Health policy – an alternative or a prerequisite for a stable labour market

On September 19-21 2019, in Warsaw, at the headquarters of the National Commission of Solidarnosc, an international seminar on “Health policy – an alternative or a prerequisite for a stable labour market” took place. The conference was organized by KK NSZZ "Solidarność" (Komisja Krajowa NSZZ "Solidarność") in cooperation with EZA and with the support of the European Union. The seminar war part of the EZA project co-ordination about “Safety and health at work”. It was attended by representatives of trade unions from the following EU member states: Italy, Belgium, Latvia, Portugal, Spain and Poland.

After a brief introduction, the former MEP, deputy minister of health, member of the Health Committee Bolesław Piecha presented the health policy of the European Union and listed EU priorities, which are contained in art. 114, 153 and 168 of the Lisbon Treaty. He mentioned that European policy is focused on harmonizing the systems of EU countries in those areas in which individual member states cannot cope alone, first of all: free movement of workers (cross-border healthcare) or epidemiological threat due to the abolition of border control between countries.

Mariusz Gujski, PhD, discussing the Report of the Institute of Health Protection "Health the political priority of the state - analysis and recommendations" emphasized the importance of both individual involvement of citizens of the country and the entire community in achieving the so-called welfare. The health should become a political priority of the state, because the decrease in population, population aging and an increase in the incidence of civilization diseases (e.g. hypertension, obesity, diabetes) will lead to higher spendings on treatment. The solution should be the cooperation of various ministries (through appropriate promotion of a healthy lifestyle, educational activities in schools, fiscal facilitation for companies) and increasing the individual responsibility of citizens for their health. Expenditure on healthcare should be treated as an investment, not a cost. A long-term strategy is needed to create a legal space and appropriate conditions for healthcare development.

Then, Maria Żytko discussed the international project implemented by NSZZ "Solidarność" - "Initiating actions implementing the autonomous framework agreement of European social partners on active aging and an intergenerational approach", which aims to develop good practices in the field of ergonomics and adaptation of jobs to the needs of older workers, and guidelines for intergenerational cooperation at the workplace level.

Eurofound representative Agnes Parent-Thirion presented the report of the Dublin Foundation "Working conditions and employees' health", its results clearly show that constant physical risk with increasing psychological requirements leads to an increase in psychosocial risks at work.

In the course of discussion, health policies for a stable labour market were discussed, as well as initiatives in this field implemented in EU countries, i.a. in Italy, Belgium or Latvia. The significant influence of social partners on the shaping of European and national health and safety policy was emphasized, for example through active participation in the process of creating legal regulations related to work safety, exercising control over applicable standards, organization of trainings and activities increasing awareness of caring for health and safety at work.

The role of social partners at enterprise level have to play in building national health policies was also discussed. During the panel discussion, the experts emphasized the importance of placing provisions regulating health and safety principles and health policy in company collective agreements and regulations applicable in enterprises. A strong trade union can negotiate more favorable conditions for employees. It was noted that even well prepared medical law would not be effective if it was not properly applied. It was noticed that the lack of staff in the services controlling the compliance with health and safety regulations would lead to an increase in the number of accidents at work. The role of social partners must be about comprehensive action: raising awareness of existing hazards in the workplace, identifying good practices and showing that care for health and safety at work is in the common interest.

All these elements are particularly important, both for employees and employers, in view of the deteriorating demographic situation of most EU countries, the introduction of new technologies and new forms of employment.

By highlighting the recommendations that arose from the debates of the three-day seminar, the vice-president Józef Mozolewski emphasized the essence of trade union’s strength affecting the process of shaping health policy at both national and workplace level. That is why trade unions are forced to constantly intensify their efforts aimed at increasing their quantitative and competence potential. The cooperation of individual ministries is also important when developing a comprehensive strategy to improve working conditions and promote a healthy lifestyle. Hence, there is a need to create policy always from the perspective of citizens' health. At the same time, it should be remembered that no provisions or orders will have effect if the employee himself is not interested in complying with them. Therefore, actions should be taken to make employees aware that prevention is a success for a long and healthy life.