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Hazards, number 150, 2020
VIRAL ACTION | International Workers’ Memorial Day * Fighting Covid-19
Unions and activists make a stand in 90 plus countries. Thousands of virtual events involve hundreds of thousands of real people. The Covid-19 themed International Workers’ Memorial Day, held on 28 April this year, quickly became the world’s biggest ever workplace health and safety event.


Even before the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, unions worldwide were in top gear, with campaigns at every level launched to protect workers, jobs and communities. These activities built towards a 28 April global day of action, this year a different style of campaign, with virtual protests, video messages, webinars and other innovative physically distanced activities replacing the usual marches, rallies and training events.

“While there are many aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which are yet unclear, one thing that is clear is that most transmission is occurring in workplaces such as hospitals and care facilities, as well as in workplaces where transmission can occur in workers engaging with the public,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow ahead of the 2020 event.

“There is already evidence that in numerous countries, protective workplace measures such as distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) are insufficient or even absent. Workers are being made to take risks that shouldn’t be taken, and in some cases, such as in Amazon warehouses, they face sanctions or dismissal for raising safety concerns.”

While some national systems were flexible enough to allow for the recognition, reporting and compensation for Covid-19 as an occupational disease, many were not. “Bringing Covid-19 into occupational disease classification is crucial to stopping this and reducing the spread of the virus. This is becoming even more urgent as countries begin to relax restrictions on economic sectors and public spaces,” Burrow said.
Global unions argued there must be a “presumption” cases are work-related unless conclusive evidence is presented to the contrary, and includes a lengthy lists of jobs where presumption should occur.

Unions say the pandemic illustrates why occupational health and safety must be recognised as a top tier International Labour Organisation (ILO) right. “We are also calling for occupational health and safety to be given the status of a fundamental right at the International Labour Organisation,” said Burrow.

“This is a long-overdue measure which would give workers’ protection from death and disease the same priority as freedom of association, collective bargaining and protection from discrimination, forced labour and child labour.”

ITUC survey results released on 28 April 2020 revealed that in over half (51 per cent) of countries PPE supplies are sometimes, rarely or never adequate, putting at risk the millions of frontline health and care workers responding to the pandemic.


BIGGEST EVER  Unions and activists make a stand in a record 90 plus countries on the Covid-19 themed International Workers’ Memorial Day, held on 28 April.


RECOGNISE THIS  Unions worldwide are calling for Covid-19 to be classified as an occupational disease in all affected groups of workers, to guarantee stronger workplace protections, better recognition and reporting and access to compensation. By mid-May 2020, Canada had already compensated thousands of workers. Other countries, including Germany, Australia, Denmark and Malaysia, all quickly approved payouts. The UK though only has a very limited Covid-19 deaths scheme, effectively limited to health care and emergency workers.


DELIVERING DISEASE  Over 50 Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ around the world have seen cases of Covid-19, while some have dubbed the warehouses as “breeding grounds of coronavirus.” By June 2020, at least eight Amazon warehouse workers had died of Covid-19. But workers at the company run by Jeff Bezos, the world’s first 100 Billion Dollar Man, have been fired for raising concerns about virus risks at work. Christian Smalls, a supervisor at the Amazon’s Staten Island facility, was fired on the day he led a walkout after the company had refused over a period of weeks to respond to concerns about staff falling sick.


MCDEADLY  A survey of more than 800 US McDonald's workers from 31 March to 6 April 2020 found 42 per cent reported being told not to wear masks and gloves by management.  The survey also said 46 per cent came to work feeling sick because they were afraid they would be disciplined or penalised. There have been widespread walkouts in several countries over Covid-19 safety concerns.


HUMANS WRONGED  The fifth ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey of 121 trade unions from 95 countries found over half of countries (56 per cent) reported that over the past few months their government had brought in restrictions to human and labour rights under the cover of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. ITUC said the findings, which included responses from 17 G20 countries and 33 OECD countries and which was carried out between 22–25 June 2020, “show that these attacks are adding to the breakdown of the social contract.”

SILENT KILLER  Millions across the UK joined a minute’s silence at 11am on 28 April to remember all the health, care and other key workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus exposures. The initiative was launched by the health unions UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), who between them represent more than a million NHS and public service workers, including porters, refuse collectors and care staff.


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Unions and activists make a stand in 90 plus countries. Thousands of virtual events involve hundreds of thousands of real people. The Covid-19 themed International Workers’ Memorial Day, held on 28 April this year, quickly became the world’s biggest ever workplace health and safety event.

• ITUC homepage
• ITUC/Hazards 28 April website

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