Workers' Memorial Day 2019 report

Workers' Memorial Day 2019 report

This year’s speakers made us aware of attacks on workers’ rights to a safe workplace, and the importance of standing firm against them.

Neil Vernon, UNITE learning organiser and Hazards Trust officer, explained the need for and history of International Workers Memorial Day, paying tribute to the late Tom Harte, the Brummie who first brought Workers Memorial Day to the UK.

Neil told us about an important new construction charter, agreed between UNITE the Union and Birmingham and Solihull Councils, which includes following good health and safety standards. This will need to be adhered to on the councils’ building sites.

Annmarie Kilcline, UNITE’s Regional Secretary, could not attend but sent greetings. She has said of this charter: “The right to speak out on issues and be paid a fair rate for the job is vital. The charter means there will be no blacklisting of workers. It also protects workers from bogus self-employment by ensuring construction workers are directly employed. The charter also helps local workers to operate in a safe environment including giving them the rights to raise health and safety issues without fear.” In the West Midlands, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Dudley councils have also signed the charter.

Andrew Scattergood, FBU Regional Sec, spoke about hazards to firefighters and the public in this time of cuts; and spoke about the Grenfell tragedy and its implications.

people being exploited at work. Lee Barron, TUC Regional Secretary, spoke of the crucial importance of health and safety in today’s workplaces. Lee, assisted by the Hazards Campaign and the Hazards Trust, set up a now thriving Regional TUC Health and Safety Forum, for safety reps and Hazards activists.

Doug Jewell, manager of Asbestos Support Central England, spoke about how asbestos has been known to kill people for 2000 years, yet we still are faced with people dying and suffering from asbestos-related-diseases, all in the name of profit. Such is the need for his group that it has recently expanded and is set to become a charity in its own right.

Mary Pearson, from Birmingham Trades Union Council, remembered family friend Simon Jones and told the story of how he was killed on his first day at work. She asked us to do something to prevent young

Kathy Gaffney of West Midlands Hazards Trust spoke on the theme of “Taking Control - Dangerous Substances - get them out of the workplace!” From her own father who died of occupational cancer due to cadmium in silver solder, to the millions around the world killed by work, way too many have died. She gave examples of workers controlling their workplace environment in organised trade unions; through removing cancerous substances and controlling processes. She also pointed out the 2018 inquest verdict of “accidental deaths” for the 5 killed at Hawkeswood metal recycling in Nechells. “It’s time there was a change in official language used, rather than having statistics on so-called accidents. These were preventable and foreseeable deaths. As such, they are tantamount to murder.”

This event happens every year at the commemorative plinth in St Philip’s Cathedral grounds, for the 2 workers killed building Birmingham Town Hall. Don McCombie asked people to join in the song he wrote to remember them.

Thanks to the cathedral and to Rev Peter Sellick, who used to be an industrial chaplain and who spoke from experience of the terrible suffering caused by dangerous substances at work.