This year as I write about International Workers Memorial Day 2021, I would like to record thanks to all those BFAWU Safety Reps who have spent the last year, keeping workers safe and healthy at work. You have not only stood up for your members, but you have saved thousands of lives and everyone owes you a huge debt of gratitude. We know that where there is a strong organised active trade union, workers are twice as safe. Your role has not only saved the lives of your work and trade union colleagues, but the lives of your family and others in your community.
March 11th, 2021 marked the first anniversary of when the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Since then over 150,000 people have died in the UK and thousands more have been infected and thousands have been left with long term ill health and disabilities. On April 28th 2021 International Workers Memorial Day, we will be remembering all those people who have died because of work and their numbers will include the 14,000+ workers who have died because of Covid-19. Many of their names will be unknown, many will not be counted as work related deaths or reported to the HSE RIDDOR and many of them will not have been tested, hospitalised or even counted as Covid related deaths, because early in the pandemic if you weren’t tested then you weren’t counted.
During the year the Hazards Campaign has tried hard to hold employers, enforcement authorities and Government to account for the deaths and dangers workers and our communities have faced, including campaigning for a zero-covid strategy to reduce the transmission rates in our communities alongside
International Workers Memorial Day has twin aims, to Remember the Dead but also to Fight for the Living and in addition the ITUC prioritise a theme and this year it is about ensuring that Health and Safety is a Fundamental Right for all workers.
Covid-19 has exposed the occupational health crisis in the UK. Decades of underfunding of our public health service, the public health organisations, health and safety enforcement and hundreds of thousands of workers not in organised trade unions, many on casual and zero hour contracts, low pay and exposed to hazardous substances, chemicals and toxic workplaces alongside those in trade unions shackled by anti trade union legislation.
The campaign for the fundamental right of all workers to safe and healthy work is not just a global campaign but is just as relevant and necessary in the UK. The pandemic has exposed the unequal exposure to the risks of infection by covid-19, the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on BAME workers, those experiencing in-work poverty, those with underlying health conditions caused in the main because of previous unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and those more at risk because they are unable to work from home and the risks to their health were not controlled by a precautionary response in risk assessments, including PPE.
Those workers who are unable to get full pay when they are sick or when they were required to self isolate are more likely to continue to work when they are feeling a little unwell, unlikely to stay at home if a family member or close contact has tested positive and unlikely to go for a test or download an app if it means they will not be paid. The pandemic has exposed those workplaces that place profit before peoples lives and their health and safety is not enforced by the authorities.
International Workers Memorial day is not just about those who have died this year because of Covid. Every year more than 50,000 people die in the UK because of life shortening illnesses because of their work. Hundreds die by suicide because they have been subjected to bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination, excessive workloads and workplace stress leading to mental ill health and mental anguish. This year the HSE will report just over 111 deaths through workplace incidents but this doesn’t include those that die on the roads, in air crashes, working at sea or on the railways and doesn’t include the 14,000 plus who have died because of Covid.
No-one should die because of work, because their employer refused to ensure that all the risks to their health and safety were controlled. No-one elses loved one should have to suffer the death of their husband, wife, father, mother, son or daughter. So on International Workers Memorial Day in 2021 we Remember our dead and together we will vow to Fight like hell for the living and to secure the fundamental right for safe and healthy work for all!
Links to more information and films:
- Hazards Campaign Whole Story the true number of people who have died over the last 12 months because of work - http://www.hazardscampaign.org.uk/thewholestory
- Resources are available to purchase from GMHC - which include purple ribbons, face coverings, car stickers, and posters - https://gmhazards.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Resources-to-support-IWMD21.pdf
- A resource sheet which explains information about IWMD21 can be found at:
- International events - 28april.org
- Hazards magazine information and resources - https://www.hazards.org/wmd/background.htm
- Hazards Campaign information and resources - http://www.hazardscampaign.org.uk/workers-memorial-day
- TUC information and resources - https://www.tuc.org.uk/international-workers-memorial-day-iwmd
- Films to use on # IWMD21
v Fallen tears https://youtu.be/HdXlCUM9IBI
v What is International Workers’ Memorial Day https://youtu.be/OB80D0MD0w0