Last reviewed 5 May 2020

A wide range of trade unions around the world are calling for COVID-19 to be classified as an occupational disease for all affected workers, to guarantee stronger workplace protections and ensure access to compensation.

The call was recently made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and its global union partners on 28 April 2020, International Workers’ Memorial Day.

In a statement, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC said, “While there are many aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which are yet unclear, one thing that is clear is that most transmission is occurring in workplaces such as hospitals and care facilities, as well as in workplaces where transmission can occur in workers engaging with the public.

“There is already evidence that in numerous countries, protective workplace measures such as distancing and personal equipment are insufficient or even absent.”

Trade unions claim that workers are being made to take risks that they shouldn’t, and in some cases, facing sanctions or dismissal for raising safety concerns.

Sharan Burrow added, “Bringing COVID-19 into occupational disease classification is crucial to stopping this and reducing the spread of the virus. This is becoming even more urgent as countries begin to relax restrictions on economic sectors and public spaces.”

The unions argue there should be a “presumption” that cases are work-related unless “conclusive evidence” is presented to the contrary, and have highlighted a lengthy list of jobs where they say this should be the case, including the police, fire services, paramedics, healthcare providers, grocery workers, journalists, teachers, hotel workers, and food, beverage and agricultural workers, for example.