BWI slams the tragic death of 23 forest workers in South Africa

The BWI has learned of the tragic death of at least 23 forestry workers today in South Africa who were the unfortunate victims of a tragic road accident on their way to work. Forestry unions around the world have long called for suitable and safe transport of workers to and from their workplaces. “Loading workers on to open trucks is completely unacceptable. In many countries, animals are transported better than forestry workers and it is now time for forestry companies to provide safe and suitable transport,” said Anita Normark, BWI General Secretary.


The BWI shares the grief of the families of the workers, and mourns together with COSATU and forestry workers around the world at the tragic and unnecessary fatalities. Below is the statement released by COSATU:


The Congress of South African Trade Unions is shocked and angry at the death of at least 23 workers between Bushbuckridge and Dwarsloop in Mpumalanga, when the open truck on which they we being transported to work collided with a KFC truck.


21 forestry workers and both drivers are known to have died and nine are seriously injured in hospital. We send our condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives and best wishes for a full recovery to those in hospital.


This tragedy highlights once again the scandal of workers being taken to and from work on the back of open trucks, with no protection. In this case forestry workers were standing in the vehicle and police say that local villagers told them that this truck usually carries 60 and that more bodies might be hidden under the wreckage.


COSATU welcomes and supports the statement by the Automobile Association that they are considering challenging the government to change the legislation that allows people to be transported on the back of open vehicles, because these accidents almost always lead to fatalities.


That is what the federation has been saying for years – that it is totally inconsistent that passengers in cars are, quite rightly, obliged by law to wear seat-belts, while passengers in a much more dangerous position on the back of an open truck can be transported without any protection. It has led to repeated accidents, most of them fatal and many involving multiple deaths.


When the passengers are workers, they have no alternative means of getting to work and cannot risk their livelihood by refusing to travel on the trucks. That is why COSATU demands that the law must be changed and rigidly enforced, so that employers are forced to use safe forms of transport (13 November 2008).