Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don’t die of mystery ailments, or in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) commemorates those workers. This year in Bridgwater, local Trades Unions were working to erect a monument in the town’s Blake Gardens to commemorate fallen workers, but this has been delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, this won’t stop us taking part in this International day of remembrance.
What is IWMD?
Every year on April 28th, all around the world the trade union movement unites to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day (#IWMD20).
We remember those who have lost their lives at work, or from work-related injury and diseases. We renew our efforts to organise collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work. Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK Government. We remember those we have lost. We organise in their memory.
The coronavirus pandemic affects every worker regardless of sector or locality. Tens of thousands of workers worldwide have died. More have fallen ill or continue to go to work risking their lives. Many workers are still attending work ill-equipped and without necessary safety measures in place. We could not have a starker reminder of the important role of trade union health and safety reps in saving and protecting workers’ lives, than the current crisis we are living through. While we may not be able to attend the memorial events which usually take place on IWMD, as public gatherings around the world are not advised or allowed; there are many ways trade union members can take part in our collective day of remembrance and solidarity.
We remember those we have lost. We organise in their memory.
While we may not be able to attend the memorial events which usually take place on IWMD, as public gatherings around the world are not advised or allowed; there are many ways trade union members can take part in our collective day of remembrance and solidarity.
At 11am on Tuesday 28th April, take part in the minute’s silence.
It will be a moment to pay tribute to the sacrifice made of so many workers during the pandemic, to remember those who’ve sadly lost their lives, and to thank all those who continue to do vital work at great risk.
The initiative is supported by the government, and reps may wish to request employers mark it, by asking the workforce to cease work for one minute at 11am.
Help spread the word about the minute’s silence, by encouraging as many friends and colleagues to take part, whether in their workplace of at home.
The TUC Education team will be hosting a video call at 2pm on the day, where you will be able to hear from speakers and submit questions and contributions in advance. Register for the video call.
Become a rep, recruit a rep
Every day, trade union health and safety reps in workplaces save lives and prevent illness and injury. Does your workplace have a health & safety rep? If not, contact your union about becoming one. If it does, why not train up more reps? Contact trade unionists you know who’d make great safety reps and encourage them to take on the role.
Read our guide on being a health and safety rep.
The International Trade Union Confederation has created resources, and these posters are available in a number of languages via http://28april.org/
Hazards Campaign have also produced a number of ‘Exposed at Work’ sharable graphics.
The Whole Story report from Hazards Campaign, gives the full picture of work-related deaths based on research.
Reel News has produced an excellent video, featuring construction workers. Construction is already one of the deadliest jobs, with serious safety hazards – this video explains why their work is even more dangerous during the pandemic.
Support for the bereaved
Trade unions have been crucial in securing bereavement and compassionate leave in workplaces. As we come together to remember those who have lost their lives, as union activists we can also reach out to support those experiencing grief.
There may be practical steps unions can take to remember colleagues, like a book of condolences or setting up an online memorial page. Some branches have established online fundraisers for a charity close to the heart of a colleague, or to raise money for the family to cover the cost of a funeral.
Experiencing a bereavement in isolation will be particularly tough. Attendance at funerals is currently restricted due to social distancing measures, but a minute silence or vigil could allow colleagues the opportunity to come together to remember collectively. Union branches may also wish to send a card, flowers or other tokens to the family.