Every year on April 28 workers around the world commemorate the lives of their workmates, loved ones and friends who have been tragically killed or had the trajectory of their lives thrown off course by a serious work-related injury or illness.
This year is no different.
During COVID-19 workers are still suffering; they are still dying and they are being injured and maimed on the job.
The statistics still reflect the inaction of governments and regulators and the callousness and greed of employers, who know they are never going to be at risk of a physical, mental or emotional injury from the work they do.
Working men and women of all ages, their loved ones and communities have been witnesses to industrial atrocities for generations.
This day is a commemoration certainly, but it is also a call to action for working people.
Don’t just rely on the boss to keep you safe. Don’t assume it will be alright for you and your workmates. We have to stand up for safety when no one else will. We must speak out when we see or hear something that is unsafe because we have people waiting for us.
Birthdays, weddings, Christmases — there are so many things that workers who are no longer with us will never get to enjoy. Their deaths and injuries must never be forgotten.
The tragedy of workers dying on the job should fuel the furnace of memory and remind us all that there is help and support available through your collective strength as organised workers to stand up with your workmates when it is unsafe.
Dying at work is the ultimate working-class tragedy.
This April 28, let’s not just have a minute’s silence; let’s follow it up with loud, strong and determined voices of working people, demanding that they be treated with dignity and respect and that their value be measured by more than their productivity, but by their health and wellbeing and the richness of their lives because they work.
If you see something on the job, stand up, talk to your health and safety representatives, your delegates, your union.
You have that power. You can make work a safer place.
[Jake Field is the Maritime Union of Australia’s national safety and training officer. He gave this speech on April 28.]