On Workers Memorial Day it is important that we ask “Why is it so important that we mourn for the dead and fight for the living?”
The collapse of RanaPlaza, an eight-storey building which housed five garment factories, is not the first incident of its kind. Back in 2005, a similar building collapsed in the same town, leaving 64 garments workers dead. The owner of that factory was arrested but did not serve a single day in custody.
Since 2005, there have been fires, stampedes and other incidents at various garment factories, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Most recently, over 100 workers perished in a fire at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia, a township close to Dhaka where hundreds of similar factories are, many producing low cost garments for the international market.
In most of the incidents, the deaths were preventable. Often, workers could not escape because exits were locked.
This week the House of Lords voted to change the law so that in future, even though an employer may have breached health and safety regulations specifically designed to protect workers, the injured worker cannot rely on that breach as evidence of negligence in any claim for compensation.
The government amended the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill without consultation and after the Bill had been through committee in the House of Commons. This means that the burden of proving what caused an accident will now fall on the injured worker or the family of someone killed, rather than the employer.
In future the worker will have to prove what the employer knew or ought to have known about, for example, a machine being faulty, a substance or practice being hazardous or a leaking roof causing a slip hazard, if they are to recover compensation.
Alarm bells should be ringing further still throughout the Trade Union movement in response to the governments announcement that it will review the Health and Safety Executive to see if its “functions are still needed.”
The TUC points out that far from being over the top, inadequate legal requirements had failed to prevent tragedies such as the drowning of the MorecambeBay cockle pickers or the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge.
The Government has already abolished official spot-check inspections in “low risk” areas, such as docks, agriculture, quarries and retail. Workers die far too often in these three categories and physical and verbal attacks against shop workers has become far too prevalent to be disregarded. And the number of health inspectors has been cut to dangerous levels, leading inexorably to reduced incidence of safety inspections.
At the same time, the government has unleashed its most effective tool, the Media, often reporting on the basis of falsified information, to dress up workers’ concerns for their well-being at work as “health and safety gone mad.”
An attack upon one workers Health and Safety is an attack upon all workers Health and Safety as the true financial and emotional costs of a workplace incident are paid by the community at large, not by the negligent employer.
Mourn for the dead and fight for the living
The purpose behind Workers’ Memorial Day has always been to “remember the dead: fight for the living” and unions are asked to focus on both areas, by considering events or memorial to remember all those killed through work but at the same time ensuring that such tragedies are not repeated. That can best be done by building trade union organisation, and campaigning for stricter enforcement with higher penalties for breaches of health & safety laws.
Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK Government.
Below is a list of some of the events that are happening up and down the country. Some of these events will also feature a minute’s silence at noon, or a suitable time. All are on 28th April unless indicated otherwise.
Blackburn Assemble 12.30 at WMD Tree at Northgate 2 mins silence and laying of wreaths. Contact Sec. Ian Gallagher, email@example.com
Bolton Meet 11 am at Bolton UNISON, Howell Croft House, Bolton BL1 1QY for refreshment, 11,10am march led by piper to Victoria Square. Speakers, minutes silence and release of balloons. Contact Sec. Martin McMulkin : firstname.lastname@example.org
Chorley 26th April. Meet at the Gates of Astley Park, Park Road, Chorley at 5:45pm for an event at the WMD Tree. Range of speakers form the trade union movement and the local MP, Lindsay Hoyle
Liverpool Assemble at UCATTâ€™s Memorial in Hunter Street, Liverpool. 11.45 a.m. Speakers include Lynn Collins, Reg. Sec. NWTUC and Bill Parry, UCATT Reg. Council Chairman.
Liverpool Merseyside Joint Trade Unions are organising a commemoration at 13:00. Assemble on the South Piazza of Georges Dock Building (Corner of Mann Island and the Strand) Pier Head, Liverpool L3 1DD. Speakers to include representatives from local Trade Unions, Local MPs, Asbestos Awareness and Solicitors.
Manchester Rally at Albert Square 11am to 12 noon with one minutes silence followed by music and speeches. From 12:30, at the People’s History Museum there will be a Workers Memorial Day Exhibition, short speeches and presentation of prizes for schools IWMD competition winner and refreshments. For more information contact Hilda Palmer email@example.com, 0161 636 7557
Preston Gather at 11.30am in Flag Market, minutes silence at 12 noon, service and speakers, more information from http:// www.lancashiretradeunions.org.uk
Wigan 12 noon at WMD tree in Mesnes Park; speakers Ian Hodson President BFAWU, Lisa Nandy MP.
In March, UNISON was successful in influencing the House of Lords decision to remove clause 62 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill. This clause would have made it harder for an employee to claim compensation for injuries sustained at work.
However, the amendments by the House of Lords will now be considered by the House of Commons on 16 April 2013. The House of Commons could decide to ignore the House of Lords’ recommendation and instead reinsert clause 62 and press on regardless.
To write to your MP, click on the above link, enter your post code, and select your MP. You can copy and paste text from our model email to help you to write your own email about why your MP should vote to remove clause 62 of the ERR Bill.
For further information about clause 62 see UNISON’s briefing written for the House of Lords.
With the governments attacks on all aspects of our working lives there has never been a more important time to get involved.
If you are considering becoming, or are a new Health and Safety Rep, this five-day course is the first you should take. Your role and the rules and regulations governing health and safety at work are outlined. You will receive a resource pack and details of the UNISON support for Health and Safety reps and issues.
The course will help you to organise around health and safety issues in the workplace you will be certified as competent to accompany members at a disciplinary and grievance hearing in order to comply with Employment Relations Act 1999
2013 – one day a week for 5 weeks starting:
4 June in Liverpool
6 June in Crewe
1 October in Liverpool
6 November in Manchester
Click here to download an application form – ask your branch Secretary to authorise your application and return the completed form to Arena Point.
To discuss being a Health & Safety Rep contact Kev Allsop 07595009189