A protest was held at the DWP against cuts in the Health and Safety Executive on Workers Memorial Day, dedicated to those who have died in the workplace, with the slogan 'Remember the dead - fight for the living'.
Events were held around the world today for International Workers Memorial Day, remembering those who have died in the workplace, with the slogan 'Remember the dead - fight for the living' including a protest outside the London offices of the DWP against cuts in the Health& Safety Executive. London, UK. 28/04/2011
International Workers Memorial Day was established in Canada in 1984 and first observed in the UK in 1992, being recognised by the Scottish TUC in 1993, the TUC in 1999, and by both the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive in 2000. The International Labour Organisation, part of the UN, recognised it in 2001, and today there were events in more than 50 countries in North America, Asia and Africa as well as Europe. Last year it was officially recognised by the UK Government
The TUC had organised a number of events, including a minutes silence at noon in many workplaces as well as protests, rallies and wreath-laying services. Among several events organised in London today was a lunchtime protest outside the offices of the Department of Work and Pensions at Caxton House in Westminster, which was particularly aimed at the drastic cuts being made by the coalition government in the UK Health & Safety Executive and Environmental Health Departments.
The protest was organised by the Construction Safety Campaign, which had earlier in the day held a wreath-laying event at the statue of the unknown worker at Tower Hill. The construction industry is one of the most hazardous to workers, and deaths last year are thought to be up by 15%. Tony O'Brien, National Secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign, was leading the rally and was speaking when I arrived.
The government is cutting the Health & Safety Executive, already struggling to maintain a proper service, by 35%, and Minister Chris Grayling has recently announced an end to 'proactive' unnanounced visits by HSE inspectors to a huge number of sites - including the whole of the public sector including health, education, local government, prisons and emergency services; public transport including buses and airports; the post office and parcels delivery; quarries; agriculture; manufacturing industries including light engineering, plastics, rubber, furniture, printing and paper.
The HSE figures for 2009-10 state that 152 workers died at work in the year, although as well as these, thousands of others died of work-related diseases including asbestos linked cancers. One of the speakers at the event, the Prospect union representative for London’s HSE inspectors, Simon Hester, told the rally that during one of his inspections the previous week he had found workers being exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos dust, a hazard not just to them, but when taken home on their clothes to their wives and children. With the decision by Grayling to stop such inspections, cases such as this will continue undetected in the future.
Minister Chris Grayling came out of Caxton House while the protest was taking place and was confronted by then protesters. He took one of the leaflets and said that he was always ready to meet officially with the unions, but refused to answer any of the questions he was asked, walking off down the road. The government appears to view safety for workers in the same way as 'red tape' - an unnecessary burden on companies and one which reduces the profits for the shareholders.
Among the banners at the protest was one calling for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets, jailed for their trade union activities in the 1972 Building Worker's National Strike. The prosecution is viewed by many as a clear example of the huge and undue influence that large construction companies - particularly in this case the McAlpine family - have over both government and judiciary, and there are also questions about the involvement of MI5 in a political conspiracy against the pickets.
Several of the speakers also mentioned the continuing illegal black-listing of workers in the building industry for their trade union activities, and in particular of workers who raise safety issues in their union roles. Union safety reps have a critical role to play in making workplaces safe, but if they try to take it seriously run the risk of being blacklisted and unable to find employment anywhere in the country in the building industry.