This coming Sunday is Workers’ Memorial Day and I hope that you will take a few minutes of your time to remember those people who have lost their lives or suffered injuries from accidents at work.
The idea behind Workers’ Memorial Day is simple yet powerful. Nobody should expect to do a decent day’s work and have their safety or health compromised.
Health and safety is often considered a joke, or some people see it as political correctness gone mad – the fact that kids are not allowed to play conkers is sometimes used as an example.
There is nothing in law or regulations to stop kids from playing conkers. It is, however, completely different if a member of your family goes out to work and fails to come back because the employer has not considered their safety in the workplace.
Hartlepool, given its heavy manufacturing industrial legacy, still has remnants of industrial disease and ill-health.
Insufficient protection from the effects of asbestos in the shipyards has meant that the town still suffers more than its fair share of chest diseases, particularly pleural plaques.
However, Workers’ Memorial Day isn’t merely an important part of looking back at our industrial past. Even today, in 2013, it is estimated that several thousand people will die prematurely or be seriously injured as a result of injuries at work.
Where Workers’ Memorial Day is particularly important is to raise awareness of the need to continue to campaign for safe workplaces.
For such campaigns, I believe there is still a strong and positive role for trade unions.
I therefore applaud the great work that Hartlepool Trades Union Council has carried out in organising this year’s Workers’ Memorial Day, as it has in previous years.
Thanks to their efforts, Hartlepool’s service on April 28, which is always the day dedicated around the world to remember those workers who have been killed or injured, is generally recognised as the premier event in the North-East and one of the very best in the entire country.
The Remembrance Service and Wreath Laying ceremony will take place this coming Sunday, starting at 12.30pm at Christ Church, in Church Square. Guest speakers will include Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, as well as Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigade Union.
The most important part of the service for me, however, is when families affected by death or injury at work, lay wreaths to remember loved ones who went to work and whose lives were either changed dramatically or, in the worst examples, whose lives were lost in the pursuit of securing a wage for themselves and their families.
I do hope that you are able to come along and show your support for those workers killed or injured at work and to demonstrate your belief that nobody in the future should compromise their health or their safety, simply by going to work.
As the powerful and poignant slogan across the world for Workers’ Memorial Day states: “Remember the dead, fight for the living”.