Blog: Reflecting on International Workers’ Memorial Day

Workers Memorial Day is a day that always reminds me that we are stronger together as a collective, as a trade union.

Marking the annual day of reflection is always a sombre occasion. It’s a day where we think of those that we have lost and those that have been seriously injured in the workplace. It’s also the day where we take stock and think of the work that we still need to do. 

Earlier this year the government removed the requirement for employers to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments and simultaneously removed access to free testing placing hundreds of vulnerable people at an increased risk. But trade unions in workplaces have stepped up to use existing health and safety legislation and regulations to enforce members rights to a safe and healthy working environment. 

Just two days ago we saw Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole suspend their council meeting on health and safety grounds as two councillors who had tested positive for Covid-19 attended. They feared that they would lose the vote that evening if they weren’t present. Losing a vote seems trivial when we’ve lost over 174,000 people in the UK to Covid-19, but it does raise questions over access to democracy in a post-pandemic world. 

But, what if you’re not a councillor and instead you’re a care worker? If you test positive – not only have you had to pay for the privilege of finding out – but you then face the impossible choice of whether to go to work and place residents at risk or stay at home and manage on the shamefully low £99.35 per week statutory sick pay.  

The theme for this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day is ‘occupational health and safety is a human right’ and UNISON will be taking this forward through our incredible network of health and safety representatives. Our regional health and safety committee have organised a webinar for activists which will incorporate the minutes silence, the history of how trades unions have championed health and safety for generations and why the movement must continue to make occupational health and safety a fundamental right at work. 

Every day we will fight for our members to have proper sick pay, safe workplaces where robust risk assessments keep our members protected.  We believe it is our members right to expect nothing less – and UNISON’s duty to fight for it.