Sunday 28 April 2019

Sun shines on a moving Workers' Memorial Day Ceremony that pledges to "Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living"

The sun shone on a moving ceremony in the beautiful Persley Memorial Garden in Aberdeen on Sunday 28th April, to commemorate International Workers’ Memorial Day.

Trade unionists and politicians joined together to remember the dead, fight for the living, as wreaths were laid by the provost of Aberdeen City, Councillor Barney Crockett, and the provost of Aberdeenshire, Councillor Bill Howatson, as well as by Donna Clark for Aberdeen Trades Union Council.  (see photo)

This was just one such event held all over the world to press for proper Health and Safety laws to be implemented to prevent deaths, injuries and ill-health in the future.

ATUC President, Sasha Brydon welcomed those present and reminded us that Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland are no strangers to workplace tragedy. 

“This year we commemorate the 31st anniversary of Piper Alpha, when 167 workers were killed as a result of health and safety failures.

Sasha Brydon
“And we are still seeing deaths at work,” added Sasha. “In Aberdeenshire last year, which has seen 15 work related deaths since 2014, three men were killed, and another person died in an Aberdeen workplace.

“Add that to the countless numbers of people injured or made ill at their work, as we see stress related absences rising, especially in councils which have taken the brunt of the cuts.

"That is why, as well as remembering those who die, we also pledge to fight on for those who are still placed at risk by a lack of proper health and safety regulation and inspection."

Those in attendance observed a minute’s silence to remember all those who have lost their lives doing their jobs.
Barney Crockett
Provost of Aberdeen City, Barney Crockett, opened the speeches by paying tribute to Harry Bygrave, who died last week. Harry was a long-standing member of the Trades Union Council and tireless campaigner for improved health and safety, especially on ships. This sentiment was echoed by other speakers who had known Harry. 

“We must never forget the  people who have gone before us, like Harry, and the work they have done in improving health and safety in some of the most dangerous of industries in the North East of Scotland,” urged Barney.

Aberdeenshire Councillor Alison Evison then spoke, saying that safe work is a right, not a privilege. She said that 144 fatalities in British workplaces in 2017-18 is 144 too many.

Alison Evison
“There are no excuses – everyone should be able to go to work and come back home to their families,” said Alison. 

She spoke about the Scottish Government’s fair work framework, saying that one of the basic principles is respect for all, no matter their role or status.   

“Respect involves ensuring the health, safety and well-being of others – through procedures that protect the physical well-being of all, as well as through practices that support the mental well-being of all and which work to prevent all kinds of bullying and harassment.  
“Respect involves not just lip service to equalities legislation, but a real understanding of the needs of older workers as well as younger workers, women coping with the menopause at work, employees with physical limitations or struggling with mental health.  

“Where changes can be made to improve health and safety and conditions at work – they should be made,” urged Alison, calling on public sector employers to take a lead and show the way.

Lewis McDonald
Lewis McDonald, MSP then spoke, reminding us that even more recently than Piper Alpha we have had helicopter disasters where lives have been lost.

He called for a public enquiry into the helicopter disaster in 2009 when ten people lost their lives. 

This echoes the ATUC’s emergency motion at STUC Congress when delegates backed the call for a public enquiry and will press the UK and Scottish Government for this.

“The workers of today, who are still being transported by helicopters, need the assurance that these helicopters are safe and that such tragedies like the one in 2009 and tragedies since, can never happen again. Only a public enquiry can give that assurance.”

Lewis called for proper trade union recognition as the best way to ensure health and safety standards are in place. He also referred to the international perspective of Workers’ Memorial Day.

“The health and safety agenda crosses borders,” said Lewis, “and we must stand together with workers internationally.”

Myshele Haywood
This theme was picked up by Myshele Haywood who referred to Piper Alpha, Deepwater Horizon, Bhopal, factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan. 

“Tragedies that never should have happened, and we call for better regulations to ensure they never happen again.”

However Myshelle  also reminded us of  the less dramatic, everyday industrial tragedies. 

“They’re under the radar. A few accidents here, a few illnesses there. It’s hard to pinpoint the death toll, and it doesn’t happen all at once.

“There’s no big explosion – just the slow, grinding pressure of a system that treats workers as expendable parts of the machine, caught between the twin pressures of austerity for the many and profit for the few."

Health and safety isn’t just about preventing the big tragedies that make the news, said Myshele,  it’s about ensuring that workers’ bodies are not a raw material for capitalists to exploit.

“In memory of the workers who have died and those who have been forced to suffer quietly, let’s work together towards a world where no one’s job puts their life – or their health – at risk.”

Graeme Farquhar
Unite’s Graeme Farquhar said that this year’s theme for International Workers' Memorial Day is dangerous substances. 

“One of the biggest threats is asbestos,” said Graeme. “It kills more than 5000 people in the UK every year – two thirds more than in car accidents.”

He called for a campaign to rid our schools and public buildings of asbestos, to ensure the safety of future generations, pointing out that one fibre can kill and there are more than 2 million on a pinhead.

Graeme went on to read a moving poem which he had written himself to outline the terrible impact of a death at work on families and friends and the uncaring attitudes of employers.

Read Graeme's poem in full.

Tommy Campbell
The final speaker was Tommy Campbell of Unite. Tommy welcomed Lewis McDonald's call for a public enquiry into helicopter safety.

He also paid tribute to Lyra McKee, the young journalist who was shot in Derry by dissident republicans.

"I've heard it said that Lyra was in the wrong place at the wrong time. No she wasn't," said Tommy. "She was in the right place at the right time, doing her job. And no one should lose their life doing their job."

Tommy also read out a poem which warns us all to be aware of health and safety concerns and to speak out whenever we see anything that could put someone's life or health at risk.

See the poem Tommy read

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