Every year on April 28th, all around the world the trade union movement unites to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day (#IWMD21).
We remember those who have lost their lives at work, or from work-related injury and diseases. We renew our efforts to organise collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work.
Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK Government.
We remember those we have lost. We organise in their memory.
Each year, the International Trades Union Congress decides on a theme for Workers' Memorial Day:
This year, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed an occupational health crisis in workplaces worldwide. Workers are routinely denied even basic health and safety protections, including consultation with safety reps and safety committees on ‘Covid-safe’ policies and practices, free access to personal protective equipment and protection from victimisation for raising health and safety concerns. These same problems existed before the pandemic and resulted in millions of deaths each year from work-related injuries and diseases.
The pandemic demonstrates why health and safety must be a right for everyone who works. Illness anywhere threatens illness everywhere. Unions secured agreement at the International Labour Conference in 2019 that occupational health and safety should be recognised as an International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental right at work – the decent, universally accepted and binding rights protecting all workers, everywhere. The ILO Centenary Declaration accepts “safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work”.
On 28 April 2021, unions can send a message that health and safety protection at work must be recognised as a right for all. Whether it is Covid or occupational cancers, or workplace injuries and industrial diseases, every worker should have a right to a voice and a right to protection. No-one should have to die to make a living.
Resources and updates will be posted on the dedicated 28 April webpages: www.28april.org
Think of digital tools you can use to call for stronger health and safety protections. Whether it a current call for urgent PPE, or a longer term demand for union recognition - you can make use of the TUC’s Megaphone tool to create a petition about the issues where you work, or email and call elected officials to demand that workers' safety is prioritised over corporate interests.
Where you might have ordinarily held a rally to mark IWMD, it could be done online, with union members having the opportunity to hear speeches. You could ask injured workers and family members who can talk first-hand about the need for strong health and safety protections, the important of campaigning and of strong and active unions. Consider inviting elected officials and community leaders to participate in the call
If you are working on the front lines during the outbreak, organise an event at your workplace to promote the issues of workers' right to a safe job and hold your employer accountable for keeping you safe. It could be a socially distanced stunt, a minute’s silence or a lunch time letter writing exercise. Reach out to the press to increase public awareness of the dangers working people face on the job.
Every day, trade union health and safety reps in workplaces save lives and prevent illness and injury.
Does your workplace have a health & safety rep? If not, contact your union about becoming one. If it does, why not train up more reps? Contact trade unionists you know who'd make great safety reps and encourage them to take on the role.
Read our guide on being a health and safety rep here.
Trade unions have been crucial in securing bereavement and compassionate leave in workplaces. As we come together to remember those who have lost their lives, as union activists we can also reach out to support those experiencing grief.
There may be practical steps unions can take to remember colleagues, like a book of condolences or setting up an online memorial page. Some branches have established online fundraisers for a charity close to the heart of a colleague, or to raise money for the family to cover the cost of a funeral.
Experiencing a bereavement in isolation will be particularly tough. Attendance at funerals is currently restricted due to social distancing measures, but a minute silence or vigil could allow colleagues the opportunity to come together to remember collectively. Union branches may also wish to send a card, flowers or other tokens to the family.
The International Trade Union Confederation has created resources, and these posters are available in a number of languages via http://28april.org/
When sharing stats and stories, reference The Whole Story report from Hazards Campaign, which gives the full picture of work-related deaths based on research.
Construction is already one of the deadliest jobs, with serious safety hazards - this video explains why their work is even more dangerous during the pandemic.
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