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Occupational Health and Safety – A Special Report
Remember the Dead; Fight for the Living – International Workers’ Memorial Day
April 28 has been commemorated as the International Workers’ Memorial Day since 1996. With its origins in the US, it has become an international day of remembrance of those who have been killed on the job or have suffered grievous injuries. It is also a time for the workers to collectively fight to make our workplaces safer. On April 28, 1971, after a long struggle by workers, the Occupational Health and Safety Act came into effect in the US. Ever since, unions there have marked the day as Workers’ Memorial Day. This has since been picked up in the developed economies and quickly spread through the world. In 1996, the International Trade Union Confederation began to observe the day as the International Workers’ Memorial Day, with events across the world. ILO, recognising its significance, has made it part of the UN system of commemorative days. April 28 is observed by ILO as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
In a statement released on April 28, ILO has maintained that the lack of credible data is a serious impediment to the work of improving safety and health at the workplace. In India too, the data on accidents and fatalities at work suffers from inaccuracies, discrepancies and under-reporting. Quite often, labour activists and unions are forced to depend on newspaper reports to compile data on work site accidents. In a recent interview with the press, Jagadish Patel of PTRC referred to the lack of information, while detailing worker deaths in Gujarat. He also raised the issue of banning asbestos in India. Mine Labour’s Protection Campaign also issued a press statement on this occasion detailing the health burden to workers as worker safety is diluted in Mines. Reuters has also published a report on health effects of noise pollution on workers in the power loom sector in India.
Numerous events were organised across the world to observe this day. Here are some reports from New York, England, Australia, New Zealand, and several cities of Europe. In India, OSH activists and trade unions organised meetings in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Asbestos lobby prevails at Geneva at the cost of workers’ health
An international conference on regulating the production and trade of hazardous industrial chemicals was held at Geneva, Switzerland, between April 24 and May 5. Delegations from signatory nations of the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions participated in wide-ranging discussions on banning or regulating production, trade, and disposal of persistent organic pollutants and other hazardous chemicals.
Leading up to the conventions, trade unions across the world along with environmental groups raised the issue of banning or regulating the trade of Chrysotile Asbestos. Asbestos is still a major killer in the developing world, where its use has not been banned or regulated. WHO estimates that over 100,000 workers die every year due to exposure to asbestos.
According to estimates collected by Health Grove, India ranks second in deaths and years lost due to asbestosis. Though the trend is dropping, disproportionately more workers tend to die due to asbestos caused diseases every year. PTRC published a report titled ‘India: National Asbestos Profile’, which documents the use of asbestos in India, and the health consequences to workers. The report also indicated that nearly 50% of the asbestos use in India is concentrated in Gujarat.
There was a concerted effort once again this year, from trade union groups and environmental groups to include chrysotile asbestos in the list of chemicals that require exporters to obtain ‘prior informed consent’ from importers before being traded. Yet again, they saw no success, with India and seven other countries opposing the move. While most other opposing members are exporters, India is a major importer of asbestos, with minimal regulation on its use. FirstPost reported in 2014 about the clout and efforts of the asbestos lobby in India in influencing India’s policy towards this issue.
May Day recap:
Celebrations across the world
The Atlantic has a great photo feature collecting images of marches, riots and police confrontations from all over the world including “Moscow, Chicago, Paris, Manila, New York, San Salvador, St. Petersburg, Havana, Los Angeles, Istanbul, Bangalore, Seattle, Athens, Jakarta, Buenos Aires, and more.” You can view the article in full-screen and just use the arrow keys to scroll sideways.
In Turkey, people tried to march to Taksim Square where in 1977, 34 people were killed after shots were fired into the square from a nearby building. May Day events at Taksim are now banned. In Cambodia, thousands of garment workers marched to the Parliament to deliver a petition for higher minimum wages and more freedom of assembly. After a stand-off with the police, the petition was finally accepted by a representative of the government. There were similar protests by garment workers in Bangladesh. In Greece, thousands protested the forced austerity measures. In Portugal, one of the demands was for renegotiation of the national debt, the second-highest in the EU after Greece. See Associated Press’ reports from around the world.
Bonus: A Reading List (Happy Birthday to Marx!)
- Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘The Birth of a Holiday’, and Peter Linebaugh’s ‘The incomplete, true, and wonderful history of May Day’
- If They Could Pay Us Less, They Would: A Comic
- When Workers Form Unions, They Improve Jobs and Communities (Video)
- Union co-operatives: what they are and why we need them
Other News/Reading Material:
- Death of worker in manhole not registered under Manual Scavenging Act
- As Uber Probes Sexual Harassment at Its Offices, It Overlooks Hundreds of Thousands of Female Drivers: “Because of how those ratings work, there’s an overall sense of fear among drivers that they could lose their jobs,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director at the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union that includes more than 5,000 Uber drivers. “For women drivers — these are often working-class women — they are struggling to make ends meet.” Female drivers of taxis have long faced similar challenges in terms of sexual harassment, though Desai said that the glass partition in traditional cabs does offer women drivers a greater sense of security. And unlike Uber drivers, female cab drivers can’t be fired for low ratings. Danielle, a female Uber driver in California, recalled one harrowing ride during which she endured harassment from drunken passengers in silence for fear of a bad rating. “When I told the passengers I had seven children, one of the guys said, ‘Your vagina must be wrecked,’” she said in an interview for the website The Verge. “Driving for Uber, this is my job, and if my rating gets too low, I can lose it.” So instead of confronting the passengers, Danielle laughed alongside her drunken riders.
- The Maharashtra Government is “planning to bring back a crucial amendment in the Industrial Disputes Act that allows companies employing up to 300 workers to lay them off or shut down a plant without first seeking the state’s consent.”
- Infosys has promised to hire 10,000 American tech workers in line with Donald Trump’s calls of putting ‘America First’.
- Scroll has a video on whether robots could replace bricklayers at construction sites.
- An interview with global labour historian Marcel Van Der Linden, on trade unions across the world and what might happen in the event of another “Industrial Revolution”.