The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and trade unions across the world dedicated this year’s World Day of Safety and Health at Work, observed on April 28, to all the frontline workers fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the face of an infectious disease outbreak, how we protect our workers now clearly dictates how safe our communities are, and how resilient our businesses will be, as this pandemic evolves,” said director general of the ILO, Guy Ryder.
The International Workers Memorial Day was also observed on April 28. Trade unions worldwide commemorated the workers who have died or been injured at the workplace and renewed pledges to fight for health and safety of workers. The ILO changed this year’s theme from “violence and harassment at workplace” to “stop the pandemic” to acknowledge the frontline workers battling the COVID-19 emergency.
Ensuring safety and health at the workplace has become a major challenge for the workers movement across the world. Thousands of workers are killed each year in “accidents” due to the hazardous nature of work. Many suffer from diseases caused by unsafe and unhygienic working conditions and face management apathy or violence.
Releasing a statement on the occasion, World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) said, “in the exploitative capitalist system where the profits of the monopolies are always above workers’ health, where health is treated as a cost, where scientific research is ruled by the antagonisms of the health industries, the workers and the popular strata are the first to pay the price in general and during this Pandemic crisis in particular.”
With the call of “workers’ health and safety over profit”, WFTU appealed to its more than 100 million militant members from over 132 countries “to continue and strengthen our fight for health and safety measures in the workplaces, for free and safe vaccine for the peoples, for public free and high quality health services, doctors inside the workplaces.”
The World Day for Safety and Health at Work has been observed on April 28 since 2003. The mandate from the International Labour Conference was given a couple months after the first observation of the day in June 2003.
The International commemoration day for dead and injured workers has been observed by trade unions worldwide since 1996 as a day to renew the pledge to fight for those who live and a lead up to International Workers’ Day celebrated on May 1.
In 2019, the ILO adopted in its centenary declaration that “safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work.”
Noting the dangerous circumstances in which workers are forced to operate during the ongoing pandemic, the ILO chief has emphasized that risk control measures should be specifically adapted to meet the needs of the frontline workers, including, nurses, doctors, cleaners, those in food services and other workers “who risk their own health for us every day”.