Workers Memorial Day – Remembering the dead and fighting for the living
Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don’t die in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety or health just wasn’t that important a priority. The total number of people whose lives are cut short because of an illness or injury that results from work is over 20,000. Most are cancers and lung diseases. Workers’ Memorial Day commemorates those workers.
Workers’ Memorial Day is held on 28 April every year. All over the world workers and their representatives conduct events, demonstrations, vigils and a whole host of other activities to mark the day, which is intended to serve as a rallying cry to “remember the dead, but fight for the living”.
This year International Workers Memorial Day will have the theme “Good health and safety for all workers whoever they are” and will focus on inequalities in occupational health and the role unions play in narrowing the inequalities gap.
This fits in well with what is happening in the UK with the rise of precarious and vulnerable employment, bogus self-employment and the growth of the GIG economy. All of these have the effect of depriving workers of their right to a safe workplace as employers deny responsibility for those who work for them or who operate “under the radar” of the diminishing number of health and safety inspectors and other regulators.
However even those with secure employment suffer from the addition risks that come from inequality, especially if they are migrant workers, low paid, or women.
Gender is an example that we are highlighting this year. The TUC has just produced a report on the treatment of women in the workplace and how their health and safety needs are often ignored. Women are more likely to suffer from ill-health caused by work, but health has always been the Cinderella of health and safety with far less attention given by both employers and regulators to issues such as muscular pain, stress and cancers. In addition to that most machinery and protective equipment is designed for men and may not be suitable for women. A further TUC report on personal protective equipment that has been published today shows that less than 30% of women who need to wear protective equipment are provided with clothing or equipment specifically designed for women. That is why employers need to ensure that when they are preventing risk they take into account the differences rather than just follow the ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The previous Government attacked our rights by removing an estimated 1.8 million workers from the protection that the Health and Safety at Work Act gave them. Many people are worried that this was just the beginning and we will see more attempts to reduce our rights to a safe workplace after we leave the EU. However that is not inevitable. Our best protection lies in strong trade unions in every workplace fighting to ensure that employers both obey the law and also go further to protect our right to come home safe and sound after work.
Over the coming year the TUC will be campaigning to ensure that Brexit is not used as an excuse to attack our rights and that UK workers have the same or more protection than our EU colleagues. Workers Memorial Day marks the start of that, so be sure to be involved. There are events taking place in most cities and lots of towns up and down the country. Even if you can’t get along to them, it is not too late to have just a simple minutes silence in your workplace at noon to remember those who have died and to pledge to make sure that there are no more.