BWI: Unions make work safer

Asserting that trade unions make workplaces safer for workers, BWI launched its second round of webinars dubbed as “Workers’ Voices,” with a discussion on occupational health and safety (OHS) last 16 September. The webinar, which showcased an impressive panel of OHS experts, was presided by BWI Deputy President and UNITE Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail, who was recently elected President of the Unite Kingdom’s Trade Union Congress (TUC). 

The expert panel included Joaquim Pintado Nunes, Chief of the LABADMIN/OSH (Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health) Branch of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Dr. Sophia Kisting, Occupational Medicine Specialist and the Executive Director of the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) in South Africa, Gopal Naidoo, Member of the Practice Committee of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, and Fiona Murie, Former BWI Director on OHS.

The webinar commenced with Bukluran ng Manggagawa sa Konstruksyon BMK-Qatar, SERBUK Indonesia, TARIM ORMAN, the Independent Trade Union of Forestry, Wood and Paper Processing of Bosnia and Herzegovina and CLAWUZ-Zimbabwe taking turns in sharing and discussing their insights and experiences on OHS, as well as presenting documented cases of workers’ health and safety neglected and violated. 

BWI Global Education Secretary Tos Annonuevo followed shortly after by presenting a practical guide for trade unions to navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19. He explained that unions need clear guideposts to design effective strategies, programs and campaigns to respond to the pandemic.    

During the webinar’s expert discussion on OHS, Nunes started the deliberations by discussing how COVID-19 has worsened workers’ health and safety, particularly their mental health. Kisting followed after by discussing the transferable lessons of the trade unions’ campaign against HIV-AIDS to the present global health emergency. 

For his part, Naidoo shared good practices and innovations on how construction workers can promote further occupational health and safety, such as the “buddy system,” risk-based approaches and worksite one-way systems. Subsequently, Murie highlighted the need for trade unions to intensify their engagements with governments and employers in developing better policies to secure workers’ health, income and employment.

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson urged affiliates to turn the pandemic into an opportunity to put the issue of occupational health and safety at the front and center of trade union advocacy. 

“Trade unions make work safer. Amidst a pandemic, we need new guidelines and safety measures. We also need greater trade union involvement in the monitoring and inspection of worksites. Safety is our issue. Safety is our tool for organising,” Yuson said.