Trade unions seek to ban genetic screening technology from the workplace

Cordis News, 3 November 2003

The European trade union confederation (ETUC) has called for the prohibition of genetic testing in the workplace.

The process, which has already been banned by Austria, Belgium and Finland, involves the use of a scientific test to obtain information on some aspects of the genetic status of a person that is indicative of a present or future medical problem. Supporters of the process argue that it identifies those with increased health risks, thus protecting employees.

The ETUC echoes the caution shown by the European group on ethics in science and new technologies in an opinion published in July 2003. '[T]he use of genetic screening in the context of the medical examination [...] is not ethically acceptable. The legitimate duties and right of employers concerning the protection of health and the assessment of ability can be fulfilled through medical examination but without performing genetic screening,' states the ethics group opinion.

The ETUC and the ethics group are concerned that genetic testing would reduce efforts by employers to prevent occupational hazards, particularly in the chemicals field. There are also concerns that genetic screening could lead to indirect forms of racial discrimination, as has been the case in the US.

The ETUC is now calling on the Commission to include a clause prohibiting genetic testing in the directive on workers' personal data protection.