Safe workplaces save lives
Tuesday, 28 April is International Workers’ Memorial Day, remembering those workers who have been injured or killed at work and renewing the call for safe workplaces.
The right to a safe workplace is one of the most enduring achievements of the union movement.
It is a right that can mean the difference between returning home safely or death and injury at work.
Unions have fought for and won many protections to make sure coming home safely is a reality. Protections that have made jobs safer, saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and prevented many more injuries and illnesses in the workplace.
Still more work to be done to make our workplaces safe
However, too often workers are caught in the middle by government legislation that limits the role of unions in monitoring workplace safety.
Government statistics show that 185 Australians died in workplace accidents in 2014. Of those deaths, 32 occurred in Queensland.
Tragically, the transport and construction industries recorded the most fatalities. Age and experience are no protection against workplace death – the youngest worker was just 18, while the eldest was 85.
Marking Workers' Memorial Day
Workers' Memorial Day will be marked by an event in Brisbane on 28 April 2015 from 10am, to be held at Emma Miller Place in Roma Street.
We need governments that care about protecting workers
In many workplaces, it is reality that life-threatening risks that must be dealt with immediately to save the lives of workers, members of the public, workers in neighbouring premises and rescue personnel.
Fortunately the vast majority of employers work hard to observe and implement health and safety legislation. They know it costs financially, and publicly, if they are shown to be a negligent employer.
However, governments must set the benchmarks for workplace safety – with the health and well-being of workers as the highest priority.
The federal government is attempting to reduce workers’ protections with plans to open up Comcare - the Commonwealth workers’ compensation scheme - to state employers. This could make state schemes uneconomic and lead to reduced numbers of inspectors and training courses for workplace safety.
The Newman LNP government led the way backwards in October 2013 when it ignored the findings of its own Parliamentary committee and decided to reduce protections and cut workers’ rights all to justify a promise to the business lobby.
Under these changes, the safety of employees at work was undermined by laws that required at least 24 hours prior notice by unions before they entering a workplace to inquire into a suspected safety breach.
Unions are still fighting the federal government's plans to diminish workers' protections but have had more success in Queensland, with the new Palaszczuk government committed to overturning the LNP’s damaging changes to the state’s WorkCover scheme.
It took a concerted combined unions campaign to make safety at work an issue in the 2015 state election.
Thousands of union members were involved in workplace and community activities, highlighting the importance of safety at work in the community.
This successful campaign shows the benefits of acting collectively to ensure workplace safety and protection of rights at work.
No matter the size of the challenge, it is important to keep fighting to ensure your workplace is safe for you and your workmates, and the public.
Workplace injury and death is an avoidable tragedy that no worker or family should have to bear. The price for safety is eternal activism.