Tuesday 29 April 2014

Workers’ Memorial Day mourns all those who have lost their lives at work and pledges to fight for fundamental health and safety protections in this country and around the world.

Local trade unionists joined with politicians and citizens in a poignant service to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day on 28th April, in the beautiful setting of the Persley Workers’ Memorial Garden.

Speaker after speaker spoke of the key importance of Workers’ Memorial Day, to remember the dead but to fight for the living. They spoke of the rising numbers of people who have lost their lives or their health at work, in this country and around the world.

The service was organised by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and opened at 11am with a minutes silence to remember and to mourn all those who have died doing their job.

Cllr Graham lays the wreath
 Representing the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Councillor Gordon Graham laid the wreath on behalf of all those who had gathered. He told them that all workers have the right to work safely and without risk to their health.

“With 241 people dying at work last year and 790,000 injured or made ill due to poor standards of health and safety, a lot more has to be done to protect workers,” he said, calling on all businesses to embrace health and safety regulation, and for the Health and Safety Executive, trade unions and businesses to work together to improve safety at work.

He also remembered the Bangladesh factory collapse  last year that killed over 1,100 workers, and called on the UK and Scottish Governments to take action to stop companies in the UK benefitting from the lack of health and safety standards that lead to such disasters and other tragedies.

Those gathered at the Workers' Memorial day Service
The service was led by ATUC Secretary, Nathan Morrison. He condemned a capitalist economic system which, across the world, prioritises profit and the accumulation of wealth over the health and safety of men, women and children.

“We must fight for a better future for our children and grandchildren,” said Nathan.

Harry Bygate of the RMT union spoke of the history of health and safety failings, from the "workers" who built the pyramids, thousands of years ago, to the female match makers, whose health and lives were ruined through the phosphorus they made the matches with, right through to the present day.

Proper health and safety could have prevented the Indian factory disaster last year and the latest helicopter disaster, Harry said. 

"It is always the workers who suffer from health and safety failings, and the employers who benefit," he told those gathered. "The working class does still need representation."
UCATT launches their campaign
In a speech which shocked many of those gathered, Steven Dillon of UCATT spoke of the appalling treatment of migrant workers and the terrible loss of life associated with Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup.

“In two years, 500 Indian workers and 195 Nepalese workers have died. Of these deaths, 123 were recorded as cardiac arrest.”

During a fact finding mission to Qatar last month, UCATT found these workers to be working in extreme temperatures, poor conditions and low pay.

UCATT launched a campaign in London on Workers’ Memorial Day, unveiling  a banner outside the Quatar Embassy which reads, “Quatar – World Champions at Killing Workers.” UCATT  are calling on FIFA to give Qatar a 12 month deadline to reduce construction fatalities and improve pay and conditions or remove Qatar’s right to hold the World Cup.

“FIFA should not allow the World Cup to be played in stadiums stained with blood,” said Steve.

Speakers at the service in Persley Gardens
Richard Baker, MSP and Chris Gordon from Thompson’s Solicitors, both spoke of the terrible loss of life closer to home, in the off-shore industry. Richard Baker condemned the failure to learn lessons from Piper Alpha 25 years on and the length of time it has taken to get an independent inquiry into the North Sea helicopter crash in 2009.

Chris Gordon spoke of the families who are having to cope in the aftermath of losing someone through health and safety failures, when their loss was preventable. “It is a wrong and it’s just wrong,” he said.

The service was brought to a close with a moving statement from Families Against Corporate Killers(FACK), read out by Tommy Campbell of UNITE. The full text is included below.

“We have come here today to collectively remember the dead and fight for the living. 
"As FACK families, we remember our lost loved ones not just today, or on what would have been their birthday, or on the anniversary of their deaths.  We remember them every single day.  That may be because of a memory triggered by something that’s been said, a friend of theirs we’ve met, in a photo we’ve come across, or because we see them reflected in the grandchildren, nieces, nephews or siblings that they did not live to meet.

"These precious memories of our loved ones are what fuel our fight for the living. 
This is a fight which gets tougher year-on-year as this coalition government uses the cloak of austerity to attack fundamental health and safety protections, at the centre of which is a drive towards even less scrutiny, enforcement and regulation.   

"Now, it has been very clearly recognised in recent years that light touch regulation plus risk taking equals economic disaster.  In the health and safety arena, light touch regulation plus risk taking equals not deficits, but deaths!  It is the very falsest of economies.

Workers' memorial

"All too often, health and safety is described as a “burden on business”.  If you hear someone say it, tell them about the real burdens.  Tell them about 19-yr-old apprentice Jason Burden. 

"He was fatally crushed during the repair of a near one-tonne ship’s tunnel thruster which toppled on top of him.  The HSE inspector who investigated said that Jason’s “…death could easily have been avoided if his employer had properly considered the risks associated with the repair...” 

"His dad’s speech for today poignantly notes that the government “waters down its commitment to health and safety with our tears”.  And these are tears shed by far far too many.  But sadly there are those for whom these tears could be said to be of the crocodile variety. 

"Following the tragic death of 12-year-old Keane Wallis-Bennett at Liberton High School in Edinburgh, David Cameron said “This was an absolutely shocking accident which people will have seen across the country and their hearts will go out to her family and friends. Lessons will have to be learned to make sure such tragic accidents won’t happen again.”

"In the wake of her funeral, his government then issued a press release to schools and local authorities which dealt not with the serious health and safety risks, but with the fripperies of bans on frilly socks, Help for Heroes wristbands, and the bringing of chicks to school. 

"So, the Prime Minister is correct, lessons must be learned.  Most urgently they must be learned by him and his government, whose approach to health and safety matters is deeply and dangerously flawed.

"Lessons should be learned by employers and others before innocent lives are lost. But much of the 'red tape' Cameron is slashing and trashing is not imposed by mindless bureaucrats but carefully thought out, devised, evaluated and agreed by HSE plus industry and unions, to protect not only workers but also members of the public and the environment.

He would do well to note the tale of another Cameron, 16-yr-old Cameron Minshull.  He was only a few weeks into an apprenticeship when he suffered horrific head injuries after being pulled into an industrial lathe.  The HSE Director whose desk this came across thought he was reading a tale from Victorian times.  Tragically, this was a modern day horror.  And, though this case has yet to come to court, the prohibition notices issued after the death tell their own story, with work ordered to be stopped immediately on very many of his employer’s machines whose guard mechanisms had been “defeated”.   

"While the deaths of our loved ones often leaves us drained of energy, we refuse to feel defeated.  Because no-one we love died due to too much regulation and enforcement but due to far too little.

"23-year old Steven Allen was killed by a block grab being used to move cement bags – a purpose expressly forbidden by the manufacturer’s manual.  On the morning of going to court to hear the verdict, his mum’s Facebook status said:  “In my bag I’ve got Steven’s name tags from when he was born and when he died and I’ve got his first and last locks of hair, a photo of him that I love and lots of tissues...this is it, this is the last time I can fight for you my beautiful son, you deserved so much better in life.”

"That is true of all those who lose their lives in work-related incidents.  They deserved SO much better from life, from their employers, the enforcement authorities, from politicians.  So many children denied their dads or mums as they grow up.  All those young people denied the very opportunity to become dads or mums.  That is the brutal reality.

"Deregulation and slashing enforcement won't make workers safer, or protect ordinary people, it's designed to let corporations and business off the hook. That is why we say “We love red tape, it’s better than bloody bandages!" 

"So, join your voices with ours and together let’s make this country a safer place to live and work. “