Today, 28 April, is designated as the Workers’ Memorial Day by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
There are over two million fatal workplace accidents around the world each year, many of them sadly preventable. 100,000 die of asbestos-related illnesses alone.
Services are being held around the world to remember those who have lost their lives to workplace accidents.
I attended the one in Sydney. The peak union body here, Unions NSW, has done a fine job of elevating the day above partisan and sectarian divisions. The service was co-presided over by a rabbi, imam, priest and minister. State Government Ministers from the right-leaning Liberal Party and their counterparts from the left-leaning Labor Party were in attendance. Unions and industry groups were both in attendance.
The commemoration was held before the ‘Memory Lines’ sculpture in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. The sculpture is located on the site where Australia’s first steam mill was constructed in 1813, powering a saw mill, grain mill and foundry. Symbolically it is the birthplace of Australia’s industrial revolution. (Despite its proximity to Sydney’s Central Business District, Darling Harbour was an industrial area right up until the early 1980s.)
The emotional focus of the service was the placing of flowers and mementos on the sculpture by families who had lost loved ones to workplace accidents in the previous year. It was very difficult to watch, like attending several funerals at once, however to turn away would be to turn away from the reality. Deaths at work are not statistics, they are the faces above and many more.