International Workers Memorial Day


International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD) is an international day that unions, workers and their families and communities around the world join together to remember those who have been killed or injured at work, and to fight for the living. Each year an international theme is chosen

History of IWMD

International Workers Memorial Day was initiated by Canadian Unions in 1984. By 1996, it was an international day. Australian unions have marked the day since 1997.

In 2004 Victorian Unions adopted the canary as the symbol of this day (first adopted by Canadian Unions).

Why we have IWMD

Globally, we remember the more than 2.78 million worker deaths each year. Additionally, there are approximately 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries each year, resulting in more than 4 days of absences from work. Add to these the over 160 million who develop illnesses from unsafe, unhealthy or unsustainable work and workplaces.

In Australia: Workers bear the cost of hazardous work It is workers, not employers, who overwhelmingly bear the costs of workplace injuries and diseases, an official Australian report has shown. The report by Safe Work Australia revealed three quarters of the costs of workplace injuries and diseases is borne by the injured workers themselves, with just 5 per cent borne by employers. 

Our slogan is "Remember the dead and fight like hell for the living!"

2021 Event

This year's international campaign theme is: 


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. But the 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”. According to the ILO, 7,600 workers die of work incidents or disease every day. Take a look at what the ILO says, here.

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.

Read more about the International Trade Union Confederation's work: ITUC Campaign Brief

The Trades Hall event

We remembered the many thousands of workers who are killed at work or who die as a result of work. April 28th is International Workers Memorial Day, and this year for the first time in Victoria, official statistics acknowledged the toll of workplace illnesses. 

The commemoration ceremony held at the Trades Hall was extremely well-attended. Present were health and safety reps, union officials, representatives from WorkSafe and the the labour law firms, and a number of both state and federal politicians. The event was mc'd by Wil Stracke, Assistant Secretary of the VTHC.

The gathered crowd heard from a number of speakers:

  • Luke Hilakari - Secretary of the VTHC
  • Ms Ingrid Stitt - Minister for Workplace Safety
  • Mr Tim Pallas - Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations
  • Mr Colin Radford - CEO of WorkSafe
  • Ms Madelaine Harradence - Assistant Secretary of the ANMF

The first was Secretary of the VTHC, Luke Hilakari, who began by saying that this is a time for us to remember, to mourn, to reflect, but also to organise to do better. 48 Victorians died either at work or as a result of work in the past year. As unions we have always marked all work-related deaths, but this year, for the first time the State government also officially counted the deaths as a result of work exposures. That is why in previous years, the number hovered around the high 20s, but is higher this year. Luke said, "This is important, because we count what we care for." He also said that while the past year has been difficult for all of us due to COVID, because of our collective efforts, no health worker died as a result of a COVID infection.

The Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, began by noting that tragically there have already been 14 work-related deaths. "This is unacceptable", she said. She noted that thanks to the efforts of many of those present and the families who had lost a loved one, "Workplace Manslaughter is now a criminal offence in Victoria, with tough penalties. Negligent employers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." She said that while this was a step forward, this will not bring back those lost, nor make the mourning any easier. The Minister announced an increase in support delivered by WorkSafe Victoria’s Family Liaison Officers and Family Support Specialists in the first weeks following a workplace death. The increasing support is part of reforms WorkSafe is implementing to recognise the impact workplace trauma can have on the families of victims. Ms Stitt also announced that Victoria would be introducing a licensing scheme for manufactured stone. Read more: Media release

Following Ms Stitt, Tim Pallas, Victoria's Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations, addressed those present. In his address, Mr Pallas stressed that each of those workers killed, represented by an empty pair of boots or shoes, is not a number but a real person. "We are not just cogs in a machine: we are people." The Treasurer acknowledged that this time last year the state lost four members of the police force, who put their lives at risk each day. He also acknowledged the five 'on demand' workers who lost their lives on Australian roads in the past year. He said that the Labor government was committed to ensuring that gig workers get the protection they deserve.

The CEO of WorkSafe, Mr Colin Radford, spoke next. "Of the workers killed," he said, "the oldest was 83 years old, and the youngest was 21 years old." Mr Radford said, (We ill target those workplaces where we know harm is most likely to occur. We will not rest until there are no workplace deaths in Victoria.. There is no acceptable number of workplace death, injury or illness - except zero."

He undertook that WorkSafe will stand with unions to remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.

The last speaker was Ms Madelaine Harradence, Assistant Secretary of the ANMF. She noted that 2020 was the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Last year was a difficult one, particularly for health care workers. The union noted that there was a large increase in the numbers of members wanting wills drawn up: Ms Harradence said this showed that their members are pragmatic, but also very aware of what was going on in the world. She spoke of the sacrifices and the dedication of nurses and other workers in the health care sector. 

After the speakers, Wil read out the names of the 49 Victorians who died as a result of work and boots and shoes placed by young VTHC workers, followed by a minute's silence and the laying of wreaths. 

Minister Ingrid Stitt

Treasurer Tim Pallas

WorkSafe CEO Colin Radford




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