International Workers Memorial Day: Better red tape than red bandages

Posted by Natalie Bennett on 1st May 2017

There's a plaque in the pavement outside the town hall, just in front of the tree to the left. You've probably walked past it many times - it is only small - but on Friday it was at the centre of a simple, moving memorial ceremony.

international workers memorial day plaque

For it was International Workers Memorial Day, remembering all of the men and women who've been killed at work. But the aim wasn't just to mourn, but also to fight to ensure that more victims are not added to this year's toll of workplace casualties. The ILO's slogan for the day was "remember the dead, fight like hell for the living".

Deaths and injuries at work is an issue that I've been concerned with ever since I organised a fringe at Green Party conference half a dozen years ago, with the excellent Hazards Campaign, which has been charting, with increasing desperation, the rapid decline of workplace health and safety oversight - with a 25% cut in the number of inspectors since 2010.

I've been using regularly ever since their powerful slogan: "Better red tape than red bandages". Getting rid of "red tape" has been a mantra of successive governments, that politicians of all hues have been sadly inclined to spout, but this identifies the fact that rules and regulations are essential to keeping us all, but particularly workers, safe. No one should go to work in the morning and come home dead.

international workers memorial day

The official toll of workplace deaths last year was 144, but that figure simply represents a fraction of the real figure. As we heard from several speakers on Friday, workplace stress has a serious roll to play in suicides, and an impact on health and wellbeing that isn't measured. More, long-term deaths, such as from asbestos-exposure, aren't included in the figures.

One of the most moving contributions came from the South Yorkshire Asbestos Support Group. We heard that in just the last week, 10 new victims of workplace asbestos-related disease had contacted the group. Many get in touch when they're struggling to get the support that should be theirs by right from the benefit system. Others get trapped because of complicated compensation rules, such as the man whose exposure was removing asbestos from factories, rather than installing it, which can make it impossible to claim from their employer.

We also heard about the important TUC Dying to Work campaign, which seeks to make terminal illness a protected characteristic, that could protect those diagnosed with such conditions from dismissal during a protected period, giving them and their families financial security and dignity.