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Issue #1498      4 May 2011

International Workers’ Memorial Day

Every year 28 April is observed as International Workers’ Memorial Day. This day is observed by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the governments of some 20 countries and territories. It has been observed in South Australia since the mid 1990s and this year there was an ecumenical service at Pilgrim Church organised by Unions SA, SA Council of Churches, the Voice of Industrial Death, asbestos victims groups, SafeWork SA and the families of victims.

On this day, we remember workers who died, were injured or contracted diseases due to unsafe and unhealthy work and workplaces around the world. We also remember those union officials who have been murdered, tortured, jailed or subjected to brutality because they helped workers to achieve the basic human right to be able to work in healthy and safe workplace with fair remuneration.

The ITUC recently released the most updated statistical information for this year’s IWMD. It shows that there are almost 360,000 fatal occupational accidents in any year world-wide, and almost two million fatal work-related diseases.

Every day, more than 960,000 workers get hurt because of accidents and on average 5,330 workers die because of work-related diseases.

Many of the diseases are cancers caused by exposure to asbestos dust and other carcinogenic chemicals.

The statistics are probably much worse than stated as many accidents, deaths, injuries and diseases go unreported. This is very true of work-related psychological illnesses and suicides caused by bullying and intimidation in so many workplaces – including those in Australia.

The theme for this year’s IWMD was health and safety enforcement and there were calls for governments to introduce effective Occupational Health, Safety, and Welfare (OHS&W) laws, which will be strictly enforced in order to reduce the huge number of work-related deaths, injuries and diseases. This is very important in Australia as currently, the federal government is introducing nation-wide OHS&W laws. It is very concerning that in this process our OHS&W laws will be watered down, making them less effective.

In contrast, the US President, Barack Obama, made a Workers Memorial Day proclamation this year during which he said that the US must “recommit to keeping all workers safe and healthy and make sure the full force of the law is brought to bear in cases where workers are put in harm’s way.”

We should be calling on our political leaders to introduce more effective OHS&W laws and to ensure that they are adequately enforced. These laws need to be widened to prevent workplace bullying and intimidation which has become so prevalent in Australian workplaces in recent times.

If they fail to do so, they have a duty to drastically improve workers’ compensation entitlements for injured and sick workers to ensure that they and their families do not suffer a decrease in their quality of life.  

Next article – It’s all about profits

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