International Workers Memorial Day Edinburgh
28 April 2013
1.00pm Workers Memorial Tree, West Princes
In the month that saw hundreds of workers killed and thousands injured in Dhaka and 14 killed and hundreds injured in Texas, trade unionists, families and councillors gathered on IWMD to remember those who have died due to injury or ill health caused by work, and to refresh our resolve to fight for safe and healthy working conditions in Scotland and throughout the world.
Edinburgh's Deputy Lord Provost, Angela Blacklock laid a wreath and council buildings and the Art Gallery flew their flags at half mast.
The event at the Workers Memorial Tree in West Princes Street Gardens started with music from Edinburgh's radical singing group, Protest in Harmony followed by short addresses from:
Madhu Dutta is a long time labour and environmental justice campaigner in India. She said:“As we gather together to remember our comrades who have died, we need to build cross solidarities throughout the world so that corporations don't get away with impunity by poisoning workers and communities in poorer countries, taking advantage of the social and economic conditions there.”
Louise Taggart, a member of Families Against Corporate Killers whose brother was killed at work, made a moving speech slamming the ‘hidden figures’ of work related deaths which the Hazards Campaign says could be as much as 140 a day.
John Stevenson UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch President said: “As we do each year on this day, we will remember the dead, their families and their friends. And just as we also do, we will fight for the living.
“And we do that by fighting the attacks on laws that came about because of the reality of deaths and injury at work. If we don’t, we will not just lose a generation of progress on health and safety - but a lot more lives and hopes.
“Today, we remember the dead. Tomorrow we go out and fight for the living.” (see John’s full speech here).
Wreaths at memorial
tree and plaque 2011
Protest in Harmony
John Stevenson addresses
Reps from UNISON, Propsect, NUJ, Unite,
Edinburgh and District TUC, Families
Against Corporate Killers and many
others wait to lay their wreaths.
Photos by Tom Connolly
Speech by John Stevenson, Branch President
Workers Memorial Day Edinburgh 2013
Colleagues, it is always a sombre day when we remember colleagues who have lost their lives earning a living.
Workers who so often need not have died had health and safety at work been taken seriously.
Families who could have been spared the loss and grief if corners had not been cut or regulations ignored.
Children living through their formative years without a dearly loved parent, because profit was more important than life itself.
That may sound like harsh words but especially today when we think of the workers buried in Bangladesh we need to remind ourselves that every health and safety statistic is
a real life,
a real person,
a real family’s lives and hopes destroyed.
And the figures are depressing………
1.1 million working people suffering from a work-related illness
173 workers killed at work
In Scotland there were 9,551 reported injuries to employees, over 2,000 of those serious
27,000 people were suffering stress due to or made worse by work
70% of workplace accidents down to poor management of health and safety.
Yet despite all this….
Only 1 in 170 of fatal and major injuries in the UK resulted in prosecution activity in 2010/11.
Only 1 in 65 results in any enforcement action – down by 30%
And the government says health and safety regulations are just 'red tape'. David Cameron having the cheek to say some accidents are unavoidable!
And a change in legislation that the honourable Lords at first rejected then couldn’t stay up long enough at night to see it through last week. Legislation that had protected workers since 1898.
A change that will now make it almost impossible for many people to seek compensation from employers by removing the ‘strict liability’ rule.
Compensation for death or injury at work is not a bonus – not a reward – it is a warning to bad employers – and it is plain and simple decency!
It is estimated that due to scant resources the HSE is only able to prosecute 0.1% of breaches of health and safety law.
So for most workers, the current law is not a real protection even before it is watered down.
What is a protection is the fact that employers can be hit in the pocket. Compensation is one of the few things that focuses the corporate mind on health and safety.
Health and safety laws and regulations didn’t come out of nowhere! They came mainly as a response to real events. Real deaths and injury.
Back in 1833, the first factory inspector, Richard Oaster, was appointed. He was one of only four inspectors for the country enforcing the Factories Act.
It probably won’t surprise you that he faced opposition from politicians and employers.
But almost 200 years since Richard Oaster, some things haven’t changed much.
We have a government hell bent on reducing HSE inspections and inspectors.
Reversing the progress gained throughout the years from those early beginnings by stripping back legislation.
Pandering to the myths about health and safety gone mad.
These false stories have a purpose - and the purpose is to soften up the public for attacks on laws that protect workers' lives.
I said at this ceremony two years ago that it would be all the more important to defend health an safety as spending cuts began to bite.
As the protective services provided by local authorities are cut - as proactive checks that protect public health and public safety are reduced.
If the horse meat scandal has show one thing, it is that industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself.
So we need to make sure our politicians know we want them to protect our health and safety legislation.
We want them to hold employers to account for the very basic of human rights – to come home safe from your work.
And we all have a role in the workplace.
When the health and safety myths arise – challenge them.
Fill in the accident or incident book and make sure dangers and - most importantly – near misses are reported
Back our union reps in doing inspections and assessments.
And remind each other and all of our colleagues that each statistic is…
a real life,
a real person,
a real family’s lives and hopes destroyed.
As we do each year on this day.
We will remember the dead, their families and their friends.
And just as we also do, we will fight for the living.
And we do that by fighting the attacks on laws that came about because of the reality of deaths and injury at work.
If we don’t, we will not just lose a generation of progress on health and safety - but a lot more lives and hopes.
Today, we remember the dead. Tomorrow we go out and fight for the living.
events: The Edinburgh event took place
at 12 O'clock on 28 April 2012 at the Memorial
Tree, West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. (More
about Workers Memorial Day)
Previous events: The Edinburgh event took
place at 12 O'clock on 28 April 2011 at the
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. (More
about Workers Memorial Day) Speech by John Stevenson, Branch President
20,000 people die prematurely every year because
of work related injury or disease. Another 1.2
million say they suffered illness that they
thought was due to their work.
Many of them still come to work, despite their
Another million who have left work say they
have ill-health because of their work - still
suffering in retirement.
70% of workplace accidents have been shown
to be down to poor management of health and
And the government says health and safety regulations
are just 'red tape'.
Unnecessary rules that get in the way of the
business of making money.
Lord Young couldn't have been clearer in his
report the other week about the government's
aim: 'The aim is to free businesses from unnecessary
bureaucratic burdens and the fear of having
to pay out unjustified damages claims and legal
A recent Institute for Employment Rights briefing
explodes these claims that businesses are over-regulated.
Instead the evidence points to the opposite:
"In fact", they say, "The collapse in inspection,
investigation and enforcement has dramatically
reduced the chances of businesses being detected
and prosecuted for committing safety offences".
Prosecution and the chance that you might have
to pay damages is one of the few things that
focuses the corporate mind on health and safety.
Without that, regulations are toothless.
And it gets worse. As the Scottish affairs
committee met in Aberdeen earlier this month
to launch an inquiry into health and safety
in Scotland and the higher number of injuries
at work here - it emerged that the coalition's
cuts could mean that the Scottish Health and
Safety Executive losing up to 35 per cent of
its current funding.
And the detractors have the corporate media
on their side. A media that publicises ridiculous
and invented stories about 'health and safety
These false stories have a purpose - and the
purpose is to soften up the public for attacks
on laws that protect workers' lives.
We need to tackle the myth that health and
safety is 'red tape'.
And that will be all the more important as
spending cuts begin to bite.
As the protective services provided by local
authorities are cut - as proactive checks that
protect public health and public safety are
In the City of Edinburgh Council, in councils
across the country, in the Health Service, Universities
and Colleges, in police and fire services, we
negotiate and we take action to avoid compulsory
But whether a redundancy is voluntary or compulsory
- a job still goes. And what happens to those
who are left behind?
If the need for the service hasn't gone away,
how do you manage without the people to provide
All too often you manage by piling more and
more work - and more and more stress on the
workers who are left.
The TUC reckons that over a quarter of public
sector workers work 'extreme overtime'. Mostly
unpaid. Contributing £27 billion to the economy
- a fact ignored when employers moan about sickness
Do they never ask themselves why they have
a sickness absence problem instead of just putting
more and more punitive measures in place?
Does it never cross their minds that they are
pushing people too far?
That extra work and those extra pressures bring
their own hazards. Workplace bullying, lone
working, unsafe manual handling, repetitive
strain injuries (RSI), and stress.
Other work just won't get done, corners will
be cut and the first to suffer will be safe
And as the public get more and more frustrated
about the services they can't get, it's our
members in the front line that take the flack.
UNISON's 2010 survey of violence at work showed
an increase of over 3,000 assaults on public
service workers over the year.
More than 28,000 assaults on staff.
And some public authorities still don't keep
figures that truly reflect the problem.
Until employers are properly held to account
- it will always be someone else's fault and
the front line worker will be the one to suffer.
That's one of the reasons I've been proud to
be part of a UNISON Scotland guide for social
work staff on 'Keeping Safe in the Workplace'.
A guide that urges workers to take responsibility
for their safety, their colleagues' safety and
their services users' safety.
But most of all it demands that employers
take their responsibility for their duties under
the codes of conduct.
We stand today to remember the dead. But as
it has always been on this day, we are also
here to fight for the living.
Surely there is nothing more obscene than profits,
cuts and financial or political fortunes being
built on the back of pain, suffering, the destruction
of lives and the shattering of families' hopes.
That fight has never been more important.
It is time for us to rethink how we organise
to fight with and for our people in the face
of such an onslaught.
23 October in Edinburgh showed we can mobilise.
London on 26 March took it to a new level. They
both showed we are not alone. There are millions
of us with shared values.
And one of the most basic values is to be safe
at your work. We now need to take the next step.
Organising, lobbying, demonstrating and, yes,
taking action together across unions where we
Because if we don't, we will not just lose
a generation of progress on health and safety
- but a lot more lives and hopes.
International Workers Memorial Day 2011
UNISON will provide a speaker at this event.
The organisers of the event have asked Edinburgh
City Council to lower the flags on Council Buildings
as a mark of respect and have invited the Lord
Provost to attend on their behalf.
UNISON will ask them to mark the event on The
Orb and invite staff to observe the minute's
Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living is
the slogan for International Workers Memorial
The purpose of the day is two-fold. It's about
not forgetting those who have been needlessly
killed, injured, or made ill by their work.
It's also about using this human tragedy to
strengthen the campaign for safe and healthy
The demand for safe and healthy work will become
more important as cuts bite. Staff remaining
in post will be expected to do more work increasing
the risk of various hazards including: workplace
bullying, lone working, manual handling, repetitive
strain injuries (RSI), and stress. Other work
won't get done, which at first may not be noticed,
but will lead to greater risks such as worse
and increasingly dangerous or unhealthy workplaces.
At midday on Thursday 28 April 2011 UNISON
members and many others across the UK will take
part in a minutes' silence.
During that minute we will remember those members
and workers injured, made ill, or killed by
their work. Whether you plan something else
or not, join in the minutes' silence at midday
- make this IWMD even more "remembered" than
Ask your manager to allow all staff to take
part in a minutes' silence whilst at work.
BACKGROUND TO IWMD
Far too many workers and their families suffer
each and every year. The figures from the Health
and Safety Executive (HSE) and which make the
headlines, never tell the full story.
It is estimated that work incidents are the
cause of up to 1,600 deaths each year; including
deaths to members of the public, work-related
suicide, and road traffic accidents whilst driving
On top of this, it is estimated that there
are up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illnesses;
including cancers, respiratory illnesses, and
WHAT IS UNISON CALLING FOR?
Society no-longer finds drink-driving or domestic
violence acceptable. It's time for work-related
ill-health, injury, and death to also become
unacceptable rather than a tragic but accepted
part of the world of work.
The HSE has in the past stated that about 70%
of workplace "accidents" are due to the poor
management of Health and Safety.
However, spending cuts risk increasing exposure
to poor workplace health and safety. It is therefore
important to fight for the living by ensuring
that IWMD 2011 is used to campaign, organise,
and recruit on health and safety at branch level.
Unions make work safer, and make it most safe
when there is a large, active, and involved
Worker's Memorial Day - 28th April
Remember the dead, fight for the living
On 28 April each year, trade unions around
the world take action to remember all those
who have been killed, injured or had their health
destroyed by their work.Workers also renew their
commitment to fight for better standards at
The Branch has for many years supported the
Edinburgh event by laying a wreath. This
year's commemoration takes place on 28 April
at 12.30 at the Workers Memorial tree in West
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. Members are
urged to attend and continue to build this into
a major event.
(The tree is on the lower level of the gardens
between the floral clock entrance and the Ross
Remember the Dead: Fight for the Living
The campaign slogan for WMD is "remember
the dead: fight for the living" and branches
should try to focus on both areas, e.g.:
Remember the Dead - plan an event or
monument to remember all those killed at and
by work who are not publicly remembered in any
other way; and
Fight for the Living - campaign for
more and stricter enforcement, higher penalties
for health and safety breaches, more inspectors
at the HSE and in local authorities, a new law
of corporate killing to make it easier to prosecute
negligent employers, new legal health and safety
duties on directors, and more rights and powers
for safety reps such as PINs and roving reps.