International Workers Memorial Day coronavirus pandemic

International Workers’ Memorial Day & COVID-19

Today, Tuesday 28th April, is International Workers’ Memorial Day; a day dedicated to those killed, disabled, injured or who have been made unwell due to their work.

This year, perhaps more so than ever, the day feels especially poignant. With too many key workers across the globe becoming critically ill or losing their lives to the Coronavirus, this IWMD will see the UK hold a minute’s silence in memory of those workers we have lost to the disease.

Each year, the number of lives lost at work is higher than those lost in wars. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) explains that ‘Most don’t die of mystery ailments, or in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority.’

IWMD is not only a day of remembrance – it is also a day which inspires necessary action

Since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, those defined as ‘key workers’ – individuals working in occupations which are vital to public health and safety such as medics, care workers, firefighters, cleaners, supermarket staff, transport workers and delivery drivers to name just a few – have faced increased exposure to the disease.

Tens of thousands of workers across the globe have lost their lives to COVID-19, with many more having fallen ill. Tragically, a significant number of key workers in the UK have continued to go to work despite recognising the risks they face, being forced to contend with a shortage in PPE (personal protective equipment) and workplaces which do not have the necessary safety measures in place.

Unite the union on Twitter: "Join us at 11am on International ...
‘Remember the dead, fight for the living’ – Unite the Union, Image: Twitter]

As TUC notes, IWMD is not only a day of remembrance – it is also a day which inspires necessary action as we ‘renew our efforts to organise collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work.’ This includes fighting for key workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the UK government promoting IWMD by urging the public to participate in today’s one minute’s silence at 11am, many members of the public have voiced their anger towards what feels like a brazen display of hypocrisy. By now, it is no secret that the Conservative government has received widespread criticism for its failure to provide necessary PPE for frontline workers. This has inevitably cost lives.

Just last week, The Guardian reported that Dr Peter Tun had emailed Royal Berkshire hospital – his place of work – warning that he and his colleagues needed vital PPE to avoid becoming infected. Three weeks after sending these emails, Dr Tun tragically died having contracted the virus.

A payout does not make up for the preventable death of a loved one and must not be used to whitewash the government’s negligence

Yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that a new taxpayer-funded life assurance scheme would pay £60,000 in compensation to the families of health staff who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Yet many are questioning why the government is not dedicating this money to NHS workers themselves – showing gratitude for their work while they are alive.

What’s more, others are emphasising that such a payout does not make up for the preventable death of a loved one and must not be used to whitewash the government’s negligence.

This year, International Workers’ Memorial Day must continue to serve as a driving force for action – particularly in light of the new, unprecedented challenges we now face as a result of COVID-19.

We must continue to fight for those workers who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and ensure that there is an end to the needless compromising of their health, safety and wellbeing.

Written by
Holly Barrow
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