Remember The Dead - Fight For The Living
April 28 marks International Workers Memorial day - the global union campaign for safer, healthier, better work. The ICFTU has announced the international theme for 2013 is "Unions make work safer" – acknowledging the crucial role played by trade unions, strong regulation and effective enforcement in securing safer workplaces. In addition to the international theme, in Victoria we are again focussing on industrial deaths caused by exposure to toxic substances, most notably asbestos. Our aim is to have an Asbestos-Free Australia by 2030 – and to initiate a staged removal of asbestos immediately.
This year Workers Memorial Day was organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council in conjunction with Asbestoswise. IDSA (Industrial Deaths Support and Advocacy) sponsored the morning tea. The annual ceremony has held at the Trades Hall.
Ms Ingrid Stitt, President of the VTHC, opened the ceremony and read out the list of the 21 people, workers and unfortunately bystanders, killed in workplace accidents in Victoria since April last year. In the whole of Australia, there were 374 fatalities in the year 2010-2011 (the most recent year that statistics are available) but it is estimated the death rate when work-related diseases are added is well over ten times that. Ms Stitt noted the presence of the TCFUA - the textile workers union - and asked those gathered to remember the thousands of workers killed in the international garment industry, notably the up to 1000 killed in the Bangladeshi building collapse last week.
David Clement and Lyall Watts, from the asbestos organisation Asbestoswise, spoke of the legacy of death left by the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of asbestos used and still present in Australia. Mr Clement praised the Australian government for following through with the recommendations of the Asbestos Management Review in putting forward legislation for an Asbestos Safety and Eradication Authority. Mr Watts called on all governments to provide more funding for asbestos-related diseases, particularly mesothelioma, for which there is no cure.
Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU, reiterated that this was an international day, begun initially be Canadian unions in 1984. The day had been picked up by unions internationally, and had now spread around the world. Unions have fought for better regulation and for better conditions at the workplace, she said, and we should never forget this nor forget we had to keep fighting, particularly in the face of conservative governments. Ms Kearney also raised the issue of industrial manslaughter legislation - which she said was 'unfinished business' for the union movement. The day, while now being picked up by the ILO and other groups, was a union day.
Before the laying of the wreaths, and the performance by the Victorian Trade Union Choir, Brian Boyd, Secretary of the VTHC, finished by noting that Workers Memorial Day fell between two other important union days in the calendar - Labour Day in March and May Day - and it was as important as both of those days. Mr Boyd warned those present that as unionists we had to remain vigilant: the state government, and other governments, were targetting cutting 'red tape' which for the employer groups unfortunately included occupational health and safety legislation. Under Australian law employers have a legal obligation to provide safe and healthy workplaces - this was not 'red tape'.
History of WMD
- Workers Memorial Day was started 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 WMD
Globally, we remember the 2 million workers who die, the 1.2 million who are injured and the 160 million who fall ill each year 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. (see Safe Work Australia Report, March 2012.)