On 28 April across the UK, UNISON members took part in International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD). This is the day when we get together to remember all those who have died through their work and rededicate ourselves to the fight for the living. But never has this annual day – and the act of remembrance – felt more important. That’s why as well as observing the Trades Union Congress’ call for a minutes silence, branches across Southampton laid wreaths at memorial sites.
UNISON Southampton District Branch Secretary Mark Roberts explains why it felt particularly important to mark IWMD this year:
“Everyone has the right to be safe at work – something that seems common sense, but the pandemic has reminded us how far some workers are from this very basic right. Trying to make sure the right measures are in place to protect our members and the public has been a huge part of what UNISON has been doing throughout the pandemic and work that will continue as the city continues to open up over the next few months.”
This right to be safe at work has been something that has come into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic, as UNISON Hampshire Health Welfare officer Rachel Long outlines:
“This last year, more than any in recent history, has shown us the importance of employers ensuring they provide consistent, effective and efficient access for employees to the appropriate kit to carry out their work, which for our frontline colleagues has been lifesaving on an epic scale. Everyone deserves to go home at the end of their working day, each and every day.”
UNISON Hampshire Health LGBT+ Officer Mary Curtis agrees:
“This event is even more pertinent this year, given the global pandemic that we are still battling through; many people have been working from the safety of their own homes, but for thousands of frontline staff, this hasn’t been an option. Instead, they gone to hospitals across the country, putting themselves in danger in order to save lives. Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice, often because they have continued to put themselves in danger whilst not being provided with basic personal protective equipment (PPE).”
For Mary, there is a link between failing to protect the health of staff and her pay being cut in real terms:
“Staff delivering public services need to be looked after, not only in terms of health and safety, but also in terms of being paid a fair, living wage. For my NHS colleagues, this means not being offered a derisory 1% pay rise.”
UNISON exposed the poor PPE provided to many health care workers earlier in the pandemic as part of the wider role UNISON branches have played in helping keep the public and our members safe.
But it’s not only health care workers who have been on the frontline. Many education staff and those providing local government services have also been at risk throughout the pandemic. As University of Southampton Branch Secretary Claire Sedgwick notes:
“Good health and safety means people can work without worry, and can feel confident that they are protected from risk. COVID-19 has demonstrated the important role that UNISON plays in ensuring its members can work in a safe environment.”
This role is crucial wherever you work. International Workers’ Memorial Day is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves and our union to this task. Mark Roberts concludes:
“Workers Memorial Day is our opportunity to pause, remember those colleagues who have been struck down with Covid-19, to give thanks to front line staff who have risked so much during the pandemic and to reflect on the work we’ve do as a union. After all, workers have fought long and hard for the protections we have, we must fight to protect them. Health and safety is a right, not a luxury.”
Help keep your colleagues, your service users and yourself safe – find out more about becoming a UNISON Health and Safety rep.