and costly. But laws don’t only protect workers and consumers. Properly regulated markets with good employment protection are also the most productive economies. The EC’s ‘better regulation’ obsession isn’t about doing business, it is about doing what business wants.






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A union campaign has exposed the dangerous flaws in the ‘better regulation’ strategy in operation across the European Union..

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UNI Europa
Better regulation – It really isn’t campaign

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