International Workers’ Memorial Day

As workers around the world who have lost their lives to workplace accidents and disease are commemorated on 28 April, trade unions are pressing two key demands to save lives.

1. Occupational health and safety must be given the status of a fundamental right by the International Labour Organization (ILO), alongside the existing fundamental rights: freedom of association, collective bargaining and protection from discrimination, forced labour and child labour. A landmark decision by the ILO Governing Body in March means this should happen at the ILO Conference in June 2022.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “This is an issue of the utmost importance and it has already taken too long to resolve. Poor workplace health and safety costs some 2.78 million lives every year.

“Making occupational health and safety a fundamental ILO right will increase the accountability of governments and employers to stop the carnage and give more leverage to unions and workplace safety representatives. Only bad employers would resist this and we are prepared to fight hard to save lives.”

2. COVID-19 must be classified as an occupational disease. This would provide enhanced protection for workers and enable access to compensation funds for families of workers who die or are infected with Covid-19 at work. Last year, global unions called on the ILO to list Covid-19 as an occupational disease and an initial ITUC survey of 58 countries shows that, so far, only 26 have taken this step. In some cases this coverage is restricted to workers in the health sector.

“Most Covid-19 outbreaks happen in workplaces, including schools. Safe workplaces would play a crucial role in suppressing the spread of the pandemic.

“Access to compensation for work-related Covid-19 is especially important, in particular because it has killed many workers and can cause debilitating illness long after infection.

“While we welcome coverage of health workers, it is wrong that some countries have excluded others such as meat packing and warehouse workers who, through poor regulation and employer neglect, have seen high rates of infection.

Every worker deserves to be covered. Those countries that have failed to act must do so without further delay, and ILO listing would encourage that,” said Sharan Burrow.

The ITUC is also calling for a massive boost in the production of vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. This must include the removal of all barriers, including intellectual property and profit-gouging, to ensure that vaccines, tests, treatments and other public health tools are available to all, without discrimination.