Workers should not die on the job
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