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The stronger the union, the safer the workplace

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25 April, 2024A staggering more than 3 million workers die every year because of their work, and tens of millions are injured. Health and safety in the workplace is a crucial right, all too often ignored, which is why IndustriALL has put the spotlight on both failures and successes in the month leading up to 28 April, International Workers’ Memorial Day. 

The rise of the industrial revolution nearly 250 years ago brough terrible working conditions with manufacturing facilities with poor ventilation and dangerous equipment. Poor working conditions drove employees to form unions and demand safe and healthy conditions. The role of trade unions has been synonymous with that evolution, with occupational health and safety driving responses to those often, disrupting changes.

The first legislation on health and safety, in 1784, the health and morals of Aprecentices Act, was established in the United Kingdom in response to fever outbreak among cotton mill workers.
In 1984, the Canadian Public Employees Union, (CUPE) established 28 April as a day to honour workers killed or injured on the job, a day which subsequently gained international recognition. In 2003, the ILO officially organized the 28 April as a World Day for Safety and Health at Work to promote healthy working conditions and stress the prevention of workplace accidents. 

28 April symbolizes workplace health and safety struggles around the world and has catapulted health and safety as a strategic pivot around which to organize and build strong unions.

The struggle came full circle in 2022 with the recognition by the ILO of health and safety as a fundamental principle and right at work, adding to the four fundamental ILO principles and rights at work; freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) are now considered fundamental Conventions to give effect to health and safety as a fundamental principle and right at work.

Says IndustriALL health and safety director Glen Mpufane:

“The recognition by the ILO of health and safety as a fundamental principle and right at work is a victory for workers around the world over workers’ struggles. It is also a testament and homage to the successive years of workers’ struggle to improve workplace health and safety conditions.

“Health and safety at work is neither a perk to be bargained for nor a favour to be asked. It is our right.”

IndustriALL Global Union’s 2021-2025 Congress action plan on advancing workers’ rights is consistent with workers struggles through the ages for improvement of workers working conditions through a focus on fundamental rights to freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain, as well as an adequate minimum wage, maximum limits on working time and safety and health at work.

IndustriALL is campaigning for and promoting a right- based approach to occupational health and safety that includes:

  • The ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions on safety and health across all the sectors in which it organises
  • Rally behind the adoption, ideally a convention on the safety and health protection against biological hazards
  • Implementation of the Hong Kong Convention