UNISON marks International Workers’ Memorial Day

Workers around the globe call for ‘strong laws, strong enforcement, strong unions’

UNISON members and staff yesterday joined colleagues across the UK and around the globe in one of the most successful International Workers’ Memorial Days to date.

The focus for the memorial day this year was ‘strong laws, strong enforcement, strong unions’.

Workers, trade unionists and campaigners heard about both the harrowing tragedy of lives lost and the huge difference that can be made by union safety reps.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis blogged that, “In 2016 we should be able to design workplaces where no-one has to die as a result of their job.”

However, the UNISON Schools Seminar was told that the government’s own figures show at least 20,000 workers dying each year from injuries and illnesses related to their job.

The actual figure is thought to be closer to 50,000.

And Dave Watson, head of policy and public affairs for UNISON Scotland, noted that in many countries the toll on workers is far worse.

Many events chose to specifically remember local workers who had fallen foul of poor health and safety management.

In marking the day at the UNISON health conference, UNISON president Wendy Nichols made a simple yet often missed observation.

“Good health and safety doesn’t just benefit workers, it benefits everyone,” she said. “This is because a safe and healthy workplace is also likely to be a safe and healthy school, hospital, or community care package for the children, patients, or the elderly and infirm.”

Speaking at the UNISON Centre staff event, assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie highlighted the key role that the union’s safety reps played in ensuring the health and safety of employees at work.

In one recent case, a safety rep had identified that staff were being slowly poisoned by carbon monoxide, he said. In another, the rep demonstrated such alarmingly high levels of stress amongst members that the employer was compelled to tackle the hazard.

“These tragedies, hazards, and near-misses demonstrate the seriousness of poor health and safety management, and the fact that safety reps can and do make a huge and positive difference.”