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Workers Memorial Day Reflection: Brian Merriman

We remember the lessons learned from the past, the outcomes and the strategies that enabled change, and those who sacrifice taught us well. But remembering only once a year, could dishonour in some way, what they achieved and who they were - when every day, we have an opportunity as leaders to embed the change, achieved in the past, into the present and future. That is the responsibility of remembrance.

I remember my ancestors on both sides of the Lockout, a century ago in Wexford. The Corishs’ led the struggle for better pay and conditions on the outside, while my Great Grandfather Keating, a blacksmith, had to move out of his home, and move in on site in Pierce’s Foundry to keep the furnaces going, so that when the Lockout was over, the workers could swiftly return to work and earning.

History repeated itself a century later, when my brother’s colleagues went in every day to Waterford Crystal, to keep the furnaces going, in the hope of finding a new buyer. Playing with fire in any era is dangerous. This week, those flames finally shone their light from the European Court of Justice for the Crystal pensioners. History is very close and memory is relevant.

The physical and mental wellbeing of all workers is important. A bogus tweet this week caused 105 billion to be wiped from the value of international markets in minutes. Markets which should be the ultimate in reasoned and calm analysis and driven by the facts, really only consistently display their true talent – their capacity to panic. How many workers would be put in a place of responsibility in any employment, based on their talent for panicking? Yet workers and society are subjected to that unstable mastery every day. It is tough living in a society now being directed to satisfy those who panic. There is a certain noble calm in remembrance.

Mental health is important. A cruel society or a bigoted workplace, can destroy lives physically and emotionally. Labelling people negatively as LGBT often constrains the many different attributes that make up each worker and colleague. Stigma is the cause of much ill health, despair and even suicide. It is a luxury no workplace can afford and no colleague can ignore or exacerbate.

Cuts in Health and Safety budgets are jeopardising health and lives in Ireland

Ahead of International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD) tomorrow (Sunday April 28th), the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has warned that cuts in health and safety budgets are threatening to turn the clock back on the progress made in keeping people safe at work. Last year 47 people were killed and 7,000 non-fatal injuries were reported.

“The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is facing devastating cuts in its government grant over the next three years, which will hit health and safety inspections and the body’s prevention work hard”, according to Board member Eamon Devoy, who is General Secretary of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union.

“In recent years big strides have been made in protecting people at work from injury and ill health. Health and safety inspections are the backbone of this approach and there still more needs to be done, especially as increasing numbers of employers are contracting out core work. We want to use the occasion of International Workers Memorial Day to highlight the dangers posed by cuts in health and safety budgets. They are jeopardising the progress made and the price will be paid by ordinary, hardworking people.” Esther Lynch, Congress Legislation and Legal Affairs Officer, said “Progress has stalled on much needed safeguards, such as requiring employers to report occupational diseases and illnesses. The Government should not buckle in the face of opposition from business groups in the mistaken belief that health and safety rules are a burden on business. Congress is calling on the Health and Safety Authority to think again about removing the requirement on employers to report on the range of internationally recognised occupational diseases caused by chemical, physical and biological agents.

In spite of advances in occupational health and safety practices over the last few decades, the impact of the crisis has meant increased work intensity and less time dedicated to prevention, poor maintenance schedules for equipment and machinery, and a lack of investment in newer equipment. Moreover, psycho-social factors such as stress in the work place, are exacerbated as employment becomes more precarious and those who retain their jobs often work longer hours to compensate for job cuts.

Obeying safety rules is a responsibility, not a burden. Business efficiencies cannot be at the expense of workers’ health and lives.

At our Workers Memorial Event on Sunday, we will remember all those who have been killed and injured in Bangladesh’s garment industry and that much of the responsibility falls on the western clothing brands which make enormous profits from items made in deadly conditions on poverty wages.