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Unions Make Work Safer! International Workers’ Memorial Day 2013
Each year on the 28th April trade unions around the world organise events to celebrate International Workers Memorial Day. The purpose is to highlight the preventable nature of workplace accidents and ill health, and to promote campaigns and union organisation to improve health and safety at work. It is also a day to remember all those who have died because of their job. This year, our theme is “Unions Make Work Safer.”
Strong Unions = Safe Jobs
Around ten years ago, the BWI adopted the slogan “Strong Unions = Safe Jobs”. The workers in trades represented by the Building and Wood Workers International do some of the most dangerous jobs of all. We are often exposed to hazardous dust and chemicals, including deadly asbestos fibres contained in building materials. We work at heights, in confined spaces, we lift heavy loads and operate dangerous machinery.
BWI members among the hardest hit by fatal "accidents" and occupational diseases
Each year about one hundred thousand building workers are killed on site, and thousands more are injured or made ill because of bad and illegal working conditions.
Tropical loggers have about a one in ten chance of being killed over a working lifetime, and wood working machinery causes more injuries than machinery in any other sector.
The BWI believes that Trade Unions must have the right of access to all workplaces to carry out their role of representing workers on Health and Safety and to provide external Trade Union support for workplace Health and Safety Representatives. There is plenty of evidence to show that workplaces that are organised with trained Trade Union Safety Representatives are safer than unorganised workplaces.
See BWI briefing “Unions make Work Safer” here .
Deadly diseases caused by bad working conditions
Asbestos kills - we want it banned. Nearly 300 people die each DAY from asbestos lung disease, most of them worked in the building trades. Many cement products used in building materials contain asbestos.
Common workplace substances used every day in our sectors can cause cancer, and need to be strictly controlled : Wood dust; welding fumes; cement dust; solvents used in glues, fillers, paints, laquers and varnishes; isocyanates; formaldehyde; and pesticides used in forestry plantations and for treating timber.
Our Rights On Site
These risks are well known and so are the solutions to avoid them. There is a clear legal framework of employers’ duties and workers’ rights on health and safety at work. By far the greatest risk for our health and safety is the negligence of employers who do not comply with even basic legislation to protect people at work.
Deregulation, subcontracting chains, bogus self employment and informal contractual conditions make this situation even worse, undermining trade union and labour rights. In a number of countries we are seeing a worrying increase in accident rates, as negligent employers try to avoid these responsibilities by avoiding an employment relationship. Trade Unions are the answer to this problem. Workers need to be able to defend their rights, and only Trade Unions provide the support they need to do so.
Management has the legal responsibility to ensure that collective and individual prevention measures are in place to protect the safety and health of all those who work for their companies. Responsible employers want to work professionally, with a good working environment, and they understand the role of Trade Unions in preventing accidents and ill health at work.
A recent study published by the International Labour Organisation shows that in the construction industry, compliance with health and safety laws is “highly dependent” on the presence of Trade Union Safety Representatives in the workplace with external Trade Union support for information and training on health and safety problems. Trade Unions were found to be a “key determinant” in workplaces with good safety performance. Click here for "The Role of Worker Representation and Consultation in Managing Health and Safety in the Construction Industry” David Walters, Professor of Work Environment Cardiff University".
What will you do on and around April 28 International Workers Memorial Day?
Here are some ideas: