Saturday 1 May 2021

International Workers' Memorial Day - workers' health and safety rights must come before profit

Graeme Farquhar and Donna Clark
International Workers' Memorial Day was a moving event as the small, socially distanced crowd remembered all those who have died, been injured or made ill at their work, so many from Covid 19 but also those who suffered work related accidents and deaths.

The event was organised by Aberdeen Trades Union Council along with Aberdeen City Council. Vice-president, Donna Clark laid a wreath on behalf of the ATUC

Speaking at the event, ATUC President, Graeme Farquhartold those gathered that this year’s theme for International Workers Memorial Day is health and safety is a fundamental workers’ right and this year it is even more important with Covid 19 being with us. 

"This pandemic has exposed an occupational crisis in workplaces not only here but worldwide.  Workers have been denied basic health and safety protection in the  workplace," said Graeme.

He highlighted that in the UK there have been 130 000 breaches of Covid guidelines in the workplace but with the Health and Safety Executive already cut to the bare minimum with the Conservative government’s austerity measures in recent years and now being so poorly resourced, there have been no prosecutions to date and this has resulted in many Covid outbreaks in workplaces. 

 "We heard David Cameron in the past talking about cutting red tape in health and safety and this continues to the present day," he warned.

"Workers don’t die in tragic accidents at work, they die because the employer decides that profit is more important than health and safety," slammed Graeme.

"During this pandemic the NHS has put all its resources into beating Covid and this has led to people being unable or unwilling to attend routine appointments at the hospital. This has caused large numbers of cases of serious illnesses not being diagnosed .

Ann Joss lays a wreath in memory

of those who lost their lives in

the Stonehaven train crash

"We mourn for the many who have died in this pandemic, many of whose deaths were avoidable if the right protections and PPE had been in place.

"We must fight now to ensure that those suffering from the effects of covid are treated with compassion by their employers and that their employment rights are upheld.

"We must ensure that when we come out of covid that worker’s health and safety rights are put before the economics of the employer as this is a fundamental workers right."

In a particularly poingnant address, the RMT's Ann Joss paid a moving tribute to her colleagues who were killed in the Stonehaven train derailment in August of last year. Train driver, Brett McCullough and conductor, Donald Dinnie as well as passenger Christopher Stuchbury lost their lives when the Aberdeen to Glasgow train came off the tracks after severe flooding. Ann laid a wreath in their memory.

Unite's Tommy Campbell and Councillor Yvonne Allan from Aberdeen City Council also said a few words.

Graeme Farquhar concluded the event by reading a poem he wrote.


It started with a little cough

To the doctor she was off

Do not worry its only the flu

But the cough it got louder and grew

Back to the doctor to examine her chest

Sent to a specialist because they would know best

Asbestosis in the lung

And you so very young

She asked about what treatment she could get

The specialist said we have no cure yet


She asked where she got this awful blight

He told her from washing her builder husband’s clothes at night

But doctors have been fooled for years by employers’ talk

And for them to blame someone else is not a shock

Blame someone else to save some cash

Some would say it is seems a bit harsh

But most employers they don’t care

As long as they can keep their big cash share

She worked as a cleaner for 20 years

Pushing a trolley round the hospital for her peers

Thumping against walls and asbestos lagged pipes

She used to wash them down with her big hand wipes

But the employers they got their wish

As she believed the specialist


For months she suffered severe pain  

And her body it began to drain

At 52 she was taken from us

And typical of her she caused no fuss

Husband  daughter and a son

Compensation they got none

Left behind because the employers don’t care

I say jail one for life and give them a scare

Demolition and asbestos removal in a local school

The contractors they broke all the safety rules

The supervisors of the job they took no blame

They should now hang their heads in shame

Lessons learned they always say

But 5000 asbestos deaths a year we are having  to pay


So who can we blame

 and name and shame

In Russia and China asbestos they still mine

We should send to them a short line

We must get them to submit

And the asbestos trade they must quit

No more cheating no more lies

Stop this carnage so no more die.

Graeme Farquhar   Unite the Union. 

Aberdeen City Council also commemorated Workers' Memorial Day by lighting the front of Marischall College in purple and held their own event. 

Click here to see the very powerful video produced by Aberdeen City Council and ATUC for Workers Memorial Day 2021.