Standards developed by private bodies are increasingly affecting the working conditions (product safety, nanotechnology, environment, service, energy, transport, etc.). These standards are also becoming an essential ingredient of protective and preventive legislative requirements. Since important issues for the health and safety of workers are negotiated outside the workplace, Trade Unions needs to actively contribute to standardization so as to be a key vehicle for informing standards with workers' shop floor experience, demands and expectations.
At European level, the ETUC is the representative voice of trade unions: its contribution to standardization is mainly carried out by ETUC in the field of services and industrial advancement and by ETUI, the ETUC independent research and training centre in the field of machinery and ergonomics.
In the field of services, ETUC has been so far dealing with standards related to Maintenance and Facility management. In the field of advanced manufacturing, the ETUC is mainly dealing with Intelligent transport systems, biobased products and machine-to-machine communication.
ETUI has been so far dealing with "mandated" standards supporting product Directives, with priority given to Machinery and Ergonomics Standards. Standardization has the potential to provide the platform for collaborative work between engineers, employers, workers, manufacturers, researchers and governments who can contribute to better health and safety through consideration of design issues. Through standardization in particular, trade unions can explore pathways to deliver the aim of putting workers’ knowledge to best use in improving the working environment.
In fact, the rationale for trade unions participating in standardization is manifold. The reach of standardization has extended beyond product safety and interoperability to affect a wide range of issues such as management systems, sustainability, open source software, nanotechnologies or postal services. So-called management system standards (i.e. systemizing how things are done in an organization) impact upon the organization of work and thus on working conditions. In this regard, trade unions have legitimate concerns to voice. Moreover, standards are also industrial strategic tools modifying the competitive position of companies on the market and so affecting workers, job creation and employment in Europe. Here again, a strong rationale to strengthen trade unions' action in standardization exists. Last but not least, the growing role of technical specifications and standards to support European or national legislation further calls for an increased trade union involvement in standard-setting bodies.
The next sections provide additional information on how trade unions can be active actors in standards development – both at national and European level.