April 27, 2004
Mourning for the dead and fighting for the living
Workers gathering around the country tomorrow to remember their fallen colleagues will be urged to get active on workplace health and safety.
Tomorrow is International Workers’ Memorial Day, when workers all over the world unite under the slogan Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living.
Official statistics show that in the year to June 30, 2003, 73 workers died as a result of workplace accidents, and that nearly 50 have died since then.
But the national secretary of the country’s largest trade union, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, says that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Labour Department officials count only deaths that occur almost immediately as a result of a workplace incident,” Andrew Little said.
“But the slow, painful deaths of hundreds of workers from illnesses like asbestosis, occupational cancer, workplace emphysema, stress, chemical poisoning and asthma, go unreported. The true death toll is more than 500 workers a year.”
Mr Little will tomorrow morning attend a mass stopwork meeting of hundreds of EPMU members at the Palmerston North Convention Centre, where they will observe a minute’s silence and erect 500 white crosses to commemorate the dead.
He will urge members to take a hard line on workplace health and safety and to use the provisions of the new Occupational Safety and Health Act which give workers the right to have a say on health and safety at work.
“Already the union movement has trained more than 3000 health and safety reps and has another 3000 ready to train, but we need at least 10,000 active health and safety reps.”
Meanwhile, in Christchurch, workers will tomorrow commemorate the life of EPMU organiser Tim Hix, who died in a car crash on May 13. Thirty-seven-year-old Hix, a former coal miner who led miners from the Strongman and Spring Creek mines in an historic strike just days before his death, was on his way to negotiations with Solid Energy when his car went off the road.
A service will be held from 11.30am to 12.30pm at the Workers’ Memorial Stone at the Science Alive Reserve behind the Hoyts 8 movie theatre in Morehouse Avenue.
Speakers will include Mr Hix’s brother, Steve, and Council of Trade Unions president Ross Wilson. Members of the public will be invited to the union’s office at 298 Cashel St for lunch.