Work­ers should not die on the job

Rutherglen Reformer - - News From The Pews -

This Fri­day, April 28, is In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ Me­mo­rial Day.

This day has been ob­served in Scot­land since 1992 in a bid to remember the hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple killed or in­jured at their work ev­ery year.

Work­ers’ Me­mo­rial Day was es­tab­lished in Amer­ica in 1970. It was brought to the UK by West Mid­lands Hazards cam­paigner, Tommy Harte, in 1992. The first event took place in Birm­ing­ham, but it soon spread all over the UK.

Work­ers and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all over the world will come to­gether on Fri­day to de­mand ac­tion, bet­ter and safer con­di­tions, to demon­strate and hon­our those who have lost their lives while at work.

There is a phrase amongst those who ob­serve In­ter­na­tional Work­ers Me­mo­rial day: “Remember the dead and fight for the liv­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to UNISON up to 50,000 peo­ple die from workre­lated ill health and in­ci­dents ev­ery year in the UK.

In Scot­land, our com­mu­ni­ties have suf­fered our share of these painful losses.

The Blan­tyre min­ing ex­plo­sion in Oc­to­ber 1877 killed over 200 work­ers, se­verely im­pact­ing the com­mu­nity for decades af­ter­wards.

In 1988, the Piper Al­pha dis­as­ter claimed the lives of 167 work­ers, and in­jured many more.

More re­cently, the Stock­line Plas­tics ac­ci­dent in Mary­hill killed nine work­ers and in­jured 33.

These events not only caused avoid­able death, but robbed com­mu­ni­ties of their fa­thers, wives, broth­ers, sis­ters and par­ents.

All work car­ries risk, and around the world, one worker dies ev­ery 15 sec­onds. This is com­pa­ra­ble with con­di­tions such as di­a­betes, Alzheimer’s and lung and throat can­cers.

I am proud there­fore that we mark the work of the trade union move­ment in trans­form­ing the lives of or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple in this coun­try and oth­ers.

Since the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, the strides for­ward in in­dus­trial prac­tice and process were matched by the ef­forts and sac­ri­fice of those in the trade union move­ment.

Mov­ing for­ward as the econ­omy evolves to in­clude more ser­vice-based in­dus­tries, the chal­lenges of the past will change, the na­ture of the risks to health will shift, but union­i­sa­tion is as vi­tal as ever.

The trade union move­ment is now look­ing to tackle the next big risks to well­be­ing for work­ers in western Europe – tack­ling in­equal­i­ties, ex­ploita­tive zero hours con­tracts and the so-called “gig” econ­omy where we see a shift, or re­gres­sion, to piece­meal work­ing and peo­ple mov­ing be­yond the 9-5 pat­tern of em­ploy­ment.

Zero-hours work­ers are rel­a­tively worse off now than a decade ago, on av­er­age earn­ing a third less per hour than the av­er­age em­ployee.

The boom in self-em­ploy­ment also masks sim­i­lar fig­ures, with self-em­ployed work­ers hav­ing, on av­er­age, earn­ings 40 per cent lower than those of em­ploy­ees.

The re­cent UK Trade Union Act has made this en­vi­ron­ment even more hos­tile for unions to op­er­ate in, with a 50 per cent turnout thresh­old for ac­tion to be le­gal and a vote of 40 per cent of the en­tire mem­ber­ship be­fore pub­lic sec­tor work­ers can take ac­tion.

These, and other steps, seek to un­der­mine the ef­fec­tive­ness of work­ers in or­gan­is­ing and in­flu­enc­ing work­ing prac­tices.

What hap­pened in Blan­tyre shows that ev­ery day brings new chal­lenges for safety and well­be­ing, and ter­ri­ble news for families and loved ones, but with strong co­op­er­a­tion be­tween government, in­dus­try and the unions, we will remember the dead, and con­tinue to fight for the liv­ing.

Remember the dead and fight for the liv­ing

Tragedy The Piper Al­pha dis­as­ter in 1988 stunned Scot­land

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