“Wherever we are, wherever we come from, whatever our job is – we all have the right to a living wage, decent working conditions and trade union rights.”
By Apsana Begum MP
Last Friday on International Workers Memorial Day we honoured all those who have lost their lives simply as a result of the job they do – reflecting on the devastating impact on the families, friends, and work colleagues that they leave behind.
It was powerful and moving to join Unite and others at the Unknown Building Worker memorial in Poplar and Limehouse to lay a wreath.
Put simply: it is not only unacceptable that there continue to be many avoidable deaths – but any premature death is one too many.
Over the last 12 months alone, it is estimated by the Hazards Campaign, that more than 53,000 people died because of work. The horrendous death toll of workers throughout the pandemic demonstrates how failures in health and safety at work can have catastrophic effects.
Yet the Hazards Campaign’s estimate doesn’t include the hundreds of workers who have died because of covid infections they contracted in the workplace, because “there is no obligation for employers to report them to the enforcement agency, or for them to be investigated or employers to be prosecuted.”
Last week (24th April) also marked the ten-year anniversary since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh killed at least 1,132 workers and injured more than 2,500 – which was describe by unions in Bangladesh as a “mass industrial homicide.”
Rana Plaza exposed the brutality of a global production system in which labour rights are constantly under attack.
Campaigners and trade unions in Bangladesh heroically forced some compensation in the aftermath and have pushed for progress regarding conditions – despite facing powerful, even violent, opposition.
In 2022 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) historically recognised that a safe and healthy work environment is a right for workers.
This should mean that our government, employers, and enforcement authorities should double their efforts to eradicate unsafe and unhealthy work activities.
But the truth is low wages and unsafe work environments are still pervasive globally – along with the ongoing suppression of trade unions.
Increases in working poverty during the last decade blights our society and reflects that insecure work damages people, their families, and their communities.
The rise and rise of workplace precarity – zero hours contracts, blacklisting, bogus self-employment, and contracting out – puts workers at risk.
Evidence also shows that health and safety is racialised and that Black and Asian workers, often defined by direct or indirect racism and discrimination, are on the whole subject to greater workplace risks.
As such, the new anti-strike bill and other measures are being imposed just as there are record levels of strike action in response to the cost-of-living crisis.
It is therefore apt that International Workers Memorial Day is followed so closely by May Day, because in commemorating those who have died at work, we also reaffirm our call for justice and pay tribute to the bravery of trade unionists around the world: organising – and winning – in difficult circumstances.
I will always stand up for the rights of all workers to defend their pay and working conditions – From postal workers to dock workers, NHS workers to construction workers, doctors to drivers, teachers to train drivers, and so on.
Because wherever we are, wherever we come from, whatever our job is – we all have the right to a living wage, decent working conditions and trade union rights – and yes – this includes the right to refuse unsafe work.
- Apsana Begum is the MP for Poplar and Limehouse and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow Apsana on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- If you support Labour Outlook’s work amplifying the voices of left movements and struggles in the UK and internationally, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.