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International Workers' Memorial Day 2017 - ‘Remember the dead – fight for the living’

International Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April 2017 is to remember those people who have died at work and is also a rallying call to improve workers’ rights around the world

Workers memorial day
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Ross is a solicitor specialising in personal injury and has worked exclusively in the field of workplace injury claims since 2003. You can follow Ross @ross_whalley
Our lives are made so much simpler and convenient by some of the amazing feats workers have achieved in building the fabric of the society we live in. Some of the greatest achievements have often been the most costly, not only financially, but also the in greatest of all sacrifices; lives lost.
 
Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal is a 48-mile artificial waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It created a significant shortcut reducing the time for ships to travel between the two oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America. Over 100 years later, the canal still serves as a key conduit for international maritime trade. Whilst it was one of the largest and most ambitious engineering projects in modern history, it was also the deadliest, costing 30,609 workers’ lives.
 
More recently, the Aswan Dam was built across the River Nile in Egypt in 1970. The dam controlled flooding, provided increased water storage for irrigation and generated hydroelectricity. It was pivotal in Egypt’s industrialisation, having created significant obvious economic benefits in Egypt’s arid climate. But of the 30,000 workers who contributed to its construction, 500 lost their lives.
 
Sadly, such examples are not consigned to the history books. FIFA awarded Qatar the hosting rights for the Football World Cup in 2022 to much controversy. The limited existing infrastructure meant that large-scale facility construction has been required. Working conditions are far from ideal; long hours, blazing heat, low pay and squalid dormitories.  The International Trades Union Confederation published a report detailing at least 1,239 deaths as early as 2013. There are disturbing estimates which predict 4,000 deaths upon conclusion.
 
There’s no doubt that supporting international trade, cultivating a nation’s economy and even hosting an international sporting event, are hugely beneficial undertakings. But whilst we reap the benefits of such, we must pause and contemplate the cost. Are such undertakings worthy of even one worker’s life?  Is this the price we wish to pay for progress?
 
The purpose of International Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April 2017 is to remember those people who have died at work and is also a rallying call to improve workers’ rights around the world – the slogan for the day is "remember the dead - fight for the living".


The theme for this year’s memorial day is “Good health and safety for all workers whoever they are”. Whether you work in an office, manufacturing facility or in more dangerous fields requiring that you put your life on the line everyday, you can help to spread awareness of the health and safety requirements that govern your industry. This year the TUC’s focus turns to the hidden and new ‘gig economies’, the risks faced by migrant workers and the issues of gender and class. Activities and events are being hosted across the country to mark the day.
 
I will be attending the Manchester event at Lincoln Square organised by the North West trade unions, Greater Manchester Hazards Centre and FACK.  Speakers include Andy Burnham and representatives from FACK and other trade unions. Nationwide events are detailed on TUC’s website (https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/health-and-safety/workers-memorial-day-28-april-2015).
 
Everyone deserves to come home at the end of the work day. Workers’ Memorial Day reminds us of those who didn’t, and encourages us to take steps to reduce such instances in the future.
 
Remember those lost at work and protect the living. 
 
 

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