The Covid-19 pandemic and the related measures and restrictions brought social rights under an enormous strain all over Europe. Above all, the pandemic exposed starkly the weaknesses of public health services and the pressing need to make them effective and accessible to everyone. The challenge for our society as a whole is unprecedented, but the most vulnerable among us find themselves in the eye of the storm, taking blows, full force. The consequences will last, and social rights may well suffer aftershocks. The European Social Charter, our most important human rights treaty in the area of social rights which includes a unique monitoring tool – the collective complaints procedure – is therefore an indispensable element to accompany economic recovery while ensuring compliance with a comprehensive array of social rights.

Karin Lukas, Former President of the European Committee of Social Rights

Covid-19 and the European Social Charter

The right to safe and healthy working conditions

As the COVID-19 disease pandemic continues to develop, preventing spread of infection to and from health care workers and patients relies on effective use of personal protective equipment. A critical shortage of all of these is putting health care workers at risk. The right of every worker to a safe and healthy working environment, enshrined in the Article 3 of the European Social Charter, is a widely recognised principle, stemming directly from the right to personal integrity, one of the fundamental principles of human rights. It applies to the whole economy, covering both the public and private sectors, employees and the self-employed. 

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The right to protection of health

The right to health is a fundamental part of our human rights and of our understanding of a life in dignity. In times of pandemic crisis, the guarantee of human rights is as important as ever and responses to the crisis must be human rights sensitive. Article 11 of the European Social Charter enshrines the right to the highest possible standard of health and the right of access to health care. Under Article 11, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in accordance with the definition of health in the Constitution of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been accepted by all Parties to the Charter. 

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The right of elderly persons to social protection

Older persons face special challenges during the Covid-19 crisis. In the global response to COVID-19, it is essential that States protect the rights of older persons on an equal basis with others without discrimination and without exception and in line with international standards. The rights of elderly persons are protected under Article 23 of the European Social Charter. The main purpose of Article 23 is to enable elderly persons to remain full members of society and requires States Parties to establish an adequate legal framework making it possible to combat age-based discrimination and providing for a procedure for “assisted decision-making”.

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Department of Social Rights

Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law
Council of Europe
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