UNI General Secretary Christy Hoffman has issued an International Workers’ Memorial Day message calling on us to honour the workers we have lost during the Covid-19 crisis, but to “fight like hell for the living.”
Using her personal experience and examples from UNI affiliates, GS Hoffman stresses the importance that unions play in establishing safe workplaces and holding employers accountable:
There are valuable lessons we must learn from this crisis.
And one that we must remember is the difference a union can make in terms of health and safety. And it is not only about negotiating the conditions of safe work — it is about representation and a voice on the job lead by rank and file workers. A union health and safety committee is a watchdog, making sure that employers don’t cut corners or require a pace of production that is too fast to be safe. They enable workers, those who are closest to the problem, to expose the hazards and recommend solutions.
Additionally, UNI is joining the ITUC and other global unions in calling on governments and occupational health and safety bodies around the world to recognise Covid-19 first, as an occupational hazard and also an occupational disease.
Education International (EI)
International Workers’ Memorial Day on occupational health and safety, observed the 28th of April every year. The international day was born in 1996 to mourn those who had died on the job and to fight for the living. It has spread to all continents of the world.
On this day, EI mourns all workers, but especially education workers, who have died at work and in the line of duty. We also will fight for their health and lives in the present and for the future.
COVID-19 is a pandemic that is lethal on a large scale. For those in direct contact with others, including many working in education, it is an occupational health and safety challenge. Some deaths, with proper precautions and protections, could have been avoided.
Although in our sectors, many are tele-working or on leave, this will change with the opening of schools. Already, opening dates have been announced in several countries. With re-opening, in addition to the ongoing public health danger to all, exposure at the workplace will become a major, perhaps the major risk.
COVID-19 and other infectious diseases contracted at work, should be recognised. They should be given the same treatment, including compensation, as other occupational diseases.
Every situation is different. In countries where great progress has been made and where tests and protective devices are widely available, reopening may be relatively safe. However, even in those situations, there may be a risk of unleashing a second wave.
Regardless of circumstances, even though more information is becoming available, what is not known about this virus remains more important than what we know. It is another reason that re-opening must be careful and methodical.
Social distancing, a crucial element of the combat against COVID-19, under the best of circumstances, will be difficult in schools and, in some cases, may be impossible. Hallways and staircases in many schools before the pandemic were already too narrow to easily accommodate normal traffic.
For small children, social distancing is bizarre behaviour and hard to understand. Even for older students, it may be difficult to respect due to limits of space, but also because of the normal rush of school life; getting from one class to another, to lunch and leaving at the end of the day. That means that social distancing will require considerable logistical and cultural changes.
To make school reopening as safe as possible, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. They include whether there has been a significant decline in the general risk, the existence of widespread testing and monitoring, the availability of protective devices, regular disinfection, and modifications of physical arrangements and measures such as staggered classes and reduced class sizes. Such protections will be especially challenging in countries with limited possibilities to provide those protections and weak public health systems.
Workers in education, particularly teachers, are often older than the larger population because it has been hard, in recent years, to recruit new talent. That means that teachers may be especially vulnerable to infection. Education personnel, particularly from high-risk groups, should not be required to go back to school. They should be permitted to continue to work from home or make other arrangements.
Work-related stress has become a major issue for teachers in many countries as has been documented by the recent OECD TALIS report. Existing stress factors in education will be aggravated by fear of contamination during re-opening and, perhaps, for months to come.
In some countries where school re-opening has been scheduled, there have been consultations and/or negotiations with education trade unions on the details of occupational health and safety protections. Often, they are the same countries, with strong social dialogue traditions, where there were already discussions of closures.
However, the EI survey of member organisations on COVID-19 showed that the governments that acted correctly at that time were exceptional. Reopening decisions are neither urgent nor abrupt. They are planned. Trade unions should be fully involved in reopening planning and decisions.
David Edwards, Education International General Secretary stated: “For growing numbers of workers in education and other sectors, the worksite will become the greatest source of risk for COVID-19. There is no excuse for not involving the representatives of workers, their trade unions, in reopening decisions and ongoing occupational health and safety vigilance. It is the health and lives of those workers that are most at stake.”
“The reopening of schools can be a massive risk for teachers and other education workers. Every effort should be made to ensure that risks are reduced to the minimum through best practices based on science, not politics, and anchored in cooperation and social dialogue.”
“COVID-19 may be a natural disaster, but avoidable illness and death is human failure. International Workers’ Memorial Day is, in this dark year, not only a way to recognise those who have already sacrificed, but to chart a path that restores trust and hope and gives us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Statement of the Council of Global Unions on the recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease, released on the occasion of International Workers Memorial Day 2020, is also available here
“Home care workers are the first line of defense against #covid19 for millions of elderly & sick patients. This crisis is showing the world the vital role caregivers play in our societies,” said Christy Hoffman General Secretary of UNI Global Union.
#ProtectHomecareWorkers • Read more • UNI Global Union
🔴 Mort au travail : des travailleurs et des citoyens du monde entier lancent un appel pour la #sécurité au travail.
❌ Dans le monde, les mauvaises conditions de travail tuent toutes les 11 secondes.
— Marina Mesure (@MarinaMesure) April 28, 2020
The IUF joins with our sister international union organizations in calling for speedy official recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease by governments and national health and safety bodies. Official recognition of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 as a preventable occupational hazard, and work-related COVID-19 as a work-related disease, would require employers to take necessary measures to protect workers against the risk of exposure, establish liability for failure and provide compensation to workers and their families sickened and killed by COVID-19.
A short policy brief explains how and why this recognition is needed to protect workers, their families and their communities.
— EUROPEAN TRADE UNION (@etuc_ces) April 28, 2020
#IWMD20 Have a look at trade union actions across the world 28april.org
The International Labour Organization warns that without adequate safeguards for returning workers there could be a second wave of the virus.
Press release | 28 April 2020
All employers need to carry out risk assessments and ensure their workplaces meet strict occupational safety and health criteria beforehand, to minimize the risk to workers of exposure to COVID-19, says the ILO.
Without such controls, countries face the very real risk of a resurgence of the virus. Putting in place the necessary measures will minimize the risk of a second wave of contagion contracted at the workplace.
“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.”
Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
“The safety and health of our entire workforce is paramount today. 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 the Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder.
“It is only by implementing occupational safety and health measures that we can protect the lives of workers, their families and the larger communities, ensure work continuity and economic survival,” Ryder added.
In particular, risk control measures should be specifically adapted to the needs of workers at the frontline of the pandemic. These include health workers, nurses, doctors and emergency workers, as well as those in food retail and cleaning services.
The ILO also highlighted the needs of the most vulnerable workers and businesses, in particular those in the informal economy, migrant and domestic workers. Measures to protect these workers should include – among others – education and training on safe and healthy work practices, free provision of PPE as needed, access to public health services and livelihood alternatives.
“On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, I call on all countries to assure well-defined, decent and safe working conditions for all health workers.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for strong national programmes to protect the health and safety of health workers, medical professionals, emergency responders, and the many other workers risking their lives on our behalf,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, I call on all countries to assure well-defined, decent and safe working conditions for all health workers.”
To ensure a safe return to work and to avoid further work disruptions, the ILO recommends:
- Mapping hazards and assessing risks of contagion in relation to all work operations, and continuing to assess them following a return to work.
- Adopting risk control measures adapted to each sector and the specifics of each workplace and workforce. These may include:
– Reducing physical interactions between workers, contractors, customers and visitors and respecting physical distancing when any interactions occur.
– Improving ventilation in the workplace.
– Regularly cleaning surfaces, ensuring workplaces are clean and hygienic, and providing adequate facilities for handwashing and sanitization.
- Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to workers where necessary and at no cost.
- Providing arrangements for isolating suspected cases and tracing every contact.
- Providing mental health support for staff.
- Providing training, education and informational material about health and safety at work, including proper hygiene practices and the use of any workplace controls (including PPE).
BWI cannot overemphasis the need to do these simple, yet life-saving acts.
✅ Wash your hands.
✅ Wear a mask.
✅ Keep your distance.
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Protect workers. Stop COVID-19. #BWI2020IWMD #iwmd20