globalIn an argument that sounds familiar on this side of the Atlantic, a group of European employers say that a proposed work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) directive would impose an unbearable administrative and financial burden upon companies – especially small businesses.

In a letter sent recently to Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the Industry Committee, and László Andor, the Social Affairs Commissioner, the companies expressed their opposition to European legislation on MSDs, a draft directive of which has been in the works for years.

The letter, which was sent just prior to a meeting of the Committee on the socio-economic impact of a potential MSD directive, said the iniative is “neither necessary nor desirable.”

Europe’s employers believe that legislation on MSD would cost businesses 3.7 billion euro, 90 % of which would fall upon SMEs. These figures are taken from an impact study conducted by an external consultant, Matrix.

However, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) says the companies fail to mention the widely recognised fact that the human and economic cost of MSD is far higher than the alleged costs of better prevention.

“The European Commission recognises that MSD are the top cause of absenteeism (half of all absences of over three days) and permanent inability to work (60 %),” according to a statement released by the ETUI. “According to some estimates, MSD account for a cost which is equivalent to between 2.6 and 3.8 % of Member States’ GNP.”

European Parliament asked the Commission to present a proposed directive in 2000. After years of discussions, and two consultations of the social partners, the Commission drew up an initial draft directive in January 2010. An official proposed directive is expected to be released in June 2012, although the ETUI warns that the Commission may “cave in” in to pressure from the employers.

“The European survey on working conditions, conducted in 2010, reported that 46 % of European workers were complaining of backache, and 43 % had muscular pains in shoulders, neck and/or upper limbs,” said the ETUI.