Workers bear the brunt of terrorist attacks
Every terrorist attack is a tragedy for the victims, their families and communities. But in the personal stories about such deaths, we often lose sight of the fact that many people killed in such attacks are workers going about their daily business. Unions in conflict zones are often the only organisations to point out the link with people’s work.
Two recent attacks in Iraq and Somalia are evidence that for some people at work, surviving the day’s labour can be about more than traditional health and safety. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing that can be done to protect such workers. Just like any other hazardous situation, there are preventive steps that can be taken, and there are issues about accountability, too.
On 19 January, the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) had only just welcomed the appointment of a Minister of Labour to whom they could take their grievances for the first time when 14 telecommunications workers were killed by a suicide bomber from the al-Shabaab militant group (responsible for the recent Kenyan shopping mall attack) in the fiercely contested Johwar town, 90kms north of Mogadishu. The bomber blew himself up at the door of a restaurant where the workers were having their breakfast.
The Somali Telecom and Post Workers Union (STPU) expressed outrage and demanded that the regional authorities work with federal police and security agents to track down and apprehend the organisers of the cruel attack, and called for enhanced security measures to be put in place immediately for telecom workers in high-risk areas. Faruk Osman, FESTU General Secretary, said:
“With this shameful, targeted attack on workers, terrorists continue to demonstrate deliberate disregard for life and for the peaceful, prosperous future Somali workers want.”
Meanwhile in Iraq, already one of the deadliest places to be a working journalist, 20 January saw the murder of reporter Firas Mohammed Attiyah. Anbar TV, were travelling in a car to report on fighting in the area. Ibrahim and Attiyah’s brother were both wounded in the attack.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has issued a renewed plea for Iraqi authorities to step up their efforts to protect the safety of journalists. IFJ President Jim Boumelha said:
“Standing in solidarity with our Iraqi affiliate, we reiterate our call for the Iraqi government to set up a special task force with the resources to carry out a thorough and independent investigation into the murder of Attiyah and the many other journalists that have been brutally killed in Iraqi. Impunity must end and those responsible must answer for their crimes.”
Unions are often the only organisations in such countries to bring different communities together, because they recruit and defend anyone at work, regardless of politics, religion or ethnicity. And because we approach terrorism in the same way as any other hazard at work: no one should have to go out to work not knowing if they’ll make it back home.